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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Grandma Rolf

My Grandma was born in 1894.  She was of sturdy Western Pennsylvania farming stock.  She was born and lived her first years Austinburg, Ohio.  Her name was Ethel Cox.  Her father, Melvin Cox was an older child and his siblings stretched down to Uncle Pearl, who was twenty years younger than her father.

There is another cigar box of pictures somewhere in this house and one picture is my Grandma and her brother Elmore.  It was taken by a travelling photographer; they would work their way through a neighborhood taking pictures of children, often using props.  In this picture Uncle Elmore is on a huge tricycle, Grandma standing beside him, clutching a huge doll with a cracked face.  Both children were less than five.  Grandma told me once “When Mother opened the parlor door and I saw that baby hanging on the tree, I KNEW she was for me.  I was on air all the way to the tree, and Mother put her in my arms.”  Uncle Elmore hit the doll and cracked her face, but Grandma didn’t care.  The baby was hers.

I don’t know much about my grandma’s childhood until she was fifteen and graduated 8th grade from Dennison.  There she is in the second row, third from the right. 

 In some class in school she made this cunning little vase.  And sturdy; it’s quite thick.  There’s her name on the bottom and the D is probably for Dennison.  No idea what the marks on either side represent.
Eighth grade was her last year of education.  She was required at home, on Selzer Avenue in the West 25th street area of Cleveland.  Her father, my great grandpa Cox, was a painter and wall paper man.  Her mother took in borders, and needed Grandma’s help with cleaning, cooking and laundry.  My mother said so much responsibility fell on Grandma she had a nervous breakdown at age 16.

Here’s grandma in 1912, on her 18th birthday.  Blouses were called shirtwaists, and as long as I knew her she wore shirtwaists.  She also wore corsets, and I’ve heard her say “Pull up your corset strings, ladies, we have work to do.”  She was some worker.

Here’s her mother, Lenore Smith Cox.   And a 1918 picture of four generations, her Grandma, her mother, herself and her baby daughter, my mother.

Grandma had two siblings, Elmore, who she adored, and Louise, who she thought was silly. Here’s my grandma and her sister Louise.  And, her brother Elmore.  No idea who the other fellow is.  These are probably both 1919 snapshots.

 In the 1920’s Elmore was married and had two young sons.  He ran motion picture cameras in movie houses.  He was electrocuted and died when the equipment short circuited.  Mom remembered the tragedy, how terribly it affected her mother, and especially her two little cousins.
Grandma was married in 1917.  Between then and leaving Dennison in 1909, she worked hard taking care of boarders.  Times were not the best.  Money was not plentiful and sometimes nonexistent.  She said their dinner meal was bread with flour gravy too often.

Her brother had a motorcycle and rode with a great gang of friends.  What a different connotation the word had almost a hundred years ago.  Like most men of the time, this gang wore white shirts, jackets and ties to leave the house.  This is probably a 1918 photograph.  I can’t make out which is Uncle Elmore, but the third from the left is Walter Rolf, the man she married.  But first she had to meet him.

At their house the third floor attic was used to hang laundry in the winter or on rainy days.  Grandma was up there one day, hanging laundry and heard Elmore leave the house.  She was jealous he could go on a motorcycle jaunt and she had to work.  She leaned out the window and called his name.  He looked up.  She spit.  Hit him square in the face.  Served him right!
Doing laundry and hanging it in the back yard one day she heard Elmore in the side yard.  He had been teasing her and grandma was fed up, so she waded up the soaking wet shirt she was scrubbing and threw it into his face when he came around the corner.  The person who peeled off the wet shirt was Walter Rolf, who she did not know.  

 Here’s Walter Rolf in 1918, when my mother was born.  And a picture of my grandmother on that motorcycle, but I doubt she ever drove it.  I could be wrong; she sure could handle a car.

Grandma’s mother, Lenore Smith Cox, died in 1923. Great grandpa Cox married a widow, Marcia Zerbe Enos.  She was the Great grandma Cox I knew.  My Grandma called her Marcia.  I was a long time figuring that out.  Especially since she wasn’t terribly fond of Marcia.  Great Grandpa Cox died when I was about eight or nine years old.  Great Grandma Cox died when I was 26.  Beth was four years old and remembers her legs dangling over the edge of the chair at the funeral.  My first semester in college I boarded at Great Grandma Cox’s house and rode the bus to Flora Stone Mather College.

Here are Melvin and Marcia  with my Great Aunt Louise in the kitchen of the house on Selzer Ave.  Hidden behind my great grandmother’s shoulder is a set of canisters made in Czechoslovakia.  The usual flour, salt, rice.  One is labeled Farina.  They are on top of Ann’s cupboards in Wisconsin, now.
I remember dinners at Grandma Cox’s house.  All the women were fine cooks.  Grandma Cox made city chicken and clover leaf rolls.  Around the table counterclockwise, my brother Walt, my Grandma Rolf, Grandpa Cox (her father), Grandma Cox, my Dad, my Mom, my little brother, Melvin, and my cousin, Ken.  No idea who is out of sight, or where I was.

My Grandma Rolf was the only grandmother I had.  I only remember her as a widow and my pervasive childhood memory of her is as a strong, independent woman.  In looking back, she raised a strong independent daughter who raised a strong independent daughter, and so on.

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