I remember sitting in the high chair and my grandfather Tobelmann (Henry Joseph Tobelmann, Sr.) handing me a BIG pretzel stick. I don't know how old I was but I just remember that pretzel was BIG. I think I remember a fuss that I might not be able to eat it. I remember I was sitting in my highchair in their kitchen, my grandfather to my left handing me the pretzel.
I also remember wanting to sit with my grandparents in church because my grandfather always gave me all the pennies in his pocket to put in the collection basket. My own parents gave me one or two pennies, but PopPop would give me, like, 20!
I also remember the smell of my grandfather's hands. He was a smoker and his hands smelled, I guess, like tobacco. Somehow I equated that smell to him and it smelled good to me.
|Granny and PopPop Tobelmann ca. 1960s|
I remember my grandmother (Ida Mathilda Heffner Tobelmann) trying to tell me the name to call her. I was standing in my crib calling, "Nanny, Nanny!" for her to come and get me. She came in and told me not to call her Nanny. A Nanny is a governess. She wanted to be called 'Granny.' I couldn't say Granny. It always came out Nanny. She was disappointed, but kept it up and eventually I got it, I guess.
I also remember sitting on the back patio and Granny teaching me how to sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." I got as far as 'How I wonder what you are." She kept going, but I just couldn't remember the rest. I thought, wow, how does she know all those words? My mom told me later I was about 15 months old.
I remember Granny sitting on the front porch on the glider filing her nails. She always reprimanded me for biting my nails. I don't know why I did it, but I couldn't stop. I was fascinated with her filing her nails, though, and I wished I could grow my nails to be long and pretty like hers.
Granny taught me how to crochet and how to embroider when I was in high school. Where would I be without those skills that I enjoy so immensely today? At the time it was the hip thing to do to embroider on your jeans. My jeans were FULL of embroidery. I would design my own and just go wild. I also crochteted those cloche hats made popular by Jennifer Cavalleri (Ali McGraw) in "Love Story."
Granny gave me her sewing machine that was a gift from PopPop on their first anniversary. I still have it--and it still works. It's the only machine I ever really used, except for a brief stint with a zigzag machine that broke.
I remember my maternal grandmother (Mary Lou Kessler Blumberg McNelly Loebe) was like a movie star to me. She was flamboyant and beautiful and when she walked into a room every head would turn. She just commanded the room. She looked young and stylish and always dressed trendy, with hats and stoles and high heels and makeup. She was the antithesis of Granny, who was matronly and stoic.
MeeMaw worked at the BonTon Hat shop in downtown Coatesville where she made hats for all the ladies in town. She would tell me that I would call her on the phone and say, "MeeMaw, you too busy?" And she would answer, "I'm never too busy to talk to my beautiful granddaughter." She always made me feel special. I think all the grandchildren of my age group felt that way. I never knew of all the heartache she had in her life.
MeeMaw gave me my first piano when I was one-year-old. It was a toy piano, but because of that and how she always praised me when I played it, I knew I wanted to really learn how to play a real piano when I was old enough.
|My first birthday with my piano from MeeMaw|
When I was five, MeeMaw went to England as a governess for a famous tennis pro, Fred Perry, and his family while he played in Wimbledon. I remember hearing about Penny Perry, his daughter. While she was in England, we took care of her prize white Pekingese (only two in the country at the time) and her budgey (parakeet). Well, budgey died and Pinky got pregnant to the Fox Terrier down the street. Oh, my!
We visited MeeMaw in Florida a few times. Once when she was taking care of her sick younger sister, Agnes, in Fort Lauderdale. Then we visited her regularly when she married Elias Loebe (her third husband and love of her life) and they lived in North Miami Beach.When I was about 12, I was at Aunt Lucy's house with all the cousins and MeeMaw was there. All my cousins called her 'Grandmother.' It was then that I first called her Grandmother, too. I realized MeeMaw sounded so babyish. I could tell she noticed by the look in her eyes when I said it. It felt so unnatural to me to say 'Grandmother.' But then she became Grandmother for the rest of my siblings, too. Had I known that MeeMaw was a southern name for Grandmother, I would definitely have kept the name for her. But I was 12 and wanted to 'fit in.' I thought I said MeeMaw because I couldn't say Grandmother as a baby. I'm thinking maybe I will have my grandchildren call me MeeMaw. I'll tell them it's a traditional name in the family for Grandmother. We'll see what happens.
I had a spiritual experience with Grandmother--it happened two weeks after she died!
I was in labor at the hospital with Jewely. My mom was there and my best friend, Donna Ramsden. It was an easy birth--20 minutes of harder labor and it went quickly.
Later, my friend, Melanie Joncas, came to visit me from Ohio where she had moved. Donna came over and the three of us were sitting in my kitchen and I was telling Melanie about my birth and was so happy that Donna could be there. I told her it was easy only because my mom stood next to me and put her arms around me and just hugged me tightly. It gave me the strength I needed to get through it.
Donna said, "Your mom was at the foot of the bed with me the whole time."
Since my eyes were closed the whole time, I just assumed it was my mother. So I said, "Then who was holding me the whole time?"
She said nobody was holding me.
Just then Melanie asked, "Didn't your grandmother die right before the birth?" When I said she died two weeks before, Melanie, with tears in her eyes, said, "I feel impressed to tell you it was your grandmother holding you."
My eyes teared up because I knew at that moment that what Melanie said was true. My grandmother, who was a nurse, would have been very comfortable in that setting and would have known exactly what I needed to get through that painful part of childbirth.
How comforting to know that one's grandmother was her guardian angel in the hospital while giving birth to her great-granddaughter, that she never met on earth, but certainly sent off to me from heaven.
I have thought a lot about Grandmother this past year. She got divorced from an abusive man, like I did, then escaped far away to get away from him, like I did. My mantra this year has been, "Grandmother did it, so I know I can do it, too."
|MeeMaw ca. 1966|
My maternal grandfather (Ralph Watson McNelly) was almost unknown to me. He was divorced from MeeMaw when I was a child. He only came around once a year; maybe twice. My mom said later he used the Lord's name in vain all the time and they didn't want their kids exposed to it, so they didn't invite him over very often.
My mother was always a stickler about using proper language because she said her father had bad grammar. Maybe that's why I am so aware of articulation and good grammar--and apparently instilled it in my own children.
I have a memory of his death. My mother was the one who found him in his apartment. He had been dead for, like, three days; asphyxiated due to emphysema. During the 1940s--in fact, during my mother's whole four years of high school, he was in a TB asylum in the Gettysburg area. Yet, my mom told me when they visited him there they brought him cigarettes. Doctors hadn't put two and two together yet, I guess. He had one lung removed due to the TB, I guess, but I'm not sure when that was.
So many things you find out 'later' in life about your relatives. I am happy to know these things, though, because finding out the notoriety in your family certainly gives you the proper perspective to ponder, rather than always wondering--why this or why did that happen?
I'm so happy I had my grandparents to know and love while I was a child and even into my adulthood. I feel blessed in that respect.
What do you remember about your grandparents? What are your earliest memories to share? I'd like to know.