Mar 29, 2015

In Memoriam ... Levara Gross (1918 - 2015)

My mother, Anna Levara Wallace Gross, passed away recently in her home town of Milton Freewater, Oregon at the age of 96. (The above photo was taken in 1942.)

She was completely self-sufficient into her 90's. She was even going out to the dining hall for meals at her retirement home until the last month of her life, when she began to have trouble breathing and thinking clearly. It's remarkable that she was happy and in control for so long.

Levara (as she was known, because her mother was also named Anna) was a hands-on, do-it-yourself sort of doubt due to her rural upbringing in Eastern Oregon during the 20's and 30's. The depression hit their area quite hard, so she and her siblings (8 of them!) would study tattered Sears catalogs, then try to make whatever caught their eye. Much of the time, they succeeded...all while going to school and farming (from sun up to sun down, every day.) 

She graduated high school on the Dean's List, but with the great depression in full swing and no family history of college attendance, she went to work at the local library to make a living while remaining in a learning environment. 2 years and $125 in savings later, she headed out to Corvallis to matriculate at Oregon State University. There, she met my father, David Gross. (1918 - 1978.)

Dave and Levara were both fish out of water. They were outstanding students, but from humble beginnings with no family history of higher education. (Most college students at that time were upper crust.)

Dave grew up on Oahu between the wars, and loved swimming and flying. He earned his pilot's license the morning of his 16th birthday, and his driver's license later that afternoon...almost as an afterthought. He attended Colorado University in Boulder as a competitive swimmer for a couple of years, then transferred to Oregon State. So, both my parents were the same age and starting out fresh in a new town when they met.

It turned out that Levara had a knack for navigation and weather forecasting, having grown up in a farming environment. So now Dave had a navigator and a girl friend, all in one! They criss-crossed the countryside in whatever bag-of-bolts aircraft he could put his hands on. And, apparently, it worked somehow they survived and were married several years later.

The war years saw them living in many different states. Dave was in the Army and stationed at bases all around the country. He never went overseas to fight, which he later admitted was a mixed blessing. He was glad he never had to trade live fire, but felt guilty that so many others, on both sides, had to.

Dave and Levara were in their mid-30's when my brother Dan and I were born...which at the time was quite old to start a family. Most of our friends had parents 10 years younger, with a completely different background. (There was a seriousness that permeated depression-era parents, for better or worse. Every penny, every drop of rain, every moment of quiet, meant the world to them. Frivolous knick-knacks held no sway.)

My father became aware of surfing during his childhood, even though most of his beach going youth was spent on the North Shore -- where surfing wasn't practiced at the time. (His father was career Army, stationed at Schofield Barracks, and they lived in Wahiawa.)  Duke Kahanamoku was the Michael Jordan of Hawaii back then (probably still is) and every island kid was keenly aware of his surfing exploits. The Duke once spoke to my father's swim team, and that encounter resonated with my father his entire life. came as no surprise that by the time I was 4, I demanded that they take me to the beach and watch "the surfing." (We lived in Fresno at the time...which wasn't a hot bed of the surf culture in the 50's.) My mother immediately picked up on my passion to be in the water, and in many ways, she was more supportive than my father. To him, now in middle age, the cold California water and growing beach counter-culture gave him pause. As a sport, he thought surfing was great. But the characters who surfed along the California coast were, in his words, "a bunch of flakes." Which was probably true. Surfers, hot rodders, beatniks, musicians and bikers all occupied a similar niche in the eyes of the middle class.

As my brother and I stumbled forward in our surfing experience, my mother was the one who helped us figure out how to repair beat up old boards, and she was the one who helped us get to the beach on weekends. When I showed a glimmer of interest in building my own boards, she was the one who backed me with the occasional allowance advance.

The fact that my brother and I were good students and stayed out of trouble didn't hurt! We knew there was an unspoken agreement with our parents that our freedom to surf was dependent on our overall behavior...and for me, that was the deal of the century.

Things started to get really serious for me, surfing-wise, in the late 60's. We were living in Ventura County -- chock full of right points, which is my direction -- I had my driver's license, and the shortboard explosion had ripped control of the surfing industry away from a handful of major labels and given it to guys who were hacking out crude shortboards in their garages. And again, I got full support from Mom, even though there was little prospect of a "professional" outcome.

As it turned out, I did (kind of) carve out a career in surfing...since I could build boards, as well as write reasonably well about surfing. Both those skills came about because I got support at home in the areas of craftsmanship and education.

15 years later this reached a crescendo, at least in terms of mat surfing. When it became obvious that an all-nylon surf mat had real potential to be a game changer, I was motivated to call my mother and ask for a loan to get our first roll of fabric...which was going to run over a grand. She didn't hesitate to lend her support.

There are a lot of people responsible for modern mat surfing...and Levara Gross was one of them.

-- Paul Gross


Anonymous said...

Beautiful tribute Paul.
She sounds like a very wonderful person...

John Hughes said...

Hello Paul,
Thanks for the great story and condolences on your loss. It sounds like your mom was a wonderful soul who will be greatly missed.

harmless neighborhood eccentric said...

Thank you Paul for sharing this beautifully written remembrance.
Please accept Susan and my sincere condolences.

Anonymous said...

sincere condolences

daniel said...

My condolences Paul ,that was a beautiful story of remembrance keep well

Anonymous said...

My sincere condolences PG. What a great mother you had and will still have now forever in your memories!

pranaglider said...


My deepest condolences on the passing of your Mom. It sounds like she and your father led an exciting, although at times difficult life. I'm sure she was proud of her family and as a parent that means the world.

Best Regards,


Anonymous said...

Sounds like she had a long beautiful ride! RIP

tuskedbeast said...

Beautiful... sincere condolences, Paul.


Jeff said...

Your mother was an amazing person.She will be well remembered.Condolences on her passing.Jeff and Lisa.

Anonymous said...

wonderful tribute to both your parents. My condolences on your loss.

patrick clements said...

My condolences on your loss,thank you for sharing a great story .
Aloha,Patrick Clements

misterdirk said...

RIP LG, and condolences to you and your family PG. I know that the passing of a parent is a threshold of no return, and its significance will continue to unfold for perhaps the rest of your life. I imagine that a lot of recollections are visiting you now. I'd like to hear more.

KiamaHighSchoolVox said...

Sorry for your loss and thanks for the beautiful story. She sounds amazing.

Okemah said...

Just a beautiful tribute, Paul.
Accept my condolences on the loss of your Mom.
Many fond memories of her will accompany you for the rest of your life.
Jonathan Jarrett

Anonymous said...

My condolences.


John Pierce said...

Dear Paul,
Big heartfelt thanks for you and your mother Mrs. Lavarra Gross,

for the vision and wherewithal to bring us this wonderful life changing "ride".

Scott said...

Rest in peace, Levara.

And peace to you, Paul, during this time.

Thanks to both of you for changing the game!