Posts Tagged ‘great-grandmother’

Christmases past have brought the best out of me, but this year finds me with less to offer. The muse and I are splitsville, I think, and I get by mostly on offspeed stuff.

My great-grandma had something special to offer around this time of year. Her offering, unlike mine, depended less on inspiration and more on discipline and experience.

A taste of it now might be nice.

December 20, 1968.

December 20 and 21, 1968.

Stollen, just in case somebody out there doesn’t know, is a traditional German holiday fruitcake, commonly but not exclusively associated with the city of Dresden.

In addition to dried fruit and zest, it can also contain marzipan. My great-grandma had a longstanding fondness for marzipan. (I wonder if she learned to love marzipan because of stollen, or if she learned to love stollen because of marzipan.)

Like all fruitcakes, stollen is not the sexiest food in the world. If anything, it verges a bit on the frumpy. Which made it an ideal Christmastime treat for the humble, rooted folks at 1107 Hope Street.

I would love to share my great-grandma’s stollen recipe. Alas, I don’t have it, and as far as I know it’s not in the family archives.

So, in keeping with the somewhat faded and understated mood this holiday, here’s a secondhand re-gift of someone else’s stollen recipe. It’s from “The Joy of Cooking,” which everyone in the world ought to have on their shelves anyway.

I don’t honestly think anyone’s going to make stollen just ’cause they read about it here. If you do, good luck. If you don’t, I hope you enjoy whatever traditional holiday dish you choose to put on the table.

Merry Christmas.

Stollen, or Christmas Loaf

Have ready:
6 to 8 cups all-purpose flour

Combine and let stand 3 to 5 minutes:
1 1/2 cups water or milk at 105 to 115 degrees
2 packages active dry yeast

Add 1 cup of hte flour. Cover this sponge and let it rest in a warm place until light and foamy, about 1 hour. Sprinkle a little of the sifted flour over:
1/2 lb. raisins
1/2 lb. chopped blanched almonds
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped candied fruit)

Beat until soft:
1 1/2 cups butter

Add gradually and blend until light and creamy:
3/4 sifted sugar

Beat in, one at a time:
3 eggs

3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp grated lemon rind

Add the sponge and enough flour to knead the dough until smooth and elastic.
Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk.
Toss it onto a floured board. Knead in the fruit and nuts.
Divide the dough into two equal pieces.
Roll each into an 8-by-15-inch oval.
Fold in half lengthwise and place loaves on greased baking sheets.
Brush tops with melted butter.
Let loaves rise, covered, until they again almost double in bulk, about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Bake 30 to 40 minutes until done.

(The book suggests using a milk or lemon glaze; the stollen of my memory is invariably topped with confectioners’ sugar.)


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I love when the obvious occurs to me, months or years after it should. It’s a great feeling, like showering with whips.

Last week’s post, in which I celebrated my maternal grandpa’s 99th birthday by posting clips of him talking, made me think: You’ve been writing a blog inspired by your paternal grandfather for more than three years. How has it never occurred to you to post clips of his voice?

It’s true. I’ve posted plenty of pictures, but never audio.

(I blame this on my upbringing in a Kodak family. We’re picture-first people.)

A post with my grandpa’s voice seemed like a natural follow-up for this week. But when I asked my dad to go into the family archives, it turned out we didn’t have a recording of Bill Blumenau telling his life story, the way we did with my other grandpa.

The problem (and I use that word loosely) is that his mother, my great-grandma Grossee, lived to be 107. We made several recordings of her talking about her childhood and young womanhood — usually with him in the room, chipping in from time to time.

But I think she sorta overshadowed him in terms of family history, in the sense that we never specifically talked to him, or to my grandma. And that makes sense; when you’ve got a centenarian in the family, you want to make tape of them.

Anyway, my dad dug up a tape from 1981 on which my grandpa — then 70 years old — descants his mother, then 95, on various matters of family history.

I remembered his voice better than I remembered my other grandpa’s. Not sure why — maybe because I had 10 more years to hear it.

But when I heard it again, there was no sense of “Hmmm. That’s what he sounded like.” I felt right at home.

His was an interesting accent. Not straightforward gravelly Bronx like my other grandpa, but something more distinctive, something bearing the stamp of growing up in western Massachusetts while having two native German speakers for parents.

Listen to the way he pronounces “corner,” for instance, in this recollection of catching a ride home with his long-deceased father:

Or listen to him discuss a wintertime treat kids don’t get any more. (My great-grandma cuts in, “I don’t remember,” and he ripostes instantly, “I remember that.”)

At one point, everyone joins in on a discussion of old-fashioned plumbing, including a wonderfully absurd moment’s exchange in which grandpa and great-grandma sound very pleased with gravity.

