When I picked her up to come home for supper today, the staff said she had been weepy and told them she didn’t want to go out.
She was crying in the car. I finally got her to tell me what was wrong.
“My mother died,” she sobbed.
Oh. That was in 1938 or 1939–I’ll have to check. But for her, it had just happened.
I got her home, brought her inside, and watched William work his magic. Totally enchanted by his pestering her for attention, she calmed down, then said, “I wonder if Grandpa Schmidt is still alive?”
That is where she was, so that is what we talked about. Grandpa Schmidt was her mother’s father. After getting her to realize (perhaps!) that she was remembering things that had happened 70 – 75 years ago, she asked, “Now, how old am I?”
She remembered sitting in her grandfather’s lap while he read the newspaper, and him falling asleep with her still there.
She remembers her cousin, Earl, as the spoiled only child of her mother’s second oldest sister. Grandpa Schmidt bought one of the first Fords but never learned to drive. Earl was a tall, cocky teen, who did drive, “recklessly.” He drove Grandma Schmidt to the grocery store, didn’t notice she had opened the door to get out, and either accelerated or braked suddenly. Grandma fell out of the car and died from her injuries.
Grandpa Schmidt was a farmer, but also an excellent house painter. As her male cousins became teenagers, he’d take them on jobs, insisting they do things right or do them over. Earl refused, and he fired him.
Sometime after her mother, Ruth (my grandmother) married her widowed brother-in-law, Reuben Parker, they had a son who did not survive infancy. After the baby died, Ruth developed a severe infection (gangrene?) in her right hand. The doctors amputated her little finger and part of the outside of her hand, the thumb and part of her palm, the index finger, the two first joints of the remaining two (3d and 4th) fingers. Esther was about ten at the time.
She told me again that she never participated in any after-school activities because she had to come home and help her mother with the cooking and the housework. But Ruth, who had played piano for the silent movies, would still play for family gatherings, chords in her left hand and pounding out the melodies with the stump of her right.
We were having another salad with fresh tomatoes from the farmer’s market. She was enjoying her dinner, and I commented on it.
“Better a busted belly than wasted food,” she said.
“Who used to say that?” I had never heard it before.
“Reuben Parker,” she replied. It was the first even vaguely positive thing I had ever heard her say about him.