My parents' names were unusual to my ear as a child. They were both born in 1914, Mom on August 8th and Dad on May 7th. They both would have turned 100 this year had they grown to that venerable old age. However Mom returned to the Lord in 1976, aged 61, and Dad in 2001, aged 87. An even dozen of their children grew to be adults, but they lost one son and one daughter in infancy.
|Otto and Pearl Grupp 1935|
Mom told me the story of how she and Dad met at Crystal Beach. She was with her sister, Dorothy, and Dad was with his brother, John. The two brothers conspired, one choosing the blonde and one the brunette. Apparently they all spent the evening enjoying the theme park and the Grupp brothers drove the two sisters home in their truck. Mom skipped all the middle part, but always jumped to the end of the story. My grandfather had kept watch for his 2 daughters that night and saw them as they departed from the truck. She said that she and Aunt Dot were in big trouble when they arrived back inside.
Somehow my dad overcame this rough start with Grandpa Rohlmann and by Thanksgiving Day in 1936, Otto and Pearl were married. Because I am their tenth child, everything I know of those early days of my family I learned from someone else, many of the stories told to me by Mom. I have been collecting family stories for my whole life. Because my parents have a legacy of over one-hundred forty grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, I will share these stories on Celebrating Your Voice.
|Bertha and Joseph Rohlmann, my grandparents|
This post will share one of my favorite stories that Mom told me over and over. It is written from her perspective, so when "Dad" and "Mom" are mentioned below we're talking about her father and mother, my Grandpa and Grandma Rohlmann.
Her parents named her Pearl. Being the eldest of eight, she learned domestic skills early while her mother labored with the younger children. Her mother suffered with too many pregnancies and the added demands of breast feeding. Frequently her daughter covered for her because Pearl knew the depths of Mom’s illness. She knew how to light the wood-burning stove, how to whip up a pie for dinner’s dessert, how to swing a cloth quickly enough to virtually chase the dust away before it landed. And in her Dad’s eyes, she truly was "a pearl beyond price."
Occasionally he took Pearl with him on his train trips. Being a superintendent for the railway, he traveled every day for his job. Early on she recognized the corn fields of Indiana from the smokestacks of Detroit. It was an adventure leaving the station and guessing where they would go that day. Always they returned home to St. Louis, crossing the Mississippi in the caboose behind the chugging steam engine. When they returned, it was back to the heavy responsibility of being the oldest daughter in this large and growing family.
Each day she worked her way through the early morning chores, daydreaming about arriving at school in time for Music class. Pearl couldn’t sing and didn’t even attempt it, but her heart danced with the music in her head and she found time to study every instrument she could find. There was the piano in the parlor and the banjo in Dad’s closet. But when she went to school, she had access to drums, a guitar and an organ. She might have arrived tardy at school each morning, finishing chores before starting studies, but she also stayed as late as she thought she could get away with. Her slender hands lovingly caressed the drumsticks, fingers and feet flew in unison on the organ and although she loved the twang of the guitar, there was only so much time for practice. Her teacher encouraged her and she often accompanied the choir on the organ.
In the evening, her blue eyes flared as she assigned the dish cleaning to her younger sisters, while she went over to the piano to play. She tossed her long blonde hair behind her slender shoulders sitting on the piano bench. She felt grateful when her legs grew long enough to easily reach the pedals at the bottom of the instrument. Before the time of television and with no radio in the house, she entertained the family with music after supper and lulled the babies to sleep. She thought about the College of Music in Detroit she had seen from the train window and dreamt of studying, and maybe even teaching, there one day. Pearl envisioned herself spending her life immersed in the music she loved and sharing it with others.
One fall evening, Dad arrived home later than usual. He poked his head in the back door and bellowed for the family to gather outside; he had something to show them. He held an impeccable white handkerchief in his hand and rubbed it in circles on the bumper of the brand new Model T sitting outside the barn in the back. The leather seats were a creamy tan and he excitedly showed them all the details of the family’s new mode of transportation. As soon as supper was complete, they all piled into the car which Dad cranked vigorously to ignite the engine.
Mom sat up front with the baby in her lap and Pearl squirmed straining to maintain her position beside the window. Before they knew it, they were bumping down the rutted dirt road, engine chugging grandly and moving at a respectable 25 M.P.H.
The following weekend everyone once again bundled into the vehicle and they set off to visit relatives who lived deep in the Ozarks. They climbed the mountain roads built for wagons, not Model Ts, and found themselves surrounded by tall trees lining an increasingly difficult ascent. Dad spotted a small mercantile along the road. A large red and black sign advertised Coca-Cola and he pulled into the small space in front of the store. Mom instructed the children to stay in the car, that she and Dad would be right back. “And all of you listen to Pearl. She’s in charge while we’re away.”
Pearl glowed under her mother’s command, but nothing stopped Bud and Ray from jumping from the rumble seat into the front over their big sister’s protests. They were examining everything, touching the smooth leather, testing the toot-toot of the horn. Suddenly Pearl saw the forest begin to slide by ever so slowly. Somehow now they were rolling down the hill. Panicked, the children began crying, yelling for their parents to come and help.Luckily Pearl had been a quick study and remembered the lessons Dad had shared about using the hand brake to stop the engine on the train from rolling. She reached into the front seat and pulled the handle hard that she hoped would bring a halt to their swift rolling down the hill. The car was picking up speed, but as she pulled the handle she felt the tug of the brakes trying to slow down the car. She glanced up for a moment and saw a canyon fast approaching through the windshield. She pushed her brothers out of the way and jumped into the driver’s seat. Now she stepped on the foot brake with all her might. But though they slowed down a bit, she still saw the cliff looming ahead.
She whispered a Hail Mary and prayed as she stomped with both feet one last time and heard the gravel grinding under the wheels as the nose of the Model T topped the edge of the cliff. She heard her siblings howling around her, but had no idea of the commotion behind her at the storefront. Her parents stood slack-jawed staring at their brand new Model T barely hanging onto the edge of the cliff, all their children but the youngest sitting inside. The majority of the Rohlmann clan sat in the Model T and only Pearl had the good sense to quietly breathe to her brothers and sisters, “Now, no one move one bit!”
The fear-frozen adults sprang into action. The storekeeper grabbed a large coil of rope. Dad ran as fast as possible towards the car. Clamping his arms around the nearest rear wheel, he held on with all his strength. Other men arrived and tied one end of the rope to the rear axle and the other end to a large shade tree beside the store. They pulled in unison and soon had all 4 wheels back on solid ground. They accomplished this wordlessly until the car and the children inside were safe. Soon the shopkeeper’s wife passed out cold bottles of Coke all around and everyone laughed nervously telling silly jokes and regaining their collective breathes. “Going to have to install parking brakes on these old tin lizzies or they’ll all be taking off on their own!” Everyone guffawed together with a sense of pride in the team effort that had saved so much from the bottom of the cliff. There were still some kinks to be worked out in this new-fangled technology.