Category Archives: Early Ann Arbor

My Grandmother, Amelia Grayer Ream

My maternal grandmother was magical. Sometimes, I believe that she may have even been an angel .

Her name was Amelia Grayer Ream but I called her “Grandma Pet.” As my way to honor her, I also asked my family to use this as my grandma name. So, now, I am also proud to be “Grandma Pet.”

She was magical in nature, but this was not to say that her life was without a great deal of struggle, heartache, and physical pain. I think, perhaps, what made her magical was her response to these life challenges. She became more full of grace, she carried a smile on her lips and in her eyes, she laughed in a contagious manner. She knew her friends because she cared to listen to them. She clapped for us because of the delight we brought her. Her most beautiful and powerful attribute was her complete love for family. When I sat on her lap, it was as if I had entered a safe, cozy, spot where the eyes looking at me reflected only admiration and joy. I still remember leaning into her soft body and being surrounded by her arms while I smiled back my love to her. All these many years later, my memories of her are filled from my senses. I can see her, I can hear her and feel her touch. During my sleepovers, we would share a bed and ever so quietly as I snuggled close to her she would recite the 23rd Psalm in a way that still brings me comfort.

My sisters and I loved to watch the Lawrence Welk show with her on her black and white TV. The TV had a funny film laid over the top of the screen. This film was blue at the top of the screen and  green over the bottom of the screen. This gave the rather lame impression that we were watching in color.

My grandmother’s body was ravaged by rheumatoid arthritis. Because she could not dance along with the Lennon Sisters on the show, my sisters and I twirled and danced for her.  As a young child I heard people say that my Grandma was crippled. The only evidence I had of this was that she had to crawl up the stairs. Being a child, I did the best I could and just crawled with her turning my head to smile and encourage. I was rather proud to hear how she liked getting injections in her joints. I thought it must be very special to enjoy getting a shot.

When I arrived on the planet in 1954, my Grandmother Pet was already 68 years old. By this time, she had been a widow for 24 years and had never remarried. She was still running her boarding house at 520 N. Main Street, Ann Arbor. She  lived on the main floor of this grand 3 story home. The 2 stories above her housed the rented rooms for the guests traveling through the city (mostly sales persons or folks associated with the University.) The basement level had a huge mangle for the sheets to be pressed for the guests.

We always walked in the back door to visit Grandma. This would lead us straight into her kitchen. Again, I need to use the word magic. She could whip up everyone’s favorites in that kitchen on a short order notice. If I was there with my 2 sisters, she would make each of us a special meal with our personal favorites. 3 girls and 3 menus! There was also a special jar in the kitchen. We called it the riddle jar. My Grandmother had to lead a very frugal life so she found inexpensive ways to entertain. She would find funny jokes in the newspaper and cut them out into little strips of paper that would be folded and added to the riddle jar. The very special treat that came with the riddle jar were Purple Cows for me and my sisters. In case you do not know, a purple cow was a float with vanilla ice cream on grade soda pop. My sisters and I were allowed to take turns pulling out a slip of paper from the jar and reading the jokes aloud. We laughed. Oh, how we laughed and laughed. I still thank her for making humor a part of our family treasure.

She was born in Ann Arbor, MI in September of 1885. She fell and love and married my grandfather Grover Cleveland Ream. He was a carpenter. Many of the fine sorority and fraternity houses in Ann Arbor were built by my grandfather. He also built the home on North Main Street.

Grandma Pet was 27 when she married. My grandparents had twin boys that died in infancy in 1913. They had another son in 1919 who also died as an infant. Then they had my Uncle Bob and 8 years after that, my mother Gretchen was born. My Grandmother Pet was 40 years old when my mother was born. My Grandfather died at the age of 45. My mother was only 5 years old at the time of her father’s death. A sadness that would be a part of her life story because she was not old enough to have more that a couple of memories of him.

My Grandmother was left alone as a single mother just as the Great Depression was beginning.

2 days after my birthday in 1965, my father woke me up. He hugged me and told me that Grandma Pet was now an angel. He told me she had gone to heaven. I was so heartbroken, but also I knew that she always had been an angel. I still love her with my whole heart.