On June 4, 1922, Martha Elizabeth was born during prohibition on her parent’s farm in Peru, New York. She was the youngest of three. She always said she was the black sheep of the family, as both her brother and sister had blond hair and blue eyes, and here she was with brown hair and brown eyes.
Martha, or as I always called her “Oma”, enjoyed farm life. Although she would often help her mother with sewing, canning, cleaning, and baking, she much preferred being in the barn tending the animals. She had a horse named Daisy, and a pet duck named Lucy. She would help with haying and helped nurse sick cows and horses. I think if she had been born a boy, she would’ve become a vet. All her life, she loved caring for animals.
She met my grandfather at school. He was friends with her older brother, Ray. My grandfather played basketball and tennis, and had blue eyes, a welcoming smile, and a gentle soul. I imagine he was a calming presence to my grandmother, who, I’m sure, was quite the spitfire.
In May of 1941 they married. I think I have a picture of their wedding day, but she is not in a flowing white dress, and there was no big to-do over the whole thing. Oma was a practical woman, and one who didn’t like to be the center of attention.
In 1942, they welcomed my father, William James, into this world. From the moment he was born until the day she died, he was her world. Life for them was quiet and basic. A typical small town life. Archie worked as a woodworker in a mill, and my grandmother had several different jobs, keeping books in a liqour store, working in a restaurant, and mostly working at Georgia-Pacific standing long hours in the factory making paper products. My father spent many days at his grandparent’s farm with his cousin Tom getting into all kinds of mischief.
Life continued on, Bill grew up, and moved away. He got married and had three children: first me, then my sister, Margarete, and then Matthew. Oma was the perfect grandmother.
I spent many holidays and summers with my grandparents. Oma would tell my sister and me to write letters to Santa and mail them to her, with our wish list. We put everything we wanted on those lists, and Oma would get every last toy, barbie, and baby doll on that list. She made Christmas. In the summer, she would pack us up lunches, and take us to the beach. She always sat under the trees, out of the sun, and never went in the water. Somehow, though, she was always came home more tanned than either my sister or me. She’d say it was because she was the black sheep.
Oma loved her boys. Girls were okay, she’d say, but her boys, well, they are special. For many years, she raised my brother Matthew. She made him his breakfast every morning, made sure he changed out of his school clothes into his regular clothes, and made sure he had plenty to eat. He also had his own “snack drawer” which contained his special treats: chocolate bars and Swiss Cake Rolls. And, she had a thing for striped shirts. She dressed him in only striped shirts. Whatever she did, it worked. My brother never missed a day of school, and he was the healthiest kid out of the three of us.
In 1999, just shy of their 60thwedding anniversary, my grandfather died. My grandmother sold her house she lived in for about 50 years. My grandfather’s tools and machinery in his woodshop were sold. And a little after that, she moved in with me. That’s when she became my best friend.
Oma lived with me and my children, Anna, Ali, and Jonathan. The girls, she loved them. She was the only one who could buy Ali just the right outfit. But, Jonathan, well, he was the boy. Oma had a special snack drawer, filled with chocolate and Three Muskateers, in her room just for him. Every morning, Oma would share her breakfast with the two cats we had. Oma had a need to feed and nurture all living creatures.
Oma lived her life with certain mottos: “Say what you mean, and mean what you say”; and “You attract more bees with honey than vinegar”. I think the first motto was for her, and the second one was for me. She knew I was a more vinegar than honey kind of person, but she kept trying to correct me.
On August 19, 2019, Oma breathed her last. My cousin, Susan, and I were with her. Oma fought to live to the very end. She was always physically very strong (I remember once that she beat my dad at arm wrestling- don’t mess with Oma), and she kept that throughout her 97 years. Recently, my other cousin, Mary Beth came to visit. At the end of her visit Mary Beth said, “You know, Aunt Martha, you are an amazing woman.” My grandmother looked at her, and laughed, and said “I’m a hell of a woman.”
Yes, you are, Oma. You are a hell of a woman, and my best friend. I will miss you terribly, and I’m awfully glad I got to share my whole life with you. I love you.