|Albert Sommers married Wilhelmina Wolfgram|
|71 yrs. 76 yrs.|
|William||68 yrs.||m.||Emma Schwandt||90 yrs.|
|Frank||53 yrs.||m.||Alta Klocksin||89 yrs.|
|Edward||84 yrs.||m.||Minnie Kuehn||58 yrs.|
|Anna||91 yrs.||m.||Harry Sims|
|Mabel||89 yrs.||m.||Edward Schwandt||72 yrs.|
|Ida||83 yrs.||m.||Frank Wilsie|
|Fritz||89 yrs.||m.||Jessie Marquardt|
Grandma Sommers was short and round but not fat. She wore starched, blousey dresses with lots of petticoats. She seemed soft and cushiony to me. Her thin, gray hair was drawn up into a tight little knot on top of her head, accenting the roundness of her face. Grandma's kitchen breathed cleanliness and order.
When Sheldon and I were very young we spent summer days at Grandma's house thirteen miles from our home. We often stayed two weeks and protested when our parents came to get us. There were places to explore different from those we had at home: an attic, books on a bookshelf in the upstairs hall, a polished hardwood staircase leading down to the front door, a porch on each side of the square house and an organ in the living room.
Grandma could cook and bake with special touch. Homemade bread had exactly the proper elasticity. One day our cousin, Jeanette was with us at Grandma's house. We three small children waited eagerly when we smelled the bread baking. Soon after it came out of the oven we sat down around the kitchen table to watch Grandma cut thick slices of the warm bread. She spread it with butter and unstrained honey from the comb. Jeanette remembers that Sheldon ate slice after slice of the treat. We were a bit surprised at how many he could eat. When the plates were removed from the table we found that he had put all the crusts of the bread under the edges of his plate. The butter for the homemade bread was also made at home. Grandma Sommers was the only person I ever saw churn butter. Milk was cooled as rapidly as possible in the milk-house, a stone building set near the barn and windmill. Water flowed through a tank where the milk cans were set. Grandma kept the room and the milk utensils immaculately clean, just as she did everything in her house. Sometimes she let me take a short turn moving the dasher in the churn full of cream.
Sheldon and I were fascinated that when she got ready for bed Grandma put on her nightcap. It was a neat white hood with lace trimmed edge. I expect in earlier years houses were poorly heated and a cap felt good or perhaps she wore it because her hair was thin. In recent years I have thought that it would be comfortable to wear one on my head on winter nights.
Grandma's house was new, that is, it was not built until most of her family of eight children had married and left home. All the inside walls were expertly plastered absolutely smooth and white. Grandma decided not to have any of them painted. Her bedroom was at the front of the house. A lovely light room with plate glass window to the west and two windows to the south. It was in this room that we sat at a table to play Flinch with Grandma. It is a game played with several sets of cards numbered to fifteen. It was an excellent help for children learning to count. Grandma also read stories to us from children's books. We were impressed because our other Grandmother didn't read English.
Plumbing fixtures were installed in the house but not connected to any water supply. Every farm home had an outdoor toilet set some distance from the house, but none were like the one at Grandma's. It was kept carefully painted and scrubbed. Inside, the walls were covered with pretty wallpaper. Tiny, carefully made, ruffled curtains hung at the windows. Someone had pride!
Grandma didn't live in her house alone. Her youngest daughters, Ella and Ida, and her youngest son, Fritz lived with her. We benefited by their shared attention. As three and four year-olds we shared their bedrooms. Sheldon was chosen by Aunt Ella to sleep with her in the southwest bedroom upstairs. I slept with Aunt Ida in the very pleasant northwest room. I remember lying in bed looking at the circular shadow of the kerosene lamp on the white ceiling as Aunt Ida took down her hair before going to bed. Other times in preparation for going to church a curling iron was hung into the lamp chimney to heat it for curling her hair. Sometimes she curled mine slightly too. I liked that. My mother didn't own a curling iron and would not have had time to curl my hair anyway.
