Memories of My Grandma – Part 2

The memories I have of my grandmothers, two very different but wonderful ladies, are as different as they were. Although they were both born during a time when women didn’t work outside the home, my paternal grandmother did on occasion out of necessity.

Both of my grandmothers wore a full apron when at home. When you arrived they were always happy to see you, and you knew your were going to be fed a full meal. While my maternal grandmother always made homemade pie, my paternal grandmother favored cake and cookies. Her sour cream drop cookies were the best!

If you haven’t read Memories of My Grandma – Part 1 I encourage you to read it, as it will show how different two very important women in my life were.

My Paternal Grandmother

Louise Elizabeth Lautner King was born on January 1, 1912. She was born into the well-known and respected Lautner family.  The Lautner’s had immigrated from Bohemia in the 1800s.

Eight Lautner brothers settled a huge track of land that became known as the Lautner Settlement in Traverse City, and they became prominent dairy farmers. When my grandmother was growing up her father, Louis Lautner, was a restaurateur.

Grandma Wins Beauty Contest

My grandmother won a “most beautiful baby” contest when she was 2 years old. Her prize was a doll that was larger than she was. After having 3 sons, she gave the doll to the daughter of a needy family and thought she would never see it again.

When Grandma’s 90th birthday was announced in the Traverse City Record Eagle the family she had given that doll to decades before saw the announcement. They still had Grandma’s doll and Grandma was reunited with her prize possession at her 90th birthday party.  

My grandmother’s desire was that the doll be donated to a museum. My aunt and uncle took the doll and a framed scrapbook page I made for Grandma showing her pictures with the doll at 2 years and 90 years to accompany the donation.  I don’t know if the donation has been made. It would be neat to visit a Traverse City museum and see my grandmother’s doll on display.

Growing Up

When Grandma was 6 years old her father built the farmhouse she grew up in. Grandma remembered hearing the sirens that signaled the end of World War I on November 11, 1918 as her father was working on the home. 

Grandma lived in that home from the time she was 6 years old until she placed herself into assisted living in her late 80’s.  I don’t know the exact dates, but I estimate it was around 82 years she lived in that home. 

My grandmother grew up at a time when education for females was not considered important.  When she graduated from 6th grade her parents refused to attend the ceremony. They didn’t think it was important for her to be educated. I think it is sad that Grandma’s parents refused to witness this important day in her life.

Grandma had a bit of a wild side to her. She met the man that would become my grandfather when he and a friend pulled into the yard of the farm. She thought Grandpa was cute. When he invited her to go out riding in his car, she hurried to get her chores done and left before her parents knew.

Louise Elizabeth Lautner married Dominic Florian King on January 18, 1931. Grandma was 19 years old; Grandpa was 9 years older. Grandpa moved into the farmhouse with Grandma and her parents. A year after the marriage her parents moved out and Grandma and Grandpa continued to reside and raise their family on the farm.

After their marriage Grandma taught Grandpa to sign his name. He was a smart man and a hard worker but lacked a formal education, having only attended school through the 3rd grade.

My grandparents worked the farm and raised three boys there, including my father. They had a considerable amount of property, but that didn’t keep them from suffering financial loss as a result of the great depression.  Due to a need for additional income my Grandmother sometimes worked outside the home in canning factories.

Memories of the Farm

From the time I was about 3 years old we lived several hours from my grandparents. Prior to that time we would visit, but I don’t have much recollection of time spent there.

On our trips to visit family in Traverse City we always stayed at the home of my maternal grandparents. We visited my paternal grandparents on every trip, but my memories of the farm are scant.

I do remember when they had the property across the street from their home, which included a barn and pigs. Other than walking over to see them, I don’t remember anything about the pigs or barn.  I assume they slaughtered them for meat.

When my parents were dating my grandmother made Schwarz Sauer. That is a German soup made with pigs’ blood, but my mother never ate it. Grandma had made her an alternative dish when she was visiting during that meal.

I remember walking the woods of the property across the road, searching for morel mushrooms with my grandparents. The property seemed huge to me as a child, and it was sizeable.

They sold the land across the road when I was a young teen. It was purchased by a Mennonite family, and for a long time one huge house stood grandly on the land. That land is now a subdivision.

As an adult I drove through the subdivision and was impressed with what a prize piece of land my grandparents had and sold. There are areas on the property with a view of Grand Traverse Bay.

I have always wondered why my great-grandfather didn’t build his home on that section of land.  The spot he chose for his home did not offer the scenic views available across the road.

Back on the other side of the road where the house is located, the property behind the house had two large barns and a chicken coop. I do not remember any of those having livestock in them, but I know that when the farm was in full operation it did.

