by Phyllis Martens
My grandmother Helena, on my mother's side, saw no reason to wait fifty years for the state of Minnesota to come to its senses in the matter of women's rights. She carried on a private liberation campaign beginning in 1898, the year she was married, and very successful she was, too. She didn't go out demonstrating for the right to be mayoress of Mt. Lake or climb telephone poles in a hard hat for equal pay--as far as I know, she hadn't the slightest desire to do either of these things. What she did desire was to get her way at home. To this end she launched a guerilla-style campaign on the unsuspecting Johann, her husband, who had in all good faith promised to keep her in plenty and in want so long as they both should live. What follows is the plain and unembellished truth about her and grandpa. I know it is the plain truth because she told it to me herself.
When Helena first came over from Russia at age 17, she worked as a maid for Banker Janzen's family. With them lived their young nephew Johann Jungas, who clerked in his uncle's general store.
Young Johann should have known what he was getting into because one Saturday while he was still single he had gone to talk to Helena, who was in the Janzen's kitchen polishing up a stove with a can of stove blacking. Johann, hands in his pockets, began teasing her about some fellow she had gone out with. "Puppy love!" he said, having his own eye on her by now. "Puppy love!"
Helena lost her temper. "I'll show you puppy love!" she retorted, and before John could as much as blink she jumped up and smeared his astonished face all over with the stove blacking, forehead to chin. As always, she made a right proper job of it.
Johann washed off the blacking and gave some more thought to Helena. He had his own way of testing love, which in his mind had more to do with practical living than romance. His choice of a wife had narrowed down to two girls, Helena and another one, an Emma somebody. He decided to give each girl an apple and watch how she peeled it--the thinner the peel, the thriftier the wife.
One evening after dinner Johann made an excuse to go into his uncle Janzen's kitchen, where he took out of his pocket the apple that was to decide their fate. Helena ate the whole thing, peel and all, right down to the seeds. Figuring that Emma couldn't do much better, Johann asked Helena for her hand in marriage.
(Check again next month for Part 2 of The Training of Grandpa Jungas!)