They don’t spend 10 minutes talking about funerals, as my other grandparents did; but not all the recollections are warm. My grandpa mentions going without steady work for a while during the Depression:

And a story about my late great-grandfather (Grossee’s husband, Bill’s dad) takes a sort of tragicomic turn at the end. It’s funny what people remember after almost 60 years:

So that’s what the guy who kept the calendars sounded like. Sorry it took me so long, but maybe this adds another bit of shading to my regular readers’ mental image of him.

It was high time I stopped running my mouth for a few and let him speak a little, anyway.

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My great-grandmother Grossee lived most of the way to 108 years. And up until the final few of them, her health seemed just about as solid as mine did.

Sure, she couldn’t walk or hear as well as she used to. But she knew where she was, and where she’d been, and who you were. And she still could do things like peel fruit and cut it up for a salad.

I don’t remember her getting that many colds or significant illnesses, either. (This may have been because she didn’t leave the house much as she grew older, and was less exposed to the public bustle of germs. Her retirement as a piano teacher in the early 1970s may have been a wise decision in that regard.)

My great-grandmother, spring or summer 1971.

My great-grandmother, spring or summer 1971.

In short, her core functions seemed remarkably strong for a person her age, up until maybe the last two or three years of her life.

But my grandfather’s calendar, and my relatives’ memories, teach me this week that it wasn’t always so.

September 8 and 9, 1970.

September 8 and 9, 1970. My great-grandma is a month shy of 84 years old.

On the day my Aunt Elaine heads back to college at Boston University, we have a call to the family doctor, Dr. Edward Malloy — and not a scheduled one, judging from the way it is written.

And on the next day, my great-grandma (she is the mother of the keeper of the calendar, hence “Ma”) goes to the hospital. Apparently her problem is not serious, as she is back at 1107 Hope Street by day’s end.

But that doesn’t seem to be the end of the story. In subsequent days, Dr. Malloy comes by for a house call, and my Aunt Elaine returns from Boston — not the sort of thing a college student usually does four days after leaving.

September 11 and 12, 1970.

September 11 and 12, 1970.

My aunt and my dad, looking back, don’t remember exactly what happened that week.

But they told me something I didn’t know: For a time, my great-grandma was troubled by short periods when she would lose touch with reality.

In my aunt’s words, they were “spells in which she would be unable to focus and would simply shrug her shoulders in confusion. … Their origin was unknown to the family for some time.”

Or, as my dad puts it: “I believe Grossee had a couple of “spells” in which she either passed out or went into la-la land briefly.  Today I believe these are called TIAs.  The first such episode might have scared your grandparents enough to call an ambulance.”

As my dad suggests, Grossee’s symptoms are consistent with what are now called transient ischemic attacks — in layman’s language, mini-strokes.

Like strokes, TIAs are caused by a disruption of blood flow to the brain. Unlike strokes, their effects can clear up within minutes or hours — though they are also capable of causing lasting damage. They also indicate an increased risk of real stroke.

My aunt and father indicate Grossee had several of these types of spells, and that the events described in September 1970 may have been the first.

By my aunt’s recollection, Doc Malloy didn’t find anything concrete to diagnose. When he retired in 1971, the family switched to a new doctor, who prescribed my great-grandma treatment for what he thought were seizures. (My aunt says my grandma described the medication as “something like a vitamin.”)

From today’s viewpoint, I’m not sure what that treatment would have been. Wikipedia (which, granted, must always be taken with a grain of salt) says lifestyle changes are the most commonly trusted prevention against TIAs, not vitamins or other medicine.

But, something worked — whether it was medication, or just the unknowable internal indomitability that kept my great-grandma getting up in the morning for so many years.

Grossee’s condition improved. She sidestepped serious, lasting damage. And, for most of the rest of her life, confusion and disorientation were not concerns. Certainly, they did not prevent her great-grandchildren from knowing her and interacting with her.

Grossee and darling great-grandson, summer 1977.

Grossee and puddin’-headed great-grandson, summer 1977.

This seems like a good place to wish my readers a happy Thanksgiving. So I will. Let us all savor our plenty.

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OK, I’m probably the 3,000th amateur genealogist-slash-pop music geek to use that post title in the past week. Sorry ’bout that.

I spend most weeks cobbling together images of the past from whatever materials I can find — a calendar entry here; a family photo there; a snatch of personal reminiscence; maybe a YouTube video or an old newspaper story if they’re relevant.

But once in a while I get served up a big bright shining detailed picture of how things were.

When that happens, I just stand back and try to take it all down.

I got one of those pictures last week, when the National Archives released digitized images from the 1940 U.S. Census. It’s not every day you get access to a door-to-door, hand-gathered portrait of America, taken in the minutest possible detail.

Of course, the 1940 Census predates by many years the period I usually cover on this blog — January 1961 to December 1975, the years for which we have my grandpa’s old calendars.

