Tag Archives: Linda Claire Hess Groshans

47% German

47

Linda Claire in German mountain climber outfit 1959

I have done genealogy research long enough to realize that this passion of mine is viewed by some folks as quite boring. But, I have always had a preoccupation and interest in where I came from and who my ancestors were. I am born to be a story teller and so I wanted to know the stories of my own roots and my own family history. These stories showed me a pathway to the social and cultural history of my ancestors. They were stories that I memorized and retold.

At a very early age, I begged my mother to tell me the stories of our family. She related the stories of her childhood during the Great Depression and how her grandmother immigrated to America from Germany. OK, I decided, I am of a clear German heritage.

Well, this made sense. After all, all our Christmas cookies were from our German recipes … lebkuchen and springle’s are still my favorite. My Grandmother used German words for household items. Well, correction, I thought she was using all German words. For instance, when she wanted us to get our bumbershoots and we understood that to mean we were to bring our umbrellas, it turns out that the word bumbershoot is from the USA. The first known use of the word was not even until 1876.

One of our family favorite side dishes were German kniffles. Yes, that is a true variation of the word spatzen. Our family was Sud Deutsch. Southern Germany. So, there were some words common to that region that were not generally used elsewhere.

Ann Arbor was settled in part by a large German community. My family was a part of that settlement. Bethlehem Church, where we attended worship, continued sermons in German into the mid-60’s.

Our family sang together. I learned a special yodeling song from my mother. We often sang songs in German. On a family car ride we might sing,”Du, du, liegest mir am Herzen, du, du, liegest mir im Zinn”. At Christmas, our Ann Arbor church on 4th Avenue sang some German carols.

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Growing up, it was not uncommon to be asked about my heritage. “German”, I would clearly state. “I am such a German girl”.

BUT…

BUT…

BUT…

wait for it. wait for it. wait for it.

This was literally less than a half truth.

Although my father loved to tell stories, they were really never about his family. I do remember that he had told us we had American patriots in our family. He said that my sisters and I qualified to be Daughters of the American Revolution. We never joined. I was incurious about his family stories because he seemed to be.

Fast forward, in 2016, I spit into a small container to send away to Ancestry.com for my DNA results. Also, by this time, I had done enough research to know what the results would say. During my entire childhood and early to mid adult years, I believed it to be true that I was of 100% German ancestry. Turns out this is actually only 47% true.

47% true? How did we disregard that other 53% of our heritage? That 53% that is represented by primarily English and some Irish roots. This was not represented in our family customs, diets, music, clothing, church, and more. I have now read many historical facts and stories about my English ancestors. You could say, that I am getting to know them.

I guess I am somewhat sad that I can no longer ask my father the millions of questions I have. The good news is that as an adult I have started connecting with my first cousins. They have provided me with stories that my father’s brother (my uncle) knew about the family. The story that I like best is about my ancestors being captured by pirates. Clearly, that rates among my favorites.

Claire’s Closets

Claire’s Closets

She had put off going through her closet for over a year. Even today, she started only by opening the doors to the closet that spanned the entire length of one of the bedroom walls. With the closet doors open and the project at task in plain view, Claire sat down on her bed to “think” through the process.

Her mind wandered back in time to other closet reorganizations. She smiled to remember the boyfriend who had asked, “You’ve got so many clothes. Have you ever considered moving your bed into the closet and using the bedroom to store your clothes and shoes?” Obviously, he had been joking. Or, had he?

She tried to think back to being married. It was so long ago now. Had it really been 24 years ago that it all fell apart? Back then, she had to share a closet. Memories of closet with a his-side and her-side made her feel once again the sadness of a failed marriage. She remembered having to pack all of his clothing for him to take off to a new house with a new woman already in his life. It was a sad time. Claire had a memory of hugging his favorite t-shirts as she packed them. She pulled them towards her chest and fell on her knees. It reminded her of all that old pain.

Ah, it was happier to think of being a mother and helping her children organize their closets. She had made a system that worked well. Her daughter or her son would sit in a chair facing Claire and their closet. Claire would take items out one by one and hold them up waiting for her child to give a thumbs up or thumbs down. All of the unwanted clothes were recycled at the thrift stores. Some of the clothing brought laughter because it was associated with being out of date or had some other hysterical memory attached.

Even during the sad days of Claire’s divorce and healing, she easily seemed to take over the his-side of the closet. Clearly a perk of being single is more closet space. After all, now she was dating and starting a new job. Both of these were activities that needed dedicated closet space for the specific type of outfits she wanted to own. The dating clothing and work clothing were of a very different sort. Dating included some sexy low cut tops and work required a more modest skirt and sweater type look.

She had seen a therapist back then. The therapist had encouraged Claire to take on a persona he called “Mary-Lou.” This persona would be a woman who was so confident in herself that she would say encouraging things to herself before going on a date. A classic Mary Lou statement might be something like, “if a man spends 5 minutes with me, that will be the best 5 minutes of his evening.” It sounds so ridiculous now, but back then, it gave Claire the courage to be a bit daring in her wardrobe and lip stick choices. The therapist said that the Mary Lou persona would stop worrying about what others thought about her and worry about whether she would like them. So Claire used to go out like a female warrior on her dates. Now, many years had gone by and Claire no longer wanted to be a Mary Lou. Claire was now finally comfortable with being herself. No more need to bat the eyes and do the head bobs. Once you get old enough, some of the past is just completely embarrassing.

Claire looked at her closet again. She noticed that now that she had become a grandmother her life felt completely fulfilled.

