This is week 7 ! :) Be warned; this is long.
My paternal grandparents: Bobbie and Mary (HUMMEL) WITHERELL
This picture is when they were still dating, maybe even engaged at this point.
Their wedding day
Wasn’t her dress breathtaking? I love it! She said she had gone on a coffee and cigarette diet to fit into that dress and then hurriedly told me to NEVER try that. But she does look gorgeous. My grandma gave the dress to my mom who, after my grandma passed, turned the dress into christening outfits for a boy and a girl and purses for my sister and I to use on our wedding day.
Both of my grandparents were born in my same hometown in Saginaw, Michigan. Neither of them were immigrants and both sets of their parents are also from the United States. These grandparents are the ones I knew the best. They lived not far from us and we saw them every holiday and they baby-sat us often.
My grandmother, Mary – whose diary I will be transcribing on this blog on Mondays-, as you can see, was quite the beauty. She had blond hair which turned to a lovely gray by the time I was around. My mom likes to tell me that she wanted grandchildren very badly and even sent her a lovely silk nightie for my parents wedding night to help get things going! She loved children and wanted more, however, she suffered from miscarriages and only my aunt and my dad survived. I believe she had five miscarriages – 3 before, 1 in between my aunt and dad, and 1 after. I’m not positive on that. She was one of 7 so I believe she wanted a large family as well. Either way, family was very important to her. She would often tell us tales of her family growing up and about our heritage. She’s where I got my love of family history from!
She was a stay at home mom, as many women were in the 50’s but she was very active. She stopped smoking at some point and joined with a society to raise awareness of the cancers that can come from smoking. She was very active in her church up to the day she died as well. She also loved to travel. This was easy for her as her brothers and one sister all scattered to the wind after they grew up (she jokingly said it was because that big of a German family couldn’t get along – which I do know that they didn’t tend to, especially when drinking got in the mix, but there was genuine love there nonetheless). She would travel west where her sister and brothers lived (Arizona and Nevada) and then her daughter in Colorado. When my grandpa retired, they bought a large van (I LOVED that van!) for their travel needs.
How my grandparents met was an interesting story that I didn’t hear until my grandpa’s funeral. My aunt – his sister – told us. Apparently my grandpa, Bobbie, was delivering something to a store. When he got there, the owner asked if he could help clean up water in the basement. He said yes, and he went down there to help out. My grandma worked at the store I believe and she went down there to help him, only to find him using feminine hygiene pads to help soak up the water. Whether that’s true or not, it is a funny story! And one that is fitting for my grandpa.
Bobbie was from a small family – just him and his sister- and was rather shy. He was a swimmer on the high school team and even after retiring, would go to the Y for a swim. He was the joker of the family (a trait that was passed down from his dad to my dad and then to my brother) and we always knew we were in for a good time with Grandpa who would let us get away with so much! And when we heard the “Bobbie!” from my grandma, we knew we had to stop.
Grandpa retired when I was younger from GM. He had worked there for many years as did my great-grandpa. He had been a part of the union and I think a higher-up member – maybe president? I’m not sure. He was also an avid hunter and fisher. I can remember the first time I walked into my grandparents garage and saw a deer hanging from the rafters. I wasn’t scared, just incredibly surprised to see it there. Venison was a common food item in our house growing up! Sometimes elk and we often had smoked fish as well. The smell still reminds me of my grandpa. He would find any time to be a good time to be outside, hunting or fishing. He would even put up a shanty on the Saginaw River when it froze over and fish in the winter. I didn’t trust anything that came from that river and he told me he would often throw them back.
I have many amazing memories of these two and I miss them terribly – especially my grandma. I wish she had seen me graduate from high school, college, meet my husband, attended my wedding, visited my first home, and heard about my own travels. I often hope she would have been proud of me. I miss the counsel she would have given me if she would have still been around. To me, she died young, in her late 60’s from ovarian cancer. She had known something was wrong but didn’t go to the doctor until it was too late. I miss her.
My maternal grandparents: Robert and Beverly (BARNES) LANGENECK
These are my grandparents on their wedding day. Which is an interesting story!
This is my mother’s family. Top left to right: My aunt Betty (my grandpa’s sister – we were very close to her growing up!), my grandma holding my mom and pregnant, my grandpa, my grandpa’s two brothers Fritz and John. On the bottom is my grandpa’s youngest brother Rod and then my uncle, my grandpa’s son, Robert. How weird would it be to have an uncle nearly the same age as you?
My maternal grandparents are still alive, thank goodness, so I can go to them for questions on the family that I come up even after interviewing them. Odd as it is, there are quite a number of things that I realize I didn’t ask the first or even second time around. These two are also non-immigrants and were born in Michigan. My grandpa’s dad is actually the first quasi-immigrant I have (that’ll be explained in a later post).