As a child I remember going inside the barn with my father and grandfather. It was filled with farming equipment. I remember standing and tilting my head way back to see the upper loft. Being a city kid, I was amazed at the barn’s size.

There was an outhouse that still stands behind the barns. When the home was sold 2-3 years ago but had not been used in decades.  I wish I had asked if there had originally been one closer to the home.

I know the electricity was put into the home when my father was a child. He spoke of running from the fields in excitement when the lights came on for the first time. I’m not sure when the house had plumbing installed.

I remember Grandma keeping ducks in a pen attached to the chicken coop. I wasn’t there often enough to have any detailed memories of that. There was a large field next to the house and the property ran as far as you could see behind the barns.

The property went all the way from M-72 where the house was back to Barney Road. They had a total of about 50 acres just on that side of the highway. As a teen my cousins, my sister, and I road snowmobiles on the property one winter. We ran in a loop through the field, back to Barney Road, around the woods and back. I was amazed at how far we could go and still be on their property.

  • Louise Elizabeth Lautner, age 6, December 21, 1917 in Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Grandma watering her garden
  • Grandma with Ron and me on our wedding day
  • Grandma, Louise Elzabeth Lautner, 6 months old with her father
  • Grandma - Louise Elizabeth Lautner - 4 years old
  • My grandparents, Louise and Dominick King
  • Grandma with my daughter, Caroline
  • Louise and Dominick King - Easter Sunday 1930
  • Grandma after winning most beautiful baby contest, age 2 with her prize
  • Louise Lautner King with horses Barney and Chuck hooked to plow
  • Grandma and Grandpa - on the back Grandma wrote it was a picture of her and Dominick before they were married. She was 17 years old with a glass of homebrew in hand. "Ma took the picture so guess her and Pa approved"
  • Grandma ready to go help her Dad with the hay, didn't want to but had to - age 16 years

The House and Yard

The house was unique, and part of that had to do with my grandparents remodeling the home before I was born. It had wide wood trim throughout that I always liked, and a big front porch.  The porch was not often used, at least when we were there, but did have a glider seat on it.

Porch Sitting

The back of the house had a huge cement porch that resembled a patio. Near the house was the cistern, which we were warned to stay away from. A cistern is a reservoir tank for rainwater. When placed near a home like that it is often used for flushing toilets. I don’t know if that was its purpose, but it was near the bathroom.

The land was at different levels near the house, so on the side of the porch you could walk onto the driveway. From the back of the porch you had to go down steps to reach the yard. Because it was of sizeable height in that area Grandma had flowerbeds planted beside it. On the other side of the porch, you could again walk right off and into the lawn.

Grandma had a wash line in her backyard. There were flowers planted at each of the poles, and what most didn’t know is that was where her deceased German Schnauzers were buried.

The first, Poody, was trained to do tricks. I remember as a kid how fun it was to watch him jump through a hoop held in different positions. He would also sing when prompted.

After Poody was given his resting place, Grandma and Grandpa got Hantze. They decided not to train Hantze to do tricks, but he was a good dog. Hantze traveled with them, and loved a nice dish of ice cream.

The back porch was where Grandma enjoyed sitting. She had a large rose bush along the house that my mother had purchased for her early in my parent’s marriage. Grandma had a garden hose that ran out of the house for watering the flowers, but the best was the hose direct from the well.

One time my sister got the hose from the house and sprayed me with it. It had a lot of power, but Grandpa said he would fix me up and took me to the well house. He gave me a hose that ran direct from the well and the pressure was awesome!

I was able to stand on the back porch and spray my sister, Carol, as she was running away. She was almost to the barns before I couldn’t spray her anymore.  I can still see the spray of water arching up into the sky and back down at Carol’s back as she ran. What fun that was!  

On the Inside

We never entered that house through the front door. You always pulled up into the drive, went down by the barns and turned around, then drove up and parked on the drive so you were facing the road when ready to leave. Grandma lived on M-72 and cars went by fast.

You would enter the back door, which took you into a shed. You would go down a few steps, then back up a few steps into the back of the kitchen. If you turned left before entering the kitchen, you stepped up into the storage area of the shed.

The shed had a counter and cupboards. It was an overflow storage of sorts and where grandma sat cakes and cookies so they stayed cool until ready to serve. It was also through this area that you walked to go upstairs.

The Kitchen

The kitchen was a huge, traditional country kitchen. The door you entered through from the shed had a glass center, so you always knew if Grandma was in the kitchen when you arrived. She would come rushing to the back door to greet you upon arrival.

