On a fine Saturday morning, Grandma and I were sitting on her back porch. We just finished walking around the house to look at the seedlings she planted every year, and were now enjoying her favorite summer drink: Country Time lemonade with ice and fresh orange slices.
Grandma leaned back in her chair and crossed her feet at her ankles. She sighed a contented sigh. She was so glad to see the sunshine after a long winter.
“I’ll never forget that time my mother told me to come straight home from school,” she started.
“Is this the one where you were playing in the creek?” I settled down in the chair next to her.
“Yes. Let’s see. I was probably about your age. In those days we didn’t have busses to take us to school. We had to walk.”
“How far?” I asked.
“It was almost two miles. Some days, if there was bad weather, Daddy would pick me up with the horse and buggy. But on nice days, we walked. My favorite thing to do was to stop by the creek and splash in the water on the way home, but my parents didn’t want me going to the creek by myself.”
“Did you wear a swim suit?” I asked, munching one of her homemade butterscotch cookies.
“We wore dresses every day. We just took off our shoes and socks and went wading.”
She continued, “One day my mother told me to come straight home from school and that I shouldn’t play in the water. Well, I forgot. It was a hot day. The water looked so good, and I decided to do a bit of wading. Before I knew it, an hour had gone by. I suddenly remembered what my mom said and ran all the way home.”
“Did you get a spanking?” I asked.
“No. Worse than that. We were having company that night!” Grandma’s eyes got big. “You remember,” she said, “I was an only child. These were my cousins, and they had three little girls that I could play with.”
“Oh Grandma! She didn’t let you play with them?”
Grandma sadly shook her head. “That night, because I disobeyed, mom said I had to stay in my room. I wasn’t allowed to play with my cousins. I remember the girls coming into my room. ‘Josephine, can we play with your doll?'”
Josephine was a quintessential Grandma. She could make clothes and hand-sewed beautiful quilts. She loved to crochet, and made the best lemon meringue pies from scratch. There was nothing that would soothe her soul more than sitting at the piano and playing beloved hymns. But she had spunk, too. On the 4th of July, she lit firecrackers in her back yard—bright and early in the morning! Grandpa always saw to it that there was a nice Oldsmobile for her to drive. She was known to “put the pedal to the metal.” Occasionally she would do a burn out on a gravel driveway, just to impress the grandchildren, rocks and dust flying everywhere!
One thing Grandma did best was to tell stories of her childhood in Iowa from the 1920’s and 30’s.
To read the story of Josephine’s birth, go HERE.
Though Josephine was the only child of Dick and Jennie VanSant, and dearly treasured by the parents who raised her, she was not spoiled and was expected to obey. Josephine had a couple of nicknames. One was “Joejie” and the other was “snow ball”. It might be easy to guess why she was called snowball from looking at her pictures. She had white blonde hair. In fact, some of her hair remained blonde her entire life.
Josephine grew up in a 6-room farm house in Oskaloosa, Iowa that had no electric, phone or indoor plumbing. The house was heated with a cook stove and a coal heater in the living room. She had chores to do, such as sweeping the floor and drying the dishes.
At West Center school, her favorite subjects were spelling, phonics, reading and geography. She disliked arithmetic, history and English. On her very first report card from Miss Miller, she was said to be “inclined to mischievousness”
There were many lessons in obedience and memories from childhood that Josephine carried with her into adulthood. These were stories she told over and over.
On a summer day in mid-August, Grandma took me to the mall in Battle Creek, Michigan. I was excited because she was planning to buy me some new clothes for school, which was starting in a couple of weeks.
“Can I put the seat back?” Push button electric seats were novelty to me, and the buttons on the side panel were a great temptation.
“Just a little bit,” she winked at me. Grandma and I were taking the back roads. She liked to go through Galesburg and Augusta. We also liked to see the flags as we drove past the entrance to Fort Custer.
“I love your new car Grandma.” The plush burgundy seats felt luxurious.
“I think our old one was still in good shape, but Grandpa always wants to buy a new one as soon as they roll over to 100,000 miles.” She adjusted the mirror and turned on the cassette player so we could listen to instrumental hymns in the background. “Cars sure have changed alot. In fact, when I was very little, we owned a Model T. But my folks saved up their money, and we were one of the first people in Oskaloosa to own a 1929 Whippet.”
“The day came for Daddy to go to town to pick up our new car. I was so excited! I went to school and told all the kids–”
My daddy’s buying a car today and he’s going to pick me up from school!
She continued, “That day dragged on. All I could think about was the Whippet. Finally, school let out and I went outside, eager for my first glimpse of our new car, and most of all, hoping all the kids would see me riding in it.”
“Grandma, it sounds like you were bragging.”
“Yes Karen, I was bragging. You know they say ‘pride goeth before a fall’? Well I had a big fall.”
“What happened!?” I had heard this story many times before, but everytime she told I would hold my breath as if hearing it for the first time.
“That day it rained,” she said with a long face, glancing over at me. “Sure enough, daddy came to pick me up—driving Barney, the old horse.”
“Oh Grandma!” I said, realizing her humiliation, “Why didn’t he drive the new car?”
“Because all we had were dirt roads. He didn’t want to get stuck in the mud with our new car.”
*Special thanks to Aunt Esther Uramkin, who loaned me a little booklet that grandma filled out for her. That is where I gathered many of the background facts for this post.
The Faith of Eda Stek (Eda was Josephine’s aunt, the sister of Jennie VanSant.)
A blog post I wrote about Oskaloosa, Iowa
Another blog post of memories about my grandparents