Before My Time is about the ancestry and extended family of my four grandparents: John Samuel Krentz (Indiana/North Dakota), Margreta Tjode Hedwig (Gertie) Buss (North Dakota), Rosmer Pettis Kerr (Pennsylvania/Michigan), and Evelyn Elvina Hauer (Michigan), and other topics in genealogy and family history.

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Saturday, April 01, 2006


Grandmother, As I Always Knew Her

"Oh, child, don't even ask.
I didn't sleep a wink.
I purt' near died last night,
my legs pained me so."
She'd wrap her palm over the gnarled
wood cane, a bitter blessing,
and lean heavily into the day.

My grandmother was born on April Fool's Day, 1894. She was just three years old when her father died of tuberculosis. She herself contracted tuberculosis of the bone. The disease damaged her vertebrae, leaving her spine permanently bent forward. You can imagine the many ways in which this affected her entire life.

Evelyn was in her mid-50s when I was born, just a few years younger than I am now. Being reasonably active, although certainly not what I would call athletic, I probably have a pretty clear knowledge of how the average 57-year-old woman feels, structurally speaking, upon lying down in bed at night and upon getting out of it again in the morning. Some days neither one is really good--tired muscles, stiff joints, achy everything. I imagine the discomfort level would be exponentially higher for someone whose spine had a counter-evolutionary bend in it.

I was in my early 40s when I wrote the poem above for a poetry class. The poem was unanimously criticized by classmates for presenting a one-dimensional portrait of a woman who, they were sure, would have had many other (and finer) traits. And of course they were right about that. But that's not what the poem is about.

Evelyn had died a year or so before I wrote the poem. In my earliest memories of her, and my latest, and all those in between, the song she sang over and over again was one of pain. It's the one thing I knew best about her, the one thing that could be counted upon not to change. That's what the poem is about.

Still, on the occasion of Evelyn's 112th birthday, better to celebrate some of those other, finer traits. Evelyn was very sociable, a good cook (her New England Boiled Dinner was my favorite) and a great hostess. My mother wrote this about her:
We had a food budget of one dollar a day, which Daddy would lay neatly on the chest of drawers before he went to work. This amount was increased to five dollars for Saturday and Sunday. A total of ten dollars a week to feed our family of four plus anyone else who dropped by. Mama always had something on hand for unexpected guests, no matter what time of the day or night they arrived. She could make leftovers look like a smorgasbord of goodies. When we were in our teens, our house was often where our friends chose to gather. Mom always welcomed them and helped to make the evening a special time for everyone.
Although I never heard her play the piano, Evelyn did know how, a very handy social skill to have in the days before TV. And she enjoyed a rousing game of cards. I remember some pretty boisterous family gatherings where Crazy Eights was played at her table. She enjoyed a good party.

She was Catholic and believed in Heaven. If she was right, she's surely there now, and if that's the case, there's probably a pretty boisterous party goin' down right this minute.

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Blog Archive


Our Family in Books: A Bibliography

  • My Ancestors in Books (a library of resources and notes pertaining to Reverend Samuel Stone, Major General Robert Sedgwick, Elder John Crandall, and other early Americans in the forest where my family tree was grown)
  • The Zahnisers: A History of the Family in America by Kate M. Zahniser and Charles Reed Zahniser (Mercer, Pa. 1906)
  • History of St. James Lutheran Church [full title: A little of this and a little of that in the 141 year (1861-2002) History of St. James Lutheran Church, Reynolds Indiana] by Harold B. Dodge, published at Reynolds, Indiana, 2002; 170 pages.
  • Lisbon, North Dakota 1880-2005 Quasuicentennial, published at Lisbon, North Dakota in 2005; 391 pages.
  • The Paschen and Redd Families of Cass County, Indiana by Alfred Paschen, c. 2005 (Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, MD); 322 pages.
  • Sheldon Community History: Sheldon Centennial 1881-1981, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 1981; 376 pages.
  • Sheldon, North Dakota 1881-2006 - 125th Anniversary: The Queen of the Prairie, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 2006; 498 pages.
  • A Standard History of White County, Indiana, written under the supervision of W.H. Hamelle, c. 1915 (The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York).
  • The Roots of Coventry, Connecticut by Betty Brook Messier and Janet Sutherland Aronson, c. 1987 (Coventry 275th Anniversary Committee, Coventry, CT); 206 pages.
  • "Elder John Crandall of Rhode Island and His Descendants" by John Cortland Crandall; New Woodstock, New York, 1949; 797 pages.
  • "The Descendants of Robert Burdick of Rhode Island." Nellie (Willard) Johnson, Pd.B.: H & L Creations, LLC.

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