As you stepped in there was a large farmer’s sink to the right. That was used for washing up after you had been in the garden or other miscellaneous tasks. There were two large wooden rocking chairs, one on each side, my favorite spot in the kitchen.

To the left was Grandpa’s chair, and beside that a long low table holding magazines and other miscellaneous items. Grandma’s chair is on the right, next to the window. From there you can look out onto the drive if awaiting the arrival of guests.

When visiting I loved sitting in the large wooden rocker and talking with Grandma as she prepped food. Chatting involved catching up on the latest gossip. You found out everything that was going on in the family.

Grandma loved gossip!  I can still here her saying “oh go on!” when she was questioning something or as emphasis in one of her stories.

Beyond those rocking chairs was the kitchen table and refrigerator, and then the stove, counters and cupboards stretched across the back. There was a stool Grandma would sit on while cooking, which allowed her to keep an eye on food while chatting.

The layout of my grandparent’s house was interesting. Probably because they had done some remodeling, which added character to the layout. I loved the wide molding and built-in cabinets.  

Living Room

Leaving the kitchen you stepped into what I had always known as the living area. To the left was the entry to the bathroom. Normally not something worthy of mention, but I always thought it was interesting it had another door that went out into the shed. Most likely because it made it easier to access the bathroom if coming from upstairs.

The living area itself was long and narrow, running probably 2/3 the depth of the house. The part immediately off the kitchen had once been a formal dining area. This was evident by the huge built-in china cabinet. That is where Grandma displayed family china, photos and knick-knacks.

In front of the china cabinet was a recliner, and next to it a stand with the black rotary phone on it. This was a convenient set-up, because Grandma could sit down and talk on the phone, but still have a clear view of the television at the other end of the room.

The rest of the room had ample seating for family gatherings, plus a small organ. Grandma enjoyed playing the organ, polka music being her favorite.  Off the front of the living room was the front door.

Grandma’s Bedroom

Off the side of the living room was what my grandparents used as a bedroom. I believe it had originally been a parlor. There was no door, just an arched entry with built-in book cases on either side that faced into the living room. The bedroom itself was bright and welcoming with windows on two of the walls.

Upper Floor and Basement

I didn’t get into the upstairs or basement of my grandparent’s home except on a few occasions.  I found them both interesting and worthy of mentioning.

The upstairs was, as typical of the day, unheated. It was made into two bedroom areas, but there was no doorway between, just opening to walk through one room and into the next. That is where my father and his two brothers slept when growing up.

One neat feature was that on both sides of the room there were small doors below a slanted ceiling. That was how you accessed a long narrow attic space. I remember Grandma had all kinds of things stored inside. Lots of unknown treasures!

My grandparents had a Michigan basement. I’m a city kid, I was amazed to go down into a basement that had dirt walls and a dirt floor. It was cool down in there and that was where she stored produce. It was dark and damp, had a low ceiling, and without someone with me I would have found it scary.

Things About Grandma

My grandmother had a wonderful sense of humor and loved a good laugh. She enjoyed attending parades, festivals, and loved polka music.

I didn’t realize it until she was gone, but my grandmother had a talent for writing. After she died I saw poems she had written in her 80’s and they were very good. I wish I had known we shared that interest when she was still alive.

Another regret is that I wasn’t able to spend more time with her as an adult, hearing stories of her years growing up and living on the farm. There is much I missed by living so far away.

Grandma loved surprises. One year after I was married, I didn’t know what to get her for Christmas.  She was in her late 70’s or early 80’s at the time, and I came up with an idea. I made her a certificate saying she would receive one gift a month for a year.

When I made that certificate, I had no idea what I would send her. It was a fun year for both of us. I was struggling to come up with ideas, and she was waiting anxiously for her monthly package to arrive. One of her favorite gifts didn’t cost me a penny.

I had received a head scarf for free with a cosmetic order. I didn’t wear scarfs but Grandma did, so off it went in the mail. She was thrilled!  Grandma liked the print of the fabric, it was the perfect size, and it didn’t slip off her head like some of them did. I never anticipated that kind of success from a freebie!

Grandma was living on her own in that huge farmhouse. She didn’t drive and it was a good distance from town for anyone to reach her. Grandma had been in and out of the hospital a few times, and without telling anyone made some calls and decided that the next time she was hospitalized she would not be going home, but would instead go into assisted living.

That must have a hard adjustment, leaving the home she had been in from the time she was 6 years old. Grandma did like to socialize, and being in the home she no longer had to fix her own meals, so the move had its benefits.

