I grew up next door to my Grandma Elsa Laemmlen. When I was a girl, I wandered through the orchard to visit her, often daily. I knew her and she knew me. We didn’t need to say much, we just loved being together, doing things together. Sometimes we stitched. Sometimes we baked. Sometimes we plucked caterpillars from the tomato vines. Her button box was filled with treasures collected from decades of mending and repurposing clothing for her family. I always wondered where my favorite magenta buttons came from. I should have asked her.
There is not much that remains of my Grandma’s life now. My children did not know her. They will not understand these treasures, now so dear to me. I wonder if you, seeing these remains, can feel her goodness.
She is not here to tell her story. She seldom spoke of her own experiences no matter how many times I asked her to “Tell me a story.” She was a strong woman who did hard things. She new how to tend beehives, pluck feathers for down pillows, make sausages from a butchered hog, bake Kuchen and raisin pies. She was a Mennonite quilter with nimble fingers that were never still. She taught me to knit and crochet and sew doll clothes on her old black Singer sewing machine. She taught me to tie grape vines and work in the fields. She taught me how to pack Kelsey plums, green and pointed, into paper cups, counting each row carefully. She made her own prunes in a lye bath. She made jams and jellies from fruit she grew on the farm, including quince and damson plums. I spent hours and hours picking up walnuts with her in the fall and shelling those walnuts with her during the cold winter hours. We stemmed cookie sheets full of sun-dried raisins together, Thompson and Muscat, as we sat in the recliners with the space heater humming at our feet. We took naps together in the front sun room on the “devan” covered with an old Indian blanket. And often we just sat together (she always in the rocking chair by the window) and watched out the window.
These photos are a few of the pieces, the artifacts, the treasures that remain from my Grandma’s life. I miss her. The life she shared with me was filled with love and joy and beauty and goodness. I hope you feel it too.
How can we be so superior to “our barbarous ancestors”?
The truth will never be complete in any mind or time.
It will never be reduced to an explanation.
What you have is only a sack of fragments never to be filled:
old bones, fossils, facts, scraps of writing, sprawls of junk.
You know yourself only poorly and in part, the best and the worst maybe forgotten.
However you arrange the pieces, however authentic,
a story is what you’ll have, an artifact, for better or worse.
So go ahead. Gather your findings into a plausible arrangement. Make a story.
Show how love and joy, beauty and goodness shine out amongst the rubble.
–Wendell Berry, Sabbath Poems 2006