Sometimes Sheldon and I awakened in the night to find our Aunts, Uncle Fritz and Grandma all dashing about with brooms. We watched wide-eyed as they scurried from room to room, reaching with their brooms to the high corners and behind the curtains. As they passed us they tossed out explanations of their strange behavior. They were trying to kill or catch a bat that had come out of the attic, where a few of the creatures had hiding places. Sheldon and I didn't think a little bat should cause so much concern. Sometimes the bat was never captured, but we all went back to bed.
There was a stairway at the back of the upstairs hall that led down to the kitchen. The other led down to the front door. It was an open staircase of beautiful polished hardwood with spindles to match. In 1919 when I was three years old Sheldon, and Jeanette and I sat on that stairs during Grandpa Sommers' funeral. We had been told to stay upstairs but we quietly found inconspicuous places to sit near the top. We could look down at Grandpa as he lay in his casket close to the stair rail. He had had a stroke a couple of years before he died. He did not always know people after that. A picture taken a few months before he died shows him interested in the puppy Sheldon was holding. Grandpa wore a neatly trimmed chin beard. He had blue-green eyes and reddish hair.
Martin Sommer was born in Kleinzilber, Germany in 1818. He was the son of John and Elizabeth Miltz Sommer. He and his wife, Florentine brought their four sons and little daughter, to this country in 1864. My grandfather, Albert was the oldest son. He and his four brothers and sister were born in Glambeck, Germany. Another sister, Amelia, was born in Wisconsin in 1866.
Albert taught himself to read English by comparing the English Bible with his German one. He married Wilhelmina Wolfgram, who was born October 13, 1858 near Truswald, Germany. Her parents Frederick and Josephine Wolfgram brought their family to America when she was eight years old. The Wolfgrams settled on Mackford Prairie near Markesan, Wisconsin. In a family of ten children everyone worked to help support themselves. Minnie worked for a wealthy English descent (Yankee) family who also lived on the Prairie. From them she learned to speak and read English as well as the niceties of housekeeping and cooking.
The only accounts of the Wolfgram family I ever heard came from my mother's memories of spending time with Grandma Wolfgram and her son Albert who was still living at home. Albert resisted getting up in the mornings. Great-Grandma would call him repeatedly in a very soft, pleading voice, "A-l-bert, A-l-bert," my mother imitated her grandmother's small voice as she recounted the experience.
Great Grandpa Wolfgram did not live to old age. He died as a result of a fall in a well. In those days all wells were dug down to the water level. Often they were lined with rocks. When the pump mechanism down on the pipe needed repair someone had to climb down to fix it. It was such a job Grandpa Wolfgram was doing when he fell.
Adelaide (Sommers) Jahnke remembers days spent with Grandpa and Grandma Sommers when they drove Sally, a white horse, hitched to the buggy the few miles to Kingston. They bought groceries at Scott Patrick's grocery store. Sometimes they had currants to trade for their groceries. They gave Adelaide a treat she remembers when they took her into Ella Kilmer's ice cream parlor for homemade ice cream. The shop had the small round tables with curved back metal chairs we have seen in the old time pictures. She could choose between sundaes and sodas as well as the plain vanilla or chocolate.
Some years later Aunt Ella and Uncle Fritz took Sheldon and me to Ella Kilmer's shop too. Even though I was only four years old at the time one instance stands out in my mind. They gave each of us little children a nickel to buy an ice cream cone. We waited in front of the glass case while the cream was scooped up. As soon as we handed over our nickel we were given the cones. The high reach for such small children didn't do anything to help us balance the cones. In a duet we tipped them and the cream plopped on the floor - two rounded blobs side by side. A customer in the store joked, "All that is needed is a banana between for a banana split."
Albert and Minnie taught their four sons and four daughters to speak English, as well as some German. Grandpa taught Bible classes in the Methodist Church in Marquette, Wisconsin within walking distance from their home.