Grandma Turns 90

Grandma was in the assisted living facility for her 90th birthday. The family decided to hold a surprise birthday party for her. It was a wonderful gathering with two very special moments.

Grandma had been best friends with Mary from the time they were 6 years old, but they hadn’t seen each other in years due to their advanced age. Mary’s daughter brought her to Grandma’s birthday party.

When Grandma saw Mary come in she jumped up and rushed over. They hugged and then Grandma announced to everyone who Mary was. Two best friends beaming with joy at being together again. If only all friendships could last like that.

The second special moment was when Grandma was presented with the doll she had won in the beautiful baby contest at age 2. She was very happy to see the doll and kept referring to it as her baby. Photos were taken of Grandma with her doll. 

I later made a scrapbook page of her with the doll at ages 2 and at 90, which I framed and gave to her the following Christmas. It hung on her wall until she passed.  

What do you give a woman for her 90th birthday?  I didn’t want to do the normal stuff, so I decided to make a 90 Years of History book. I used my scrap-booking hobby to fill a 4” 3-ring binder.

I researched and found at least one event and coordinating photo for every year of Grandma’s life. These were not personal events, they were world events, U.S. historical moments, and technological advances.  It all began with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

It was a fun project, and revealed how things had changed during her lifetime. I received a card from Grandma later that said it took her a while, but she read the entire book. She was also surprised at all the things that happened during her lifetime.

Grandma Liked Eye Candy

Grandma may have been old in years, but she still appreciated a good-looking man. When she first went into assisted living, we figured there must have been a male resident she liked. She took a bit more care with her hair and makeup. She also was wearing nicer looking clothes.

After one of her surgeries Grandma needed physical therapy. She told me her therapist was a good-looking man with a nice body. She summed it up with “he’s cute!” Grandma said she didn’t mind going to physical therapy at all! 

When Grandma was turning 90 I knew she would receive tons of sentimental cards decorated with flowers. I decided to shake things up a bit.

The card that accompanied my gift had a well-built man, shirtless, in tight jeans and a cowboy hat sitting backwards on a ladder chair. I wrote inside that I thought she needed at least one card that wasn’t full of flowers. She loved it!

A couple weeks after the party I received a note that she really liked my card, and that she was still fanning herself.  She may have been 90 but she wasn’t dead yet!

Grandma died in 2005 at the age of 93. The book and scrapbook page I made celebrating her 90th birthday were displayed at her memorial. The book was returned to me. The scrapbook page is to be displayed with the doll in a museum.

If I Could Go Back

I would love to go back and spend a day with Grandma on the farm. It would be a fun day, filled with laughter.

As enter the house through the shed and walk into the kitchen Grandma will turn from the sink and rush over saying “well, hello Gracie,” giving me a kiss and hug. She will walk me through the house, showing me anything new she has gotten since my last visit. I will get an update on each family member she has received a photo of.

We will sit in the living room talking for a while. Grandma will get out the old Victrola and records. I’ll crank the handle to hear the music just like I did as a child.

When the phone rings Grandma will rush over, sit in the chair and pick up the receiver. “Oh, hello Mary, I can’t talk right now, Gracie is here. I’ll call you later, Bye.”  Mary may have been Grandma’s best friend, but when you were vising, you came first. That is a courtesy people have lost these days.

While Grandma fixes us something to eat I will sit in large wooden rocker and listen to her fill me in on the latest family news. She will sit on her stool by the stove waiting for the hot water to warm in the kettle.

Grandma will fix us both a cup of instant coffee.  I think it was a “modern convenience” that she liked. Instant was the only type of coffee I ever remember having at Grandma’s house. I don’t normally drink instant, but when visiting Grandma, I do.

After lunch Grandma will go out in the shed to get a cake she baked for my visit. It is made from a cake mix, but exceptionally moist because she always adds a cup of sour cream to the batter.  

We go outside and walk around the yard as she shows me her gardens and how they are doing. She decides the bushes need some water, and I haul a lawn chair over for her to sit in while holding the hose.

When the watering is done we sit on the back porch and enjoy the weather. She talks about how the nicely the rose bush is blooming against the house. We talk about the barn on the adjacent property, and how it is falling apart compared to how nice her barns look.

Before I leave Grandma grabs me a gallon jar of homemade pickled bologna, and another of homemade dill pickles to take with me. I’m in snack heaven! 

As I climb into my car I look up. Grandma is watching out the kitchen window by her rocking chair. I knew she would be there to wave goodbye. She always is.

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Filed under Family, farm, freindship, friends, friendship, grandchildren, home, Life is a Melting Pot, memoir, reality

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