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