The Sommers farm lay on sandy, rocky soil. Rocks were numerous enough so that fences were rock walls and foundations for the house and barn and the whole milk-house were of fine granite. In late years Uncle Fritz described "hardheads" as rocks so hard that they jumped out of gravel crushers. But Grandpa was not the usual farmer. He took an interest in special things like berry and currant bushes and apple orchards. He planted unusual apple trees to produce varieties for specific purposes. In my child-hood, my mother always knew that she could go to her parent's home to get Early Harvest, a yellow apple, to use for pies when threshing time came in August. There were also Wealthies, Wolf Rivers, Duchess, MacIntosh and Whitney Crabs. Duchess were especially good for cooking because they cooked-up easily. Whitney crabs made delicious apple pickles. (I haven't had an apple pickle in years.) The soil lent itself to flower and vegetable gardens. Aunt Anna, Aunt Ella and Aunt Ida continued their interest in growing flowers all through their lives.
Both Albert and Minnie learned early in life to be economical and to use resources wisely. Adelaide remembers Grandma washing out her house dress each night because she only had one. She got it ready to wear again the next day. Neatness was extremely important to Grandma. Minnie's experience working in Yankee households taught her not only how to cook but how to serve foods and set a table properly. She knew how to plan so as to feed her family well at little cost. My mother remembered that on Sunday morning her mother put rice to cook in the double-boiler so that it could continue to cook on the wood-burning stove without danger of burning, while the family was at church. That part of the Sunday meal was ready when they returned home.
Grandpa and Grandma must have wanted their children to have an education, because they tried to send my mother, their second daughter, to a very small secondary school, Milton Academy in Milton, Wisconsin. There was not enough money so Mabel had to drop out after a few months. She never forgot the associations of that short time when she boarded with a family named Ingles. She and the Ingles' daughter, exchanged letters once a year as long as Ruth lived.
My mother's feeling that her family was poor stemmed from the fact that as a second daughter she wore her older sister Anna's outgrown clothes and never got the new doll at Christmas time. As long as she lived she talked about the doll she never had. I was tempted to buy her one after she lived in the nursing home. Perhaps her feelings were a reflection of Grandma's attitude that they were poor. Grandma in her years as a hired-girl had seen how the more affluent families lived. She felt inferior to them. Perhaps her daughters copied this feeling more than her sons.
After a few months training, Ella and Ida Sommers became teachers in rural schools in nearby counties. Ella was eighteen when she began her teaching at the one room school, Maplewood near Markesan. Those two aunts spent many hours reading books to Sheldon and me. As teachers they had access to books and understood the ones we would like. I remember a third grade reader that had a story called, "The Brownie of Blednock." When the mother or the farmer had too much work to do to finish in one day the Brownie came to rock the baby to sleep or complete the haying during the night. As he came near the homes they could hear him singing. The story was typical of the thinking of families of that day when working hard was a virtue.
In later years Aunt Ella gave me the copy of Kipling's Just So Stories that was on the shelf in the upstairs hall. The collection was published in 1922, but separate stories were copy-righted earlier. Ella Sommers is written on the flyleaf in 1923. "How the Elephant Got His Trunk" and "How the Leopard Got His Spots" and others in the collection are classics.
Aunt Ida once told an incident from her young years when she was courted by a young man who was of English descent. When her father realized that their feelings might be leading to marriage he forbid her to continue the friendship, saying, "I will not have you marry someone who is not of the German heritage."
Frank Wilsie was unfailingly kind and patient and he was of English descent. He had an innate courtesy. It is interesting in the light of Grandpa's earlier admonition to Ida that this was the man she chose to marry in 1920. The Wilsie family lived near Brandon, Wisconsin in a settlement called Ladoga, where Aunt Ida taught school. Uncle Frank brought a new dimension my life and to Sheldon's. He and his family had once lived in California. We had never known anyone with that kind of experience. Then too, Wilsie's cultural background was one of interest in books, politics, and new ideas. Sheldon and I regarded spending a few days or a week with Frank and Ida as an adventure. Frank's ability to appreciate the beauty of the woods and land of his small farm was an aspect we had not encountered. We even had different foods to eat. Aunt Ida was the first to introduce us to peanut butter, of which Sheldon promptly ate too much. For me, I can still taste cooked dried lima beans as she fixed them. She served them in a side dish seasoned with salt, pepper, real butter and milk. We had never eaten lima beans or heard of them before.
