Thursday, June 12, 2014

Grandma Hemmer

Grandma Hemmer, my mother's mother, didn't talk much.  She was too busy working to have a lot of time for small talk.  I have very few memories of her not working at something - work was  her life.

That's the way it is when, in a three-year span, you go from being a bride, to being a widow with two children, in an era when there was little help from outside.  In the Depression, no less.  When her husband died in a tragic accident, leaving her with a two-year-old and a two-month-old, she had to move back in with her own mother and sisters, and go to work.  She did housework and worked in a canning factory.  When she was older, she began working in a school as the cook, which is the job I remember her doing.

One time when I was in about fifth grade, we made it to Illinois for the Christmas holidays before her school was out, and I got to go to school with her for the last day.  It was a small school, grades 1-8, and one class per grade.  It was a Friday, so she made her usual dessert for Friday's lunches - homemade cinnamon yeast rolls.  Can you imagine, getting cinnamon rolls from scratch, every Friday, in a school lunch!!  I remember helping her with the dough that morning, and observing her and her helper get everything else done as well.

She was a wonderful cook.  I measure the quality of anyone's yeast rolls, pies, and other baked goods against her standard.  People who rave over bakery cakes and other store baked goods (that taste like cardboard in comparison) were not fortunate enough to have a grandmother of German heritage who knew how it really should be done.

Summers, my siblings and I, in various combinations, would spend several weeks with her and her sisters.  I remember well seeing Grandma bent over her asparagus patch, or picking tomatoes, or making applesauce out of the apples we picked up under her tree.  We'd drive out into the country and buy corn on the cob, which she would make for supper, along with creamed asparagus from the garden, cucumbers, and other good foods, which we would eat on the screened-in porch out back.  If my folks were there, Dad would compliment her on her good cooking, and she would nod and smile.  

Sometimes, on hot July mornings, she'd bring out a huge stack of leftover fabric, and we would cut out quilt patches on the big table on the back porch.  Then we'd go down to the sewing machine in the cool basement and sew them together for comforter tops.  My job was to keep the fabric squares coming to her - first a light one, then a dark one.  When ladies came for World Relief sewing every other week to their home, they would knot these comforters along with other sewing projects.  There is no telling how many people in the world were warmed by their efforts over many years.

Also in the summers, Grandma would come to Alabama to take care of us while Mom was in school getting her teaching license.  She cooked and worked just as hard at our house - it was no vacation for her.  And in addition to all that, she would crank out hundreds of rice krispie bars, brownies from scratch, and other treats for the three vacation Bible schools that we were involved in each year.  Not a task for the fainthearted.

In her later years, Grandma got emphysema.  How a woman who never went near a cigarette in her life got emphysema is hard to believe, but she did.  So a constant cough became her companion.  She moved to the Skylines, the church home for the elderly, and God gently took her home in the fall of 1980.  

On one of my beds is a comforter made during her last years, with the other ladies at the home.  It's not fancy, just knotted just like all those World Relief quilts.  Somehow we ended up with it, and even though it's not the prettiest piece of needlework she ever made, I'm very glad to have it, as a final reminder of a grandmother who served God by serving people, by getting the job done.  Elisabeth Elliot says that when you are overwhelmed, just do the next thing.  That's how my grandma, with the help of God, got through life.


rk2 said...

Love seeing these pictures. It's interesting how the pictures are different than what I have in my mind. Again because of our age difference you have different memories than I do. I don't associate Grandma with asparagus, but I do cinnamon rolls!

One of my favorite stories about Grandmas was how God took care of her and her children after our grandfather died. Because he had no will and the house was not in her name, the house was put up for auction. In the middle of the Depression, a wealthy cousin went to the courthouse to make sure he bid higher than anyone else so Grandma could keep her house. She was able to rent it out to help bring in extra income for her family. At least that is the story as I remember it being told.

Thanks for sharing these pieces!

Miriam said...

No one showed up at the auction to buy the house, so the Good Samaritan cousin bought the house for a dollar and promptly sold it to mother for a dollar. Another favorite is that my mother's mother, Grandmother Martin, said that as long as she had food, we would have food (during the Depression many were hungry)and we never lacked anything. Like Ronald Reagan, we were poor but we didn't know it.