VIII – Little Grandma

Aganetha Weins Suderman

Aganetha Wiens Suderman, our grandmother, was a tiny lady with quick , almost birdlike movements.  Her eyes reflected the bluest skies.  We seldom saw her curly, snow-white hair because she alwas wore her lacy, black cap.  This milliner’s creation of pleated ribbon and ruffled lace had a raised wire front.  The cap fit neatly in back and tied with black ribbons under the chin.  All older ladies wore them.Grandma wore dark clothes – calico prints in summer heat and heavy black serges for winter wear. (a type of twill fabric that has diagonal lines or ridges on both sides, made with a two-up, two-down weave.)  The sharp serges had a glossy sheen.  If ever she wore laces or fancy buttons on her dresses, we never noticed.  Her high-topped black leather shoes with laces were neatly shined for Sunday.  Sometimes she wore high shoes that buttoned up the side.Grandma’s house gleamed with varnished floors, chairs and tables.  The wainscoating (waist high panelling) on the walls had the same shine.  We discovered later that our maiden Aunt Lena insisted on the shine.  She did all the varnishing.  She was Grandma’s youngest daughter who married a widower with eleven children.We enjoyed eating at Grandma’s house where Aunt Lena took great pride in serving the lightest rolls in the community.  Her cakes were all melt-in-your mouth goodness – never layered.One thing was certain.  When we visited at Grandma’s, we at fried potatoes.  About four-thirty in the afternoon, when the sun looked into the west window, Grandma walked to the pantry with short, quick steps.  She brought out a blue enamel colander heaped with cooked potatoes in jackets.  These were peeled, sliced and fried in real hog lard in a heavy iron skillet.Nobody could fry potatoes like little Grandma…crisp and brown on the outside with a tender flaky taste that gave us a ‘stick-to-the-rib” feeling.  With home-made rye bread and crocked dill pickles, we had a wonderful meal.  We usually drank “prips” – a toasted barley prepared like coffee without the benefit of caffeine.We enjoyed visiting with Grandma in her southwest bedroom.  But the north wall on a table stood her  phonograph with blue disk records and a long trumpet.  We gladly cranked the phonograph to hear a men’s quartet sing,  “When the Stars Begin to Fall” or Josh’s Monologues that made us laugh.In this room Grandma told us about Grandpa.  He died before I was born.  He was a sleepwalker and Grandma said, “I always hid the cradle for night so he wouldn’t hurt the babies when he wandered about the house.”These stories were told from Grandma’s high-backed platform rocker.  We admired this unusual chair of light wood and soft cushions.  If she had to leave the room, we were quick to try it out.  We always wished we had one just like it.There were special Christmas celebrations….like the year all the girls received beaded bags.  They were beautiful but mine had a short life-span from too much handling.One year Grandma gave each uncle a shiny gold piece.  It looked like a copper penny but Papa said it was worth twenty dollars.  When Grandma gave each family a still-life picture with a decorated frame.  I knew ours was the prettiest one of all.One thing always amazed me at our family gatherings – nine Suderman brothers, the short like Grandma and the tall like Grandma, walked about in Grandma’s parlor.  They all visited best on their feet with hands clasped behind their backs…walking, walking, walking as they talked.  It was safer to stay away from the room when they visited.Grandma was a widow for sixteen years.  One summer’s end she suddenly found herself alone when both Uncle Ed and Aunt Lena married.  She tried living alone but soon moved in with Uncle Ed and his new bride.  Since they lived on our section, we often walked across the field to see Grandma.After a year she moved to town to live with Uncle Henry and Aunt Tina.  When Grandma became very ill and Aunt Tina could not care for her, the family met to decide what could be done.  Rest homes were only for the poorest people without families.  My parents volunteered to take Grandma.Papa and Mama decided Grandma would have the parlor, the best room in the house.  All the furniture was crowded into the dining room.  Curtains and windows were washed and the floor was scrubbed and polished.  A bed was set up with chairs and other needed furniture.  When all things were ready, we were thoroughly coached on our behavior.  Grandma came to live with us.The tiny, frail figure in that huge bed did not look like our Grandma at all.  We were awed by this wrinkled doll dressed in white flannel without her black cap.  Her eyes closed in a pale face.  She wanted to die.When Mama overheard someone say, “With all those children at Gerhard’s house, she will die.”  Mama’s dander was up.  She bent eery effort along with prayer to get Grandma on her feet.Grandma’s wren-like appetite gave her no strength.  