March 16th is my grandma’s birthday. Ethel Lenore Cox Rolf, March 16th, 1894 to February 1st, 1989. Middle child of Melvin Cox and Lenore Smith Cox. Born in Austinburg, Ohio, the home of all her farming grandparents, but grew up in Cleveland where her father was a house painter and her mother kept boarders. Her mother’s congenital heart defect meant my grandma did much of the heavy housework.
At sixteen she joined the other pretty girls in shirtwaists, getting on the street car, going to jobs. Grandma was a cashier at the May Company from the time she was sixteen until she married Walter Rolf in August, 1915. Perhaps she worked there until my mother was born, three years later. My grandma worked all her life.
My grandfather was of solid German heritage, son of the greengrocers on the corner. He was an only child who left school at an early age to work in the grocery. When he and my grandma married he worked several manual jobs, but soon left to apprentice himself to a jeweler. In 1923 he struck out on his own; was able to secure a mortgage on a house on West 23rd Street, and set up as a watch maker in the front bedroom.
Mother said Grandma Rolf worked alongside Grandpa Rolf, and was a driving force in his success. “She never let him get discouraged.” She delivered fixed watches and clocks to the jewelry stores around Cleveland. Grandpa Rolf, however, was in charge of the grandfather clocks; the movements had to be reset in the cabinets that were not taken to the shop.
My Grandma Rolf was a widow at the age of 51. I was a year and a half old. I was the first grandchild, a mighty fine position to hold in a family. After Grandpa Rolf’s death my Grandma took a job again, as cashier at a Hough Bakery. A very lucky grandchild to have a grandma so employed. I spent many weekends at her house. She made the trip from Cleveland to Akron in her green standard transmission Ford, license plate ER 64, to collect or deliver me. We were a one car family in the 1940’s and much of the 1950’s. My grandma had the freedom to travel.
I stuck to my grandma like glue. I know she didn’t spoil me, she grandmothered me. When my brother was born she tried to sweep him into the group. The first weekend she had both of us she woke me in the middle of midnight, put both of us in the car and delivered Walter back home, where mom soothed his hysterics. Grandma and I went back to Cleveland and to bed.
My grandma had friends all over the country, and took me on jaunts to visit them. I remember sleeping in a two storey shotgun house with a railroad in the back yard. The house shook when trains passed. My grandma stopped and bought a beautiful steak and some other groceries. The woman we visited fried the steak in a pan. “I knew she would do that!” grandma sniffed the next day, when we were back on the road.
In our trips we visited the Blue Hole in Castile, Ohio. The Henry Ford Museum. The tulips in Holland, Michigan. I always sat in the front seat beside her. I learned family secrets! “Your father intended to build all their furniture when he married Lenore! If it weren’t for our family and friends they would have sat on the steps!” Oh, the secrets I know. “Henry should have married Iris Mielke! Florence set her hat for him, and snatched him away!”
I never let go of my grandma. She lived forever, until she was 95 and long tired of living. Until she went into a wheel chair I travelled from Mentor to Cleveland to take her to Akron, to bring her to Mentor, to be part of the family gatherings. She sat in the front seat and we kept up the conversations. Grandma’s always began, “I remember….”. She rests beside Walter Rolf in the Acacia Memorial Cemetery.
I remember my Grandma. Happy Birthday.