Grandparents

Nancy Merrill is hosting a photo challenge. The prompt this week: Grandparents

IN A NEW POST CREATED FOR THIS CHALLENGE, SHARE A PHOTO OR TWO FEATURING GRANDPARENTS OF ANY KIND.

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I think of my grandparents often. I have written about them in this blog many times. I miss them still. I have included links to their birthday posts for those who would like a peek at the lives of these exceptional grandparents. Two of my favorite photographs are posted below.

 
My four grandparents were the definition of unconditional love.

 

May 1957 opa oma 042 copy
Opa and Oma with me (age 3) and my sister

Opa – my mother’s father, wrote me countless letters (which I still have). I was his “Pen Pal.” He showered me with words of encouragement and support in all my childhood adventures. His sense of humor is family legend. He awakened my love of all things cards and games. Opa and I would sit across from each other playing Pinochle for hours on end…one of my last memories of him.

Oma – my mother’s mother, learned to drive a car so she could make the 45 minute trip from NY to visit me – her first grandchild. At the age of 47. She baked birthday cakes for her grandchildren and made a mean macaroni and cheese. She wrote to me at camp and sent postcards from her and Opa’s many trips around the USA. We became very close as she spent her last few years near my home.

 

grammypapa and me
Grammy & Papa and me (age 3)

Grammy – my father’s mother, lived many hours away from my family…but she wrote me countless letters – full of details of her life “down South” with her sisters. After Papa died, I got to know her better as she made extended visits to stay with us. She was a character and not afraid to speak her mind. An expert seamstress, she made dress-up outfits for my sister and me. Doll clothes too.

Papa – my father’s father, made an impression on me during the short time I knew him…as he died unexpectedly the year I turned 10. I still have a few of his letters. I remember him as a quiet, sweet and patient man who made me feel special.

 

[As a grandparent to a spectacular 3 year old, I now understand how much fun it is!]

Gadget

This post inspired by V.J.’s Weekly Challenge #49: Gadget

Tell (or show) me about those gadgets in your life, or better yet, put on your creative caps and invent something new.

 

 

magnifier 1
flashlight magnifier

 

It is right here on my desk.

A gadget of sorts that I tossed in a drawer over 25 years ago.
Thinking…I can probably use this thing once in a while. If I ever need it. Someday. Maybe for teeny tiny print on a label…

Teasing my husband – who is a year my senior – you’ll probably need this before I do. 

Little did I know….

The truth is…I kept it because it was Oma’s. My grandmother, who ended up nearly blind from macular degeneration, viewed life through a blurry haze. Despite the thick glasses she was forced to wear in the last few decades of her life.

When Oma moved to an assisted living facility near me after Opa died, I arranged for her to have cataract surgery – with amazing results. Honey I can see colors!  At 84, the blurry haze was finally in color.

Many years earlier she had gone to the Lighthouse for the Blind in New York for help. Which is where she got this flashlight magnifier. A marvelous invention.

It turned out to be more than a gadget. It was her pathway to reading greeting cards, letters from family and friends. Reader’s Digest. Restaurant menus.

She died at the age of almost 87. I saved her letters. Her photographs. A few pieces of her jewelry. The hand mirror that emits a laughing sound when you pick it up. And the Lighthouse for the Blind flashlight magnifier.

It has been dusted off and put to use a few times over the years. However, the older I get – and the more I have to reach for those DARN reading glasses – the more I switch on Oma’s gadget instead…

So handy when I examine Opa’s color slides…checking for dust…before scanning them for this blog.

It works like a charm.

I think of her every time I use it.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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.

opa oma friends 1926004
Labor Day 1926 Loveland Park, Ohio

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

 

 

 

 

Memorial Day

Today is the “official” Memorial Day, but as far as I’m concerned, May 30th is the real Memorial Day, no matter what day of the week it is. For the record.

So I’m an old fart. I’m okay with that.

“Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day, honey” Oma told me years ago, when I was certainly old enough to know this already (or at least remember it). “We would go to the cemetery with flowers and ‘decorate’ the graves of soldiers who had died in battle.”

Today…how is it celebrated…or…advertised? I opened this morning’s local newspaper  and found a handful of colorful sales flyers…each with a common theme:

Memorial Day value

RED WHITE & BLUE SALE 

Memorial Day SALE shop 2-day Door Busters

MEMORIAL DAY sale ALL YOU NEED FOR WHEREVER SUMMER TAKES YOU

MEMORIAL DAY RED, WHITE & BLUE SALES EVENT 5 DAYS ONLY

Memorial Day: another holiday married to massive sales events throughout the country. A one day sale. A two day sale. A five day sale. Another excuse for a sale. That’s common in this consumer driven culture we live in, but…really?

