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Growing Up with Rita: Part II – Grandma and Grandpa Who?

Eben Avenue was not the only street in Findlay, Ohio that provided memories for Rita and me. When it came to Grandparents and Great Grandparents, we were blessed. Bell Avenue, Broad Avenue, Center Street and Cherry Street also housed grandparents.

As adults, Rita and I shared many giggles and guffaws when talking about our memories of interesting grandparents. We devised ways in keeping them straight. These recollections are not meant to be disrespectful but helpful in placing images in your mind as two young sisters saw them.

Pearl and Hazel Gardner, our Dad’s parents, lived next door to us our entire growing up years. Grandpa was a large man of few words. He rarely shared his thoughts and feelings with us. We knew he loved us, but we never heard the words which was not uncommon for that generation.

Grandpa would come home from a hard day’s work carrying his black lunch pail and head down the short sidewalk from the house to his own man cave which was his two car garage with a coal stove, woodworking tools, his pipe, his chair and his dog. I mentioned that he was a man of few words, but there were times when Grandma would push the wrong button and out would come words that left Rita and me standing there, wide eyed knowing not to utter a sound. If you recall the father in “Christmas Story” with all those unintelligible words expressing great frustration, well that was Grandpa Pearl. Grandma would stand there, close her eyes with a grimace, shaking her head and clenching her fists. She hated for us to hear such profanity. She had great self-control and patience because we knew that 99 pound, energizer bunny body could do great harm to Grandpa if she so desired.

The writers for the “The Beverly Hillbillies” must have taken our Grandma Hazel for their Granny. They looked alike and frequently sounded alike. Grandma Hazel was busy from sunup to sundown facing the day properly adorned with her clean aprons. She knew what was going on in our house and our aunt’s house down the street. She was the ultimate, loving busybody. She was talented in writing and playing the piano. She attended the Findlay College Conservatory of Music. She is responsible for Rita’s love of the piano.

She was close to permanently traumatizing us when we witnessed her going after a chicken in the backyard, catching it and chopping off his head with an ax. Rita and I recalled the horrible stench of wet feathers as she prepared to pluck them off before cleaning and cutting it up for the frying pan. She taught us to iron, shell peas, snap green beans and the proper way of washing dishes. She often said that a good cook starts with a sink filled with soapy, hot water. She made the best sugar cookies and would send them to us when we were away in college. She died in 1992 at the age of 92…then there were no more.

William and Edith Gardner were great-grandparents. Rita and I knew them as Grandma and Grandpa with the Kitties. For years we thought that were their names. Since we already had a Grandpa and Grandma Gardner, this was a way to distinguish them. As you might have already figured out, they always had a litter of new kittens for us to play with. Rita and I loved those kittens. We mostly spent time there during the summer months as that is where the large family garden was located.

The nursery rhyme, “Jack Sprat”, was a perfect description of them. Grandpa William was tall and thin while Grandma Edith was short and fluffy. When she laughed, it sounded more like a wheeze than a laugh. On her kitchen stove was a grease jar where the drippings from bacon and other meats were collected and used for frying eggs and everything else.

Bob, Pearl, Willilam, EdithThe four generation picture shown is of Dad, Grandpa Pearl, and William and Edith Gardner. Rita and I chuckled as adults at this picture. There were other four generation pictures the same day but by the time this (the last) was taken, we were done with all the photo shoots as seen by my dazed look and Rita’s pout of disgust and teary eyes.

Clinton and Rosa Chambers lived in a stately two story home with beautiful wood throughout the interior. When we would go to their house for a visit, Dad always went by way of the back ally to their backyard. There was a very long narrow sidewalk leading up to the back porch. Rita and I spent most of our time running and skipping up and down this walk. There was not much for us to do in the house except peck on the piano, so the backyard with the porch swing was our place of entertainment.

Grandma Rosa looked and cackled like the Wicked Witch in “The Wizard of Oz.” I can still hear her and Grandma Hazel laughing in the kitchen…a joyful cackling session to say the least. Grandpa Clinton, had only one arm. He tragically lost the other in a farming accident. He was a soft spoken man, hard to hear and understand most of the time. His attire was always the same…a crisp, clean long sleeved shirt with the empty sleeve neatly tucked inside his belt. Suspenders completed his ensemble.

Mom’s father died when I was 6 weeks old. They had 8 children together. Marie, the first child died at age 5. Grandma Mae married Frank Dewey who was raising his four children on his own. A large blended clan was formed fondly known as the Lentz/Dewey family. Christmas and Thanksgiving Holidays were celebrated in the average size two story house with a carved out basement that housed a ping pong table. How this house was able to sustain the large family of 11 with their spouses and children is nothing short of a miracle. It was the nosiest of gatherings in our growing up years. A player piano in the front room was constantly being played, cousins running and squealing, other children playing “button, button, who’s got the button” on the stairway, back and front doors banging from kids running in and out while the ladies were in the kitchen preparing a huge feast.

The three oldest cousins, Sandy, Twila and I, spent time together while the second set of three, Rita, Nancy and Janealla, had their own time together.

Grandma Dewey was the epitome of patience. This short, rounded woman was kind and gentle. She smiled through the chaos of the day and the trials of life as well. Grandpa hardly said a word during these holiday invasions. He sat along the side somewhere, picking at his fingers probably wondering when they were all going to go home. He was a good man to put up with all of us.

Grandma Dewey was an artist. She helped Rita and me paint our first framed pictures. Our Mom kept them for many years. There are a number of artists from this family thanks to Grandma.

The annual Lentz/Dewey reunion is still held in Findlay, Ohio in July. Rita loved attending this precious event and we all loved seeing her, often with the Tyler children. The number attending the reunions has dwindled due to deaths in recent years. This year I will go with a huge lump in my throat. No Rita 🙁

Grandma Mae’s parents were Charles and Lodema LaRue. Grandpa was another tall, large man who wore suspenders. He was quiet and gentle as was Grandma LaRue. She wore her hair in a bun. She had a large mole on her chin with a few long hairs in it. There were not as many cousins for us to play with at the LaRue house. We did not know as many from this family as with some other grandparent gatherings. Rita and I found it difficult to be in the house due to a strong odor. We did not find out until adulthood that Grandma LaRue had a bladder problem. Rita was an expert at turning up her nose in a funny sort of way whenever the occasion called for it. I have pictures to prove it. Rita and I were blessed. How many people have a plethora of memories from growing up with 10 grandparents? I hold them all close in my memory bank alongside my sister Rita.