During Women’s History Month we celebrate the accomplishments and contributions women have made to make life better for others. It causes me to reflect on my heritage and the women whose lives influenced mine, especially before I was born. My story is probably like yours. There are key players and others that have come and gone through the years. Some of the women who influenced my career have been mentioned in previous blogs. This week I want to share a little about the women who came before me in my family.
Both of my grandmothers were deceased by the time I was born, but they still touched me in many ways.
Angelina (Muller) Osterland was my maternal grandmother. Her family called her Lena. Together she and my grandfather, Henry Osterland (Hank), owned several farms in Iowa. Lena and Hank raised four girls. My mother, Pearl, was the youngest and was designated the “outdoor” girl to help her dad with farm chores. Her sisters focused on housework, cooking, etc.—the “indoor” chores.
Field corn was a specialty of the farms, and my grandfather developed hybrids working with Iowa State University (probably the extension service). He received many ribbons and trophies. As a little girl, I was not allowed to enter the room where they were displayed without an adult, but I still feel the awe….and the pride of my grandparent’s accomplishment!
The stories I have heard about Lena reflect a loving and caring person, but one who was not afraid to stand her ground if the situation warranted. For example, my mother was dating a young man that my grandfather did not like. The young man died in an accident and my mother mourned deeply. My grandfather, who could be quite stern, did not want my mother to attend the funeral. Lena put her foot down and she and my mother attended the funeral.
Lena was an excellent seamstress and sewed clothes for my mom and her sisters in all the latest styles. They always looked very chic. As a result, my mother worked in a retail clothing store in college and even modeled some. Music must have been important in the household because my mother learned to play the piano and had a beautiful soprano voice. The family was active in their church and that is how my mother and father met. My grandparents encouraged their girls to go to college and my mother, Pearl, attended college at a church school in Iowa until she married my dad.
Lydia (Wahl) Krafft, my paternal grandmother, was the second wife of John Krafft, a minister. John’s first wife died and left him with three children. Lydia and John had four more children together, one of which was my father, Leslie. Of the seven children, there were three girls and four boys. Although the family lived in several places, John was the minister of the church the Osterlands attended and, as I mentioned, is how my mother and father met.
Music was important in the church and in the John Krafft household. My dad and two of his siblings became professional musicians. Sports must have also been important because two of my uncles played sports in college and became coaches. A college education was important to this family, as well. My father graduated from a church school in Illinois with a major in music. His primary instrument was the violin, but he could play any band instrument with the saxophone his specialty. After college, he taught instrumental music and had a dance band for a while. I think my dad fell for my mom when he heard her sing and play the piano in church. That is how I imagine it.
I do not know if Lydia was musical, but she was a talented artist and I treasure the painting my family inherited. She always signed her paintings “Lydia Wahl”. Lydia died years before I was born and, sadly, I do not know a great deal about her, but the Wahl family history is well researched and a reunion of the Wahls was a regular event for many years. Deduction tells me that Lydia was an extraordinary woman to accept and raise all the children of John Krafft.
Pearl and Leslie were married in a small ceremony on the Osterland farm. My father had been offered a teaching position in Arizona, so that is where my mother went as a bride. Talk about an adventure for a girl from Iowa! She often recalled how terrified she was as they drove the “Coronado Trail”. My dad taught instrumental music in each of Clifton, Wilcox, and Tombstone, Arizona, and they both grew to love the desert!
Mom not only survived but thrived in Arizona. She loved the sound of rain on the tin roof of their house and the smell of the desert afterward. The tamales her neighbor shared became a favorite and she thrilled at the colorful sunsets. Mom found her circle of friends in their church where her musical talents were appreciated, and among fellow teachers.
Arizona had its challenges, though. My mom awakened from a dream with a vivid picture in her mind of a tarantula underneath the baby’s crib….. and found one there! On another occasion she was aghast that one of my sisters was offered rattlesnake and ate it……. and then proclaimed, “It tastes like chicken!” Another time a fire spread so close to their house that they removed furniture and other belongings, but the structure was saved by a sudden change in the direction of the wind.
My mother missed her parents and sisters, plus her father was not a fan of the desert (remember he was an Iowa farmer). On one visit he asked, “Why would anyone live in this God forsaken country!” So, every summer the family headed back to Iowa and then returned to Arizona for the school year. Two of my three older sisters were born in Iowa during those breaks. My oldest sisters attended early grade school in Arizona. However, as my grandparents aged, my family moved back to Iowa to be closer.
My only brother, Arthur, was born after the move to Iowa. He had cerebral palsy and his short, two-year life had a dramatic impact on my family. Arthur had curly blond hair and the most beautiful smile. Unfortunately, his life was filled with a great deal of pain and often he could not be comforted. That was especially hard on my mother. Of course, my older sisters and my father took turns with care giving, but my mother shouldered the burden. Not only was Arthur ill, but also Lena, my maternal grandmother. Lena died of cancer about a year before Arthur. How filled with sadness those years must have been for mom!
About five years later I was born, and I am an identical twin. Our older sisters tell us that mom could not see her feet for weeks before our birth, and they tried to keep her from looking in a mirror. When she arrived in labor at the hospital, a nurse mentioned something about expecting triplets and mom almost fainted! I’m not sure they even expected twins. No diagnostics in those days.
Mom loved people and their stories. When I was growing up, it embarrassed me when she would strike up a conversation with a stranger and within minutes know their life story. Now I understand that she was empathetic, and people felt safe sharing with her.
Mom and dad always had a garden and mom shared flowers or fresh garden produce with neighbors and others. They also donated to causes they believed in even if that meant giving up something they wanted themselves. Mom especially sacrificed for her girls. She did without new clothes so we could have something new.
I remember the smell of face powder in my mom’s purse and the taste of her fried chicken and the sound of the stereo playing the musicals she loved. I can still hear my mom playing the piano and singing and can picture us all gathered around to add our voices.
I remember the family vacations driving to California to see my uncle and to Arizona to see friends and relive family memories. Mom would pack for all of us, and I do not remember ever needing something she couldn’t pull from the trunk of the car. Those trips and the adventures they held are treasured.
However, my mother was not the kind of person that I went to with problems or to share secrets. My twin served that purpose. Rarely did I ask her for advice. I wonder now if she felt bad or worried about that. I will never know.
What I remember most about my mother was how loved she made me feel! She died when I was in my 30’s but I think of her every single day.
What did I learn about my heritage from these memories?
- There is an artistic vein running through the women in my family—sewing, painting, and especially music.
- The women in my family are caring and loving.
- The women in my family are strong.
- New adventures and challenges are embraced.
- Education is, and always has been, a priority.
- I am very fortunate to have such strong, adventuresome, talented and caring role models!
Thank you for letting me share.
~Beverly J Bowers, CFP®