Oh the things I’ve learned from items made out of paper. If it weren’t for the reading material my mother left for me to find, I would never have known some interesting details of the long-standing friendship between my mother’s family and the Jennings family. My mom’s friends, who were two sisters by the last name of Jennings, married two brothers by the last name of Sanders.
I’ve found pictures from their high school days and their weddings. There are paper invitations to showers and parties. There are letters and greeting cards and little notes that give us a hint of what life was like for them as they were raising their families. There are newspaper clippings letting us know who the hosts were and who the guests were at their many gatherings.
Maxine Jennings grew up and married John Sanders. The two were classmates and graduated together from Edgerton High School in 1942. I have a copy of the 1977 Edgerton Earth newspaper in which the town’s homecoming events and class reunion photos were featured. A photo of Maxine, John, and their classmates, who were gathering for their 35th class reunion, can be found in that paper.
Maxine’s younger sister, Margaret, married John’s older brother, Roy. The children of siblings who marry are “double cousins.”
My parents and their friends were known to have potlucks at each other’s homes. Surprise potlucks to boot. Now that is something I could get used to. How about I look out my window at suppertime and find four or five cars in my driveway? And my best friends are carrying food into my home. They smile as they hold the door open for each other.
Even if my house were a little on the messy side when they show up with supper in hand, I would make room rather quickly and grab extra chairs – anything to make them feel at home.
When we find a photo of ourselves gathered with friends, we are certainly reminded of days gone by. It is not unusual to hear the words “Look at how young we were. And how thin we were.”
Age is a funny thing. We’ve never been this old before, yet we are as young today as we are ever going to be.
There was a day when we were a child, and an adult taught us how to ride a bike. We grow to master the art of bike riding to a point where we could never forget. Yet when we are older, we hope our body is as capable of hopping on the bike as our mind wants us to be.
There was a day when an adult taught us how to take our first steps. We are soon able to run, and run faster than the adult who taught us. When we are children we can run real fast, and we have no reason to think there would be a day we wouldn’t be able to run real fast.
Every grandmother and every grandfather was once the mom or the dad. There are times we look back at another’s life and times and say, “I don’t know how they did it.”
There was no date on a baby card Maxine sent to my mother, but a little detective work tells us she sent the card after my sister Jayne was born in October of 1951.
Maxine wrote: “Dear Ruth, Can’t keep up with my supply of baby cards so will have to substitute. You did right well in ‘picking’ a date for your daughter to be born. Johnny and I were just talking about it being unusual for us to be your attendants for your wedding, and then for you to have a boy on Johnny’s birthday and a girl on mine. They can’t help but be wonderful kids!! A week ago or so I told Johnny I just bet you’d have this one on my birthday but could hardly believe it when I heard it happened. Each one is just as nice and wonderful as the first one. They aren’t as much trouble as I thought they might be. We’ll try to stop in to see the latest model. Best wishes to you and yours. Sincerely, Maxine.”
My brother Ed was born on October 8th which was Johnny’s 25th birthday, and Jayne was born on October 24th which was Maxine’s 27th birthday.
In a large family, the birth order is a fun thing to follow. My parents’ firstborn was Marcia. Then a son, Ed, followed by three girls – Jayne, Elaine, and Carolyn. When my brother Don was born, Maxine wrote “Was real glad for you (and Eddie) that you got your boy!”
Her letter also included a paragraph with her thoughts about her family at the time. “I used to think that six kids was more than I’d want to handle but I guess you never hear a mother complain that she has too many. After they are here there just doesn’t seem to be a one you could get along without.”
After the arrival of my brother Don came Darrell, and then Lee, so three boys in a row worked out when it came to playing ball and growing up together.
One of Maxine’s letters that was especially interesting is one in which she starts with a welcome to the ’59 model. This means her words were written in September after Darrell was born. She wrote: “Things have slowed down around here to a fast walk. I’m so far behind in ironing, when I open the washroom door, baskets of clothes to be ironed fall out like it were Fibber McGee’s closet.”
Maxine’s referral to Fibber McGee made me look up who Fibber was as well as ask my older friends if they remember Fibber McGee. The online short videos of Fibber are humorous and explain why the closet was noteworthy.
Maxine also wrote about the garden food she had canned that summer. She was canning her last batch of ketchup and then quitting except for apples. She had already completed 90 some quarts each of peaches, tomatoes, string beans, and corn. Then odd amounts of strawberries, lima beans, and red kidney beans.
She also wrote that their “garden was somewhat of a fizzle because of dry weather. Cabbage, celery, Chinese cabbage were a complete flop.”
Her next paragraph tells us she was watching Doug (Roy and Margaret’s baby) today. She needed to finish the ketchup, make potato salad, bake two pies, frost a layer cake, and have everyone ready to go to a wiener roast at five for Mary Lu’s birthday. In between she needed to iron a basket of dampened clothes. That evening at 8:30 she was going to a church meeting. And there she was, writing a letter to my mom when she needed to get busy with one of the most magnificent to-do lists I’ve ever read.
