Prairie Wife of the Week December 13, 2013
Posted December 13, 2013 by Prairie Wife - 2 comments
Prairie Wife (PW): As a young child and woman I never really thought about my Grandma Bea as a person. She was always there at birthdays and holidays and could play a mean game of Uno or SkipBo. As I have matured as a woman, wife, and mother I have come to realize more and more how the history of my female relatives is a part of who I am as a women. Pa’s mother passed away this year and I realized that there was so much I didn’t know about her. I am so thankful that my Grandma Bea took the time to talk to me and share some of her story. Now I can pass a little of her story to my daughter. Women of her generation were the original Prairie Wives; loyal, loving and determined to provide the best life they could for their families, and that’s why we picked Grandma Bea for our Prairie Wife of the Week! I hope that after you read this you take some time to hear the stories the women in your family have to share.
PW: So start out by telling us when and where you were born, and a little bit about your family.
Grandma Bea (GB): I was born on May 12th, 1928, in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. I had an older sister, Ethel Paula, who passed away at 22 month from bronchitis. Back then it wasn’t like now where they have all the medicines. There was nothing they could do.
When we were going through my mother’s things before we moved her into a home, we were looking in her cedar chest and we found a doll that had belonged to Ethel. It was the only time I had ever seen my mother cry. I also had an older Brother Alvin (he passed away this year), and a younger sister Audrey. She is only 15 months younger than me. Then my younger brother Bernard; he was 7 years younger.
PW: When I was talking with Ma later she mentioned that my Grandmother had spoken only German until she went to Kindergarten, where she learned to speak English. Ma can still remember hearing her parents speak in German when they didn’t want the kids to know what they were talking about.
TTS (Texas Two Steppin’): I am one of the oldest grandchildren, and I grew up hearing all of these stories about our relatives immigrating and then carrying on our German heritage. They also wrote regularly to family members in Germany, especially Tante Agnes (Aunt Agnes). So when I was very young I decided that once I got in high school I was going to learn to speak German and eventually travel there. One of my favorite memories is the first Christmas I was able to sing Christmas carols like “O Tannenbaum” and read stories in German with my grandparents. Plus, they were overjoyed that I was able to meet Tante Agnes in Germany in 1988 just before she passed away.
PW: What are some of your favorite memories from your childhood?
GB: My father owned a barber shop near our house. We used to drop off his lunch, and we would often get a sucker when we went to visit him (he kept them for the kids who got haircuts). We had just dropped off Daddy’s lunch and my mother was driving the Model T, I was sitting in the back seat enjoying my sucker as we started for home. She made a U turn, and my door wasn’t shut properly, and it opened and I flew out. The next thing I remember was me sitting in the rocking chair back at the house. The only thing I was upset about was that my sucker my dad gave me was gone; of course they never took me to the doctor!
The house we lived in when I was born didn’t have any running water or a bathroom, though my dad’s barber shop did. When we moved into our new house my Uncle came to help. Afterwards he insisted on listening to the Joe Lewis fight over the radio, I think that was the first time a black person had ever won a fight.
Along this house were pine trees, and my dad and his brother cut them down, and my Uncle, who owned a lumber mill up North, made lumber. They used that lumber to build a porch onto the house. Even this new house didn’t have a toilet!
One time my brother jumped off the top of our garage, I think he was just showing off, and sprained his ankle. I had to take over his paper route for him for a few weeks.
Most Saturdays my mom would send us to the hamburger store down the street to go get a bowl of ice cream for a quarter. One time I was walking with our bowl to the store, and I dropped the quarter down a sewer grate and lost it. I was so scared to go home without the ice cream! So, I went into the hamburger store and saw all the men sitting there eating. I went up to one of them and asked for a quarter. He gave me one, and I bought the ice cream and ran back home. No, I did not ever tell my mom!
PW: Apparently no talking to strangers and not asking men for money was a rule back in the ‘30s too. I wish I had a picture of the look on her face when she said “No, I did not ever tell my mom!”
TTS: Obviously you know PW and TTS are working on this project together. What major projects have you and your sister shared?
GB: Other than playing in the sandbox, that’s about the only thing! We had a little cradle that my Grandpa made and a little doll buggy and we played dolls all the time.
PW: Growing up as a teenager what did you like to do with your friends?
GB: I played the alto clarinet in the band so we had band practice after school. Sometimes we had picnics with the band kids. I also always was active in a lot of the after-school plays. My first role was in 3rd grade, and I was a parrot in a cage. I insisted that my mom help me practice my lines over and over. All I said was, “Polly wanna cracker.” My poor mother! When it came time for the play I said my big line “Polly wanna cracker,” and my little brother Bernie spent the whole rest of the play saying it over and over as loud as he could.
PW: Little brothers haven’t changed much either.
GB: None of us really ever had time to do anything other than school. I also had to walk a mile to and from school, so this took up a lot of time going back and forth. As a family we ate our big meal of the day at dinner (lunch) because we never knew when my dad would be done at the barber shop in the evenings.
I spent quite a bit of time babysitting. I started out watching my music teacher’s children, and there was a neighbor family that I would babysit for and do housework. Between babysitting and chores around the house none of us really had any free time ever.
