Happy Birthday Oma

“Honey, I don’t care what anyone tells you – the golden years are shit for the birds!”

(My) Oma
circa 1992

Oma always told it like it was. To anyone who would listen.
One of the many things I loved about her. She got right to the point. No mind games.

And at the age of 86, that was her take on life, confined to a wheelchair in an assisted living facility near me. Her shoulders disintegrated. Knee replacements failing. Almost blind. Skin thin as tissue paper. Widowed. She was pissed. Understandably.

 

Omaformal2
Oma was my maternal grandmother.
Born and raised in Ohio.
Oldest of 2.
Self-proclaimed flapper.
Married at 22.
Mother of one.
Grandmother of 5.
Greatgrandmother of 6.
Lover of all things strawberry.
And Stouffer’s creamed chipped beef.
And “The Price is Right” & “Days of Our Lives”
And Andy Rooney’s segment on “60 Minutes.”
And…as I discovered…she loved yellow roses…just like I did.

When Oma was having a good day, she also liked to talk politics, gossip and reminisce about her childhood…

I played jacks and I loved to roller skate. Those were the only things I could do! Back in those days, the girls wore big bows in their hair. Boys and girls were in separate classrooms. Why, I remember visiting my cousins on their farm in Indiana. It was so much fun. It was a beautiful farm, too.

She would slip into the past and take me with her. I saw chickens and cows and the juicy pies set to cool on the kitchen windowsill. She spoke of her fireman father who developed crippling rheumatoid arthritis but doted on his little girl.  He spoiled me, she said with a grin.

Omaflapper2

Oma only completed the 10th grade, quitting to work full time and bring in money for her family. She loved her job as a secretary at a music/piano store in Cincinnati.  Customers came in to listen to the newest records in private listening rooms.  She was thrilled to be a part of that.

But I remember her long before the “golden years” overtook her.
Her quick wit, her caring and love of family.
Her spirit.

Oct 1955 oma&a001
I spent weekends with Oma & Opa several times a year. My childhood getaways. Just me and them.

When Opa was at work, Oma and I went shopping – back before the days of big box stores and Walmart.  We’d walk up and down the town’s main street. Every shopkeeper greeted her by name, the bells on the door signaling our arrival. We got fresh sliced ham for sandwiches and a thick steak at the butcher shop. Black & white cookies and warm rolls from the bakery. Opa’s shirts at the dry cleaners.

One day, on our drive home from shopping, we were waiting at a stop light next to a carload of teenage boys. The driver gunned his engine and laughed at us: the “old” woman and the kid. Well…when the light turned green that “old” woman floored it. We were off like a shot – her 8 cylinder blue Chrysler leaving those hot-rodders in the dust! I cheered!  Wow!, I remember thinking, Wow.

It is still my favorite Oma story. This “old woman” was 60ish at the time.

***

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I know I was in her thoughts when she was on trips with Opa.
I still have a pile of postcards written just to me in her perfect handwriting…

And birthdays? She would bake each of her grandchildren a cake of his or her choosing. From scratch.
Her other specialties? Waffles made from Bisquick. Applesauce from scratch. Velveeta macaroni and cheese. Using the right brand was crucial.

The results were outstanding.

Upon moving to my first home, I asked for her famous macaroni and cheese recipe. She complied:

oma recipe039

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My Oma (or Ruth, as she was known to the rest of the world), would have been 112 years old today – October 19th.
I can just imagine her rolling her eyes at the very idea of living that long.

Happy Birthday Oma!

oma 1991040

Happy Birthday Opa

Beefeater’s martini straight up. No ice. Lemon peel on the side – if I wanted lemonade I would have ordered it. 

That’s how Opa ordered his drink – the first order in the first round of drinks – when he took our family out to dinner when I was growing up. It sounds kind of rude, but I would imagine if time after time he got the lemon peel in the drink…well, he ran out of patience. I would wait with great curiosity to see what the waiter or waitress would bring. The fancy stemmed glass filled with a clear liquid served on a small plate…where a few slices of lemon peel hopefully (!) would rest. I don’t remember where the olive was supposed to go. Worst case scenario: a glass filled with ice AND lemon peel AND the gin. High drama for us kids.

Next up was ordering off the menu. We could all order what we wanted. No children’s menu. I always felt so grown up learning the fine art of “find out what goes with the dinner.”

Split and toasted!

