Emilie Graham

February 26, 1921 - April 20, 2015

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Read Emilie's life story

Family pictures (If you have more, please send them to John or Stephen.)

Born in Fiss, a Tirolean village in the Austrian Alps on February 26, 1921, Emilie Graham died on April 20, 2015 in San Diego. She was a wonderful woman: mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, great-grandmother, wife, sister/sister-in-law, and friend. Family was the most important thing in her life and she was the center of the Graham family.

Emilie's family emigrated to Chicago in 1926. Times were not easy for immigrant families in the interval between the wars but her father was able to find work and provide for his family which expanded to six children. The family spoke their Fisser dialect at home, but Emilie was determined to become an American. She quickly learned English and became the family interpreter.

After finishing school, she got training as a milliner but found work at Hillman's Cafeteria in downtown Chicago. She met Weldon (Bud) Graham there and married him in 1942. By the time she quit to have her first child, she had been promoted to be the manager of the cafeteria.

Bud was drafted into the Army shortly after they were married. After a year of training in Pennsylvania, he was assigned to the Manhattan Project at Soldier's Field in Chicago. The Manhattan Project developed the atomic bomb that ended the war and it was ultra top secret, so he was told to report to work in civilian clothes. The neighborhood gossips had a field day with the young woman and her baby who maybe had a soldier husband, or maybe had a live-in boyfriend!

Emilie's role as mother began in 1943 when Karen was born, followed by Tina. After an interval of almost 10 years, Barbara and Mike were born 11 months apart! In 1956, the family moved to San Diego where Bud started working at the newly formed General Atomics. They bought a house on a cul de sac in Western Hills (Clairemont) and settled into a community of young families. Several years later, Mary and then Janie were born in San Diego, making a significant age span for the six kids.

Spearheading neighborly activities was an important part of Emilie's life. There were progressive dinners several times a year for the couples, and lots of coffee-klatches among the women, but the favorite of all was the Memorial Day Court Picnic. BBQs , picnic tables, beach chairs and stereos would be brought into the street and tons of games would be played through the afternoon and into the night. The Court Picnics lasted at least 20 years.

Emilie was an accomplished seamstress who sewed not only for herself but for her kids and grandkids. She cooked full meals every day; the family always had dinner together, with lots of chatter and laughter at the table. She was also a talented and committed bargain shopper, even when she really didn't need the item that was 90% off!

In the mid-1980s, Bud had a professional trip to Europe and Emilie went with him. With only a little information about the location of her birth village, they were able to locate her family home and meet one of the remaining families living in the village. In spite of all the years that had passed since she last spoke Fisser, she was able to easily converse with her relatives. From that initial encounter, they later met many other relatives living in the area. That trip led to several others, including one in 1987 that included all of their children. Many Austrian relatives, and their friends, seized the opportunity to visit in San Diego as well; there are strong relationships that have been formed by relatives that might never have met except for Emilie's, and Bud's, interest in tracing her roots.

Emilie's family has expanded and contracted, bringing joy and pain. Each of her children married and had children of their own; there are 14 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Holiday gatherings are big and noisy! The loss of Barbara and Tina to breast cancer in 1998 and 1999 left a huge hole in Emilie's heart. Bud died in 2007 after 65 years of marriage. Emilie coped well on her own for a number of years, but the symptoms of vascular dementia became more and more apparent. With 24 hour care, she was able to stay in her own home until the end. She died in her own bed, surrounded by her surviving children, several of her granddaughters and the spirits of Barbara, Tina, and Bud.

The next time you see a good bargain that could be donated to a food bank or homeless shelter, make that bargain purchase and think about Emilie!