This post is to commemorate my maternal grandmother. I have no real memory of her. She died when I was three. My mother would tell me that I would run to her and put my arms upward, which meant “pick me up and cuddle me please!” She would say, “I can’t lift you but if your mother lifts you, you can sit in my lap (in German).” Wish I could remember that.
I owe a lot to her. She left her home in Germany to emigrate here when she was a very young married woman. She spoke no English and never did although she lived here for fifty years. She never had to learn. She lived in a German community. The shop owners and butchers all spoke German. Even the church had German masses. I have a soft spot in my heart for emigrants who do not speak the language. I can’t blame them for wanting to hold onto their culture and history. It’s not because they are lazy. Good grief! They need to work hard to make it.
I can’t imagine leaving my family and friends and all I knew to go off to a foreign country in those days. Especially since it was unlikely you would ever return to the homeland, even for a visit. She didn’t.
She had nine children. That was common in those days – five boys and four girls. My mother was the second youngest. My grandfather died in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. My mother was under ten. She had vivid memories of her father complaining about the chiming of the bells as he lay dying. It was Armistice Day signaling the end of World War I.
Now my grandmother had all these kids to raise. The older ones worked and turned in their money so the family could survive. She took in boarders, grew vegetables, canned food. It was run like a commune. Everyone had to work together. There was no Medicare or social security in those days (or indoor plumbing either!). My mother was yanked out of school when she was thirteen to go to work. The boys, who had more physical jobs, had first dibs at the meat but there was always vegetables, dumplings and strudel to go around.
My mother often talked about her childhood. It was nothing like mine. It was out of a Dickens tale with all the hardship but none of the nastiness. It wasn’t at all like “The Sound of Music” which she loved. She wasn’t sad or resentful. It was all about family and surviving. Christmas presents were oranges (a real treat) and nuts with maybe some yarn to make a sweater.
It is difficult for me to grasp what these women sacrificed and accomplished in their lives in order to make mine so much better. Thanks Grammy and Mom too!
Note: The picture in this post is the only one I have of her. My brother had to identify her to be sure I posted the correct picture. Her gray hair is braided and wrapped around her head. According to the bro, she always wore an apron and always looked old. She was a great cook and a loving Grammy.
This post was Freshly Pressed on December 29, 2011.