Grammy and Papa

Weeeeellllll, I sure like those crispy things!

Grammy, my paternal grandmother, was born and raised in Tennessee. She often unwittingly entertained me with her distinctive southern accent…and dietary habits. And observations about life. She loved to fish, pick walnuts, hickory nuts, berries and eat fried food (especially at the Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips near my home)…hence the favorite crispy things/bits left on fried fish. Oatmeal bread was too “rich” for a slice of toast. The best part of a leftover roast from dinner was what rose to the top in the broth amongst the congealed fat — which, once cooled, she poured over cold cereal for an evening snack. An expert seamstress, she sewed Barbie clothes for my sister and me; as well as long colorful “dress-up” dresses embroidered with rick rack and lace. She crocheted orange coasters for my wedding gift in the 1970’s. And over many years, she mended our countless “holey” socks, ripped seams and torn play clothes when she visited.

Grammy and my grandfather Papa, lived in Cincinnati, Ohio in a large house (or at least it seemed large to me) set on a hill. We made the trip from NY and NJ several times in my early childhood to visit them and my mother’s relatives as well. It was always an adventure: my sister, brother and I stretched out in the rear of the station wagon – back seat flattened out – supposedly to sleep during the long trip. We would leave around 9:30pm.  This was the 1950’s and 1960’s when the risk of kids flying through the air from a sudden stop wasn’t on the parental radar. Not sure how much sleep we actually got amidst the rolling around and poking each other. I do remember being somewhat awestruck by seeing the stars in the night sky out the window. The worst part of those trips: when I threw up out the window due to my tendency to get car sick. (at least I hope it was always out the window)

grammypapaandrea013
circa 1956-57 Ohio
grammypapaandrea012
circa 1956-57 Ohio

 

Papa was from the Chicago area, and met Grammy passing through her small country town on a train while working as a lumber inspector. He wooed her to Cincinnati, but she forever missed her southern home. And she missed her sisters and brother and fishing holes and woods.

The last time I saw Papa was in 1964 after one of those long car trips.

diary july 1964

Several weeks later he died unexpectedly at the age of 78.

What do I remember about my Papa?

He was a quiet man with kind eyes. He took me – just me! – for walks down his street when we visited (perhaps to buy the newspaper?). During one of those walks, he stopped, plucked a wide grass blade from a nearby patch, positioned it between his thumbs and showed me how to whistle through it. I was amazed. He plucked one for me and waited patiently until I was able to whistle all by myself. He taught me how to play chopsticks on their piano. And in their kitchen, we’d sit across from each other by the window and play double solitaire.

papaandrea
circa 1958-59 New Jersey

 

 

 

 

 

 

school pictures

My Opa and Oma grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. I was aware of that from a very early age. We traveled many miles by car and by train to visit various relatives there when I was young. It’s where my parents grew up too. Baseball meant the Cincinnati Reds – Opa’s favorite team. Both my brothers wore the requisite Reds baseball hats and jackets, even though we all lived on the east coast. Oma sometimes reminisced about the sales job she held (until she married) at the Wurlitzer Company in downtown Cincinnati. I remember stories about riding streetcars and shopping at Kroger’s.

Opa and Oma were very proud of their childhood beginnings…and the schools they went to. I’m not sure if they attended the same grammar schools. I wish I had asked more questions about their earliest years. Opa did mention some hijinks involving a piano in the music room which I won’t go into here; but suffice it to say he was a prankster. And proud of it. Which doesn’t surprise me at all.  The class pictures I found – some over 100 years old – make me wonder…what happened to all those children? What were their lives like? What were their stories?

Below is Opa’s kindergarten class (he is identified by the arrow).  I wonder how long those 5 year olds had to stand or sit still for the photographer. First or last day of school? Was that one class or 2 together? What a group…all those hats!

 

Opa age 5
1911 – 23rd District Kindergarten – Cincinnati, Ohio

***

Below is (what I assume to be) Oma’s Kindergarten class. Unfortunately this photo has deteriorated and there is no mention of what school it was (although I suspect it might be the Kirby Road School – it seems similar to her 8th grade location in the next photo). She is 4th from the right in the second row (black mark pointing her out). Oma told me how much she loved the big bows she wore in her hair as a child.