But, format and strict definitions be damned. There was no way I wasn’t looking up my family in those records.

It’s not easy, not yet anyway. The information is sorted solely by census enumeration districts, and there might be dozens of those in any good-sized community. Unless you know your ancestors’ address — which can be used to find their census district — you’re best off waiting until a name-searchable database is built.

Thankfully, my dad knew the address of the apartment my grandpa and my great-grandmother shared back in that time period.

And in Census Enumeration District 22-113 within the city of Springfield, Massachusetts … on page 29 of 46 … all at once was I, several stories high, finding them on the street where they lived.

25 Rochelle Street. Roughly halfway down, between the Murphys and the Steeres.

Some of what the 1940 Census told me, I already knew.

For instance, I knew my great-grandma had long since been widowed, and was living with my grandpa. I am not sure either of them expected the arrangement to last through the early 1990s.

(A note on the form indicates that my great-grandma supplied the census takers with their information. Perhaps they came while my grandpa was at work.)

I also knew my grandparents weren’t married until the following year. If I had to guess, I’d guess they were seeing each other in April 1940 but not yet engaged. Social mores being what they were, I doubt either of them gave a single thought to living together before the wedding.

Other tidbits, new to me, fill in some details of my grandpa’s life when he was (gack) almost 10 years younger than I am now:

  • He worked as a draftsman at a company that made candy-wrapping machines. (Actually, I did sorta know that — it’s listed on his resume, as included in this earlier blog post.)
  • It was a settled job. Not only had he worked a full 40 hours the week before the census-taker came to call, he had been on the job a full 52 weeks in 1939.
  • He made $1,410 in 1939, if the figure in column 32 is correct. That seems remarkably low to me, and I can’t find a good salary inflation calculator to check it.
  • But life was more affordable then: He spent $28 per month on rent. (I do not believe he owned a car in those days, either.)
  • My grandpa and great-grandma had lived at the same address for at least the previous five years.
  • My great-grandma is listed as a home-based music teacher, a pursuit she would continue until the early 1970s. Yet, despite working 20 hours a week, she reported earning no income the previous year. Maybe she earned a pittance from teaching. Or, maybe she figured the census man wasn’t the taxman, and didn’t need a detailed financial report.

We also learn some things about the community surrounding my grandpa and great-grandma:

  • My grandpa’s salary was roughly in the midrange of his neighborhood — higher than some, lower than some.
  • There were more renters than owners on Rochelle Street, but both groups were represented.
  • There were no people of color living on that stretch of the street, nor any divorce(e)s.
  • His neighbors on Rochelle Street included a traveling salesman for the Raybestos brake-lining company; a city schoolteacher; a meat-cutter; a laborer for the city Streets Department; and two other men employed at what was presumably the same candy machine factory.
  • Only two of the people listed on the page are described as looking for work, a suggestion that perhaps economic times were improving. (No one on the page is listed as performing “emergency work” for federal agencies like the WPA or CCC, either.)

Rochelle Street as it looks now, via Google Earth. My grandparents last visited circa 1993. My grandfather swore the shutters he made for the second-story apartment in the 1930s were still on the house.

Finally, I can’t help but note the different, more self-consciously clear handwriting in which the last name “BLUMENAU” is recorded, as compared to the writing used on the rest of the page. Maybe they were trying to be sure it was legible for history. Thoughtful of them.

At some point I’ll see if I can’t find my grandma, who was living elsewhere in Springfield in 1940 with her sister and her sister’s husband.

For now I’ll just enjoy the feeling of diving into the huge pool of data and actually finding the household I was looking for.

Not to mention the feeling that maybe in 2052, if the world isn’t irreparably torqued by then, some descendent of mine might look for me in the same way in the 1980 Census, and might feel a similar rush of accomplishment when they finally track me down.

(Here’s a hint, kid: State of New York, county of Monroe, town of Penfield. Look on Timberbrook Lane. Just trying to save you some time.)

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In honor of my great-grandma on what would have been her 125th birthday, here’s one of her cookie recipes, written in her own hand.

The date on the upper corner shows this recipe isn’t a family heirloom, but a fairly recent addition to the recipe box.

No matter. If she took the time at age 98 to write out the recipe, it’s worth passing along. (Her cursive script at that age was considerably neater than any I have managed, at any age.)

Melting moments, courtesy Pauline "Grossee" Blumenau.

The cooking instructions are written in the back in my mom’s hand, presumably to save my great-grandma some effort.

Here’s how you make melting moments:

1. Beat together butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy.

2. Add cornstarch and flour. Beat until blended.

3. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour.

4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and roll in colored sugar if desired.

5. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are golden.

6. Cool 2 to 3 minutes, then remove to rack.

Makes 45 cookies.

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