TTS: What were some of your favorite beauty tips, and do any of them still hold true today?
GB: You couldn’t go to school until you were scrubbed good. We set out hair in pin curls and got home permanents. My mom never wore makeup so we never did either. I do remember that every Saturday we would clip our nails and my mom would put clear nail polish on them.
TTS: That probably explains why Ma never wore that much makeup either. I sure changed that family tradition, and I think Prairie Wife is following along in my footsteps!
PW: Tell us about motherhood, what were some of your joys and challenges? (Grandma Bea has four children, two boys and two girls)
GB: I think each one of the kids was a new challenge, they were just so different! I remember talking to my oldest Fran’s kindergarten teacher. She was so surprised to learn that he had two little sisters. All he had ever talked about was his baby brother; he never mentioned that he had two sisters in between! Your mom just sat in the corner curled up with a book. Marge was always getting into trouble. When he was little, my youngest, Larry, was always getting out our gate and onto the street. I am sure the neighbors thought I was the worst mother, but I just tied a clothes line around him. I made sure it was long enough so he could go all over the yard wherever he wanted. We also had a neighbor who thought she was too good for us because her kids went to public school and we went to Catholic school. She wouldn’t let her daughter play with my kids.
PW: I don’t know how many times I wished I could tie up my Cowkids to know they are safe! It’s comforting to hear that mothers back then worried what others thought too. Apparently mothers have always been hard on each other.
GB: One time, when Larry was too old to be tied, he came home with a police officer and said, “Look who I brought home!” It turns out they thought he had been throwing rocks at car windshields and broken them. We knew he hadn’t done it, and in the end there was no way they could prove it. Every time I saw that officer on his beat I would cross the street.
PW: Knowing my Grandma Bea I bet there was quite a look sent over to the officer as she crossed!
GB: It was always nice to have someone around; now sometimes I get tired of being alone! Sometimes I miss the noise and the business of the house.
PW: What are some of the changes you have seen in the way that people parent now versus when you had little ones?
GB: I think they give the kids too much nowadays. Not just toys, everything, allowances even. I think they should have chores and that is what you do in a family. I think time out is a good thing; we didn’t do that when I had children. I think that parents should be taking their kids to cultural things, like a symphony concert or play. Rather than all the time with the video games about killing, I think it is making the world a more violent place.
PW: When your children were all grown up what was the biggest adjustment for you?
GB: I think the bigger adjustment for me was when I started taking care of my grandkids to help out my son, and then they were gone when Fran remarried. That was really hard for me.
TTS: I was always jealous that my cousins got to spend so much time with you!
TTS: Your oldest granddaughter TTS just became a grandmother. What advice would you give her in this new role since you are a great, great grandmother?
GB: Not too much babysitting. And if they do things differently with their kids just let them be, keep your nose out of it!
TTS: Although Grandbaby is only a few months old, I have already made arrangements with her parents to do something very special that my grandparents did for me. I still remember that they took me out on a “date” without my parents to a very fancy restaurant when I was in fourth or fifth grade. I felt so grownup and special, especially when my Grandpa ordered me a Shirley Temple to drink! They taught me things like how to place my napkin on my lap, use the outside fork for my salad, and that parsley was just a garnish and not to be eaten. They taught me well, and I am looking forward to passing on etiquette to my granddaughter too.
PW: Your husband passed away several years ago, what were some of the things that others did for or with you that truly helped you?
GB: Having compassionate medical care was a big help, especially with making the decisions. I’ll never forget the young doctor I talked to, when it was time for me to decide to take Grandpa off the machines. I asked him what he would do if it was his Dad. He started to cry and told me to let him go. The women that had been here with me when Grandpa had his heart attack brought some BBQ meat to help feed all the visitors, that was nice. I couldn’t believe all the people from the community that came to his funeral!
TTS: I wasn’t at my Grandfather’s funeral, but I still remember what I did to honor his memory that day. He was a tax attorney, so I did my taxes, and I remember Grandma laughing at me when I told her that story. One of the things I learned from Grandma during this time and plan to keep in mind when I must deal with the loss of an immediate family member, is that she took some time to be by herself so she could get out her emotions privately and completely. I also was touched by something her mom did for all of us great grandkids. The first holiday after she died we all had a gift from her under the Christmas tree; something she had picked out especially for us as a surprise. I still wear that bracelet on special occasions, and I think that was such a tender, thoughtful idea—we all knew she was with us that Christmas Day.
PW: What are your favorite things to do now?
GB: Going to the Milwaukee Zoo; I just love to walk. It’s so nice to not worry about traffic and crossing the street. Just watching the animals and all the open space really appeals to me.
PW: What has been the hardest thing for you about growing older?
GB: Not being able to do all the things I want to, and that it takes me longer to do all the things I have to do.
TTS: “I wish I knew then, what I know now” is a common phrase. So what advice would your mature self give your younger self?
GB: Maybe I would space my kids farther apart! Live and learn I guess. I think you need to just do it yourself!
PW: Any last Prairie Wife words of wisdom?
GB: Waste not want not.
TTS: That is so Grandma. Being raised during the depression she really had an appreciation for conservation. She was recycling before it was popular or commonplace; I learned from her that Cool Whip containers could be used instead of Tupperware!