Saturday, January 3, 2015

Grandma Nehring

I grew up in a red ranch home directly behind my grandparents' home in Sycamore, Illinois until my family moved to North Carolina in 1983.  Up until that time, my grandparents' home, their backyard and the large chalet they built in the 1960's was an extension of my home.  Really, my childhood was magical.  Gram and Pop kept up their expansive lawn park-like; they planted hoards of flowers every spring and kept the bushes trimmed perfectly.  They lined the curved flagstone walkway with bushes and lights next to the chalet.  Spotlights shone on the back of their house accenting the blue siding and pointed to a large fountain in the center of the garden right outside their dining room window.  The fountain was a boy that held a goose which spit out water from its beak.  You could hear the tinkling of water in the backyard and when the windows were open, it was the background sound you would hear inside the house.

Gram tells me that when my brother was born, their first grandchild, they purchased the fountain because the little boy looked like my brother, Jeff.  When she downsized, the bottom of the concrete fountain was thrown away and she was ready to pound the living tar out of the boy to throw away, as well, but I rescued him and brought him home.  He sits near our fireplace.

My grandparents were beautiful people.  They were very classy in everything they did.  Pop wore khakis and always a white dress shirt to work in the yard.  Gram was a model for The Little Traveler in Geneva, Illinois when I was quite young and she always presented herself in a beautiful fashion.

Here is the picture after they were first married in the 1950's:

Gram just sent me a picture that was taken for the church book a couple of months ago and still looks as tasteful as ever:

My Grandfather died in 1997.  Gram stayed on at the house and took care of it until late 2003 when she moved in with my parents because her health was failing and she felt she couldn't properly take care of everything the way it should be.  However, during 2004 through the summer of 2005, Gram held several garage sales and sold things on WLBK through the call-in Trading Post segments.  I drove out to Illinois several times and sold many antiques on eBay.

My grandparents had gorgeous antiques; many from their families and some they had purchased over the years. Truly, my love of antiques came from my Nehring grandparents. I grew up with antiques.  To me, this was a normal way of living.  While I grew to love primitives, the antiques in my grandparents' home leaned more towards the formal antiques, except in the chalet.  The chalet was more primitive in style.

When it came time to sell the contents of the chalet, I came out and Gram had lined up all the stoneware crocks and jugs and numbered them all.  Oh, these pictures are just the tip of the iceberg, they had so many more jugs, but those pictured are the ones slated to sell online.

See the red phone on the left hand side of the picture?  Us kids called that the "Bat Phone." (Batman and Robin, you know.)

The chalet was the most special place on Earth.  I took this picture after she started dismantling everything.

Nearly every square inch of display space was full of stuff.  Most everything had a story and if you had the time, Gram could relay stories behind every single thing that was ever handed down or purchased.  Those months I eBayed items for her were some of the richest months of my life.  I loved hearing the stories and tried to pass them on to the new owners that purchased her items on eBay.

So many family dinners were in the chalet.  My friends and I held slumber parties here and played Barbies right in front of the fireplace.  The loft held some interesting trunks filled with old linens.  There was a small kitchen, a bathroom and the workshop was in the back room.

Christmas Eves were spent in the chalet.  This was probably around 1976 or '77.  

When Gram moved in with my parents, she brought her most favorite things from home.  Her doll was on her bedroom dresser:

I'm pretty sure her mother, my great-grandmother, Mary Loptien, stitched this sampler:

During the downsize, I chose an antique pie safe and an antique buffet as well as some smaller items like this gravy boat and aluminum heart bookmark:

Infact, as I look around this house and the cottages, I have many things from Gram and Pop.  They are all so special to me.

When my mother passed away in 2009, my grandmother moved to a condo and lives with my aunt and uncle. Gram and I have had a very special bond.  We wrote letters to each other after I moved to North Carolina, and now as an adult, I call my grandmother often and I listen to her talk about her friends, social life and church.  It's a gift, really.  I am one of the few people in my age group who still has a grandparent living.

New Year's Eve I received a phone call from my aunt saying that Gram was in the hospital.  Her heart isn't working like it should which caused a fluid build-up in her system causing her to be very short of breath.  Initially, it was thought this was very serious but now it sounds like something that's quite common in her age group.  Today I called the house and my grandmother answered.  She was checked out of the hospital yesterday and is resting comfortably at home on some new medications.

But during the past few days I've really had the chance to think about my grandmother and how, when she passes away, it will be one of my greatest losses. She has always been the link to earlier generations and she spent quite a bit of time in genealogy.  Gram remembers the time when they used an outhouse out on the farm, she chuckles when she tells the story of her mother taking the horse around the bend a bit too fast in icy conditions and tipped over the wagon she was riding in.  She has seen and lived so much in her 86 years.

We have always talked a lot about the past because I'm cut from the same cloth as she is.  I love history, especially the history involving family.  I drive the country roads in DeKalb County, Illinois and it's like a visual history book because over the years she has told me stories of her growing up, which farms belonged to which family member, who lived where, the walk to the one-room schoolhouse, and yes it's true, over hill and dale even in knee-deep snow.  Elmwood Cemetery in Sycamore, Illinois is a place she has always frequented.  She used to put red geraniums on the family member's tombstones for Memorial Day and she once mentioned to me while we were walking around the cemetery, "I know more people buried beneath this soil than I do living."

Grandma has been there with me through nearly everything in my life and I cannot imagine her not there.  I think having my grandmother when my mother died was a factor in helping me along with my grief.  Gram was there for my mother in the nursing home after her stroke and was there with my father and me the moment mother breathed her last breath.  It was Gram who held it together while I cried uncontrollably.

She is a rock who has always been a large part of my foundation.  I'm headed up to Illinois hopefully within the next week, weather permitting, to visit with her.  I didn't tell her on the phone today that I was coming out because I want it to be a surprise, just like all of those surprises she did with us after we moved out of state. Surprises are the best.

I'm sort of glad that she ended up in the hospital this week. I live 500 miles away and this gives me time to prepare. Time to say everything I've ever wanted to say, though we share our sentiments every time we've talked. Time to ask questions I have forgotten the answers to. Time to just be with my dear, sweet grandmother.

Two years ago, my grandmother was failing in health and we thought it was near the end. My brother and I traveled out to Illinois for Christmas and I took this picture of Gram in front of the nativity that my grandfather built:

And now I wonder if this was truly the last Christmas Gram will ever spend here.

I'm so blessed to have her in my life. Family is everything and my grandmother is my hero and the strongest woman I've ever met. Even in her various health issues, she finds a reason to smile and laugh over the phone. Today, in between bouts of coughing, she laughed and said, "I'm an old woman.  What do you expect?"

From her? Nothing less. She is my everything and the greatest gift of all.

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