I was sorting through some old family photos the other day when I came across my favorite picture of my grandmother. She’s standing in the backyard of of her modest brick bungalow, dressed in her Sunday best, complete with hat, white gloves and one of those fox stoles that were so popular back in the fifties. She’s looking off into the distance, unsmiling, formal, and quietly dignified. Even though I remember her smiling easily and more often than not wearing a casual cotton “house dress” as she went about her daily chores, there’s something about this photo that really captures the true spirit of the woman I remember from my childhood.
I know only the most basic details of my grandmother’s history. I know that she was born in 1893 to German immigrants, and grew up speaking German at home and English at school. I know she married my grandfather when she was almost thirty years old, and that shortly afterwards she had two children, a girl first and then a boy (my father). To my knowledge, she never worked outside of her home after she was married, and like many women of her generation, she never learned to drive a car. I know that she lived through the Great Depression and counted herself lucky to have “enough” at a time when so many people were hungry and homeless, and how she regularly handed out sandwiches to those who came to her door, asking for food. She raised her family and lived her entire married life in the small brick house she and my grandfather purchased shorty after they were married.
I was lucky enough to live near my grandparents for the first eleven years of my life, so I spent a lot of time with them both, but especially with my grandmother. She came to our house often for family gatherings, or to watch my sisters and I while my mother ran errands, and she almost always brought cupcakes, cookies, or brownies with her. Even better were the times when we went to her house, where she kept the candy jar full and stocked our favorite brand of root beer in the refrigerator. She rarely took the time to actually play with us, but simply welcomed us into her home and then got on with whatever job needed doing. Sometimes we helped her work around the house, other times we headed upstairs to the back bedroom where she kept a toy chest filled just for us.
I wish I had taken the time to get to know my grandmother more, but she died just before I turned eighteen, which was well before I was mature enough to be interested in family history. I know she stayed close to her brother and sister, getting together with her siblings and their families every week, that she was very active in her church, and enjoyed playing bridge and canasta with her friends. I know that she lived to see her only daughter die a violent death, and can only imagine her heartache and grief.
But I would like to have known if she was happy spending her life at home, raising children and keeping house, or if she had other hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled? I wonder if she waited until she was almost thirty to marry (unusually old, in that time) because she was still needed to help her parents and siblings at home, or if she simply didn’t meet the right man until my grandfather came along. I even wonder about the silly, insignificant things, like why she prided herself on never drinking water with her meals, or where she got the idea that drinking white soda pop gave a person kidney stones. (She let us drink root beer, but not 7-Up.)
Sadly, there are many things I’ll never know about my grandmother. But I have my photographs, and my memories of a strong, caring woman who had an ingrained sense of duty, who enjoyed her friends and who loved her family dearly. And I know, without a doubt, that I’m proud to be her granddaughter.