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Bertha "Grandma" Hanover

I suppose in many families there is someone who keeps the holiday traditions - someone who makes the holidays special, and creates the childhood memories that we treasure for the rest of our lives. In our family, that person was Bertha "Grandma" Hanover - my maternal Great-Grandmother. Though we spent our holidays in many homes - one stood out in terms of its warmth, love, and tradition - hers! The decorations, the little train running around the tree, the smells of her German and Swiss-traditional foods - together they made the holidays for our family - and especially the children! Of course, for the formal holiday meals we kids had our own little table with our own portions of turkey, potatoes, stuffing and the rest. What fun to be able to giggle and make fun of the "grown ups" who were a few feet away at the boring table!

Perhaps one of the things that made Grandma so special was the genuine joy she displayed upon seeing us. She was open and honest with her feelings, not being "sophisticated" enough to show one emotion when she was feeling another.

As a young child, I used to relish my summer visits to "Grandma and Grandpa's" house. Grandpa rigged up a swing in the basement so we grandchildren would have something to do when the weather was bad (this was central New York, after all!), and Grandma made every meal a feast!

As time went on, and I entered adolescence, our relationship became more difficult. She didn't really understand adolescent boys (she only had a daughter), and when I got bored (she only allowed TV for short periods in the evening, and had few diversions suitable for older boys), I started to deliberately annoy her just for the entertainment value. Of course, I regret that now. She was a sweet lady who only wanted the best for her family.

She was a craftswoman, who did "tatting" and other crafts, and took pride in her womanly skills, many of which we have lost over time - cooking, making decorations, making conversation and making people feel at home. Her formal schooling was very limited, but she had skills that were valuable in their own way.

Grandma's parents, the Weiss's, came from Switzerland, and though she had no discernable accent, she would sometimes have trouble with some words - she generally called me "Davit," and couldn't pronounce National Geographic to save her life (it was always National Geraphic" to her!)

Grandma was definitely a product of the great depression. "Waste not, want not" - if she said it once, she said it a thousand times. And she lived it - carefully applying the minimum toothpaste to the toothbrush that would do the job, stuffing her pantry with preserved foods, and ensuring all us children "cleaned our plates." If she passed on any one value to me - it was thrift. If I have enough money to retire early, it will be because of Grandma and her "waste not - want not" lessons.

Grandma's early life was always something of a mystery - her first marriage didn't work out, and simply was not discussed. Her second husband, Grandpa "West" Hanover, fought in the Marines during World War I, and was an employee of the New York Central railroad for many years. He enjoyed his drinks, and Grandma and Grandpa "bickered" quite a lot - but they loved each other. Grandpa died in 1969, and her life slowly worsened from that point on.

Grandma moved to Sennet, NY, to be close to her daughter and son-in-law, and took on two boarders - her sister (Aunt Helen) and Helen's boyfriend. They seemed to get on each other's nerves.

After my grandparents moved to Florida in 1972, Grandma followed them, and bought a home about three miles away. Grandma missed her Syracuse home - she was never so happy as she was on Berwick road, surrounded by friends, and made independent by bus transportation. In Sennet and Florida, she was dependent on family for all her transportation needs, and that was inconvenient for her, and burdensome on others.

She passed away in 1978. Many in our family still miss her. She never claimed great sophistication, but she knew right from wrong, and she knew how to make happy memories for her descendents.

I'm 50 now, and many of the adults I knew as a child have gone. I think that of all those who have departed, I miss Grandma the most. Everyone should have someone like that in their lives - someone who keeps the traditions, and grounds us in our humanity.

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