We all have memories from our childhood of what a grandma is. The type of grandmother I am is nothing like what my grandmothers were. Grandmas like them no longer exist.
My grandmothers were of the era where women stayed home, and when at home wore a full apron. They were excellent cooks and always made sure they fed everyone who visited. When you walked in the door, they were always happy to see you.
That is where the similarities in my two grandmother’s end. They were each special in their own way, but so very different.
My Maternal Grandmother
Grace DeVries Hilts was born May 3, 1899 and grew up one of 10 children. Her parents and some of her siblings were born in the Netherlands. Grandma was born in Jamestown, Michigan. Her mother died shortly after childbirth and her father married the family housekeeper.
Grandma did not get along with her stepmother and married the first man who asked her. She was 18 years old on August 11, 1917 when she took her wedding vows to Ralph Hilts in Hershey Michigan.
I have fond memories of my grandfather, but his stature in life was far below what my grandmother’s had been. I’m sure the early years of their marriage were most likely difficult.
Grandpa was a hardworking man and together they built a life, raising two boys and later my mother. When my mother was born her brothers were already 19 and 23.
My grandmother was 61 years old when I was born and she became my babysitter. Both my parents were employed full time in Traverse City, and because of the distance from their home in town to the farm, I essentially lived with my grandparents the first 2-3 years of my life.
My parents would drop me off at the farm on Sunday night, visit me on Wednesday evening, and pick me up on Friday night. Because of the time I spent at their home, I developed a very close bond with my grandparents, especially my grandmother.
Memories of things that were part of my life as a toddler have stayed with me for life.
Front Porch Sitting
My love of large front porches probably started with Grandma. I remember sitting on the large farm house porch as the sun was going down. We would watch children playing across the street, but we never talked to them, and they never came over.
The people across the street lived in a large barn and were referred to as “the cherry pickers.” I now realize they were Mexican migrant workers. They would arrive in Traverse City every summer to harvest the cherries.
We also sat on that porch during the day, and Grandma would give me the glass saltshaker off the kitchen table. She told me that if I could sneak up on a bird and get salt on its tail that it would not be able to fly.
Oh, how I tried to get salt on those tails, but I never accomplished that task. I wonder how much salt I put on Grandma’s front lawn. Thinking back Grandma must have found it quite entertaining to watch me try to tiptoe up on a bird, knowing perfectly well that the bird was far more keen then my young mind realized.
My grandmother had a ringer washer. Once the clothes had been washed and rinsed, each item had to be run through a ringer to squeeze the water out before being hung on the clothes line to dry.
My most vibrant memory of that machine is when my younger sister stuck her arm in the ringer, and it sucked her arm in and got stuck. Carol screamed and my mother slammed her hand down on a quick release, popping the ringer open. I’m not sure who was more scared, my sister who was stuck or me watching the entire scenario.
When the clothes were washed and rung out, they were carried out to hang on the wash line. I had my own little laundry basket and clothes pins.
A low wash line was strung for me at the end between two poles. That is where I had the task of hanging small items such as wash clothes. A very important task for a two year old.
Down on the Farm
It was a farm and chores had to be done. I remember going into the hen house with my grandmother and taking the eggs out from under the chickens.
I also remember she let me carry the egg basket back into the house – that was gutsy! I guess when the eggs are available daily if I broke a few it was no big deal.
We also fed the chickens. I’m not sure what Grandma gave them, but I remember it was in a pan and she would throw it over the top of what to me seemed like a super high fence. For years I wondered how she did that, but now realize it probably wasn’t as high my memory makes it out to be.
Grandma had a few rows of raspberry bushes, and I could go out and pick all the raspberries I wanted to eat. To this day I love fresh raspberries. I wonder if I got my love of other fresh fruit and vegetables from my time with my grandparents.
At night we would call the cows. I can still here her saying “Come Bessy, Come Bessy, Come Bessy Come.” The next thing you would see is the cows walking over the hill and heading to the fence where we stood.
Going to Get the Paper
While memories of my grandfather are not as strong, there was one daily activity I loved, and that was going to get the paper. He had to drive to a small store or gas station to pick it up.
