Donna O'Donnell Figurski's Blog

It's All About Me!

TidBits About Donna #11 Missing the Grandparentals

I miss Nellie Foster O’Donnell. Her name was really Helen, but everyone called her Nell. I called her Gram. I miss Poppy too. He was the first in a long line of John Joseph O’Donnells. What a gentle soul he was! Gram and Pop were my father’s parents, but they were my grandparents. They lived in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. That’s where I was born. McKeesport is an old, hilly town near Pittsburgh. A train runs through it.

My grandfather worked for the railroad.

He was a brakeman for the B & O Railroad — not the one on the Monopoly game board. I could tell he was proud of his job, but it was not an easy one. It was back-breaking and knee-wrenching as he hopped from train car to tracks checking the couplings between the cars and throwing the switches on the tracks to direct the trains to the right track.

When I was a baby we moved to Erie, Pennsylvania, so I did not get to see my grandparents often. I loved when we visited them at Christmas time and in the summers. And, of course, they came to visit us in Erie, too. When they came they stayed for weeks and weeks. I could do no wrong in Gram and Pop’s eyes. What a joyous feeling that was. I wished they could stay forever.

Then at seventeen I headed to college and back to my birthplace. I enrolled at Robert Morris University, which was located in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh. (The main campus is in Moon Township.) The dorms were on the top floors of the Penn Sheraton Hotel. Imagine living in a hotel!

Unfortunately, I was not able to get housing at the start of the term. Fortunately, though, I was able to live with my grandparents in McKeesport, fifteen miles away, for the first three months while I was on the wait list for a dorm room at the college.

My commute to Pittsburgh was long. I took a short walk down a steep hill to the bus, another short walk to the train for the thirty minute ride, and another longer five block walk to the college.

I loved living with Gram and Pop. They treated me like a princess. As I trudged up the hill at night, I knew that Gram would have dinner on the table. No need to call. She knew what time my bus arrived. Anyhow, there were no cell phones then. (How did they manage without them?) As I climbed the hill, I could almost smell the delicious aromas wafting from her kitchen. After dinner, Pop did the dishes while Gram shooed me off to my room to do my homework. It was very important stuff. After all, I was in college! But, I used to sneak back down when Gram was in the living room watching T.V. to help Pop dry the dishes. I felt guilty sticking him with that job. But mostly I did it because it was just fun to have that quiet time alone with my grandfather —  talking about nothing in particular.

I felt guilty, too, for overtaking Pop’s bedroom. But Gram, and so did Pop, insisted that I use Pop’s bedroom during my stay. It was the nicest and the biggest. It was more private. I didn’t want to oust him from his room, but I knew they wanted me to have it. And so I took it graciously. See what I mean about “princess?” Did they spoil me? Yes! They did and I loved every minute of it. I treasure that tiara-time. Occasionally I take my tiara out of my treasure trunk, dust it off, and twirl round the room remembering those two very special people.

It was a magical time — my living with my grandparents — a time I will always cherish. I miss them both so much. I love you, Gram and Pop. I always will.


January 30, 2010 - Posted by | TidBits About Donna


  1. Great pictures, Fantastic memories! I miss them both so much too!

    The memory of Poppy that stands out in my mind was him sending me down to the corner store to get him a cigar, and me an ice cream and candy necklace or bracelet. Of course, mum was the word on the cigar.

    I remember Gram well too, and was thankful she was there the day I fell through the ice, (good thing I was near the edge) while ice skating on the pond at Lakeshore Gulf Course. I remember her putting me in a tub of warm water to unfreeze my toes. I had never been so cold in my life, but I get a warm fuzzy feeling knowing that my Gram was there to take care of me. It is probably because of her that I have all my toes!

    I will always love them both, and think of them often!

    Comment by Sanner | February 19, 2010 | Reply

  2. Dang it, I put gulf course. I must be thinking of deep sea fishing. Of course, I meant golf!

    Comment by Sanner | February 19, 2010 | Reply

  3. San, I didn’t know that story about you falling in the ice pond. I was probably already off to college.

    We were all accomplices in Poppy’s capers to get his “tobies”and cigarettes. And he was so sweet, that we all wanted to help him. If only we knew then, about tobacco, what we know now, I might not have been such a willing assistant.

    Comment by donnaodonnellfigurski | February 19, 2010 | Reply

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