Monday, January 26, 2015

Because She Loved Me

Palpsdorf Germany

The woman who made me feel the most loved in my young life was my paternal grandmother.  Being a German Immigrant from Russia she had several names.  She was born Maria Elizabeth Rebensdorf to her  parents Johanne Gottlieb Rebensdorf and Katherine Elizabeth Litt both from Dinkle, Russia but of German descent.

They came to live in Russia because Maria's 3rd great-grandfather, Frederick Rebensdorf,  lived in what is now Palpsdorf, Holstein, Germany. At the time, however,  the area was actually under Dutch rule.  Discouraged by Religious intolerance,  the continued warfare in central Europe, as well as dark economic conditions, Frederick took the Russian Czarista and German Princess Catherine the Great's offer of land and annual spipens to move to Russia.  Catherine's idea was that the German farmers would bring  progressive ideas to Russia and growth.  In addition to the land and stipens, Catherine the Great promised the Germans would be free from military service and most taxes.

In 1766,  my 4th great-grandfather, Friedrick Rebensdorf, age 25, and his young wife Anna Magdalina Schultz, age 21,  began the nine to eleven month journey to Dinkle, Russia and are listed as among the earliest settlers to the Volga Region of Russia having established the village 12 May 1767.  Now in the late 1880's, when Grandma was born, the Stipens had never been as much as were promised and now were no longer in existence, the land was poor,  eventually they were taxed, and now young men were forced in to the Russian Army, usually for life.  

Though life in the old country was seldom spoken of because of the hardships they endured,
Grandma told me of how the farmers lived in the village and farmed days out on the land.  She reminisced of how sometimes they spent days out on the farm land and the family would live in a 'dug-out'.  She made a game of jumping off the front of the dug-out roof to the ground 10 feet below.  Her home, she said, looked like a  picture that hung in her basement living quarters in the North Russian bottom of Lincoln,  Nebraska.  That  picture now hangs in my living room so that I can remember her often.

Grandma's Doll, Susie
By 1910 Johanne Gottlieb Rebensdorb knew the safest thing to do was to take his family to America and Lincoln, Nebraska in particular, following a son, George, and his family who had come to America the year before.   So, at age 51 Gottlieb purchased passage for himself,  his wife Katherine, and children Maria Elizabeth, 22 (my grandmother), Maria Katherine, Kathla Elizabeth and Peter and  they came to Lincoln, Nebraska.  They were sponsored by Gotliebb's cousin, Gottford.  It should be noted,  however,  that both Gottlieb and My grandmother planned an early  return to Russia.  Gottlieb did  not want to leave his land unattended and Grandma had a beau  she wanted to go home to.  Shortly after their arrival in the new land they learned that the land was confiscated and many of the young men were sent to Siberia.  The chance of return was gone.  My grandmother quickly fell in love with and married Henrich Debus.  They started a family.  They  had four boys when he died and she was left to care for these boys alone.  Work was easy  to find  for someone who was as hard a worker as my grandmother.  She maintained two small  homes on Clairmont Street in Lincoln for her
My Grandfather, August Gesch, JR
large family for she soon met August Gesch from Berlin, Germany and they were married.  They also had  four  boys before he fell ill with heart disease, was bed ridden and then died.  Grandma always told me that she wished she would have had a daughter, if she would have had a daughter,  would have named her Susie.  So the doll that one of the boys brought home from Germany during  the World War,  sat in a yellow silk dress, draped in pearls, in a child's rocking chair in Grandma's bedroom, she called her Susie.

Russian recipes - vareniki
Grandma spent a lot of time with my family, in our home, her home, on vacation to California to see her son, my Uncle, and weekend hunting trips or Sunday drives. If you visited on a Saturday you were sure to find Cadoval Vereniki, Runzas,  Roast Chicken or Fried Fresh German Wurst bought from Riefsnieders Grocery a few blocks away.  Plus, if Grandma knew I was coming she would make a Cherry Pie, my favorite. 

 My father, Harvey was her youngest son and my  younger brother and I her youngest grandchildren.
Marie Gesch and Son Harvey
Harvey was my father.
 Because I was raised in a time when children were to be seen and not heard I listened a lot to the conversations of the adults spoken in English and German,  I looked at the picture that reminded Grandma of her homeland and imagined what it would be like if I were to live there. I spent countless hours trying to find four-leaf clovers in the grass at my grandmothers, often bare feet as the adults enjoyed their conversations.  I also sat  for  hours near her,  playing in the drawers of her treadle sewing machine as she sewed steadily along.  

I would often spend the night in grandmother's feather bed and days helping her water her Lily of the Valleys,   ferns,   her garden and  peach
tree.  When I was in my early teens instead of taking the bus home, I would walk two miles  to my grandmothers home after school where we  would sit and talk or she would teach  me to cook ethnic foods from the old country.  Then I would walk another 2 miles the rest of the way  home before supper or my Dad would pick me up on his way home from work.

 In High School I took a German Class.  I was so excited to get to Grandma's house and show her what I had learned.  Sadly, she could  not understand  the High German I was being  taught. She, my dad and the rest of her family  spoke a dialect of Low German only spoken in the Saxon area of Germany/Denmark where the family had originated.  My only  reason for taking the class was to be able to join in their conversations,  so since the class had no real value for me,  I quickly dropped it.

My grandmother,  folks called her Marie,  was a hard worker and kept her home neat and tidy.  She worked at the old University Club,  an upscale, private, downtown Lincoln Club,  first as a waitress but retired as the head of banqueting. She sometimes could be found scrubbing  her front porch or washing the sidewalk or even the street in front of her home.

One thing I never heard from my grandmother was a harsh word towards me except when she would tell  me to eat  more because I was to skinny in her broken English.  I always knew that I was loved. The best thing I remember is her old German Bible that sat on the table in her living room with the appearance of being  well  read.  My grandmother died not long after I graduated high school and I was devastated.  Her death certificate called her Mary Elizabeth Gesch,  I called her Grandma. 

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