I know this is an obvious statement, but my son is growing up in an entirely different world than I did.
Even though I wasn’t able to ever truly meet my grandfather, summer vacations were spent with my grandmother.
My parents would drop me off, and that was that.
It was an amazing learning experience about hard work and enjoying life.
She had a huge yard. I mean HUGE. It usually took me a few hours to mow all of the lawn. And as large as the lawn was, her flower beds were even larger, and grander. Her job was her yard work. She took it seriously.
I enjoyed the routine of being with her during the summer. Every morning was home cooked breakfast. Most of the time it was Cream of Wheat or pancakes, but there was also eggs and bacon.
After breakfast the yard work began to try to get done before the afternoon heat hit us. Grass needed mowing, flowers needed pruning, weeds needed weeding, everything needed watering, and imaginations needed imagining.
Lunch was the largest meal of the day for us. Our family history are “Germans from Russia.”
Let’s take a short step back in time…
Back in the late 1700’s Catherine the Great issued a manifesto inviting foreigners to Russia. Along with the manifesto, she offered some great incentives including free transportation, large tracts of free land, freedom of paying taxes for a long period of time, exemption from serving in the military (including their descendants), and freedom of religion…among others.
Thousands of Germans took Catherine the Great up on her offer and settled in Russia.
In the early 1800’s Czar Alexander I invited settlers (now colonies) to settle down in the Black Sea region, which they did.
Throughout the 1800’s Germans settled all over Russia, but in 1871 the Russian government repealed Catherine the Great and Czar Alexander I manifestos. The Germans lost their privileges, beginning a movement of immigration to North and South America.
But even worse times were coming for those that stayed behind. In 1919 the United States passed very strict immigration laws affecting the numbers of German immigrants coming to America. Following that, a terrible famine hit Russia where it is estimated over 150,000 Volga Germans died.
Those that made it through the famine were rewarded with their property confiscated and they were forced to collective farms.
When World War II hit, the Germans are rounded up and moved to Asia and Siberia under prosecution since Germany was at war with the Soviet Union.
My ancestors came to America in the late 1800’s, but I was fortunate enough to be able to have some of the traditions passed to me from my grandmother, mostly food related, which brings me back to the discussion about lunch being our largest meal.
Since she grew up farming, there were some typical farm lunches. Fried chicken, pork chops, etc. But a couple of times each week I was treated to some German treats. Bierocks (also known as kraut burgers or cabbage burgers) was my favorite. It’s basically ground beef, cabbage, onion, and spices stuffed into a dough shell.
Another was chicken noodle soup and butterballs.
This is not the chicken noodle soup from the can. This was stock made from chicken and homemade German noodles. I found the same noodles here at the Farmer’s Market from one of the Hutterite Colonies. They are finer than angel hair pasta. But it’s the butterballs that make the meal.
Homemade bread crumbs, cream, egg, butter and some spices, including all spice. Mix it all together and roll them into one-inch balls. Toss them in the boiling soup and once they float they are ready to eat. Sort of like a dumpling, but sort of not. I could eat a million of them in one sitting.
Other times it was more American traditional such as meatloaf or hamburger helper. Yes, hamburger helper.
I loved that stuff as a kid.
Thinking back, hamburger helper may have been the first thing that I really learned how to “cook”.
After lunch, work pretty much came to a halt to avoid the hot weather. I still had to move the sprinklers every hour, but that was basically it.
Instead, my job was to be a soldier, professional baseball player, Tarzan, cloud namer, bug crusher, and secret spy.
The world was mine. I was by myself on a large plot of land with apple trees for climbing, chicken coups for hiding, and pastures for hitting baseballs.
Cable TV was in its infancy, so there was no reason to stay inside to watch it. So I didn’t.
Dinner was simple, and usually early. Many times it was just a bowl of cereal. And I loved it.
Maybe there was a little yard work to finish up when it cooled down, but mostly we sat in the living room with Wheel of Fortune on, followed by the news. She would either be crocheting or reading her bible.
I sat watching TV chewing on sunflower seeds.
Life was good, and simple.
If anyone came to the house, or if we went out to eat, it was made very clear to me that I was not to speak unless spoken to. Wise advise that I still follow for the most part.
Many kids look forward to the summer so they didn’t have to go to school. I looked forward to staying at grandma’s house. At a young age I was already looking forward to the “alone” time to recharge my batteries.
Could I have been more of an extrovert if I didn’t spend those summers with just her and me?