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Remembering My Maternal Grandmother

Updated on August 11, 2017
Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul was born and grew up in Wisconsin. He is married to a Thai and living in Thailand. He has Swiss, German, and Austrian ancestry.

Grandma and My Mother

Grandma and my mother at about age one.  Photo was taken around 1921.
Grandma and my mother at about age one. Photo was taken around 1921. | Source

Introduction

Grandma Schmidt, my maternal grandmother, was one of the most caring and kindest persons you would ever want to meet. I got to know grandma very well as a young boy during our yearly summer trips up north to central Wisconsin from Milwaukee. After we moved out to a farm in 1954, I didn't see grandma that much, but she did come down with grandpa to visit us once in 1956 and then again in 1959.

During the 60s and early 70s, I remember seeing Grandma Schmidt a few times. One occasion was during the summer of 1960 when I took a train up to Marshfield. Right before and after I got out of the Navy, I also visited grandma In Marshfield. The last time I saw grandma was in June of 1971 when she came to visit less than two years before her death in March of 1973.

In this article, I follow grandma's life starting with her birth in 1901. After noting what I have learned about her parents (my great-grandparents) and my great aunts and uncles, I describe her life in detail from the time of her marriage in 1920 until death. Memories of my aunts and uncles are also recounted. My sources of information come from my mother's stories, personal observations, and records on Ancestry.com.

Family History

My grandma, Pauline Theresa Drexler Schmidt, was the daughter of Frank Xavier Drexler and Theresa Treml Drexler.

Great-grandpa Drexler was born in Bayern, Germany, on 18 August 1876. In 1880, he arrived in the United States and settled with his parents in the Auburndale area of Wisconsin.

Great-grandma Treml was born in the Bohemia area of Austria on 7 January 1879 and immigrated to the U.S. with her mother and father in 1883. They also settled in the Auburndale area.

My great-grandma and grandpa married on 10 November 1898 and lived in Auburndale until 1912 when they moved to Marshfield.

From 1899 until 1913, my great aunts and great uncles were born. Great Uncle Frank was born first in 1899. He was followed by grandma who was born on 25 January 1901, and then George born in 1902. After John and Ed were born in 1904 and 1906 respectively, my great aunts Mary, Martha, and Annie were born in the years 1908, 1910, and 1913 respectively.

Mom didn't talk much about her great uncles, but I do know that she liked John who was a bachelor. When he passed away in the early 1970s, ma inherited $7,000 and also some of John's prized wood carvings.

I knew more about two of the great aunts. In the early 1950s, we often visited Aunt Martha and Uncle Hank on their farm in Marathon County. Aunt Annie also visited regularly in the 1950s because she lived in Milwaukee not too far from our farm. Mom, in fact, lived with Annie before she married dad in 1943.

My Mother and Three Aunts

From left to right: Aunts Mary, Donna, Sissie, and my mother.  Picture taken in 1988.
From left to right: Aunts Mary, Donna, Sissie, and my mother. Picture taken in 1988. | Source

Grandma as a Mother: 1920-1973

In 1920, grandma married William August Schmidt at Saint Mary's Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Grandpa was 20 years old and from the Marshfield area. Toward the end of 1920, my mother, Dorothy Mary Schmidt, was born.

During the 1920s, grandma and grandpa had three other children. Uncle Raymie was born in 1922, and he was followed by Aunt Sissie (Anna) in 1924. Two years later, Uncle Leo was born in 1926.

In 1937, Aunt Donna came into the world, and my youngest Aunt Mary was born in 1943. My mother claims that there was also a stillborn baby in the 1930s.

As early as the late 1920s, grandma and grandpa were living on North Walnut Street on the north side of Marshfield. Grandpa's older brother, Henry or Uncle as everyone called him, lived with the family.

Great-grandma Theresa lived with grandma for one year before her death in 1963. During that same year, Aunt Mary married Uncle Jim and lived in an upstairs apartment of the house which had just been renovated.

Grandma who was very thin at that time passed away on March 15, 1973, at the age of 72.

Challenges Grandma Met in Her Life

During her life, grandma was faced with a number of challenges. The biggest challenges were the drinking problem of grandpa during most of the marriage, caring for a mentally retarded child, the early death of great-grandpa, and caring for great-grandma.

I learned about grandpa's drinking problem from ma. My mother mentioned that when she worked at a shoe factory in the late 1930s, she would hide her earnings in the bedroom. Grandpa would always find it and use the money for drinking.

Grandpa never really had any good jobs that paid enough money for his family in the 1920s. Perhaps that was his motive for robbing a bank in nearby Unity in October of 1929. Grandpa was immediately caught and sentenced to 18 years of hard labor at Waupun State Prison. During the years grandpa was in prison, it had to be hard on grandma even though Uncle was living with the family. My mother was forced to quit school during 1933 when she was in the ninth grade and noted that classmates called her dad a "jaIlbird."

Grandpa was released from prison in 1934. Although I am not sure about his employment then, I do know that he was working at the Marshfield Zoo around 1949 feeding animals.

When I last saw grandpa in July of 1960, he was still drinking in the morning before going to work. I learned from my mother, however, that he quit drinking during the last year of his life which ended in October of 1961.

Another big challenge for grandma was the almost lifetime care of Uncle Leo born in 1926. Leo was born severely mentally retarded and didn't walk until he was about four or five according to ma. When I first remember seeing Uncle Leo around 1949, he was living at home and always sitting in the TV room holding his ears. He never talked with me, but did recognize family members, Dad once asked who he (dad) was, and Leo replied, "You Chuck."

Grandma would have to feed, dress, and bathe Leo every day. In the mid-1960s when Leo started to get violent, grandma had no choice but to put him in a nursing home. Uncle Leo didn't last long there, and I heard that he died choking on food.

The early unexpected death of great-grandpa Drexler in 1932 also had to be a shock for grandma. During that year, great-grandpa had a job hauling refuse by horse cart away from Marshfield Hospital. According to a news article, as great-grandpa attempted to get on his cart, the horses got scared and pulled him under the cart as they took off. Great-grandpa died instantly. Although one or two of grandma's brothers still lived with great-grandma Drexler, grandma had the added responsibility to comfort and care for great-grandma.

Grandma's final challenge was caring for great-grandma Drexler during the last year of her life. Great-grandma had been in poor health that year, and according to what I recall, she passed away in grandma's arms.

How I Remember Grandma

My first memories of grandma are from about 1949 when I was five. Mom and dad would almost every summer drive up to Marshfield in their old Model-T Ford. The trip would sometimes take up to eight hours long, but it seemed like magic when we entered grandma's house. She always had a warm meal waiting for us, and how can I forget sleeping upstairs in the big unfinished room under the rafters.

Grandma was about 5'6" with a medium build and white hair. I always called her the "big grandma" as opposed to "little grandma" who was my 4'10" great-grandma.

Like my mother, grandma had unconditional love for her mother, husband, children, and grandchildren. She never scolded me when I broke her living room window while playing with my cousin. Every day, grandma went to Saint John's Catholic Church about three blocks away.

if anyone deserves to be heaven, it has to be my grandma. She certainly bore her crosses well in life.

© 2017 Paul Richard Kuehn

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    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      18 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thank you very much for your comments. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to live through the 1930s and the Depression. Yes, my grandmother was a very kind person. I remember that she would knit mittens for grandchildren for Christmas.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 

      18 months ago

      And some people these days believe they have hard lives! Yes, life could be very hard in those days, yet, as you say, she was a very kind person. It's great to have memories like that of our ancestors.

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