These days the closet had no low cut tops anymore. She started laughing to remember her friend Heidi calling from a cell phone while she was on her way to a blind match.com date. Heidi had spent over an hour getting all “dolled-up.” Heidi told Claire that she had applied heavy make-up, a flashy outfit, and even a hair extension to capture the attention of her date. Claire asked Heidi how she looked. Heidi replied, “so, basically, I think I now look like a Grandma clown who is wearing too much makeup and trying too hard!”

Claire was helpless with laughter. Once again, she felt so happy to have friends that shared with her. There had been a time for certain alluring clothing, but now, Claire wanted to make sure not to have any part of a Grandma clown routine. Now, clothing could be for comfort. Look neat, look clean, look cozy.

Claire snapped out of her day-dreaming and looked at the closet and the project at hand. She was amazed by something. What got her attention now were all of the clothes with a what-if story. They had only been purchased based on possible scenarios. For example, Claire would say to herself, “what if I get invited to a wedding”, or “what if I need a special dress for the art gallery.” There were also tops that still had the price tag attached because they were so special she dared not to wear them for fear of spilling wine down the front of the embroidered lace blouse.

So, here is the dilemma that Claire had to answer. Should she keep what-if’s and too nice to wear items? Should she just be bold and wear them anyway, should she pack them for some lucky woman to find at the thrift shop? Should she just live or should she keep waiting?

She is still making up her mind. And, while she is making up her mind, it seems best to put the closet reorganization on hold again.

Linda Claire Hess’ first grade 1960/61 school year.

0005 1st grade

Click, clack, click. My dark red buckle shoes made such a nice tapping as I walked .8 miles from our home on Harbrooke Avenue to Haisley Elementary School on Duncan Street in Ann Arbor, MI. I loved my brown cotton plaid dress with the stiff white collar. It tied at the back with a perfect bow. My pretty ankle socks were decorated with lace around the edges. My long blonde hair was arranged in pigtails that bobbed when I skipped. My bangs were cut very short, this was because my mother claimed my eyes looked bigger when you could see more of my face. I never understood how my eyes could be bigger, but I did try to open them extra wide every time she wanted to trim my bangs again. A neighbor, Mrs. Hodgson, had been very upsetting to me when she told me that I had an especially long neck. Good grief, what was I to do? Did I appear to others as a sort of swan-girl? Well, later in life, I am ever so happy to have a long neck, as it provides me with the best chance to have a chin. LOL.

I always walked next to my older sister Mary Ann on the way to school. We had a few walking safety rules. First and most important was NEVER to walk on the grass of “Crabby Appleton’s” yard. I have absolutely no idea of the actual name of the neighbor that spent her mornings policing her grass, but she certainly was feared by us. We slowed down as we approached her corner lot, held hands and made sure to keep our heads down as we walked past.

Our other safety rule was “Watch, Look, and Listen.” We carefully checked each corner for any sign of traffic before crossing. Also, we knew that any home with a big blue hand cut-out in a front window meant it was a home where a kind adult helper was available to assist us along our walk to and from school.

We had no lunch boxes because we would make the walk home at lunch time to eat in our own kitchen. My favorite lunches were any that were served in the Campbell Soup Kids bowls. I loved those chubby cheeked children smiling up at me.

It was the 1960/ 61 school year and I had already had the best of luck. My adored Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Reinke, was also going to be my 1st grade teacher. This was good fortune beyond belief. She had the kindest of natures, short red hair, some freckles kissing her cheeks, and hands always ready to pat me so gently on my shoulders. It was good to be with her. She also knew how to tell her right hand from her left hand and this was extremely important so that you would not make any mistakes when playing Hokey Pokey. “Put your right leg in and you shake it all about.” Funny that so many years later in life, I would see someone driving through town with a bumper sticker that asked, “What if the Hokey Pokey is what it’s all about?” I laughed at that suggestion but there was also some reality to the question!

I was already a top notch reader when I entered first grade. I loved the Dick and Jane readers. I could take the books home and read them proudly to my family. After school, our mother would sometimes take us to Slater’s Book Store up on State Street near the Nickels Arcade. It was there that I got my all time favorite book to read aloud. It was called “10 Apples Up On Top” by Dr. Seuss. It was hilarious when all the apples fell off the head of the main character.

During my first grade year, JFK became our 35th president. Our country was deeply in the midst of the Cold War. Part of my memory of that time were the Scholastic School Newspapers that showed us photos of Khrushchev. I memorized his face in case I ever came across him so that I would be careful to act in my own defense. I held my special stuffed animal “Magic Bear” closer at night as a self defense measure too. The Ann Arbor schools trained students in a plan called “duck and cover” drills. Remember, close your eyes so you don’t see the flash of the nuclear blast! And, it is best to cover your head not only with your hands but your books too.

I was a happy child. After school, I could play with my sisters and my neighbor friends. About this time my creative father built us an elaborate playhouse and he also made me a wooden elephant to ride. Well, actually, you had to pretend the elephant was in motion. I think we were also one of the few families that had a magic carpet. I took many an imaginary rides on the woven bamboo rug that had our last name “Hess” woven into the pattern. The rug had been a gift from a visiting faculty member, so it had come from across the ocean to my house. What luck and an obvious indicator that it was the genuine article.

My father also built a secret passageway in our home to use as a play spot. Everything was planned to bolster our creative natures. And speaking of nature, that is what my parents loved. We took many family walks gathering dried grasses and cattails.

My 65 year old self loved my 6 year old self. She was happy, she skipped, she played Hokey Pokey, rode on magic carpets, laughed at silly riddles, and loved her dolls, stuffed animals, sisters, parents and extended family and family friends. She was entertained by Chutes and Ladders, Leap-frog, Limbo lower, and singing in the car with her family…”You are my Sunshine.”