The Retiree: May 27, 2015


Grandma Anna Hoem was born in 1884 and died in 1976. She came to America around 1904, a young girl, and somehow found her way to Minneapolis. For a time she was a housekeeper for John B. Hoem after his wife died, and later married him. Dad was one of seven children from that marriage.
This particular story covers a much later time, after Grandpa died at age 86 in 1963, and before Grandma moved in with Aunt Muriel. We were visiting her. She spent a lot of time in the kitchen. That room was big enough for a table that was comfortable for four. A stairway by the entry door led to the back yard and the basement. On the other side of the west wall was a pantry. Across from it on the east wall was a gas refrigerator which she never really trusted. Next to it was a roller towel by the sink. A stove, where she often had a pot of really bad coffee, sat against the dining room wall. To the north there was always a red wooden basket hanging between two windows. It was unique to Grandma's house, and contained a Wandering Jew plant—whatever that was. I never asked if that was the real name of the thing, or if it was just called that.
Grandma never lost her Norwegian accent. Instead of Jerry, I was always Yerry, and one of my cousins was Yack.
I always just walked in on Grandma. I never knocked or rang a doorbell. I'd be surprised if anyone in the extended family ever did. So one day, Wife and I walked in on her and found her in the kitchen, where she offered us a cup of coffee.
We quickly found an excuse to skip that, and sat down with her at the table. The roller towel was in its place. The old refrigerator was still working. Then I noticed something different. The Wandering Jew was gone.
“Grandma, where's the Wandering Jew?” I asked. “It's always been there above the windows.”
“Oh, that t'ing,” she said. “I yust got tired of it and t'rew it out.”
“Got tired of it? Threw it out? It's been there ever since I can remember. How long did you have it hanging there, anyway? I can remember it for as long as I've been around.”
“Ya, let's see. It vas, vell . . .” she pondered for a minute. “Let's see. Ya, I put it dere forty years ago.”
Biblically, the Jews wandered in the desert forty years before they finally crossed into the Promised Land. Coincidence? Grandma attended church as often as she could, and was certainly familiar with the wandering Jews. Was there something more to it than “yust got tired of it?”
She kept the framed picture of the Statue of Liberty, and the old Norwegian flag. The pictures of the kids had been hanging in the corners of the living room since they were taken.
I suppose one does have to make some changes now and then, to keep up with trends in decorating.
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