“Sarah” and “Jacob” did get married and lived on his family’s farm in a small building for the first few years of their marriage. Their first child was born less than a year later. Her name was Katie. She was only two years younger than her Aunt “Mary.” My grandparents moved to a farm on “Durkee Hill,” within three years after they were married. Sarah’s father moved in with them.
Katie was my mother. She remembers when her grandfather used to wake up early in the morning and hack and cough and keep everyone awake. He had both emphysema and asthma, yet he smoked. When my mother was about five years old, he went and lived with my grandmother’s younger sister “Susie.” I always find it ironic that my grandmother left the family, mostly to get away from her father, but then he moved in with her.
Grandmother’s younger siblings were raised in different homes. One of the details I didn’t write about, is that my grandmother was not the oldest in the family… she had an older brother who was mentally handicapped. He ended up living with my grandparents until he died, many years later. “Pepper John” was his nickname, because he was known to have a temper. (This is very Amish, to give nicknames like this.) I remember him well when we used to visit my grandparents… he used to chew tobacco, which I found really disgusting. He used to have favorites among the cousins, and he would give those children candy. I stayed away from him, because I hated seeing him spit the brown juice on the ground or in the “spit box” next to the rocking chair in the living room.
I don’t know who raised grandmother’s younger siblings. Apparently not all the children remembered their original home. Several years after the family broke up, grandmother and all her siblings attended a wedding. One of their aunts took it upon herself to bring all the siblings together into one room and tell them that they were brothers and sisters. Reportedly, one of the younger boys was so upset that he said it wasn’t true and ran from the room, crying.
My grandparents had twelve children altogether. Their youngest, Christie, was handicapped and had epilepsy. He died of a brain tumor when he was 25 years old. The others all married and had many children. Soon after Christie died, Grandmother found a lump under her arm, and it was discovered to be Hodgkin’s Disease. Radiation treatments were new and she went to Buffalo to get the treatments every few weeks, but they didn’t cure her cancer. She died only five years after Christie, and not that many years after “Pepper John.”
When my grandmother was on her deathbed, she wondered whether she did the right thing in leaving her family. The helpless look on her younger sister’s face the night my grandmother left, still haunted her fifty years later. Of course it was useless wondering if she had done the right thing… it isn’t as though she could go back and relive her life a different way. However, it reveals just how agonizing her decision had been.
Grandmother died at 72 years old. She had 96 grandchildren at the time of her death. To think that if she hadn’t left her family to marry my grandfather, none of us would have been born, is a really strange thought. And who knows whether her siblings were better off in the respective homes in which they were raised. My grandmother’s story reveals the nature of how the choices we make determines the course of our lives. And how we often don’t get a second chance… for my grandmother, there was no turning back… at least not once she was married.
As far as I know, my grandparents were happily married. My grandfather, ever the trickster, loved to tease my grandmother. She would get all red in the face, as though she were embarrassed, yet a smile would play at the corners of her mouth.
My grandfather loved to race horses. He would goad other Amish people to race with him on a straightaway, and he would almost invariably win. My grandmother would get so scared on those fast buggy rides, but grandfather seemed to have good command of his horses.
My mother told the story of how, when she was still quite young, her father was eating pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast one morning, and he started teasing my grandmother about how she had once written to him during sugaring season, “Don’t eat too much maple syrup, you are sweet enough as you are.” My grandmother chided him for bringing this up in front of the children, but after he had gone outside to work for the day, my mother saw grandmother smiling as she cleaned up the breakfast dishes.