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Grandma Cookie measured success differently, but better

Grandma Cookie earned the nickname given her by the more than 40 grandchildren who ate her chocolate chip, sugar and peanut butter treats that were served with milk fetched from the bulk tank.

It was just one of many titles she held — bread-maker, clothes-washer, meat-cutter, gardener and adviser to 11 children who at one time or another took shelter close to her apron strings.

In current times she would have been a successful businessperson, adept at squeezing every nickel until it begged for mercy. Most Great Depression-era people had great respect for each and every dollar.

Grandma Cookie washed clothes on Tuesday. Dirt-encrusted chore clothes were worked across the washing board until the tub's water was black-ink dirty and then squeezed through the wringer-washer, an old machine, which would eventually be replaced by an automatic. The new, and much easier to use machine, was rarely used because she said didn't it did a good job.

The washed clothes were carried up  basement steps out to the line, where sheets snapped in the wind. Her chickens, ducks and geese moseyed across the lawn, looking for nourishment and finding trouble before she shooed them away. The geese rested on the cement near the front door while the ducks fancied themselves free to waddle to the creek, where fox, mink and other predators could take them. A boy was sent to bring them back home before night fell. The chickens found big trouble in the garden, where they dusted themselves in the loose dirt and took a liking to sweet strawberries. A good garden fence offered no security when the boy sent to fetch green onions for supper forgot to close the gate.


Her era measured success differently.

Verna was born and raised in a German community, where shared religion and ancestry defined who you were and established boundaries that weren't easily crossed.

Her husband-to-be saw her at a dance sitting at a table with a young man who had brought her. He wasn't an overtly aggressive man, but something inside caused him to lash out. A few punches were thrown and the man who brought Verna to the dance left without her.

They were married on a May morning. Hard times and the season demanded that the wedding day be only a short interlude between work. By afternoon the newlyweds were in the meadow, stacking loose hay outside that would be needed come winter. Father-in-law brought over a wedding gift — a sow and six suckling pigs. It was a gift that helped them through the winter. Pork, in the German community, is considered a special blessing among those who are especially thankful when they have both bread and cheese and appreciative still when they only have bread.

Grandma Cookie was certainly blessed.

Not that there weren't tragedies along the way. Daughter Adelaide came down with rheumatic fever, which sometimes comes on following a bout of strep throat and can affect the heart and joints. The fever kept her bed-bound for weeks and left her heart severely damaged. Adelaide didn't live past her teenage years.

Grandma Cookie kept a formal portrait of Adelaide above her favorite chair, though she never talked much about her. Many prayers were offered with spiritual certainty and a few tears shed in solitude.

Tears and hugs did not flow freely. She cried when a son left for Vietnam and cried again when her husband died in bed beside her. Sons and daughters married and left and too soon it seemed she shared the house only with her youngest son, who held on to her apron strings.


Sunday, back when the farm gate seemed to be the extent of the important world, meant almost all the family came back to play pasture ball and sit on lawn chairs to talk the day away. She fed them all with goulash, fresh bread, cake and lemonade. Sunday nights brought her a good kind of tired.

Grandma Cookie would never admit to being remarkable. Far from it, the pillows. blankets and knitted things never quite turned out quite like she would have liked. To claim otherwise would suggest bragging, which she detested in every form.

Grandma Cookie and her husband are together again in the cemetery that overlooks a field that's alternatively planted to corn and soybeans. He can watch the crops grow and she's happy resting with the flowers that appear come summer and the robins that search for earthworms in the soft grass.

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