I personally was never aware of anyone in my family’s history who died in a war. As far as I know, my living relatives either survived or did not serve in the military; except for my father. He served his two years in the states during the Korean War but his number wasn’t called to deploy. I came of age during the Vietnam War – I was too young to actively protest, but was horrified by what I saw on television. By the time I graduated from college, the war had been over for several years. I didn’t know anyone who served there.

And then…there was Mrs. Lynch.

When I was a child (11 years old +/-) – and my parents went on a trip – my favorite babysitter Mrs. Lynch stayed overnight with my two sisters, brother and me. She wore a freshly starched white uniform (similar to what a nurse would wear), giving us the sense that we were in the hands of a professional. A short woman, with thin curly hair (maybe pulled back under a hairnet); she had a thick Irish accent & a high pitched voice. I thought she was “old” at the time, but she was probably only in her late 60’s or early 70’s. (I say “only” now because my perspective is altogether different). She also made the best french toast, grilled cheese sandwiches (I think it was all the butter….) and pork chops ever. But I mostly remember her stories. Mrs. Lynch often told me about mailing care packages to her sons during “the war.” I am fairly sure she was referring to World War II. I had never heard any stories like that before and I wish I could remember more about them now. The emotion in her voice was palpable as she described packing up snacks and goodies for her “boys.” I do remember that. The worry and fear and fierce love wrapped in with the only thing she could do for them at the time. The son of a friend of mine enlisted after 9/11. My friend was also in that dark place until he came back from Iraq.

My childhood diaries mark Memorial Day – May 30th – as the day I watched and/or marched in parades as a Girl Scout, went swimming at the local pool, played baseball in the street and had cookouts with friends. I also noted it was our dog’s birthday.  And no school! – if it was a weekday. The year I turned 14, however, we spent Memorial Day cleaning the house, going through boxes in our overstuffed basement and changing the sheets on the beds. No parade. No barbecues. After that year, I have no record or memory of what our family did, if anything, to mark Memorial Day.

So today, for the first time in at least 50 years, I went to a Memorial Day parade. I now live in a small rural New England town. It was a cloudy and chilly morning for May. I looked out the window at…well, gloom. Was it raining too? I stuck my head out the door to check. No, it wasn’t raining. By then it was 10:30 am. The parade had started at 10:00. Finding a parking place could prove challenging.

I am not familiar with the downtown back roads here yet, so thank goodness for GPS. The music of drums, trumpets and flutes grew progressively louder as I pulled into a parking space near the end of the parade route – near the town War Memorial. Just a block away from the main street, I made it to a spot on the sidewalk as the initial motorcade of police officers approached – blue motorcycle lights flashing. The sides of the street were lined with women, men, children, babies in strollers, dogs on leashes. Many were waving small flags. Then came the marchers: Firefighters. Boy Scouts. Daisy Scouts. Girl Scouts. Daughters of the American Revolution. The local historical society. The high school marching band was, by far, the largest group in the parade. It passed by playing “It’s a Grand Old Flag” in near perfect unison.

Much to my surprise, I almost immediately felt a lump form in my throat. Which didn’t go away for many minutes. The music. The earnest young faces trying to keep step with each other. The elderly firefighter walking with a cane. Those faces could have been anywhere. Any time. Any place.

And the flatbed truck with white crosses and flags.

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Memorial Day 2018

 

The parade marchers eventually stopped at the war memorial, across the street from where I was standing. The band members turned to face it. There was a short service and presentation by town officials. The origin of Memorial Day was explained. As was the Missing Man Table. The involvement of our town’s soldiers in the Civil War was mentioned. We all recited The Pledge of Allegiance together. A young girl tried her best to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” and everyone clapped. A 21 gun salute followed and then I heard someone playing “Taps.” We all stood and watched and clapped and put our hands on our hearts.

It has been many, many years since I stood with a group of Americans and said The Pledge of Allegiance at a ceremony honoring fallen war veterans.

“The Star Spangled Banner,” always played before my kids’ high school basketball games, seemed a much better fit on this Memorial Day morning.

And those sale flyers? They are in recycling.

IMG_5978
Memorial Day 2018

 

 

 

 

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.