I’ve been thinking about my grandmother a lot the last few days. Maybe it is because her birthday was the other day. Also with just having Thanksgiving, and Christmas fast approaching is a time I reflect on past holidays. If you have read my past posts about the Bowers Family going back to 1757, then you have read about my Grandmother’s paternal side. Grandma was born Helen Dorothy Bowers to Robert Bowers and Eva Reinhardt on December 3, 1898 in Ottawa, Illinois. Grandma was the middle child of three. She had an older brother Ralph born in 1896 and a younger sister Frances born in 1900. Her mother and father divorced shortly after Frances was born. My grandmother told stories that her father had nothing to with them after the divorce. One time her mother saw him walking down the street and pointed him out to her. Grandma ran up to him and told him she was his daughter. He said, “Get away from me kid, I have no children.” His parents would not acknowledge that their son married and had children. Grandma grew up without ever knowing her father or his family. She was raised by a single mother back when it was frowned upon. Her mother worked as a maid and a milliner. They stayed living in Ottawa for a while and then moved to Chicago. Grandma’s maternal grandparents and aunts lived in Ottawa so she would stay with them for weeks at a time. I don’t know if it was for financial reasons or not, but Grandma’s mother let her sister Frances go live with a couple in Wisconsin for a couple of years. When she went to retrieve her, the couple didn’t want to give her back. There was a big fight over it, but she did manage to get Frances back.
Somehow, my Grandmother grew up to be a great lady. She married Fred Kaiser on July 16, 1923 in Chicago, Illinois. They had two children Dorothy and Russell. They lived in Chicago until about 1936 when they bought a house and moved to Villa Park, Illinois. Grandma and Grandpa lived in that house until 1979. Grandma and Grandpa’s house was my second home. We lived only a few blocks away. Whenever I felt like it, I would just up and go to Grandma’s house. I could easily ride my bike or walk over there. I was always welcome and I loved her house.
I loved the smell of Grandma’s cooking and it seemed like she was always cooking. She canned vegetables from their garden, and made jelly from the fruit that grew on their trees or grape barber. She had a cherry tree, apple trees, and a crabapple tree. I liked to climb the cherry tree and they hung a swing on it for me. She had a flower bed that ran alongside her house and around the perimeter of her yard. Grandpa helped in the garden as he loved to garden too. She loved to feed the birds and squirrels. One squirrel that would climb up the side of the house to her kitchen window, and Grandma would open the window to hand feed peanuts to the squirrel. Grandma had a big pantry stocked with dishes and food. In the basement she had what she called a “fruit cellar” she had all the food she canned, plus cans of food she bought at the grocery store.
Grandma liked to sew and taught me to sew. She had one of those old peddle sewing machines. It took coordination to run one of those, and I never really got the hang of it. Grandma made quilts out of old clothes. I had one and everytime I looked at it, I would see squares that were one time my dresses or my mother’s dresses. Grandma’s sister also sewed. Aunt Fran did it for a living. I never had a store bought dress until first grade. Between Grandma and Aunt Fran I was well dressed. Grandma also liked to crochet and her hands were always busy when she was just sitting talking or watching TV.
Grandma and Grandpa had a screened front porch where we gathered on hot summer nights. They had no central air conditioning. So it was the porch and a fan. We would sit out there and talk, no TV, no radio, no phone. Of course it was before the days of cell phones, tablets, and computers. We actually talked to each other, and I don’t remember running out of things to talk about. That’s when I heard many family stories that have helped me with my genealogy. I wish I could remember more of her stories and more details about the ones I do remember.
Holidays were the best! On Thanksgiving, Grandma would make a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. She had a big dining room with a big table. Grandpa would sit at one end and Grandma at the other end, along one side would be her sister (known to me as Aunt Fran) and Fran’s daughter, Pat, Grandma’s brother and wife (known to me as Uncle Ralph and Aunt Helen) and Aunt Helen’s sister, Martha; along the other side was Uncle Russ, Mom, Dad, me. In later years my brother and Uncle Russ’ wife were added to our holiday dinners. The women would be busy preparing the food, setting table, while the men sat and talked or watched TV. After dinner the men would retire to the living room and usually fall asleep while the women cleaned up and did the dishes. Then the adults would play cards until it was time for dessert. On Christmas we would again go to Grandma’s for dinner. For Christmas, Grandma would make a turkey and a goose, plus all the trimmings, and it was a repeat of Thanksgiving Day. I can remember walking into Grandma’s house and smell that Turkey cooking. For some reason, it never smells as good when I cook it now. Eventually, Grandma got too old to cook and my mom took over and then I took over from my mom. But by the time Grandma quit cooking holiday meals, her sister, and brother had passed on, so our family dinners became smaller until I married and had children.
I loved Grandma’s Christmas tree with all the old ornaments. I still have some of them and put them on my Christmas tree every year. I threatened my kids and grandchildren with their lives if they broke them. Miraculously, they have lasted through the generations. One ornament was my great-grandmother’s ornament she brought with her when she came to the U.S. from Germany. After my kids were born, I would take them to Grandma’s house to visit. Sometimes we would take Grandma shopping. Whenever my kids needed something, Grandma would buy it for them. I am glad she lived long enough to know her great-grandchildren. She was full of love, and I could feel her love. I still feel her love to this day! We didn’t need to say anything, but we did tell each other, “I love you” many times. It is not just the holidays that I remember, but all the other days in between that I spent with Grandma. Grandma passed away on February 9, 1981. And as Grandma would say, “Come good home.”
Copyright©2016 Gail Grunst