When the inevitable basket of dinner rolls arrived to keep us fed while waiting for the meals to arrive, Opa would send it back to the kitchen. Please have these rolls split and toasted! And they did and they were amazing and warm and crunchy with butter melting all over.

The bunny!

While we crunched on warm, toasty rolls, Opa made magic happen with his white cloth napkin. He turned, napkin hidden, to the side – carefully rolled, then twisted the cloth and…turned back to face us. And there in the crook of his left arm was a napkin “bunny” – that kept “hopping” up his arm as he patted it with his right hand. All the while he would be talking to it and to us. We’d stare and stare. Wow. That’s entertainment.

The bra!

As we got a bit older, the bunny didn’t capture our attention like Opa’s napkin bra could. He’d quick fold up his napkin, pull the corners and briefly hold it up in front of his tie and pressed suit jacket. Ta Da! Opa had a bra! Hysterical and ridiculous every time. This napkin trick embarrassed my mother immensely but thoroughly entertained his grandchildren. How did he do this? Simple (but I didn’t figure it out for a long time):

  1. Fold napkin so that the 2 sides meet in the middle.
  2. Fold the opposite way so the open edges are on the outside.
  3. Grab left corners with left hand and right corners with right hand and pull.

 

Sparklers!

When it was someone’s birthday, there was a cake brought out to the birthday girl or boy. A cake with a lit sparkler! The cake could be seen from across the dining room shooting sparks into the air.  As it was set before you everybody sang Happy Birthday to You, You Belong in a Zoo….

***

I am honoring my Opa’s memory on June 26th – what would have been his 112th birthday – by sharing his restaurant tricks & talents. Valuable hints for grandparents everywhere. How to continue embarrassing your children and endearing you to your grandchildren forever.

Happy Birthday Opa!

opa&me

 

The Whole darn Bunch

Opa never told me about his drawings.

I found one in a box with a stack of his and Oma’s old photographs. A small rectangle of cardstock – measuring about 6″ x 2 1/4.”  Drawn in ink, perhaps with a fountain pen. My mother had written on the back…identifying it as Opa’s handiwork.

 

opa oma friends 1926005
circa 1926

Who are these people? I recognized two names: “Hank” is Opa and “Ruth” is Oma.  The details make me smile. Cowlicks. Curly hair. Twelve friends holding hands and grinning. Each person just a bit different from the next. Whimsical and sweet and young and happy.

And then I found these photos tucked in with the drawing.

opa oma friends 1926002
Labor Day 1926 Loveland Park, Ohio

I can match two of them…Hank and Ruth are second from the right. The rest – I can only guess; although “Andy” in the tank top could be a close bet on the far left.

Oma was 19 and Opa was 20 years old in September, 1926; as I imagine most of these young people probably were too. Were they all childhood friends? I have no idea. All the photos tell me is they were enjoying the day and each other. Celebrating a day off from work together.

How Opa & Oma loved their friends! They traveled with them. Exchanged letters for many years. Went out to eat. Visited both near and far. Opa went on numerous hunting and fishing trips with his buddies. Oma went along on at least one hunting trip that I know of, but I think the black flies put an end to that. They traveled to Florida for deep sea fishing trips with lifelong friends. They both made friends most everywhere they went.  Opa was an open, gregarious man who relished the art of conversation. Oma was a bit quieter, but ever present with a twinkle in her eye and a sly comeback.

Opa traveled in Europe quite often in the 1940’s and 1950’s for business. He once struck up a conversation with a man sitting next to him on a long distance train in Switzerland. Opa’s soon-to-be new friend happened to have twin daughters who were the same age as his daughter (my mother). The twins became penpals with my mother and eventually emigrated to the United States a decade later. Fast forward to my childhood — they became like family and shared many holiday celebrations with us. One twin became my sister’s godmother. I am still close friends with the surviving elderly sister, who now lives back in Switzerland. Look what a chance meeting on a train led to.

I wonder what happened to my grandparents’ friends after this Labor Day in 1926. Their friends from before marriage and children and, in a few years, the Great Depression.  When everything changed.

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Labor Day 1926 Loveland Park, Ohio

I am glad they had each other…The Whole darn Bunch.

 

 

 

 

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

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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

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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.

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Kirby Road School – circa 1914 – 1915?
Kirby Road School – circa 1914 – 1915?

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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

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.