Sheldon and I especially marveled at the pieces of petrified wood in a bookcase in the front living room. We had not imagined such a creation in our natural world. Frank and his family had brought them from Arizona when they traveled from California to Wisconsin in early 1900's. At that time there were no restrictions on picking up those treasures. National Parks had not been established.
One other new pleasure was playing the player piano at Mr. and Mrs. Wilsie's house. Frank and Ida took us to visit his parents a short distance down the road. Frank's three younger brothers were high school and college age. They helped us get set at the player piano, changing the rolls for us as necessary. We felt we had a sublime experience when we had a part in producing that music.
When I was eight years old a daughter, Alva was born to Ida and Frank. When I visited them after that I had a new role. I "helped" take care of the baby. Mostly, I just wheeled the baby buggy so that the tiny child would rest while her mother worked. Alva was the center of her parent's lives.
Through the years Ida and Frank took an interest in us and our family. I still wear mittens that she knitted for our children. She sent us a big box full of all sizes and colors. The children outgrew them, but two pair still fit me. I wear them in colder weather, even when I dress up. She crocheted white bedspreads, one for Sheldon and one for me. Mine is the popcorn stitch. What a lot of work went into it!
My mother remembered good times when friends of her older brothers and sister, Anna, came to spend evenings in their home. Grandma played the organ and everyone sang, except Frank. Will and Ed had good bass voices but Frank couldn't find the tune. He asked, "How do you do it?" Ed put his hand on his throat and said, "It's right down here." Mother used to tell how Will sang "I Was Seeing Nellie Home." He had a friend named Nellie.
Will was the oldest son. His sister Anna, recalled how much he loved to sing. When she saw her grand-nephew, Andy Ross, singing in the church choir she said, "To me, he is Will Sommers standing there." Andy's dark eyes and hair made it possible for her to see the resemblance.
Will's daughter Jeanette, told how he liked to sing. In those days a mirror was hung in the farmhouse kitchen over a basin for washing hands. A comb and the man's shaving brush, mug and razor were kept nearby. Often Will sang as he shaved. One time he gave a gleeful rendition of "There Will Be a Hot Time in The Old Town Tonight." His wife, Emma, reproved him for singing that type of song. Whereupon he promptly switched to "Hold the Fort For I Am Coming," a hymn with a stirring melody but focused on the end of life's journey. Will worked hard at farming all his life. In his later years he suffered with arthritis and its disabling effects. He died in 1944 when he was sixty-eight years old. He and Emma are both buried in the Phelps Cemetery. Phelps were the people for whom they both worked when they were young - she as cook and kitchen maid. Will was their farm foreman with two other hired men working with him.
Adelaide remembered her father telling an incident from the years he was with the Phelps. One day a fifty-cent piece appeared on a convenient window sill. No one spoke about it. It stayed there for many weeks. It was not like the Phelps to be careless with even small coins. A half-dollar was a big one in those days. Will surmised that it was a test of his honesty - that it had been placed there to see if it might disappear. After they were married Will and Emma kept up their association with the Phelps family naming their first daughter, Adelaide, after George Phelps' wife. She gave the child, Adelaide Sommers, a china tea set which she still has.
Phelps were wealthy landowners and lived on the farm next to Emma's parents, the Schwandts. Alice and Edith were the two Phelps daughters. Edith married and had a daughter she named Alice, also. She was called Baby Alice to distinguish her from her aunt. The name "Baby" Alice stayed with her all her life, long after her aunt had died. She was given a good education and grew up to manifest interest in music and poetry. Some of her writing was published.
