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.