November 5th, 1915 - August 27th, 2008
(The following was written by my cousin, Jennifer Gillard. I wanted to post it for a couple reasons. First, Jennifer did a wonderful job capturing the essence of Grandma Schwieghofer. Second, I consider this site to be a journal of sorts for my life and wanted to keep an online record of it. And third, because I felt that the world (or at least my little corner of the blogosphere world) should be able to share in the story of this incredible woman.)
Emma Schweighofer was born 92 years ago on November 5, 1915. She was the oldest of 8 kids and grew up in a home in St. Paul where German was spoken.
While Grandma was growing up the Great Depression was going on. Times were tough and Grandma told of having only one dress to wear. She had many collars and cuffs that she could change to make the best she could of her one dress.
On September 30, 1939, Emma Block became Emma Schweighofer when she married Raymond, that handsome, fun-loving man she met at a New Years Eve party five years before.
Together they had four children and created the legacy of family that would grow to include 15 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.
Grandma would often look at the pictures of us lined up on her wall or at all of us gathered in person and she’d say, “Wow, just look at what we started…”
All of us have memories of Grandma and stories to tell. Many of us have come up with the same themes that remind us most of the woman she was.
Emma’s four kids, Jeanette, Maryterese, Mark and Diane remember her strength, her courage and her dignity. They say that with their mom, you always knew where the lines were. There were rules in Emma’s house and you respect those rules no matter what your age.
Rule #1 – Don’t come home late, lest you be met at the door by Emma in her nightgown with a clock in her hand.
Rule #2 – Stay in the yard where I can see you.
Rule #3 – Make your bed. Every day. And she always checked.
Rule #4 – On Saturday, everyone helped clean no matter how clean the house was because it had to be ready for Sunday.
Rule #5 – Never, ever talk back.
The four kids remember German phrases slipping in and out now and then like, “Avut!” which means watch yourself, you’re in trouble. The tone and volume of that word indicated just how much trouble you’d be in.
Growing up, Jeanette, Maryterese, Mark and Diane remember their mother’s strength in the fact that Grandpa was often gone working on the railroad, so she cared for both the children and the home while he was away.
Soon enough, the four kids grew up and the grandkids and great-grandkids started coming. We all were her pride and joy. I’d be willing to bet each one of us here is convinced we were the favorite – right?
Many of us have mentioned Grandma’s ability to focus in on you in any given moment and make you feel like you’re the most important person in the world. Through our childhoods, Grandma was always there – smiling. She would grin from ear to ear when she would watch us open a present or play an instrument or give her some creature or rock we picked up off the ground.
Grandma also took great pride in teaching us what she knew. Many of us pulled taffy or made noodles in her kitchen. She passed on recipes to her kids that they passed on to us and we will pass on to our kids.
We also learned from Grandma and Grandpa a profound love of nature. She encouraged us to go outside and do stuff – look at birds, grow a garden, go camping, and most of all go fishing.
She loved to fish and she loved to eat fish. Late in her life Grandma developed an allergy to fish and nearly every time I saw her she’d ask if I’d been fishing and she would say how much she loved a breaded sunfish on a piece of buttered bread.
In fact, I tried that yesterday with some of the fish we had just caught, and it’s pretty darn good!
Yesterday, Jeremy, Diane’s oldest son mentioned how when his family would go fishing when they got back Grandma would ask, “Who caught the biggest fish?” The winner got $2. Now, I’ve checked with some of my other cousins and none of us ever got $2. I guess Grandma reserved special treatment for the Zellars boys!
So, yes – Grandma taught us all to love nature and savor and enjoy each moment. On a trip to Colorado when I was 10 or 12, Grandma and Grandpa traveled with us in this giant RV. One day we were crossing the great continental divide, which is a steep stretch of road. The RV gave up the ghost there on the side of a mountain. Since this was before cell phones it was going to take a while before help came. I must have looked distressed or bored because Grandma went into the RV and came out with two lawn chairs for us and there we sat on the Continental Divide relishing the view and enjoying being stranded because we got to take in a scene you would normally race right by.
We are all grateful for that love and appreciation for nature that Grandma nurtured in each of us.
Grandma was also always a prepared Grandma. She always had some little candy treats tucked away in the glove box of the car or in a little dish in her home. My favorites were the Werther’s Originals I would sometimes get when I would ride home in their car after church.
Over the past few days I have heard many people remembering Grandma and the things that made her who she was. They all came up with the same things.
Dignity and Grace – Grandma was always dignified in her dealings with other people, especially as she aged. And she moved through her life with the grace of God.
She was strong, courageous and resilient. Grandma struggled for many years with her health, but she always remained courageous and held onto her quiet inner strength. She never gave up – not once. You may call that stubborn. Grandma was a good German! She called herself a tough old buzzard. When the doctor told Grandma a few months ago that one way to treat the infection in her leg was to cut it off, she told him that “if they’re gonna cut off my leg, I’m gonna eat fish till I croak!” Did I mention she was stubborn?
She also loved people and was so engaging that she drew people in. She smiled a lot and genuinely delighted in the joys of her family and her family of friends. She never complained or judged – she listened and encouraged with the belief that no matter what the trouble that “you can do it.”
Finally is her faith. Grandma’s faith could move mountains. She had a piece and serenity that came from her complete faith in God. She lived in hope that no matter how hard, things will always get better.
So here we are at the end of the story. Let us all remember the lessons Grandma taught us and let them guide and comfort us:
Lesson #1 – Be strong.
Lesson #2 – Have faith and the faith to be courageous.
Lesson #3 – Be dignified.
Lesson #4 – Smile – a lot. Especially when one of your kids, grandkids or great-grandkids show you something cool.
Lesson #5 – Be a good listener. Gather what you’ve heard and tell good stories.
Lesson #6 – Go outside as much as possible.
Lesson #7 – Always make your bed before you leave.
With that I say goodbye, Grandma. We love you so much and will miss you. And now that you have such a good view from heaven, we all promise to stay in the yard, right where you can see us.