Visiting Grandma was a culture shock

posted Aug. 15, 2017 7:56 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Jeanette Ruff, Alma (Buffalo County)

I grew up in Pepin County on a farm at the end of a long driveway. My grandmother, Carrie Staring, and her husband, Elmer, lived in Minneapolis, about 95 miles away. We visited them as often as we could. It was unusual for the times, but my grandmother divorced my grandfather and married Elmer. Elmer was the only grandfather I knew, and we simply called him Elmer.

It seemed such a long way to the Twin Cities. But of course the roads were not superhighways like today and our ’32 Chevy had to be coaxed along. 

One time we went up to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving dinner. I can’t imagine my parents and six kids piling into that car for the trip, but I guess we did. It was pretty cold that day, and some of us were getting carsick so we had the windows open a little. We had to come home the same day to milk the cows. It was late when we got home, and I about went to sleep on the milk stool.

That trip to Grandma’s was not a great experience. I swear Grandma and Elmer lived on eggs, hamburger, coffee and cigarettes. My grandmother learned to smoke in her old age, and she blamed Elmer for that. It seemed that when Elmer would come down to the farm helping, he would say, “Light me a cigarette, Ma!” So she got to like it. I’m glad she didn’t burn down the house!

Once in a while Mom would send a 12-dozen crate of eggs to Grandma in the mail. Grandma liked country-fresh eggs, but I can’t imagine they were fresh. At home we ate meat and potatoes, fresh produce from the garden in the summer, and canned fruits and vegetables in the winter. We always had home-baked bread and fresh milk to drink, and quite often cream was skimmed off for special treats.

When I would stay at Grandma’s for a few days, I slept in the glassed-in porch, and at night it was as light as day because the city was lit up like a Christmas tree. And the night sounds were streetcars, police sirens and firetrucks one block over on busy Hiawatha Avenue. At home the nights were quiet and dark, but daytime noises were cows mooing, the hens cackling and the birds singing. It was all music to my ears.

At Grandma’s, if we went through the alley, there was a grocery store, a drugstore and a movie theater just a skip and a hop away. Grandma took us to several movies there, and at that time, she would get a carnival dish every time we went. She later gave me those dishes.

One time Grandma let me walk up to Hiawatha Falls Park because they were having a craft day for kids. That was about a mile one way. Grandma helped me with my 4-H sewing and was an accomplished seamstress and tailor, but she wanted to be a nurse. Although she was skilled in nursing, she used home remedies. If we had a cold, she gave us a wrap of goose grease, and for a cough, we were given some cough syrup that was sweet and had onions in it. Ugh!

Grandma kept a diary for years and years, and she even helped solve a court case because of information pertinent to the case. She was one of a kind.

But my grandparents thought we should have a little culture. So they took us to the Minneapolis-Moline plant at Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue to see how tractors were made. Mostly I remember the workers pouring red-hot liquid metal into forms to make parts. 

Grandma and Elmer also took us to the Ford Motor Co. plant, and we followed the assembly line and watched a car being put together. At the end of the line, they would put the key in the ignition and drive the car into the lot. It was fascinating. We also went to Betty Crocker Kitchens. At Christmas we went downtown on a streetcar to see the animated displays at Dayton’s. That would delight any child!

At Grandma’s, they sat around a lot, but maybe that is what you do when you get old. That was not possible on the farm, and it would have been boring anyway. I think we all felt the influence of Grandma for the good and learned what urban life was like. She certainly enriched our lives.

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