Memories of Grandparents John and Leona Schaefers

Where the tradition began I don’t know. She was born Leona Theresa Ernster and married John H. Schaefers. They were our grandparents but we, and all the grandchildren (20 in all), knew them as Ma and Pa. It was a name meant with affection and honor.

Grandma (a/k/a Ma) was a wonderful cook. She made fried chicken that was beyond wonderful. Maybe her secret was the cast iron skillet she used. I remember she had a large garden (and wore a big sunbonnet when working in it) and would can much of the produce. I loved being asked to go down in the “cellar” and bring up a jar of her delicious peaches. Thinking back, maybe the sugar content was the secret ingredient! But, oh, they tasted so good. On her cupboard she had a cookie jar in the shape of a sailor she kept filled with homemade chocolate chip cookies (or until the grandchildren discovered them!)

She was an impeccable housekeeper, and I mean spotless! The farmhouse was not “modernized” and had no running water, although there was a hand pump by the kitchen sink as well as a claw foot bathtub. The farm had an outdoor toilet, but with a twist … Grandma had taken left over wallpaper and applied that to the inside walls. To this day hers is the only outhouse that I know had the touch of an interior decorator. Like I said, she was an excellent housekeeper. Everything was spotless.

She was a no-nonsense person and a hard worker. How else would she and Grandpa survived the Great Depression?

We spent many holidays at their home and I have memories of a big table where we all sat. There was no separate “kids’ table.” Some of us younger grandchildren sat on catalogs so we could sit comfortably on a chair. Before we left for the day, Grandpa would get out his violin (more likely a “fiddle”) and entertain us. He never had music lessons but learned to play “by ear.”  On   Christmas the last song was always “Silent Night.”  When he concluded, Pat remembers we knew it was time to leave, always with a bit of sadness in our hearts.

There was a hand-crank telephone that hung on the wall of the dining room. Grandpa wasn’t used to conversing on it, so when he did talk he was to the point and did not waste words. I remember he used to shout into the mouth piece as if he thought the person on the other end could hear him better.

Grandpa was a sentimental person and so in love with Grandma. We would ride with him to the bottom of a hill where their mailbox (perhaps a half mile from their farm) was located and on the return trip he would stop to pick wildflowers for Grandma.

On their bedroom dresser was a wind-up alarm clock that had a rather loud, but rhythmic “tic-toc” sound. To this day, that sound is a very comforting one for me. I attribute that to the calm that prevailed in their house.

One of Grandma’s strangest words was “dasn’t”, as in “You dasn’t do that.” I think she meant “dare not.”

Memories from my sister Pat:

Our cousin Evelyn and I made a mud pie together in the playhouse out in their shelter belt, and proudly showed Grandpa as he came by. To our pleasant surprise he took a bit of it and we thought that was hilarious! I also remember Grandma with her large sun bonnet, feeding all her chickens, plus a few ducks and geese.  She actually would give us a duck egg or a goose egg to mix in with our mud concoctions, which made mud pie/mud cake activities especially fun.  She never gave us a chicken egg though because I am sure she sold the chicken/hen eggs that she did not use for kitchen use.  

I also picture her in her chore aprons feeding the fowl with her buckets and even keeping some of the feed in her apron as she scattered the feed among the birds.  And she’d say:  “Here chicky chicky chick……”

Going fishing with our Grandpa was one of my favorite things to do when I stayed with them. I remember that sometimes he took me and all the fishing gear, on his tractor down to the James River, which was a short distance from their farm. We caught mostly bullheads which were edible during the late spring and early summer.

Once our cousin Carol was also staying at the same time I was.   Grandma must have used her creative mind to come up with something that Carol and I could do together.   Apparently Grandpa (and probably Carol) had already fished before I got there so Grandma had Grandpa put some of the fish in the stock tank.   That way, I got to go fishing with Carol out by the tank.   I remember that we had little tiny lines with hooks and worms, and that we got the fishing done right out of the tank.   I can’t remember whether or not Grandma cooked those bullheads up or not, but my guess is that she did.   Later in the summer, when the lakes got mossy, and the river was lower and slower, our mom and Grandma said that it was too late in the season to eat “muddy tasting” bullheads.

Memories from my sister Amy:

Grandma having to peruse the salad bar in a restaurant before sitting down – we’d drive from restaurant to restaurant sometimes.  Only once did it take 3 tries before getting it right.

I remember her kindness.  She never was cross with me.  Once I saw some earrings I liked and asked Mom if I could have them.  She said no of course.  I didn’t argue.  The next thing I knew Grandma had bought them for me.  I still have them.  I didn’t even think Grandma was beside me when I asked Mom, but she must have heard.  And her always having a box of dolls for me to play with when we visited.  One time she looked at me and said, “I bet you are too old for those dolls now.” I was relieved she understood and didn’t think I was being rude for not wanting to play with them.

I remember her good cooking.  Chicken, I think.  And cookies and pies.

I have absolutely no negative memories of Grandma. 

We were truly blessed to have them as our Grandparents!

About maryjlohr

Avid genealogist.
This entry was posted in Ernster Genealgoy, Memories, Schaefers Genealogy, South Dakota and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Memories of Grandparents John and Leona Schaefers

  1. Beautiful tribute to your grandparents, Mary. You have given a picture of them and the times in which they lived. we also get a glimpse of you and your sisters “back in the time!”

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