You know how everyone gets “a person”? Someone who totally gets you, understands you, would give up a kidney for you? Your favorite person in the whole world that isn’t necessarily your husband, or girlfriend. You know the person that, if you had to hide the corpse, they would help you do it. That’s YOUR PERSON.
Mine person was my Grandma Agnes, “Gram”.
The thing about Grandma Agnes is that she was so much more than the storybook Grandmothers you read about. Sure, she always smelled like homemade cookies, you could always find her clanking away in her kitchen most anytime on that ancient stove and she wore sensible shoes (but that my friends is a whole other SCARY story). She would have the best sleep overs with my brothers and me . . . making us malts before we went to bed and reading us books on her plastic covered davenport. In the mornings there was always Red River cereal cooking and as many grapefruits as you wanted her to cut.
She sewed Christmas stockings for every one of her grandchildren and for both of my boys BY HAND with love, every sequin, every stitch with those gnarled, arthritic hands. She took Tom, Robbie (my brothers) and me on driving trips cross-country with Grandpa and pointed out all the beautiful scenery, and even took us three hellions to Florida a couple times. Those Florida trips are stories in themselves! She showed us how to pick raspberries when the dew was still on the grass, and where to put the peaches she canned in the scary fruit cellar . . . Yep, she was like a fairytale Grandma . . . she would teach you to cook, take you shopping for your first Prom dress, keep your secrets, and even hide the pictures from your stagette party.
But she was so much more than that . . .
Agnes Mable Hinz Nessa was one of 12 kids born to German immigrant parents, Emelia and Henry Hinz. Her brothers and sisters were Fritz, Carl, Herman, Max, George, Clarence, Walter, Hulda, Emma Lily and Ada. She grew up on the family farm in South Haven, Minnesota, had an 8th grade education and was one of the wisest women I have ever known.
Gram loved to tell stories about being a kid on the farm, she would always say that she didn’t even realize they were poor because they always had enough to eat from the farm. Entertainment was cheap, with all those brothers and sisters there was always a skating party, sleigh rides and impromptu dancing. She was especially close to her baby sister Ada who she talked to everyday until Ada died.
Once Gram decided to leave the family farm, she went to work in the hotel/restaurant business where she met lots of interesting characters. She loved to tell the story about, how in 1929, she and her friends worked/lived at the St. Cloud hotel and met some of the members of Machine Gun Kelly’s gang, namely a man named “Magnolia”. They would go out dancing and he had prescription whiskey during Prohibition. She knew that, since he carried a gun in his Studebaker, there must be some funny business but, according to Gram, “he was such a good dancer”. Magnolia was later part of the Willmar State Bank robbery. Not such a goody two-shoe grandmother, maybe more like an interesting character in a wonderful, ‘can’t put down’ novel.
She met my Grandfather, the love of her life, on a blind date and they fell in love and were married for 44 years until Grandpa died. She never remarried and said that, although she missed the travelling and dancing they did together, she mostly just missed having him around.
But that wasn’t the end of the story; after that Gram started her own catering business. She catered parties from 2-1000 people. She planned, cooked, served and was down on her hands and knees wiping up the kitchen until she was 90 years old. I worked with Gram catering for YEARS, she was a hoot, no matter what the crisis was in the kitchen, there was Gram chatting up all her favorite clients, calm as could be. I learned VOLUMES about cooking, entertaining, patience (and lots of dirty jokes)from Gram during all those parties. I got to see her in action, in her element, and I am so grateful for that. I don’t set a table without seeing Gram showing me how to do it with panache!
As Gram prided herself on being the practical, stoic German, one of the only times I saw her crumble was when my father, her only child, died suddenly in his sleep in 2002. It didn’t matter that he was 64 years old, he was still her baby. She loved Dad, Mom and all us kids fiercely and was always there for my mom and dad the entire time we were growing up, too.
She was there for me once I had children, too, no matter how busy she was catering, running her household alone or managing that enormous garden she had. She loved us all. But her heart overflowed with love for her great grandchildren. When my oldest, Connor was born, Gram was 80 years old. Gram starting taking care of Connor when he was just 2 weeks old. She would rock that colicky baby for hours each day and chase him around the house, watch Homeward Bound (Connor’s favorite movie) 1000 times and look forward to seeing him everyday. She gave me parenting advice, babysat, listened to my concerns about jobs, relationships, you name it, and she was there. Now she was the perfect Great Grandma too. Oh, and did I forget to tell you all this time she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 85 years old.
When I took her to the doctor he sort of wrote her off like she had lived a good life up to age 85, and that cancer would take her down now. She looked at him like he was crazy and I reintroduced her to him as the Queen of our family. They now understood that she had much more living to do. They treated her cancer and she was cancer free for 15 years. Tough bird, she said she never once worried about it. “Why worry, it doesn’t do you any good”. A Gram motto to live by.
For the last 10 years of Gram’s life it was a new kind of relationship, a bit more of me taking care of her. The tables were turned but she just went with it. I think that lots of people would be resentful that their bodies were succumbing to the years, but Gram was eternally grateful for her time here. She would say to me, “What would we do without each other?” Our lives became like a braid, woven together to create strength and beauty. I wasn’t sure where she ended and I started some days.
Even days at the doctors or hospitals were fun somehow with Gram. She was always “up”, always happy, telling anyone who would listen how much fun it was getting to 100 years old. “Old age isn’t any place for sissies”, another Gram motto.
Gram died peacefully surrounded by her family at 100 years and 144 days young.
“My Person”, Gram, taught me so much. I think of her everyday and talk about her on-air often, now you know why.
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