In later years she gave Will's daughter, Adelaide a book of her poems and identified one that was inspired by Will. He must have impressed the very young Baby Alice as he worked around the farm. We can imagine the little child following him about out-of-doors - the only masculine figure in her world.
from Selections by Alice Phelps-Rider, American Poetry Magazine
Son of Wisconsin
Give him a team of good horses,
Give him a sky
Blue with the shining lustre of morning and spring;
Give him the dark, rich look of Wisconsin land;
Give him the seeding time or the harvesting.
Let him be out where the wind and the sun were his
To feel and hold
For his comfort, his joy, his need;
Let him tread soil that was kind to the growing world.
Let him be near the crops that his toil had freed.
For his was a simple creed and an inborn trust
In all that was good and clean in the fruitful sod.
His not great knowledge that comes from a student's lore.
His was a faithful heart that lived near to God.
My mother felt that her brother Frank was her best friend in the family. Among the eight children, Mabel and Frank were the two with auburn hair and blue-green eyes. He took her with the older group when they went skating on Lake Puckaway a mile from their home. She remembered the winter nights with the bonfire on the ice to help them keep warm in between skating. She kept her ice skates as long as she lived even though she never showed the least inclination to go skating. No doubt her energies were used for more utilitarian purposes by that time. My brother learned to skate wearing her skates strapped onto his boots on the ponds that formed in our fields in winter.
As a young man Frank Sommers went to Chicago to work in a shoe factory. From his earnings he bought gifts for his mother. I have a dozen ornate, silver-plated teaspoons that he gave my mother, Mabel, for a wedding present. Frank married Alta Clocksin. Soon after, they bought a farm in North Dakota. None of the family could imagine leaving Wisconsin for the comparatively barren country of North Dakota. The only shade in summer was the shadow of the house. Sommers were used to the hardwoods of Wisconsin and the lush green grass. My other Grandma, Henrietta Schwandt, told Frank before he left Wisconsin, "Nothing grows in Dakota but yellow flowers." She had not been farther west than Minnesota, but she was correct about the landscape. Frank remembered her statement when he saw the wild sunflowers of Dakota. Frank was homesick but he stayed until he had to let the farm go because it did not produce. He and Alta moved to Washington State where he worked in sawmills sawing the big timber. Frank suffered from cancer for several years before he died in 1931 when he was fifty-eight years old.
In those years cancer was not as familiar a disease as it is now. My mother and her sisters wondered why the dread illness struck Frank. When he died Alta brought his body back to Wisconsin, by train. She asked my mother to meet her in the Minneapolis railroad station to keep her company for the rest of the journey. It seemed to me a dramatic assignment for my mother to be singled out to perform this act for the grieving widow. I wonder now how they found each other in the station. My mother certainly wasn't familiar with any large depot. She had never been that far away from home in her life. I tried to imagine what it was like to be escorting a coffin. Frank is buried in the Sommers' family plot in the Marquette cemetery. After being far away for most of his years, he chose to "come home" when life was over. Alta resumed her life in Washington until 1942 when she also came back "home."
During her life-time Ella spoke often of her burial plot in that cemetery. She lies near Frank and Alta on one side of the big, white granite monument with the name Sommers in raised letters. Grandpa and Grandma lie on the other side. Near them are Fritz and Jessie Sommers. Beside them is their niece, Lola Sommers. Ida came "home" too, after death, even though she and her husband, Frank Wilsie, lived in the Brandon community all their married life. His long life of patient kindliness ended in 1987 when he was ninety-two. The grass was just beginning to cover his grave when I walked there that year. Elsewhere, thick green grass carpeted the sloping hillside between the monuments. White, fluffy clouds floated against a blue, blue sky. Bright sunshine set off the view of the little village of Marquette on the shore of Lake Puckaway in the valley below. I tried to realize all the years that had gone. The lives of the people whose names were on these markers had been so much a part of my childhood, they still seemed very near.
