Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Grossmama

Grossmama
By Jane-Ann Heitmueller


Family members tell me we are alike in many respects. This pleases me immensely, for as I rattle around in this 137 year old home place, where she tended to daily chores as the mistress, I often sense her presence with comfort and kinship.

For more than half a century Grossmama Eda rawboned, hardworking, talented German grandmother to my husband sedately settled into a world dedicated to the desires of her mate, Grosspapa Edd, yet found solitary solace in her miniscule environment. During the early nineteen hundreds she quietly and efficiently ran her household of three sons and a daughter.

Though one of few words, Grossmama’s genteel manner and kindness was offered to all who entered her home, whether it be the well dressed city business men who had traveled sixty miles north to purchase Grosspapa’s state renowned grape wine, the minister from her church, or a farm laborer who shared a hearty noontime meal of potato soup and freshly baked bread with the family at their kitchen table.

As a baker and gardener there were none more talented or generous than she. Each Saturday, her large farm kitchen was literally strewn with flour and saturated with delicious scents, as she went about her weekly baking ritual. Thick, moist prune coffee cakes, succulent cinnamon rolls, loaves of steaming wheat bread and crisp Snickerdoodle cookies all added to the wonderful aroma her talents and love created each week.

Because Grosspapa let his work horses graze freely in the yard, Grossmama had to fence off her profuse flower and vegetable gardens from the hungry, inquisitive animals. Any sprout in her able fingers was assured to be productive and lovely. She did indeed have a green thumb, and nothing pleased her more than to joyfully share her beauties with anyone who happened by the farm.

Grosspapa had often remarked that he needed two wives, one for the house and one for the fields. However, Grossmama somehow seemed to be quite capable of filling both roles. She tended to her household chores…washing, ironing, cleaning, cooking, as well as her duties planting and harvesting the crops of strawberries, corn, Irish and sweet potatoes with the rest of her family. After preparing breakfast and cleaning the kitchen, she would tie on her bonnet and head to the fields, working until she heard the noon whistle blow at the nearby sawmill, then hurry back to the house to prepare lunch. While the others settled in for an after lunch nap and the horses freely grazed in the yard, she tidied the kitchen and was ready to return to the fields for the afternoon. Grossmama ended her long, busy day by preparing a hearty supper and once again putting things in order before removing her apron and settling in for a night of rest.

Due to her quiet demeanor, simple mode of dress and lack of feminine frills one would never imagine that Grossmama was a woman of great pride. I was shocked to learn that fact many years after having married into the family.

While exploring the attic of this old farmhouse one dreary, rainy afternoon I was delighted to discover a large, beautifully framed photo of Grosspapa and Grossmama…their wedding portrait. She, standing almost a head taller than her groom, both erect and expressionless, looking straight into the camera, as her left hand gently rested on the wrist of his outstretched right arm.

Giddy with excitement, I securely gathered the portrait in my arms and dashed down the narrow, unlit stairway to learn more about this surprising treasure. It was in the explanation that I learned Grossmama certainly was a lady of great pride. My husband informed me that the photo was taken several months after their marriage, for in the days of the traveling photographer one often had to wait until he arrived in your community before having a photo taken. Following the wedding she had packed her dress away, and as one could easily view on the photo, the beautiful satin gown had become creased and wrinkled by the time the photograph was snapped, many months after their marriage ceremony. Grossmama was too disappointed and embarrassed to hang the picture in her parlor. She chose instead to quietly and carefully conceal it under the attic rafters for more than fifty years. I, on the other hand, have chosen to honor the life of this good woman by displaying it proudly, for over forty years, in the parlor of her beloved home, Mulberry Farm, where my husband, sons and I now reside.

The urgent ringing of the phone, mingled with booming thunder and crackling lightening awakened us in the wee hours that crisp November dawn of 1967. “She has passed… come quickly”, was the urgent message which propelled us from the warmth of our bed to face the menacing elements, as we dressed and rushed to the farm.

Respectively entering the subdued residence we were ushered into the dimly lit Victorian parlor, where we were met and seated with grieving family members. Reverend Schultz, a tall, reserved, skinny, bald fellow stood in the center of the room. His long, bony fingers clutched a well worn Bible to his chest. Suddenly, the parlor lights began to flicker, hail pelted the tin roof overhead and swirling winds whipped branches against the farmhouse windows. Above the fray the minister’s high pitched, nasal voice could be heard as he began earnestly praying for her spirit, while overhead the raging storm announced dear Grossmama’s entrance into the heavens.

Closing my eyes and bowing my head I mentally etched each facet of this occasion in my mind. How uncharacteristically appropriate. A boisterous, electrifying exit for this very subdued soul. Ah, the irony of this night! God rest her soul.

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