1911? oma
circa 1911 Kindergarten? Cincinnati, Ohio

***

Next is Oma’s 8th grade class photo. There she is in the front row, still wearing a big bow in her hair.  She went to the Kirby Road School, which is now listed on the “National Register of Historic Places” in Cincinnati, Ohio. It has been (or is planning to be) converted into apartments – 50,000 square feet of them; most complete with original chalkboards and wood floors & trim! I can just imagine her reaction to hearing that news. Perhaps a sly grin and a shake of the head….

1920 oma 8th grade
1920 – 8th grade – Kirby Rd. School – Cincinnati, Ohio

 

Another Kirby Road School class picture is in the form of a postcard. It is not dated, but appears to be 1914 or 1915 judging from how old the children look. Oma would have been in the 3rd or 4th grade; still wearing the bow, but not looking too pleased this time. She had written the note on the back of the postcard, shown below.

oma kirby rd school007
Kirby Road School – circa 1914 – 1915?
Kirby Road School – circa 1914 – 1915?

***

This is my favorite.

Opa’s grammar school class – not sure exactly which grade. Look at all the children carefully posed at their desks. Holding books open as if the photographer was interrupting a reading lesson. Library books are listed on the blackboard, so perhaps that explains the reason for the photo…promoting library books? Something new for the school? The flag draped on one desk – which seems odd, but there may have been some tie-in to the book theme.

They all look so serious…except Opa sitting in the back with a big grin on his face.

Opa at school
date unknown (1915-1916?) Cincinnati, Ohio

birthday parties

Birthdays.

Everyone has one. Whether they choose to admit it, announce it or celebrate it.

When you’re a little kid – and your parents are into the celebrating part – you might get a party. And then…decades later…if you are really lucky,  you will unearth old faded polaroid black and white party photos – of yourself plus those who attended your 5th birthday party. In my case it included my brother and sister and random neighborhood kids. Former neighborhood kids as well. Family friend kids from out of town. Five year olds don’t often take kindly to standing still for very long (Polaroids took several minutes each).  Never mind smiling on cue.

Being corralled on a tiny front porch with a latched gate at least kept everyone in one location. I do wonder if this was before or after the cake….

Try as I might, I can’t recall the names of most of these party guests. Besides my brother and sister (who, despite the ever present fact that I was the oldest, got invited to my parties for years…thanks to my mother-the-only-child), I do remember Joanne, the girl with the coat on. She lived down the street and whatever the weather (this was in May), she always wore a coat. Fun fact.

One other thing.

Seeing traces of my kids in my 5 year old face?

Bonus.

Opa

He made me laugh.

He loved me unconditionally.

My maternal grandfather was a character. In the real sense of the word. I called him Opa; the German version of Grandpa. He was very proud of his German ancestry. I called my grandmother Oma, in deference to his wishes I imagine. I saw Opa and Oma frequently throughout my childhood. They only lived an hour or so away.  [My paternal grandparents lived farther away & unfortunately I rarely saw them]1956 opa and me copy

We “clicked” – Opa and I – from my earliest memories of him. He “got” me in ways no one else did. He embraced the tomboy in me and loved to boast about my supposed skills on the softball field. “How’s my favorite shortstop?” he would greet me when I was 13. He encouraged me in all my interests. He did not, however, always approve of my choices of television shows and later…my politics. The thing is, we could always agree to disagree. I could speak up to him and it was okay. Never any love lost.  More on that in the future…

He called me his “#1 Granddaughter” (I was the oldest), but he would always be sure to add…”but I love all my grandchildren the same.”

He was smart, funny, strong-willed but fair. As a child, that’s how I knew him. He could also be difficult, abrupt and demanding. But never with me. More on that in the future as well… His sense of humor bordered on the – shall we say – inappropriate at times, but I always loved feeling like I was in on the joke.

Opa and I became “pen pals” when I was about 10 years old.  I still treasure those letters, so carefully written in his distinctive script. Sometimes on fancy stationary from fancy hotels when he was on a business trip or vacation. They always made me feel more grown up than I was…

1964 opa letter pg 1 edit
page 1 – November, 1964

 

1964 opa letter pg 2 edit
page 2 – November, 1964

He died over 25 years ago and I miss him still.

He believed in reincarnation.

He left me with so many unique memories – along with his letters, home movies and photographs. So many stories!

Stay tuned.

