In my quest for the Liebster Award, I must answer this question posed by Bright Blue Line: “If you could go back in time & speak with anyone; who would it be and why?”
If time travel were possible, I would speak with my grandmothers again. Both were incredibly strong, independent women who lived loving, meaningful lives and shaped my family. They weren’t just in-laws, but friends. They came from different backgrounds, but had a strong respect for one another. I would set my time machine to travel back a decade so we could meet for lunch or play a game of cards. It doesn’t really matter what we would do, as long as we would do it together. I wish I had spent more time learning about about their experiences so I could share those stories with my children. I’ll share a little about them now, and someday I can show this to my kids so they can learn a little about them, too.
My mother’s mother was Ruth (Leussenkamp) Hill. She was a kind woman, her heart rooted in faith. Her capacity for love and forgiveness was inspiring. She was the glue that held her family together. Every week we would meet at her kitchen table to play cards and eat. She grew up poor. My great-grandmother would often walk with her children along the railroad tracks to collect coal to heat the family home through the winter. When she was a girl, a neighbor boy, Bob, taught her how to ride a bike. Years later, they married and had seven children. Bob was a police officer and money was tight. At her funeral, a close friend and neighbor shared a story about Ruth:
Both women had households overrun by children and restricted by tight budgets. That day they were reminiscing about when they first became friends. My grandmother’s friend suddenly exclaimed, “Why, Ruth! You finally made it!” My grandmother’s quizzical expression prompted her friend to remind her of a conversation they had a few years before. “Remember, you said when you had top sheets on your beds, you’d know you’d made it! Well, you’ve got top sheets on your beds!” The woman shared a laugh and agreed that they had indeed “made it.” My grandmother was always counting her blessings. When I am feeling discouraged, I think of this story, and count my blessings.
My father’s mother was Ruth (Lotz) Pakiela. She grew up in Yonkers, New York. She was the strong-willed, confident only child of hard-working restaurant owners. She was a gifted story-teller with a flair for the dramatic. She married Stanley Pakiela, a butcher who served in the Navy with Ruth’s father.
Stan moved her to Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was a difficult adjustment for that big city girl. I believe that if she were born in this day and age, she may not have had children or married; she might have chosen a life of adventure instead. However, she did not regret the choices she made. When I unexpectedly became pregnant with Brady, I shared my concerns that I wasn’t ready to be a mother yet. She confided in me that she probably never would have felt “ready” for children, but decided to become pregnant to force my grandfather to move her out of his mother’s house and into their own apartment. My grandmother enjoyed working and did so well into her eighties, but she always felt her most important job was that of a mother and was extremely proud of the family she raised.
One of her favorite stories to tell was from her childhood. When she was a girl, she had a small dog. According to my grandma, this was one special dog! There was an ice cream parlor next to her apartment. Rather than go downstairs and walk to the ice cream parlor herself, Ruth trained the dog to do it for her. She would tuck enough money into the dog’s collar for two ice creams. When she opened the door to the apartment, the dog would take off down the stairs and out the door of the building. The dog would travel down the block to the ice cream parlor, where the man behind the counter would call out a greeting. The ice cream attendant would remove the money from the collar and place two ice creams in a small, brown, paper bag. He would fold the top down several times and put it in the dog’s mouth. She would delicately carry the bag back up the street, up the stairs and scratch on the door to be let in. She never once ate the ice cream. Upon delivering the ice cream, she would enjoy it with my grandmother. There is some discussion among my family members as to whether this story is true, or if Grandma added a little “flair” to make it interesting. Knowing Grandma, it was probably the later.
Indeed, if I could go back in time, I would make a record of all the stories they told me. I wish I had paid more attention, so I could remember all of the details. I wish I had asked for more! If you have a story to share about them, I’d love to hear it.