Ed was the third son of Albert and Wilhelmina. He had his mother's dark brown eyes, but his father's narrow facial features. He was tall and slim and very gifted. My mother told how well he could play a guitar. I imagine he had worked hard to be able to have such an instrument. She also told how he made a bicycle of wood that he could ride. In his adult life he was the Clerk of Green Lake Township many, many years. His keen mind was able to use and remember figures with ease.
Ed married Minnie Kuehn, my father's aunt. Their married life was stormy. At one time they instituted divorce proceedings. As Town Clerk Uncle Ed came to our house to bring my father, the town treasurer, the tax roll in preparation for collection of taxes. While he was there Ed told my parents some of the problems he and Minnie had. My mother was disgusted that Ed would tell of his family affairs. Of course, my father wasn't happy either because Minnie was his aunt. From that time we had almost no social contacts with Ed and Minnie. They lived on a tiny farm near Marquette with their daughter, Lola. They were very poor.
The last time I saw Uncle Ed was from a distance on a winter day. I was seated in a center pew in the church building where Uncle Bill Abendroth's funeral was to take place. Bill lay in his casket at the front of the building where folks could go by to see him before the services began. Among other people passing by was Uncle Ed Sommers. He stopped to look down at Bill for what seemed to me an extended time. As he stood there with his arm bent a very large hole in the sleeve of his old overcoat caught my eye. The sight of this gifted man without the ability to maintain family relations or build friendships was a contrast to Bill who had a family of children, a wife who was devoted to him and many friends. It was the saddest moment of the day for me. Ed did remarry after Minnie's death, but we still had no contact with him or with his daughter Lola in the years when she may have needed us.
After Uncle Fritz married Jessie Marquardt they lived in the big house with Grandma. We did not go to see her as often. But in summer of 1934 Grandma was ill. She had been having ailments the past few years but in those days people didn't rush off to the hospital. Doctors didn't suggest doing so. Then too, doctors didn't have remedies for many illnesses. My mother was called to come to spend several days caring for Grandma. One of those days Jeanette and I were there too. Grandma lay on a couch by the north window of the living room. Her blood pressure was low. Jeanette and I fanned her because she felt short of breath. It was a hot August afternoon. Grandma spoke of how kind we were. It made me feel guilty because I had given her so little attention in her last years. My mother stayed with her. On the morning of August 19 when she went in to see how Grandma was she found her with her brown eyes open but unseeing. My mother's thought was, "It is just as if she were looking at me." It comforted her to know that Grandma looked like herself.
When Uncle Fritz "retired" from active farming, he and Aunt Jessie moved into an old farmhouse on land adjoining their home farm. But, Uncle Fritz had no intention of being idle. His skillful hands were busy repairing the buildings, machinery, and furniture. By the time that he had a stroke and could no longer do the work, he had many pieces of furniture in his barn that people had brought to him to be rebuilt and refinished. He and Jessie lived simply. They did not have the overwhelming desire for the latest fashions in furniture or household equipment. It looked to me like a good way to live with flowering house plants in sunny windows giving a homey touch. In their dining room were the table and chairs that I remembered from Grandma's house as a child. They had been beautifully refinished. Their reputation grew so that Fritz and Jessie were interviewed by one of the local newspapers. The reporter was impressed with their skills.
In summer of 1975 Jeanette and her husband, Frank Ross and Howard and I called on Uncle Fritz and Aunt Jessie. We sat in their living room with many things I had seen in Grandma's house in my childhood. One was a print of Millet's painting, "The Angelus" in a heavy gold frame. Uncle Fritz told us how as a young boy, he had helped a neighboring family move. The Aikens were wealthy people. In payment for his work Mrs. Aikens gave Fritz the picture.
Aunt Jessie died suddenly November 7, 1975. When I wrote to Uncle Fritz he responded with a fine letter to me. In it he told how he and Jessie had been honored on their wedding anniversary by the Farmers Mutual Fire Insurance Company on whose board of directors he had served for forty years. The letter is still interesting and the penmanship could be displayed as an example for all of us who live in a world where most people have forgotten how to write.