 

 

slides

IMG_2797 copy

The bright color caught my eye. The trademark yellow-with-red-lettering Kodachrome logo. Empty boxes that once held carousels of slides. I didn’t notice any slides or carousels; obviously not recyclable. The boxes had tumbled out of a recycling container that I passed on a recent walk. Put to the curb. Recycling day.  But I wondered about their contents. What happened to the slides? Did they get scanned? Printed? Or handed down to the next generation (I wondered hopefully…). I recognized those boxes and that logo because that was me a few years ago. My late grandfather photographed with slide film. He took pictures everywhere: on fishing trips, hunting trips, trips to Europe, Asia and around the USA. He also photographed his family, especially his grandchildren when they were young. Anyone who is still familiar with slides knows the quality is superior to film. To view 50-plus year old slide images is to step back in time.

My grandfather, who we called Opa, loved his grandchildren and loved to take slides, polaroids and 8mm home movies of us. I remember the bright pop of the flashbulb, which he licked before inserting in the flash unit of his camera. Usually while balancing a cigarette in one hand or while it hung from the corner of his mouth. (Throughout my childhood, I always held my breath waiting for the cigarette to fall out and set him or the house on fire. Fortunately it never did). Now I have those slides.

slide sorter

He also took hundreds of photos on his many trips with my grandmother Oma. A few years ago I went through the large box of slide boxes and “magazines” (for slide projectors pre-carousel) that had been handed down to me. Opa had sorted them but only labeled sporadically. Venice – Paris – Zurich – Florence – Pompeii – Naples – Rome – Switzerland – Madrid – India – Germany – ???                                               IMG_2759 copy

I looked at every slide, curious and fascinated by the people and places he framed and preserved. I estimate the time frame to be in the 1940’s – 1960’s. I wonder if he ever loaded the magazines into a slide projector, sat back and watched the images one by one.  I sure hope so.

IMG_2773 copy

…a few samples of his work…

 

 

 

downsizing and stuff – part 2 – photos

It shouldn’t be surprising, but too much stuff can still survive the process of downsizing. Despite the carloads and truckloads and endless Craig’s List posts and sales, too much stuff snuck into our new – smaller – home.

I wonder…so what? I found room for it – piled in closets and the 2 tiny storage units that we own. And there it stays…possibly mocking me.

Hundreds of photographs, negatives (remember negatives?) and slides (remember slides?) neatly organized by month and year in those fancy decorated shoe boxes you get at Michaels on sale for $2. Who will ever want them? Will they all end up in the nearest dumpster someday?

Photos are now mostly digital…poof! no boxes. No spaces to fill up. You can fit thousands on one of those little flash drives that fit in your pocket.  But nothing to hold in your hand….in their hands. Pieces of photo paper – glossy or pearl finish, with borders or without. Images of history.  Flip them over and if you’re lucky you’ll find  dates, names, places. The older ones may be faded or yellowed. Well loved ones may be creased or lightened from the sun where they were tacked to a bulletin board or hung near a sunny window.

Remember this? When we went to watch sunsets at Sunset Beach? Remember when she was learning to eat with a spoon? Remember when he shot a 3 & pretended to be on the Dream Team? When Opa and I played Pinochle for hours? Look at us sitting there, both of us with cigarettes alight. Memory triggers….

They all tell stories if you look close enough. I think that’s what fascinates me the most. Body language. All lined up sitting on the couch but not touching. Or with arms entwined. That smile, that frown, that wink, that grimace. Who is there and who isn’t. It all tells a story. Some happy. Some not so happy. Some painful. It is all important. To someone. I am the keeper of all that.

And there are the photographs from a hundred years ago – long departed relatives and friends posing for photos only taken a few times in a year. Most are carefully posed with older women and men standing stiffly in a back row behind the younger women or children. Or, as in the case of my grandfather’s family; his father and uncle standing with arms crossed, others grinning, others not. Three generations together. What was the reason for the photo – bow ties and all? A turn of the century family story.

1915
circa 1915

 

This still doesn’t solve my problem. All those photos in the Michael’s boxes. And the rest in file size storage bins – including the aforementioned old photos plus polaroids and instamatic prints. Then there are school pictures of….everybody. I can’t imagine that my adult children will ever want the full extra set of their toothy grin fifth grade photos. Plus the bookshelf stuffed with 40 years of photo albums.

A new friend said to me recently – do you want to leave behind a gift or a burden? Not that I am planning to get to the “leaving behind” stage of life for a while.

So what to do? I still have no idea.

BUT…..It’s so much less than before.

I insist

(to myself)