Sunday, January 20, 2019

Visiting Great Aunt Erma Gruhn

By Pam Schwartz

Since April of 2016 I have lost most of my grandparents generation of relatives: my Great Uncle Hugo at 88, Grandma Rose at 93, Grandma Martha at 97, Great Aunt Lucille at 98, and my Great Aunt Gladys at 100. 

 I moved to Florida in January 2016 and since then every time I have gone home, I have done my best to see each of them. This Thanksgiving and Christmas I spent as much time with my 99 year old Great Aunt Erma (my father’s aunt) as I could, (a bout with food poisoning and bad weather were unhelpful) which amounted to about 7-8 hours over both trips. 

During this time Aunt Erma and I talked about many things and I recorded our conversation as an oral history. Aunt Erma is the matriarch of my family and that last tie I have to my Grandparents’ generation. Since my Grandpa Vernon (her brother) died when I was 3 and my Grandma Martha never remembered, or didn’t share, many stories of her childhood, I have learned so much from her about them and it means so much to me. 

It’s amazing how much time you can spend talking to your family members and then when they pass you still have so many questions. I asked my Aunt Erma what it was like growing up with her parents and my grandpa. I find it sad that I never got to meet my great grandparents, but Aunt Erma only ever met one of her grandparents as the others passed before she was born. 

 On the Thanksgiving trip we talked about her childhood, my great grandparents, my grandpa (her brother), Christmas at their house, what they ate and did for fun, my great grandfather having had a ticket on the Titanic that he (luckily) gave up, she talked of my great-great uncle’s suicide just months after my great grandfather came from Germany to join him here in the US leaving him alone as a 14 year old boy to find his way, and more. 

She even told me stories about my mother’s mom that I wasn’t expecting since it was from the other side of the family. She described her, Rosie, as always being so jolly and full of fun. It made my heart melt to hear it, because that was the grandma that I had always known. Always a smile, and a twinkle in her eye. She explained that my Grandma Martha had a bit of a tougher upbringing and so was harder in a way, but said that you could always count on her to lend a hand, and bring lunch and a cake over for any illness, hardship, or holiday. And that too, was how I knew my Grandma Martha, though Erma provided more insight into Martha’s childhood then I ever thought I’d know. 

 It is hard to pick which stories to tell as so many were told in those seemingly fast running hours. Tom came with me over Christmas and did this sketch as Aunt Erma and I discussed her marriage, a falling out with my grandparents over the family farm, and the 1958 car accident which horrifically took my Grandma Martha’s brother and his wife, badly injuring their two children and my grandfather. 

As many interviews as I have recorded with my family, you can never capture all of the memories. If you have older loved ones, don’t wait. Spend time with them, ask questions, and record or write down what they say.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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