When Fritz's health failed he went to live in Riverdale Manor in Markesan. He was unable to speak at all clearly but his dark eyes still smiled when we saw him briefly during those years. He admired the large tomato from our garden that Howard gave him. Nurses in Riverdale said that he was the finest patient they had ever encountered.
Among an accumulation of household things I have a set of much worn, silver-plated forks and knives. On the forks a letter F is engraved. It was the initial of the family Anna Sommers served in the years before her marriage to Harry Sims. Anna was the first daughter of Albert and Minnie. A photo taken when she may have been nineteen shows a beautiful girl with dark hair and sparkling brown eyes. Like all the Sommers, parents or children, Anna knew how to work. The Foster family knew they had the best when Anna was their maid. Anna served their meals, even breakfast in courses. The Fosters had one daughter, Gladys, who continued her association with Anna as long as she lived. After her parents' death Gladys gave Anna household articles she no longer needed. The dozen forks and knives I have were once hers. At the Foster's Anna learned to keep house with elegance.
As Harry's wife she did not have much time for elegance. She worked beside him in the fields making hay, riding the grain binder and shocking grain. On their farm near Brandon, she milked cows, helped with chores taking care of the livestock and raised chickens and gardened.
I was the beneficiary of her thriftiness. Today my grand-children wear bibs that she made for my children from colored flour sacks. They are nice big bibs that really protect the child's clothes. Our two-year-old granddaughter, Katy uses a doll quilt to hold when she naps. It has a tiny pieced basket design. Our children slept under quilts and bedspreads that Aunt Anna pieced out of scraps left over from other sewing projects. One of my favorite quilts has cats appliqued on figured material. I have quilt designs she clipped from magazines and patterns cut out of newspaper. These days our dining room table is covered with the first table cloth Aunt Anna crocheted. On the buffet which was my mother's is a crocheted scarf she created especially for that piece of furniture. No other decoration seems suitable for it. My father liked horses so when he spent years sitting in a big easy chair while he was ill, she crocheted a tidy with a horse's head design. Uncle Harry occasionally helped by drawing the designs for crochet or quilts. She had a talent for choosing color and designs for her quilts. She made many to give to churches for sale at their bazaars.
Each time I went to call on her Aunt Anna had something useful to give me. One day as a young guest in my home watched me put a roast in a gray granite pan, he asked, "Where did you get a pan like that?" I looked at him in surprise. The pan didn't seem unusual to me. Suddenly I realized that it was an antique and that children the age of mine had different utensils in their kitchens.
The square house on the Sims farm near Brandon, was of tan-colored brick. Occasionally Aunt Anna invited my parents and Sheldon and me to come to eat dinner with them. She was a superb cook. When we were there she outdid herself. Perhaps because she respected my father she took a day off from being overly thrifty. I remember a time when she served popovers as well as the homemade bread that went with a dinner. I had never eaten popovers. I haven't forgotten the delicate texture of those puffy treats.
Uncle Harry liked to hunt. I don't know if he was successful as a hunter but he had the trophies such as a mounted deer head and stuffed pheasants and ducks. Sheldon and I liked to go into the front parlor to look at the pheasants and ducks. We touched their soft beautiful feathers very gently but not more than once because we had very firm orders from our mother to keep our hands off any of Uncle Harry's treasures. Anna and Harry had no children. Harry didn't like to share his things, but we carefully took turns sitting in his child's rocking chair. It had been his when he was a small boy. It was a sling-back chair - the upholstery was draped over the back and seat of a wood frame. When my own children were young Aunt Anna gave the chair to us. I would have liked to have treasured it many years but the wood was so old that it simply crumbled away.