My grandmother, Bev, came from a strict family. She’ll tell you that without apologies. She was the only child for 10 years because of her mother’s difficult birth. My grandmother was breach and the doctor had her mother just wait it out to either let it be fixed naturally or … Lucky for all of us, it did fix itself naturally but my great-grandmother endured a lot of pain and only had one more child 10 years later. My grandmother said her mom didn’t understand how women could have so many children.
Her father was very strict with her on dating. One story she’ll tell is that she went to a movie with a boy and was told to be home by ten. Well, she came out of the theater, and there was her dad, waiting. It was only a bit after ten according to her.
My grandmother eventually went to the “big” city of Saginaw where she met my aunt Betty while working at a restaurant. Betty thought Bev and her brother would make a great couple and introduced them. Three weeks later, they were married. I jokingly asked my grandmother if it was love at first sight and she laughed and said, well not exactly. This confused me and I asked if they didn’t marry as quickly as family rumor had it then. She kind of chuckled and said yes, they did marry within three weeks it just wasn’t love at first sight. More like the second or third. They had submitted a marriage application in secret actually but one of my grandmother’s aunts found out because it was announced in the paper. They eloped anyway. Funny enough, my grandmother found out HER parents had also eloped. She didn’t understand why they were so mad at her once she found that out!
My grandmother is also where I get my slight and small frame. We are small women, under 5’3″ usually. We all also blush easily or after any exertion (you should see us after a workout!) and we bruise very easily. My grandmother has been very healthy in her life and continues that to this day. She and my grandpa eat well and she continues to walk every day. Rain or shine, ice or not. This annoys her doctor. She has gotten frost bite from being out in the cold and she slipped last winter and broke both her wrists (she has osteoporosis). Gotta love her stubbornness! She has backed off on the walking but has refused my mom’s offer to get her a treadmill.
As far as work, she did stay at home when she could but she worked odd jobs as well. I’ve heard her mention stores, restaurants, and other odds and ends. For example, she told me her mom would watch my uncle Bob when she went to work at a phone company. They weren’t wealthy so I’m sure she had to work to keep things going. Growing up, my mom didn’t have running water in the house until she was in middle school I believe. Maybe elementary. Either way, they weren’t an unhappy family, just one that was tight on money.
My grandpa, Bob, was one of seven. They all lived on a farm as well. My mom said these were her main grandparents growing up. There was ALWAYS family at the farm and lots of cousins to play with and lots of mischief to get into on the farm. This was the family that would laugh often at inappropriate things (still a trait to this day) but was very loving as well. My grandpa was the oldest boy and the second oldest in the family (my aunt Betty is the oldest). His parents were married in an interesting mystery. My grandpa had tried to get their license from the court house but it doesn’t exist. There could be two reasons for this: one, my great-grandma was five months pregnant at the time and they didn’t allow the marriage OR two, she was 17 at the time and her age caused them to deny it. Either way, I know they were married but I don’t know how to get the license.
That aside, my grandpa worked in a sugar beet factory most of his life. He didn’t graduate but I think he went to 11th grade. He says he didn’t have a dream job really, that idea wasn’t really there then. He worked with his brothers and dad at the factory. That’s also where he retired. My mom talks about the smell of sugar beets with distaste but the smell will always remind me of my grandpa.
My grandpa is tall, to me, and ALL of the Langenecks look alike! The boys all have what we call the Langeneck nose. My boy cousins, my brother, my uncle, my grandpa, and my great-uncles can all get together and you don’t even have to guess that they are related. It’s quite impressive. My grandpa and his siblings all also have dark hair and darker skin tone. That didn’t get passed down as much as the facial features though. All but two of his siblings are still alive and his two sisters still make me think of my aunt Betty and his brothers remind me of him every time I see them. One other unique thing about him is his glass eye. When he was a kid, a slingshot backfired and he lost his eye. At least, that’s the story my mom tells – I never thought to ask him about it. My mom says that when she was younger, he would play tricks on her friends. He would come up to them moaning with his hand over his eye and then take his hand away with his eye in his hand and they would all scream. Except my mom who said she’d just roll her eyes. Funny enough, as grandkids, we never saw that. My mom says that her mom probably gave grandpa a stern talking to about doing eye tricks in front of the grandkids. Either that, or he just never wanted us to be scared of him.
Because these two lived further away from us, we didn’t get to see them as often. We saw them on holidays and birthdays but that was about all. This is also the side that had cousins (I only have one cousin on my dad’s side and he lives in Colorado). I have four cousins on my mom’s side and they are all about 10 years older than me but I still loved to get together with them. It normally only happened around Christmas though. Now, we make it much more of a priority to get together as much as we can. I do wish I had known them more as I was growing up so I’m trying to make up for that now.
One last fun fact about them: there is quite a bit of longevity in the family!
From left to right: Ellen (my grandpa’s mom), Louis LaValley (my grandpa’s great-grandmother and Ellen’s grandmother and Edna’s mother), my grandpa holding my uncle Bob, and Edna Stalmacher (my grandpa’s grandmother and Ellen’s mom).
I love that photo!