Sad news to share today: I’ve just learned that Grandpa George Storm, the patriarch of my mother’s family and the best storyteller I’ve ever known, died peacefully this morning, before dawn. He was ninety-eight years old.
My family and I had known this day was coming for some time – Grandpa had been coping with complications from strokes since late December 2012 – and it is comforting to know that he is finally at rest. But we will miss him greatly.
Born November 10th, 1915 to Martin and Jovita Storm, George was the sixth of fifteen children, four of whom died in childbirth. He had two older brothers and two older sisters, as well as two younger brothers and four younger sisters. He grew up on a farm in central Pennsylvania near the township of Chest Springs, at a time when computers did not exist and aviation was in its infancy.
Grandpa lived through a nearly a century of rapid change, technological progress, and worldwide conflict. His life spanned two world wars and over a dozen presidencies (from Woodrow Wilson’s to Barack Obama’s).
He grew up in the roaring Twenties, came of age in the depressed Thirties, and started a family in the war-torn Forties. After the war, he grappled with the death of his young wife Gertrude, with whom he was raising five children.
He remarried in the Fifties, and, with his new wife Isabelle, became a parent to three more children… my mother and her sisters.
He and Isabelle lived together through the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties, Nineties, and Aughts in Portland, Oregon until her death in April 2008.
Grandpa was a hardworking man who held many different jobs throughout his life. He once sold potatoes and bibles door to door. At another point, he was a hot dog vendor and a proprietor of a drain cleaning business. Ultimately, he developed a successful milk route which was taken over by one of his sons.
He was a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and unlike most of us here in the Pacific Northwest, was not disappointed in the slightest when they defeated the Seattle Seahawks in 2006 to win Super Bowl XL. When the Seahawks were not playing the Steelers, however, he would root for them. He owned a lot of Steelers paraphernalia, including a Terrible Towel that I brought back from my Netroots Nation trip for him in the summer of 2009.
He preferred to watch low-scoring football (gridiron) games that pitted two great defenses against each other. A game that ended with a score of 6-3 was the kind of game he wanted to watch from start to finish.
He was a prudent investor and careful with money. He never really retired; he was an extremely active person who loved working in Portland’s Hoyt Arboretum and fixing up old houses, well into his eighties. He was always ready to lend a helping hand at the Carmel of Maria Regina in Eugene, the monastery where his second oldest daughter continues to live and work. At his home in Portland, he maintained a vegetable garden and grew food for himself and Isabelle.
Thanks to his hobby of fixing up and reselling houses, he had a good vantage point from which to observe the bursting of the housing bubble in 2007. When Washington Mutual collapsed the following year, it was no surprise to him. As I can well remember him telling me: I knew that no bank that was operating in that fashion could stay in business for long.
He was the kind of person who would actually read the annual reports that companies sent to their investors, from cover to cover.
He was also a beloved and caring grandfather. He adored his dozens of grandchildren and we loved him in return. Whenever I visited him, he would greet me with a loud and cheerful, “How do, Andrew?”
Prior to his stroke in 2012, Grandpa had an amazing ability to tell stories. He could hold my attention, and my cousins’ attention, for hours. While there were certainly many stories I heard several times, there were a greater number that I heard only once. Grandpa had a rich memory and a knack for recalling details.
Beginning around the time that we lost Grandma Isabelle, I began making an effort to capture as many of Grandpa’s stories as I could using professional equipment. I’d place the audio recorder on the table or on the swing and it would run for hours and hours as Grandpa earnestly told one story after another. I would ask questions in between, and Grandpa would sometimes began his answers with an exclamation, “Oh! Well!” and a chuckle as he launched into another tale.
Being a history buff, I was always hungry for more. Listening to Grandpa, I got a sense of what it was like to live through the Depression, through World War II, and through the Cold War. As any scholar will tell you, primary sources are better than secondary sources. Grandpa had lived through all these events that I had only read or heard about. I preferred his stories to my favorite history texts.
Aside from listening to Grandpa’s stories, I enjoyed playing Scrabble with him and going on walks and day trips. We did a tour of the Columbia Gorge a few years ago, stopping in at Crown Point and Multnomah Falls, among other places.
My family once journeyed back to central Pennsylvania and met him there to visit the farmhouse and the town where he grew up, as well as to see Gettysburg National Battlefield for ourselves. At the time, several of Grandpa’s siblings were still alive, and the family back there organized a big reunion to welcome us.
There were so many Storms in attendance that I could not keep track of all of the cousins I was being introduced to. Everyone wore nametags which read, “I BELONG TO…” followed by the name of one of Martin and Jovita’s children. (My family and my closest cousins, of course, wore nametags declaring, “I BELONG TO GEORGE”).
Since that journey to Pennsylvania, Grandpa’s remaining siblings have all passed away. He was the last of his big family. And now he’s gone. But many of his stories, thankfully, have been preserved as digital audio. We will listen to a selection of them when we gather as a family for his memorial service in a few days.
Grandpa and I discussed politics on many occasions. He was not a progressive, but he held progressive viewpoints on important issues. He was a spiritual man and his views generally reflected the teachings of the Catholic Church. His work ethic was certainly progressive and he believed in giving back. He was beloved by the staff of the Hoyt Arboretum. He often gave guided tours there, delighting untold numbers of young people with his sense of humor and knowledge of flora and fauna.
George is survived by seven of his nine children and several dozen grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We keenly feel his loss but we know he’s in a better place.