The words “How did she do it?” come to mind every time I read her note.
When I met with Maxine to tell her about her letters and the photos I had found, she told me that meetings and gatherings indeed started late in the evenings, for people were busy working all day but could meet at a late hour. Maxine kindly identified people in unlabeled photos I had brought with me.
When I was born in December of 1962, I was the ninth child. It never occurred to me that I was brought into a house where a baby was going to be raised with four older sisters and four older brothers.
Our neighbor, Mrs. Hug, wrote in my baby card that my sisters had visited her with the news that a baby girl had arrived and they “were really tickled.” She also wrote that her own daughter, Marlene, will be thrilled to find out the baby was named after her.
Mrs. Hug told my sisters that the baby will make a nice Christmas present, and they replied, “That’s what Marcia said when she was putting up the Christmas tree.”
Three years later, Jeanette was born, and the two of us became the little girls in the family. Steven is the baby of the family and continues to refer to himself as such.
I discovered in Mom’s notes that Maxine and John’s nine children were always born near the time each of the Kimpel children were born. I am told there was a joke that my mom didn’t get the memo it was okay to stop after nine children, because Mom went on to have Jeanette and Steven.
Maxine and John’s eldest child, Ruthie, was named after my mother. Ruthie’s circle of friends included my oldest sister Marcia. My oldest brother Ed remembers playing at the Sanders’ home with Jim Sanders, while my sister Jayne was friends with Judy Sanders. Then an interesting turn of events happened when the Sanders family welcomed two boys, Dave and Bob, at the time the Kimpels brought home two girls, Elaine and Carolyn.
It really was true that my mother and Maxine were having babies at the same time. The Sanders went on to have three girls – Becky, Anita, and Pat, while the Kimpels were busy with three boys – Don, Darrell, and Lee.
In my baby card, which was a holiday card, Maxine penned “Congratulations on your new daughter. Wish I could trade places with you and have mine done. Only we ordered the male model. But John says ‘he’ is a girl!” Maxine signed the card “Maxine, Johnny, and family.”
For the record, the Sanders family found out John’s prediction was incorrect. Their ninth baby, Keith, was indeed the male model they had placed an order for.
In the mix of children who grew up together were those who belonged to Roy and Margaret Sanders – Mike, Marty, Rita, and Doug.
By the time the 1970s rolled around, the oldest children had begun graduating from high school and some were in college or joined the military.
According to one of Mom’s saved newspaper clippings, on October 31 of 1970, one of the Jennings grandchildren decided to be born that day – at home.
The story goes that Maxine and Margaret’s nephew, Greg Jennings, called his mother-in-law, Marge Lemke, to advise her that his wife, Janet, was going to be having the baby soon. Marge was to drive fast and go to the church kitchen and pick up Greg’s mother, Phyllis Jennings, who was a nurse. Who better to deliver a baby at home than your mother who is a nurse?
I can just imagine one grandmother racing into the church basement yelling at the other grandmother to run quick. They would have been in their forties at the time so running quick was not a problem.
The article states that when the two grandmothers arrived at the Jennings’ home, the father-to-be was yelling: “What took you so long?”
It was a Saturday morning, and Phyllis probably thought the only excitement she was going to have that day would be helping Maxine and Margaret in the church kitchen. The ladies needed to make 100 dozen doughnuts for the Halloween party at St. Francis College in Fort Wayne. But by the end of the day, Phyllis was able to say she had delivered her first baby who happened to be her first grandchild, she called the doctor to report the news, and she helped make 100 dozen doughnuts.
The newspaper article tells us that Krill’s ambulance drove mother and baby girl, Amy, to DeKalb Memorial Hospital in Auburn, Indiana.
And so it would be – the next generation would begin the start of the 1970 models.
I was left wondering about the doughnuts. What was their recipe? Did their children help with the making of the 100 dozen doughnuts? Did someone have to frost them or dip them in cinnamon and sugar? Certainly the ladies made extra doughnuts, and especially those involved in the delivery of the baby needed to take a doughnut break. And can’t you just imagine the fun conversation the church basement ladies were engaged in after learning about the arrival of this new little model?
When we say our morning prayers, we know not what the day has in store for us. Who knew the delivery of a first grandchild was on the to-do list? We may think the only reason we’re driving in to town is to help our sisters-in-law make 100 dozen doughnuts, but God knows what He will be leading us to accomplish each day. He gets us through things like raising a large family, and being an aunt or an uncle to cousins and double cousins. He already knows the answer to how they do it.
At the end of each and every day, we have made an entry into our eternal journal.
Our bedtime prayers can be an opportunity to acknowledge the many gifts that surround us. Gifts like a rather large garden that was somewhat of a fizzle, hundreds of glass canning jars, and family and friends who show up to make dozens upon dozens of doughnuts.
It may be safe to say life is full of reminders that our prayers are an invitation to let go of our worries and partner with God as He accomplishes His beautiful purposes in our life and in the lives of the people we love. And how wonderful it is knowing we may discover His intentions – in the pieces of paper He saved back for us to read.