She would not eat until Mama had an inspiration.  She called us, “Girls, catch me some perch out of the stock tank.”  With our offering Mama cooked a clear fish soup flavored with onions, parsley, bay leaves and seasoning.  The aroma filled the house.“That was good.  Could I have some more?” asked Grandma.  She began to eat and we had the priviliege of going fishing quite often.  Mama always said, “No matter what else, you bring me fish.”  Gradually vegetables were added to the soup with bits of meat.  Grandma ate and aked for more.  Mama beamed with pleasure, for God was answering prayers.We learned to love Grandma in a special way during her stay.  She asked for afternoon snack of cookies and coffee.  The doctor said, “No coffee”,  but Granma was adamant.  Mama compromised by making tea-colored coffee to Grandma’s satisfaction.Several times a week our house was filled with the scent of freshly baked sugar cookies.  We ate along with Grandma and soon she was out of bed.  Now she would help with the house work.Since Grandma was tiny and our bathroom sink was low, she thought it was an ideal place to wash dishes.  She used the wash basin with our wash cloths for the chore.  Those same wash cloths scrubbed dirty faces with runny noses and baby’s bottom.  We decided that was not proper and we complained.  Mama answered us with her own brand of psychology.“Girls, as soon as you finish a meal, set up the dishpan with hot water.  Start those dishes before Grandma can get to them,” was her advice.  Mama had her dishes washed without a hassle and we played the game of “beat Grandma” in her dishwashing spree.One Sunday afternoon I truly learned to appreciate my little Grandma, Uncle Henry and Aunt Tina came to visit and stayed for “faspa” (a light supper).  Uncle Henry regaled everyone about the table about my pride.“There she was, walking down the street with her nose in the air.  She wouldn’t even look at me.  Now that Aanschen’s a proud one,” he concluded.  Aanschen was his pet name for me.Grandma pounced on him, “No Henry.  That is not true.  I have watched that child gathering eggs and feeding chickens.  She hold her nose just as high in the barnyard as she does on the Hillsboro streets.”  My heart overflowed with love for her.With spring came Mission Sale day.  The church ladies held thi bazaar on second –Easter holiday.  Every able-bodied person attended this gala affair.  Now we had a problem.  Grandma was not well enough to go and I was elected to stay at home with her.  I must have pouted…not even to see the wonderful displays.Finally Mother said, “You may run to church during the upper hour to look.”  Quilts, pillowcases with wide crocheted lace, embroidered tea towels, sofa pillows with tassels on each corner.  There were paper plates of home-made fudge and divinity.  I feasted my eyes and walked home to baby-sit Grandma.I sat on a low stool in front of her rocker.  Story after story poured out…told with a twinkle in her blue, blue eyes and a shake of her black-capped head with white curly hair peeking out.  Through all these years, I’ve scratched the back corners of my brain to recall those stories.  They were about life in Russia as a young girl, but they have all vanished.The only thing left of that evening is a fuzzy picture of a tousle-headed Kansas Kid all wrapped in her Grandma’s mantle of love.  Grandma cared for me.  I never realized how sorry she must have felt for me that night until I was fully grown.After Grandma recovered, she was ready to go back to Uncle Henry’s house.  No doubt, living with five small children was rather hectic for our little Grandma.The large west room at Uncle Henry’s house was her home for the rest of her years.  She died shortly after she suffered a stroke.  The family was called when her end was near.  It was an awe-filled moment when Uncles and Aunts ushered in all their children for Grandma’s final hour.Miss Priebe, the nurse, stood beside the large bed to watch the frail figure.  The ticking of a clock and occasional whispers reverberated through the room like booming thunder.  Then came the sounds of Grandma’s labored breathing until one last, long drawn-out sigh signaled the end of her life.  We wept.Our little Grandma was gone.  A few days later she was buried besides Grandpa Suderman at the Ebenfeld graveyard behind the church.Her clothes were divided among family members.  In our bundle was a shiny black serge dress.  Mother sewed me a school dress out of that long, full skirt.  Somehow, I felt a close friendship with little Grandma whenever I wore that glossy black sere trimmed with bright Kelly green wool.We thought of Grandma long after she was gone.  She had a rich part in shaping our lives.  Louise, a cousin of mine, must have felt the same way.  She wrote her Senior theme, “Afterglow”,  as a beautiful tribute to our “little Grandma”.