Tag Archives: Linda Claire Hess

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.

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.”