My German Grandma’s Busy Life for her Church – by Beate Ziehres

My grandmother Hilda passed away when she was 95 years old. Her funeral was one of the most impressive events I‘ve ever joined. According to my feeling, all the citizens of her and my hometown had come to the cemetery. She was born and she died at the same small town in Northern Bavaria, Germany, which might have been one reason for her fame. She had never left her hometown longer than for a day trip. Another occasion could have been the way she decided to spend her time and live her life.

My Grandma’s parents had moved to our hometown shortly after they got married. They bought a small house in the middle of the town which I got to know well, because it’s still owned by members of our family. My great-grandparents settled in and got twelve children. My great-grandfather had to struggle for decades with the reputation to be a stranger in the town. When he went to the pub to drink a beer, the other guests frequently teased him until he banged his fist on the table to stop them.

My Grandma was born in 1900. This was the time of the German Empire. With Wilhelm II of the dynasty of Hohenzollern, the last German Kaiser ruled the country. I don’t know much about the childhood of my grandmother. But times haven’t been easy for sure. I remember one story she told us, when my siblings and I were kids. The story was about how her mother’s reaction, when one of my grandmother’s brothers didn’t stop talking while the whole 14-headed family was sitting at the table for lunch. They had potatoes boiled in their jacket. My great-grandmother‘s job was to peel the boiled potatoes while all the kids were waiting to get their potato on the plate. You may imagine the atmosphere: The mother was stressed and one of the boys never ended talking nonsense. So she threw the boiling hot potato and hit her son’s forehead. I guess, he was shocked for a while. Nobody knows when, where and for which occasion the young beautiful Hilda first met that handsome guy who was ought to be my grandfather later. They got married when they both were 25. My grandmother got three girls. She was the boss of the family’s small farm and the household, while my Grandfather was employed with a chemical factory producing plastics. My grandma’s small farm always included two cows, which were used to pull loads. Especially they had to bring home their own feed, potatoes and wheat, which my Grandma grew on her small fields. The cow’s fresh milk was a drink rich of proteins and my Grandma also used the milk to produce quark. Besides these animals they had at least two pigs, a few rabbits and chicken to feed the family. In her back yard my Grandma grew several vegetables and fruits. From the wheat they baked their own bread. So the family rarely had to go to the grocery store. Her daughters were supposed to help their mother with all the work that she had to do to feed the troops with self grown goods.

My childhood memories include the fact that we went to the field by horse and cart to harvest potatoes and apples. I also remember her huge garden where my grandmother grew greens, tomatoes and cabbage for our family. She made her own Sauerkraut, salted green beans for the winter as well as pickles. She slaughtered chicken by herself, but she didn’t do so to the pigs. One or two times a year, the butcher came by, shot one of the pigs they owned and produced roast, sausages, bacon and ham from the pork meat. These were very busy days and my Grandma managed everything by herself, including the lunch for the butcher and his helpers. At the end of the day it was tradition to eat a very special soup, in which the butcher had boiled the sausages. My Grandma also served a few fresh sausages, Sauerkraut and potatoes. All the involved people sat together, were chatting and happy that the hard work was done.

My siblings and I loved to play in my Grandma’s yard and barn. She has never been angry when we used the grains, that we had pilfered out of the huge bag with chicken feed, to grow interesting and fast growing plants. She didn’t mind us to make several experiments in her garden and she never nagged, when my grandfather went to the pub to meet his friends and to play cards.

In her younger years she also enjoyed riding with my Grandpa on his old motorcycle. If she was on the way by herself, she used to go by bicycle. My Grandma did all her shopping with her bike until she was about ninety. After she visited the grocery store she walked the bike with the heavy bags up the steep hill to her house. In her spare time my Grandma knitted pullovers and socks for the entire family.

My Grandmother was the most fearless and cheerful person I know.  And she was the woman with the best relationship to god and his employees on earth. When her daughters were grown up and went their own way, the catholic priest and his housekeeper became some of the best friends of my Grandma. She kept the church clean, did the clerical laundry and volunteered as sexton. Actually this was the job of several nuns, who were part of the spiritual community. But nobody could prevent her doing all the things she wanted to do. If we, as her grandchildren, were looking for our Grandmother, we knew were to go. First we went to the church, glanced in the sacristy, up at the gallery and down in the cellar. If we couldn’t find her there, we strolled to the priest’s house and asked for her. The third and last place to look for her besides at home was the nun’s house were we usually found her ironing whole bunches of tablecloths for the altar and white towels the priest uses to clean cups and patenen.

She supported her church and the parish with her hands work until she became fragile and was supposed to stay at home. Lots of friends and members of her and her husband’s families visited her at her house, but soon she was bored by receiving visitors at the bedside. “What am I living for, if I can’t work anymore”, she said one over the other day. That must have been the moment when she decided to die.  She didn’t eat and drink anymore to finish her busy life soon.  She just waited for her daughter, who lived in a monastery, to come to her deathbed and say Good Bye. Soon afterwards she has fallen in everlasting sleep.

You know the end from the beginning of my story. She was a very independent and self confident woman, which made a model woman – in my eyes. She always was in incredible bright mood and busy from the morning till she went to bed. Her hands never rested. The wisdom she gained from her rich and almost one entire century lasting live was adorable. I think the most important thing I have learned from my Grandma is always to make my live myself and not to wait until my live is made by circumstances or by anyone else.

Beate Ziehres

Beate Ziehres, PR Manager, Marketing Manager, and editor, is based in the Wolfsburg area, Northern Germany. She works as an editor for 'regjo - Das Regionaljournal für Südostniedersachsen' and as an independent public relations professional and freelance journalist for several customers in Germany and the US. One of those is the Braunschweiger Zeitung/Wolfsburger Nachrichten, the most important daily newspaper of the east of Lower Saxony.