I want to introduce you to my Grandma Wolff. She was born Helen Kathryn Ploch around 1883 and married my grandfather, Charlie Wolff, in 1907. Grandma had four pregnancies, the first, a boy, was stillborn, then came my mother, then she miscarried (another boy), and completed the family with my Aunt Ruthie.
Grandpa was in love with my grandma throughout their whole marriage, or so I was told. She was beautiful and had long black hair. During the '20s she decided to have it bobbed – cut short to the neck in back, what was called a shingle – and when Grandpa saw her, he cried out, “My God, my God, woman, what have you done?” And then he sat down and cried real tears.
Grandpa died on my sixth birthday, and Grandma was not in a financial position to live alone. So she spent half her time with us and half with my Aunt Ruthie's family. We argued over who got Grandma for Christmas. We loved having her with us. If there was friction with her daughters, we never saw it. I remember the three of them canning and making soap and stuffing sausage in the summer kitchen. I loved the sound of their laughter and the occasional argument as they worked together.
Being close to Grandma was a treat. I loved how she smelled, and the sound of her voice so soft and gentle. She liked to dress up and had several sets of matching earrings and broaches, just costume jewelry, but always in good taste. I have some of her jewelry, as well as a tiny tray for trinkets that sat on her dresser. It has a picture in the bottom of it of Starved Rock, which is where she and Grandpa went on their honeymoon. I didn't care about getting anything else, because none of the other things reminded me of her the way the small tray and the earrings and broaches did.
I remember the feel of her hands stroking my forehead as I lay with my head in her lap. I would take hold of her hand, feeling the paper thin skin, and I’d push on the veins on the back of her hand and watch them pop back up, quite fascinated by it. Now I look down at my hands and see the same thing on my own.
My kids don't have any real memories of my grandmother, although both were born before she died in 1967. To them, she is a flat person in a frame on a wall, and the memories of her are all second hand.
My mother was the last of her generation, and now that she is gone, my cousins and siblings and I are all that stand between our children and death. I know that my life is dwindling down, and I'm okay with that. I've had a good life, and Grandma Wolff was a big part of that.
Although I'm not looking forward to death, I can accept it. But there is one thing that bothers me. When I am gone, who will remember my Grandma Wolff?
August 24, 2008