Happy Birthday Papa

Chopsticks!

Papa showed me how to play the classic simple song. A waltz actually. On his piano.
Sitting right beside me. Just the 2 of us.
At his big old house in Cincinnati, Ohio. One warm day in the 1960’s during a rare family visit.
I was only 8 years old.  I wish it had been the first of many lessons.

Papa, my paternal grandfather, was born March 9, 1886 in Chicago, Illinois. The middle child of five.  I don’t know much about his early life except he met Grammy when passing through her small rural Tennessee town. He often traveled by train from Cincinnati, working as a lumber inspector for his brother’s company. He rented a room in my grandmother’s childhood home during stops in Graysville. He eventually won her over…and that was that!

Papa and Grammy married and raised my father and his older sister in Cincinnati, where Papa owned and operated a lumber company. No small feat for a man with only an 8th grade education.

I probably saw Papa maybe a dozen times before he died unexpectedly at the age of 78. Cincinnati was very far away from where I lived on the east coast. Visits did not happen often. The last one was a whirlwind car trip a few weeks before he died.

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Papa and me

What do I remember about Papa?

He was a short quiet man with kind brown eyes. Papa loved to put on his cap and go for long walks. Sometimes he asked me – just me! – to join him. During one of those walks, he stopped, plucked a wide blade of grass from a nearby patch and carefully positioned it between the sides of his thumbs. He pressed his thumbs together…held them up to his mouth, took a deep breath, puffed out his cheeks…and blew out…. It whistled!
Was this magic?
He then plucked one for me. And waited calmly until I was able to make it whistle all by myself.
I’m (obviously) still impressed all these years later.

I learned how to play chopsticks on the piano during one long…patient…lesson with him. Later, in their sunny kitchen, we’d sit across from each other by the window and play double solitaire. Or a new card game he taught me called 7Up.  At the metal table with the shiny sides and checkered formica top.

papa and me
Papa and me
circa 1958-59

Sadly our connection was short lived, but fortunately he left his loving stamp on my memory…and my heart.

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Happy Birthday Papa!

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Fishing in Tennessee

 

[ps…Papa would be thrilled to know…that coincidentally…his middle name is the same as his great great grandson’s first name…and…also coincidentally…they were both born on the 9th day of the month…]

 

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.

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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

~~~

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

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)

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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.

We all missed him and his sweet smile, but I don’t think Grammy ever completely got over losing him.