Saturday, April 26, 2008

Chapter Six: Old Age

My mother Beverly, with her grandmother Aloisia, about 1932, Kendrick, Idaho.

"My earliest memory of my grandmother,” writes my mother, “is being helped across the street by my mother, hugging her goodbye, and turning to wave to my grandmother, who stood on the sidewalk in front of her house one block away. I ran towards her, with my mother watching until I was safely there. They had arranged my visit by telephone beforehand. How old must I have been? Three or four?”

“Grandmother lived in a comfortable small house with one bedroom. The house backed up against the hill and there was a small back yard enclosed by shrubbery and a garage on one side.” Kendrick, then as now, has a population of around 500 people, and is situated at the bottom of a river valley, as is Juliaetta. The closest larger cities are Lewiston, about twenty miles away, and Moscow, which may be a bit farther.

“The house had a porch that spanned the entire front, with window boxes full of flowers, chiefly portulaca—moss rose. A hedge enclosed the small grassy plots in front the house.”

“She kept chickens in a coop in the back yard and I helped her feed them by squishing the chicken mash and water together with my hands until it was mixed. I don’t remember then being afraid of birds. I think she also had a cat that at one time had kittens.”

“In the back yard was her ‘refrigerator’, a hole dug into the earth in a shady spot, lined with boards and topped by a board lid. In this she kept butter, eggs and milk to keep cool. In the kitchen cupboard was always a jar of honey, usually sugared, and I was allowed to dig a spoon into it for a treat. She also had raspberry bushes at the edge of her yard and I still associate that fruit with visits to her.”

“Grandmother was a portly lady with steely gray hair braided and wrapped around her head. She generally wore a print cotton dress with long sleeves and a gathered full-length skirt covered by a full apron.”

“I don’t remember watching her do household chores when I visited and it seems to me that she just entertained me while I was with her. She had a library table full of stuff—photographs, letters, newspapers—that I was allowed to rummage through.” My mother Beverly with her grandmother Aloisia, about 1931. I believe this photo was taken in her front yard.

“Grandmother knit her own stockings and in my memory they are always red and white striped, like candy canes, but I know better that they were really black, gray or navy blue. While she sat clacking away with her needles she let me have a ball of yarn and knitting needles and allowed me to make a big messy knot with them, while pretending to knit. She must have gotten tired of unraveling the knot, because when I was about five she decided to teach me to knit. I caught on quickly and soon was working on a big pink cap knitted on circular needles. My mother helped me with it, too, and it was finished off with a big pompom on the top and was worn by members of the family until I was in high school.”

“Grandmother always spoke English with a heavy accent and her talk was interspersed with words in the Austrian dialect. She always told me when I left her ‘to be a goot geerl’. Of course, she had not many close neighbors when she lived on the farm and hadn’t the opportunity to speak much English. She had friends who stopped to visit her in her house in town, and they were mainly German speaking. She took a German newspaper published in the U.S.”
Aloisia also read her Bible regularly. I now own her Bible, with her name written in flowing, neat script in the front. The Bible was published in 1877 in New York and is in old German script. It is one of the things I would never part with under any circumstances.

Aloisia’s neat, flowing script in the front of her German Bible. She signed it on December 14, 1890.
Aloisia Schupfer's German Bible, with her occasional notations and signature in the front, was given to me by my Uncle Otto in the early seventies. It is a prized possession, and links me to her.

“Often the family gathered at Grandmother’s house on Sunday evenings—the four in our family, Uncle Otto and Aunt Josephine with sometimes their daughters Marian and Maribel and also Aunt Ida, who lived just two doors away,” remembers Beverly. “The talk was all Styrian dialect and I don’t remember being bored with these hours, though I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Rather, I was fascinated by the puzzle of it all.”

“In general, Grandmother had many of the qualities and traits my father had: she was good-natured, laughed a lot, and seemed to love being with people.”

My favorite picture of Herman Schupfer, taken in the forties or fifties, relaxing in his easy chair with his catt. Good-natured, loving, hard-working, and always fun, Herman took after his mother, who was all these things as well.

Aloisia Schupfer died on November 8, 1937. She is buried in the Schupfer family plot in the Juliaetta Cemetery, only a quarter-mile above the homestead where she lived for many years and where her three children were born. Her oldest son, Otto, and his wife Josephine lived in the homestead until they passed away in the seventies. Since then, the house has been empty. It belongs to Otto’s grandchildren.

This photo, sent to me by Otto and Josephine in the mid-seventies, shows the Schupfer homestead, much as it looked in 1880. Uncle Otto can be seen on the porch. Josephine is walking across the yard in the foreground. The house is still there, but dilapidated and empty. The spring supplying the house with water went dry. The original porch was, shown in the older photos, was turned into a sleeping porch and plant shelf.

Aloisia Knaus Schupfer has been gone for many years now. If she were alive, she would be one hundred and fifty-two years old in 2008. She is buried in the family plot in the Juliaetta town cemetery, not more than a few hundred yards above the homestead where she settled with her new husband over one hundred years ago.
She was an incredibly tough and resilient woman, a true American pioneer who forged the way for her children, grandchildren and onward in perpetuity. She took what life gave her and made the best of it. As my mom writes, “Life was hard for women back then. Men were impulsive. They would pack up and move west at the drop of a hat. But it was the women who had to make it work. When it was time to move, they had no vote or say in the matter.”
Aloisia Schupfer, despite the odds, made it work.

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