When the farm work was not too rushing Harry and Anna sometimes came to spend the day with my parents. Since it was a long distance call by telephone from Brandon fifteen miles away, they came unannounced. My mother was always pleased to have them come and proceeded to prepare a noon meal. She liked to hear Uncle Harry's compliments on her cooking. He liked to eat. He was a tall and over-weight man. He especially liked coconut custard pie. Not too many people made it but when he came my mother hurried to make one. Beat four eggs slightly, add one cup of sugar, half teaspoon of salt, one teaspoon of vanilla, one and one-half cups milk and one-half cup coconut. Pour into an unbaked pie shell and bake.
In later years the Sims bought a simple cottage on the shore of Big Green Lake. One day in each summer they invited our family and others to come to the cottage. We were expected to bring food for a meal. Sheldon and I were entranced with the little two-story house that was furnished with cast-off furniture. But Uncle Harry's boat was new. It was a row-boat. Sheldon liked to get into it and pretend to row as it was tied to the dock but my parents soon commanded that we abandon that pleasure. Uncle Harry was extremely bothered when the boat struck the pier. The paint might get scratched! The few of us who ventured into the lake soon came out of the water. The water of Big Green Lake is very cold and no one of us was really a swimmer. All of us lived on farms and we had little interest in learning to swim.
When they were older Harry and Anna bought a nice house in Brandon where they spent their last years. It had a sunroom where Aunt Anna set her house plants. It was the perfect place for them to grow very well. She knew their names and gave me cuttings of pepperomia, angel-wing begonia and sansevieria, which most people call snake plant. I liked Aunt Anna's knowing the correct name. Among the things that fascinated our children was a bearskin rug on the floor of the upstairs hall. They never tired of going up there and quietly studying the eyes and head and claws of the bear.
The last time I saw Aunt Anna she was eighty-nine years old. She still wore her hair pulled back in a soft bun, just the way I remembered her from my childhood. Her brown eyes were still bright and gentle. She said, "I have lived longer than anyone else in my family." Her parents died when they were in their seventies. Her sister Ella, and her brothers, Will, Frank and Ed had already died.
That day she began to show me things she was making. In a room she called her den was a rug she was braiding. There was a doily she was crocheting. Upstairs, she opened the drawers of a dresser to show me quilt blocks ready to be put together. I was invited to choose one of the designs that I would like to have. She would put the blocks together for me. Then she said, "Now, I'll show you my project." I thought she had already shown me several. A lady had asked her to make a red and white quilt. The design was to be red holly leaves. Alternate blocks had tiny leaves in a wreath appliqued on the white background. The other blocks had an arrangement of larger red holly leaves. She said she had told the woman, "You don't want a red and white quilt." Finally she had agreed to make it. She was being paid eighty cents per block. I could not have been persuaded to do the tedious task of cutting out all those tiny leaves and then turn under the edges and baste them before even beginning to sew them onto the white material.
Before we left that day Aunt Anna went lightly down the cellar stairs to get geraniums she had saved from her summer garden to give to me. I followed her. There on her ironing board were her dresses, dampened and tightly folded, ready to iron. She still did her tasks as she had been taught as a young girl. (I was taught to "fold" clothes for ironing in the same way.) Even though she was alone in her house with plenty of room in the kitchen for ironing she was not concerned about going up and down the cellar stairs. The arthritis which affected her knees did not deter her either. When my mother spoke critically of someone, Aunt Anna reproved her. In her soft voice she would say, "Mabel, I don't like to hear that," and proceed to give a compassionate explanation for what that person was. She did not often attend any church or social events. She was content with her gardening, crafts and household activities. She felt no need to compete for any social status. She had an acceptance of whatever came in life, be it convenience, discomfort or disappointment. Her serenity made us, her nieces and even grandnieces want to be like her. Because they were so very economical most of the relatives thought Harry and Anna must have lots of money. How much they really had was beside the point. Aunt Anna could be happy with or without it, and she was respected by all her knew her. When she was ninety-one she had a stroke which left her helpless. She lived several months in a nursing home until she died in 1974.
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