If you’re following this blog series, you know that I grew up with great-grandparents as a regular and important part of my life. The series (Elizabeth is part 4) is dedicated to the remarkable women whose lives made it possible for me to be here today; whose strength of character and conviction have impacted me in ways I am still learning to understand. Some of those grandmothers were more distant from my life than others, yet their contributions to the woman I am today is unmistakable. Today I share the story of Elizabeth whom I did not know, and in fact was not aware of until I was in my late 40s, but whose spirit, spunk and quick wit I recognize as being a family trait.
I am related to Elizabeth but only recently came to know her as my great-grandmother. Elizabeth another German-American woman, was my biological grandfather’s mother (I didn’t know him either but that’s another blog series to come later). I know only pieces of Elizabeth’s story but there’s one particular vignette I choose to own as part of my story if for no other reason than it so nicely rounds out my other great-grandmotherly lineage.
Here’s the story:
Great-grandpa worked in the coal mines, a laborer like a number of my grandparents and great-grandparents (the others were farmers) and had left for work early one morning when Elizabeth heard a rustle at the door. Thinking her husband had forgotten something, she opened the door not to find her husband, but to find a hungry hobo who immediately stuck his foot in the door so she couldn’t slam it shut.
Long before food stamps and welfare, hungry people lived off the good will of simple folk in small towns across America. I grew up hearing about how my great-Grandma Lena fed her fair share of hobos, and what my grandmother and her siblings thought of the hobos when they were children. We tend to think of safety as a modern concern, but Lena always made the hobos eat outside. Based on her story, Elizabeth didn’t hold them in much different esteem, so the attempt to muscle into her home before dawn was not a welcome act and Elizabeth would deal with him, but in her own way.
Realizing she was not going to be able to physically repel the man out of her home, Elizabeth was quick on wit and opened the door, graciously inviting him in. She said, “One of my babies is fussing, and I need to tend to him, but if you’ll sit here and wait, I’ll take care of the baby, and then come cook you a nice breakfast.”
The pushy hobo sat down to wait for Elizabeth’s return and what he was surely imagining to be a feast, but Elizabeth had other ideas. Leaving the babies where they were, she retrieved a revolver from the bedroom, went back down stairs and cocked the trigger, pointing it at the hobo’s head.
“I’m not cooking you breakfast, and you’re going to leave –now– or I’ll shoot you!”
Her daughters and granddaughters say that she would have absolutely shot him if he had given her any lip. I recently saw a picture of Elizabeth. She was built like many of the sturdy, rural German women from the early 20th century (a build I’d like to give back to the early 20th century, thank you) and I’d like to think that some of that spunk came through the family genetic code, along with the sturdy build. I would like to believe, too, that Elizabeth would, at various points in my life, have been proud of my sometimes less-than-ladylike toughness, having lived the life she did. I’ve never tossed a hobo, nor pointed a gun at anyone (we live in a different world, after all) but I’ve had my fair share of incidents that required a quick wit, and decisive action and I’m still here, telling stories to my kids and soon to my grandkids (they’re a little young for the tales from Grammy’s wild days…) and I believe that Elizabeth owns a little piece of that.
Danke, Oma – Ich liebe dich