Thursday, January 31, 2008

Of Mothers and Daughters and Dinner Parties — Part II

The 41st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy asks the question: If you could have dinner with four of your ancestors who would they be and why?

When my great-grandmother, Emma Gleffe Schröder, first set sail for the United States in 1906, she knew that she would probably never see her father, brother and sister again. It's not known if Emma's mother, Pauline Gleffe, was alive at the time of Emma's departure, but in the German letters that were saved, Pauline is not mentioned.

Emma arrived at Ellis Island with her husband, Leo, and their two sons, Wilhelm (Willy) and Max, on April 1, 1906. Speaking no English and being sponsored by Leo's brother-in-law, Karl Kollat, Emma and Leo settled on the outskirts of Clyde, Ohio. There they found other German-speaking families, and just as important to Emma, a Lutheran Church that she could walk to each week, to listen to the German service.

For my second dinner party, I would choose Emma and her mother, Pauline, as the last two ancestors to share a meal with me. Though I would love to see the land where Emma grew up and where Pauline lived her life, I know exactly when and where this dinner party would take place.

There are very few things my grandmother told me about her mother, Emma. But the one thing she did say was that her mother was a good cook. My dad has also told me the same thing of the grandmother that he called, “his buddy.” So I am inviting myself to Sunday dinner at the Schröder house in Clyde, and Emma and her mother are doing the cooking.

Once they get used to the idea of being together again, I can imagine the two of them clucking and speaking in German, with my great-grandmother translating for me. I would be madly scribbling down recipes and notes and helping with whatever menial chores the two women would assign me.

I WOULD ASK PAULINE (with Emma translating)
What date were you born?
What are the names of your parents?
What date were they born?
What is your husband's full name and date of birth?
What are the names of his parents?
When and where were you married?
Do you remember your grandparents?
What were there names?
Tell me a story about your grandparents.
Tell me a story about Emma when she was a little girl.

I WOULD ASK EMMA
Who were your paternal grandparents?
What do you remember of them?
What do you miss about your homeland?
Who was Albert Tuschy and how are the Tuschys related to the Schröder family?
Tell me about your in-laws, Wilhelm and Karoline Quetschke Schröder.
What was the trip to America like?
What is a favorite memory you have of your mother?
What is a favorite memory you have of your father?
Tell me a story about your daughter Anna as a child.
What is your recipe for your Christmas log roll?

I would give them some private time to talk, to cry and to laugh. Then later, sometime in the afternoon, Emma's daughter Anna would stop and drop off her 7-year-old son. For I have chosen to have my dinner party the exact summer that my father stayed with his grandparents during the week.

Pauline and I would fade into the shadows, as Emma, all smiles would go outside to greet her daughter and grandson. We would stand there, the two of us, peeking out the screen door, listening to the casual tones of conversation. Pauline would be watching intently the granddaughter and great-grandson she had never seen, and I would be watching just as intently a father and grandmother I have known so well. We would look up, she and I, our eyes meeting, and both smile in a way that would need no translation.

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