By Karen Wielinski
Grandma Clara Schwab was an important influence in my life. Widowed shortly before my birth in 1951, she was a strong woman and the fitting matriarch of our family.
During her marriage to Nicholas Schwab, Grandma had lived in a little house on Herman Street on the East Side of Buffalo, raising four children. The garage in the backyard was first transformed into an art studio for my Uncle Nick, and then expanded to provide a home for my uncle’s young family, and later for my parents.
Grandma, a diminutive woman barely 5 feet tall, was strong-willed and filled with vitality. Her hair was always kept neatly braided on top of her head, but on rare occasions, I would catch a glimpse of it cascading well beyond her waist. I could envision a young girl in the 1900s with flowing brown hair, pursued by a hopeful suitor. She cut it shortly before she passed away at age 81.
I spent many a happy day at Grandma’s house.
Her kitchen was filled with the wonderful smells of cookies, birthday cakes and German specialties, such as apple kuchen. Occasionally, she’d greet me with a kuchen all my own. I try in vain to replicate that delicious treat, and regret that her recipe was not handed down to the family.
When handing out tempting snacks, Grandma would say, “All good things come in three.” That’s an adage I use to this day.
A narrow staircase in the kitchen led to the attic, once my uncle’s bedroom and his first art studio. We were allowed to go up and explore the boxes and drawers containing treasures from the past. It was always amusing to find old newspapers and compare styles and prices from years ago.
Many an hour was spent in her cozy living room, either sharing a special program on the then-new medium, television, or watching Grandma crochet one of her beautiful afghans, or make delicate lace. A maroon, crushed velvet couch was the focal point of the room, but my favorite was the blue chair, big enough to cradle me while I took a quick nap, or paged through old McCall’s magazines. They supplied many a picture for school projects and cutout dolls.
Old copies were kept neatly piled in the spare bedroom. Early pictures of my mother, aunts and uncle adorned the dresser. A day bed was available for overnight stays.
Grandma, a woman of strong faith, lit a vigil light before a large statue of the Blessed Mother on another dresser.
In the dining room, she kept her sewing machine, where she could create fashions perfect for dolls found under Christmas trees.
In one drawer of her credenza, she kept tasty mints in an old tin, ready for little hands to discover. Another drawer held a scrapbook of my Great-Uncle Frank Schwab, who was once mayor of Buffalo.
Grandma’s woodshed sheltered our bicycles. If we made her open the back door to get them out, we had better ride them for more than 10 minutes! The woodshed not only was my father’s workshop, but mine, too, for creative school projects.
Grandma was always there to lend a hand. In emergencies, such as the time my front tooth was chipped off in a backyard incident, she took command. She had the job of calming both me and my mother, and assured me I wouldn’t be “ugly,” as I tearfully lamented.
When reality begins to feel insurmountable, I mentally revisit all the wonder and joy that Gram brought to my childhood. The little girl who visited back in the ’50s and ’60s can still retreat to that “comfort zone.”