Many of my fellow Baby Boomers, three of my sisters, and even some former students are grandparents. Although they are fulfilling a unique role in the lives of their grandchildren, I am not sure all of them are old enough to be grandparents. I mean, it has not been that long since they were running around being little grandkids themselves.
But grandparents today relish doing all the things that grandparents do as they weave family bonds their grandchildren will count on for all their years to come. Such were my relationships with my grandparents.
Grandpa and Grandma Scott (Charles and Emma Wilkins Scott) were parents to a whole crop of children, while Grandpa and Grandma Maurice (Samuel and Laura Geuy Maurice) had just four offspring. Both sets of grandparents raised their families during the unfathomably difficult years of the Great Depression. Each grandparent had a distinct personality, and we grandkids loved and respected them for the examples of decency and strength they set. And, as I remember, they were old enough to be grandparents.
Recollections of my father’s parents and many siblings are distributed over a large geographical area. However, memories of my mother’s family are concentrated in the Rosewood area; in fact, it seemed that we were related to almost everyone there.
Grandpa and Grandma Maurice were both born in 1888. Knowing that early life for my parents seemed so different from today, I can scarcely imagine the “good old days” of my grandparents. Their wedding photograph is a beautiful treasure, but the 21-year-olds gazing out barely resemble the people I knew as Grandpa and Grandma.
They lived on a farm just south of Rosewood, back a really long lane that crossed a railroad track. Mother described other childhood homes, ones I never knew: the old stone house where she sat in the doorway to read and over the livery in St. Paris. In my mind, however, the stories she told about her girlhood all took place in the house back the long lane.
Their first daughter, Alice Maurice Zerkle, was an authoritative 13 years older than my mother. Once as they sat on the pulled-down oven door of the old cook stove reading the “funny papers,” Maggie cracked Jiggs over the head – again – with her rolling pin. Unfortunately, Mother followed suit with a rolling pin blow of her own to Aunt Alice’s noggin.
Mother had been welcomed as a ray of family sunshine several years after the loss of Baby Mildred, and Uncle Cecil came along a few years later. Mother often described his rascally behavior, including the run-and-dive maneuver under the kitchen table whenever he was in trouble.
Their farmhouse was modest but cozy. The living room contained a coal stove, book-filled shelves, and Grandpa’s rocking chair. Although the front room was usually off limits, occasionally we were allowed to play with the kaleidoscope kept there.
But the kitchen was the center of activity. Although it was modern enough with the stove, refrigerator, and radio powered by electricity, Grandpa and Grandma always pumped the water they needed by hand. By the back door stood the chamber pot used when a trip to the outhouse in the corner of the backyard was inconvenient.
Grandpa raised crops, but I mostly remember his rabbits and chickens. Occasionally I was allowed to help prepare eggs for sale to his customers in Rosewood. I particularly enjoyed grading the eggs on special scales marked with extra large, large, medium, and small categories.
Grandma filled a “poke” from the pantry with fresh eggs whenever we needed them. Once, undeterred by the fact that no one was home, Mother climbed through a side window and helped herself to a dozen. Appalled by her apparent thievery, I hid under the bed when my grandparents stopped by later.
Grandpa and Grandma kept a huge garden behind the house. The well-tended rows of vegetables were a thing of beauty and filled canning jars for many long winters. In addition to Grandma’s ever-present apron, she always donned a blue straw hat for her garden work.
My sisters and I congregated in the front yard whenever a train roared past. We always waved to the trainman in the caboose and were thrilled when he waved back.
When I was a third-grader, Grandpa passed away – at the same age I am now. His death and my mother’s concurrent pregnancy introduced me to the interwoven nature of life and death. Although those young memories of my dear grandfather seem rather faint, I missed him terribly in my little girl way.
Later Grandma stayed with us for a while on River Road where she helped me sew my very first outfit – a flannel nightgown for my doll. She fulfilled that classic grandmotherly role of enjoying time with her grandchildren that she might not have had with her own children. She eventually lived in a trailer on my uncle’s property, and I came to know her differently: she ate wheat germ for better health, crocheted doilies without a pattern, and thought President Eisenhower played too much golf. She slipped away well before her death – and before Alzheimer’s had a name.
My grandparents on both sides lived unpretentious lives more than worthy of emulation. As surely as traces of their genetic material exist in my physical being, vestiges of the sincere, honest people they were continue to influence me even now.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.