This was before seat belts and car seats were used. I remember sitting in the center of the front seat, and as we drove he would let me push all the buttons on the radio. Then when we got to the store, I could look inside a chest freezer and pick out an ice cream or Popsicle. A simple routine that holds fond memories.
I also liked walking the garden with him when he would pick the tomato worms off the plants and drop them into a can. I don’t know what was in the can, but it couldn’t have been good because they died.
Another memory of my grandfather is being in his garage with him. He kept beer out there, tucked behind his toolboxes. He would pull one out and pop it open to drink it.
Thinking back that is the only place I ever saw him drink anything alcoholic. Beer was never kept in the house. My grandmother did not drink at all, so I don’t know if she opposed having it in the house or if he simply did that out of respect for her.
The Move From the Farm
As they aged my grandparents sold the farm. Even though we weren’t there often, they had kept a pony for my sister and I to ride when we visited. That would be no more.
They moved into two-story home on a smaller piece of property when I was a child. It was next to a cherry orchard. It was from there that I first saw the automatic cherry pickers.
I still remember the disappointment I felt seeing that machine violently shake the tree so the cherry’s would fall. I felt bad that the Mexican cherry pickers would no longer be climbing the trees with their buckets to harvest the crops.
While living in that house my grandfather passed away. I was in 9th grade when he died, and Grandma would move again. She moved to a house next to my aunt and uncle’s home.
Grandma didn’t drive, so I’m sure this made things more convenient for her, plus it was a ranch style, so easier to navigate. It did have one wonderful feature, a mini orchard behind it filled with an assortment of sour cherry, sweet cherry, plum and peach trees. A fruit lovers paradise!
Habits I learned and Things I Didn’t Learn
My mother always said I have traits of my grandmother that I probably acquired while living with her. One of those was the fact that I don’t easily share my feelings. I keep things to myself. I think over the years I have become more open, but I still walk a cautious line in that area.
I used to do a lot of embroidery, and I now have my grandmother’s embroidery basket. I remember my mother saying I make my stitches just like Grandma, tiny and precise.
One thing I didn’t learn and wish I had is how to tat. Grandma put tatting on the edge of everything she embroidered. Dresser scarves and pillow cases all were edged with tatting.
When it came to cooking, Grandma made the best beef and noodles. I never learned how. I remember my mother making it one time and I told her they weren’t as good as Grandma’s. She never made them again. I wish I knew how Grandma made them.
If I Could Go Back
If I could go back and spend just one more day with Grandma, what a wonderful day it would be. I would get up and not get dressed, just so I could hear her say one more time “get your duds on.”
I would enjoy watching her cook breakfast. I don’t know how she could prepare a full serving plate of over-easy eggs, never breaking a yoke going into the pan or onto the plate.
I would sit in the kitchen and observe her laying an antique curling iron over the stove burner to warm it up before curling her hair so we could go to town. Of course she would change into her “going to town dress” because a house dress wasn’t proper. Once we got home she would immediately change out of that dress and back into her house dress, placing a full apron over it.
I would enjoy the orange slice candies out of the candy dish on the coffee table. They are still one of my favorite candies. I would also grab a couple Windmill Cookies from the depression glass cookie jar that sat on the end of the kitchen table.
My foot would quietly work the peddle on her sewing machine up and down, amazed that she used to sew clothing on that old treadle machine. My mother said when I was little Grandma could look at me, take a piece of fabric and freehand cut a dress, sew it, and it would fit me perfectly.
I would sit and watch the goldfish inside the glass fishbowl that sits in a wobbly, antique metal fishbowl stand next to her chair. She enjoyed sitting and watching them.
At the end of the day Grandma and I would sit on the front porch as the sun goes down. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning, red sky at night, sailor’s delight.
I would watch Grandma standing in the drive waving as I backed down the drive, one last time.
Grandma died on February 11, 1988, one month after my son was born. I have always regretted not making the drive north so she could see her great-grandson prior to her death. Grandma’s health had been deteriorating following a stroke. My mother said she thought Grandma held just on long enough to know that I and my son, Patrick, were fine.
I hope you enjoyed reading about memories of my maternal grandmother. Watch for my upcoming Memories of Grandma–Part 2, which is about the memories I have of my paternal Grandma, Louse Elizabeth Lautner King.