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Pandemic projects: Grandmother Dee Lorenz records family history, her story for close family

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 12, 2020

Delores Lorenz, center, reads aloud to her daughter, Rachel Lorenz Devlin, right, and her granddaughter, Allison Grefsrud, the letters written during the Vietnam War by her late husband, Jim, at her home in Spokane on Oct. 29  (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Delores Lorenz, center, reads aloud to her daughter, Rachel Lorenz Devlin, right, and her granddaughter, Allison Grefsrud, the letters written during the Vietnam War by her late husband, Jim, at her home in Spokane on Oct. 29 (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

Before the pandemic hit, Dee Lorenz, 87, had a busy life. Bridge groups, coffee with neighbors and going out to dinner filled her days.

“I’m never caught up on anything,” she said. “I’m a very social person.”

But when COVID-19 halted many of those activities, Lorenz began thinking about her legacy.

“I have the book ‘The Gift of Years,’ by Sister Joan Chittister, and in it she says that we have an obligation to share what we know,” Lorenz said.

So, thinking of all the family history and stories that her grandchildren may not know, Lorenz began to write.

“If I don’t tell them now, it will all be gone,” she said. “I wrote about my life. It was very different than theirs. I grew up in a family of eight on a farm in barren northwestern North Dakota.”

Lorenz filled white binders with photos, family history and stories of her life, creating five books for her grandchildren, and dedicated them to her deceased grandson, Nicholas. She hoped her three adult children would read them, too.

“Then I thought – I don’t trust them. I’m going to write more,” recalled Lorenz, grinning.

This month she hopes to finish the books for her children, Mark, Rachel and Jeffrey.

“There are not enough hours in the day for writing,” said Lorenz. “I keep changing my focus and adding one more thing.”

It’s a good thing the retired teacher and speech pathologist loves writing and has a fantastic memory.

She wrote about growing up on a farm and how when she was tiny her mother found her outside shoveling snow with the small ash shovel from the woodstove.

“Mother asked me what I was doing and I told her, ‘I’m making summer,’ ” Lorenz recalled. “Is that an optimist or what?”

Lorenz attended a one-room rural school until high school. When she and her friend, Eileen, transferred to the bigger school with 120 kids, they fared well. Lorenz was the valedictorian and Eileen took top athletic honors.

The lesson?

“Don’t knock country schools,” said Lorenz.

Stories of her courtship and marriage to Jim Lorenz fill several pages. They met in Great Falls, Montana, where she was teaching school and he was stationed at the Air Force Base. He was a career military officer, and they spent 47 years together, until he died in 2005.

Jim served in the military during the Vietnam War, and they spent a year apart while he was overseas. Dozens of letters flew back and forth between them.

In her South Hill home, with her granddaughter, Allison Grefsrud, and daughter, Rachel Lorenz Devlin, next to her, she fingered a stack of letters.

“I’m going to give the kids some of them,” said Lorenz.

She opened one she’d received from Jim and read, “You do win the prize for letter-writing – such sexy and interesting ones….”

Glancing up from the letter, Lorenz said, “I’m going to censor them – they’re a little steamy.”

Lorenz also wrote about a near-death experience due to an infection, she endured several years ago while vacationing in Hawaii.

She read, “When I was dying in Hawaii, lying on a gurney, my first thought was I knew I’d lived a good life because my children are good parents.”

Her second thought was one of excitement at entering that “other realm.”

Her third thought? “Oh, darn. I haven’t eaten at Anthony’s.”

She laughed as she continued reading.

“I envisioned some strong women above saying ‘If this woman is that shallow she has to live. She has more to learn. She has more to give.’ This book is the result.”

Closing the cover of one of the notebooks Lorenz said, “If I don’t share this information no one else will have it.”

As her daughter, Rachel, sifted through the letters and slowly turned the pages of her mother’s work, her eyes filled.

“What a gift,” she said. “What a legacy she’s leaving us.”

— This story has been updated to correct Rachel Lorenz Devlin’s name.

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