I ‘ve told you many stories about the history of my family, partly because of Mama’s book — there are lots of stories to tell. But, I guess, the main reason is mostly because it is my family!
But there are also some great stories I’d like to tell about Hubby’s family. And today I’m remembering his Grandma Martha.
This is a picture of Hubby’s grandparents, Martin and Martha, with their young family around 1912. Hubby’s dad, Arthur, is the baby (here is a post I wrote last year about his life).
Of course, they are all dressed in their Sunday best, because I’m sure it was a big event when they had a formal picture taken. But, don’t be fooled into thinking these were people of leisure. They were hardworking farmers who worked from sun up to sundown to farm their land and raise their family.
And here is a favorite family story about Grandma Martha that shows that she had already developed her hardworking ways as a young girl.
This story happened one year at harvest time when Martha was a very young teen.
If I understand correctly, this is the way they picked the corn. Each worker strapped a tool, something like the ones pictured below, to the palm of one hand. In essence, it was a knife that you didn’t have to keep picking up or worry about dropping.
Then they walked down the line of corn stalks in teams of two, with each working the stalks on their side, removing each ear by using this tool to cut back the dry husks and silks (to minimize the contact their bare hands had with the sharp husks) so that they could then grip the ear of corn with the other hand and snap it off the stalk.
I know there were wagons to put the corn in, but I can’t envision where they would have been, without knocking down the corn, so I’m picturing that maybe each worker wore some sort of bag that they would take to a wagon at the edge of the field and dump when it was full.
Four workers were hired to help do the picking. But, one day during the harvest one of the workers didn’t show up and Martha volunteered to fill in. This wasn’t a job that girls and women normally did.
I’m guessing that the three “pros” (strong young men who made good money during this time of year, hiring out to whatever neighbor needed help with his harvest) were all hoping they wouldn’t have to team up with the girl, but someone had to and it ended up being a young neighbor, Jim.
Then the other two young men, suddenly enjoying what they saw as their friend’s disadvantage for having to be teamed with a very young girl, suggested a contest. The two teams would start picking at opposite ends of the field, and they would see who could get to the middle first. Jim agreed, but I imagine without much expectation of winning.
But, I’m sure you can guess what happened … Martha and Jim won! And for the rest of their lives (they always lived in the same area, so knew lots of people in common) Jim loved to tell people the story about Martha and him beating those other two. And he would always elaborate on how strong and fast Martha was and how hard she worked. My guess is, that all three of those guys learned that day, “Don’t bet against Martha!”
When Hubby’s parents, Art and Vera, married, it was agreed that Art would begin purchasing the farm and he and Vera would live in the big family farmhouse with Martin and Martha. I don’t know if there was ever any discussion about Martin and Martha moving to a smaller house in town, as Martin’s parents had done when Martin and Martha married and purchased the farm from them, but, for whatever reason, it never happened. Both Martin and Martha lived out their lives sharing a home with their son, daughter-in-law and their children. And, by the way, several generations living in the same house wasn’t at all unusual back then.
Actually, Grandpa Martin only lived long enough to know two of Art and Vera’s children, Hubby and his older sister. The story goes that Martha and Martin were hosting a family get-together and there was a spirited Euchre game going on around the kitchen table (a favorite card game in this area). Someone had just said something funny and Martin threw back his head and laughed, tipping his chair back on its back legs, but then he and the chair just continued to fall back. He was dead from a heart attack before he hit the floor. Hubby was 9 months old at the time.
But, Grandma Martha lived 16 years longer. In fact, when I started dating Hubby, she was still alive. I only remember meeting her a couple times. What I remember most about her is that she called everyone by their given name — she called me Sandra, even though everyone else at that time called me Sandy.
This is the only other picture of Grandma Martha I could find. I would guess this was when she was in her 40’s.
Apparently Grandma Martha’s demeanor was always one of hard work and perpetual motion, going from one task to the next, without any down time. My mother-in-law, Vera, a wonderful person who I’m sure would never have said this to Grandma, did tell me one time that there were times during the many years she lived with her hardworking mother-in-law, when she would have liked to just be able to sit down for a little while. But, she said she never felt like she could do that when Grandma herself never “just sat down”! No matter how wonderful her mother-in-law was, I’m sure there were times when Hubby’s mom, and I’m guessing Grandma too, wished she didn’t have to share a house with another woman. But, overall, they had a good relationship.
I’m told that when everyone sat down in the evening to relax, even then, Grandma liked to sit in a straight-back chair at the end of the sofa with her sewing basket and a stack of clothes that needed to be mended next to her so that she could do mending! But, and this is a very big but, Hubby says he remembers that any time he or one of his siblings would take a book to her and ask her to read to them, she would stop what she was doing, and read.
Hubby says it wasn’t always fun to have a third adult supervising you, especially when you were a high-energy little boy, but he now looks back fondly on their live-in grandma who, even though a hard worker, still always had time for her grandchildren, and he recognizes the ways she added to all their lives, not the least of which was as an example of the value of hard work!