This is my grandpa, Rudolf Laemmlen. He was born July 13, 1899 in Grossgartach, Germany. In 1929 he married Elsa, my grandma, and they came to America. Times were hard then, and they struggled to establish themselves on the farm next to where I grew up in Reedley, California. In 1988, Elsa died at age 95. At her funeral my Dad told a story I’d never heard.
During the war, times in Germany were very hard. Grandpa and Grandma sent hundreds and hundreds of care packages home to family, to friends, and to people they didn’t even know. When I later asked Grandpa to tell me more about that story he said, “I think I spent about $10,000.00 for relief between 1945 and 1946. I thought I didn’t want to be one who made a profit out of the war prices. During the war, we got checks we didn’t expect because prices went up, up, up [for dried peaches and raisins]. So all that extra money went for relief. The average package cost about $22.00. We sent raisins, honey, canned foods, clothing, and sometimes mother would put in a chocolate bar.” During one Christmas vacation, 150 packages were sent.
This was a family project. For two years, every week packages went to the post office. Grandpa was in charge of getting the names of people who were in need. He corresponded with Tanta Mina in Grossgartach, and she sent names and addresses of families in the community who needed help. She went to community leaders and to churches to collect names of people they didn’t even know. Packages were even sent to other communities. The 4 boys helped pack the packages, in assembly-line fashion, and Grandma sealed them up. Many of them were packaged with cloth, hand-stitched closed.
Just last March, a neighbor lady in Grossgartach, Ilse Wendnagel, sent my uncle a photo of a Care Package Slip she had saved from 1947. Her grandfather built the house my grandma lived in. Her email with the photo below said, “The photo shows the note we
got in 1947 telling us that a CARE – Paket was sent to us by Rudolf Laemmlen. It contained butter, coffeebeans, corned beef… and chocolate! You can’t imagine how exciting it was when my mother cut the metal strings and we children opened the box. We were so grateful. Thank God, times have changed long ago and we all are on the sunny side of the world. Love, Ilse.”
Grandpa and Grandma returned to their homeland of Germany in 1952, and again in 1970. From what I’ve been told, large numbers of people they didn’t even know came to them to thank them for caring enough to share during those hard times. Their name was legendary in town.
My favorite part of this story is that I never knew it. They never spoke of it. I spent lots of time with my grandparents. Probably every single day, in my visiting with them from the time I was just a little girl, until I was grown, I repeated one request, hundreds and hundreds of times: “Tell me a story.” I’d sit with grandma on the divan in the front sun room and ask that over and over and over until she was worn out of stories. My favorites were the stories about the bears that came into her camps in the mountains. Never once did either grandma or grandpa ever mention the story of the care packages. When I heard it at grandma’s funeral, I cried. I later had to ask grandpa to tell me more about it.
I love my grandparents. I love them even more now as I picture them sharing from their war-time abundance. What a blessing they were to so many.
Here is a photo of the Rudolf Laemmlen Family: