by Phyllis Martens
John had bought a small frame store with a second floor where they could live. This was not unusual--many of the stores in town had upstairs rooms where the owners lived. After the wedding the young couple moved in. In later years Johann had the frame building moved back toward the alley and built a new, spacious store with large upstairs rooms--the building that later burned down, but that is another story.
I should tell you right now that Helena was half a head taller than Johann. She grew heavier in midlife; but when they were married she had a figure as elegant as any Czarina's, as may be seen in their wedding picture: she is sitting tall and straight in a fancy wicker chair, with Johann standing beside her, one hand resting on the chair. Johann has a wonderful dark beard and happy, gentle eyes.
(NOTE: Does anyone out there have a copy of the photo referred to here? If so, I
would like to include it here--Steve)
It was Johann's thrifty streak that started off several of his wife's campaigns. Not that Helena herself was not thrift-minded. She had worked hard enough for the Janzens, ironing, cooking company dinners and washing up endless stacks of dirty plates, for $6 a month. Oh yes, she knew very well what a nickel was worth. And Johann knew that she knew. One time she found his wallet with $200 in it lying in the bathroom. This bathroom, being at the head of the stairs, was for the family, but was occasionally used by store employees. Leaving $200 lying carelessly around in it was like throwing it into the street--there was a pretty good chance somebody would pick it up. Helena hid the wallet under some clothes in the dresser drawer.
Soon Johann came dashing up the stairs, into the bathroom and out again. "Did you find my wallet?" he asked in breathless haste.
Helena was all innocence. "Your wallet? Did you leave it somewhere? Was there money in it?"
Johann searched around for a while and ran back downstairs. Helena went about her business as usual. She let Johann frown, fret, search, and worry for three days before she gave him back the wallet, to teach him a lesson.
Oh yes, Helena knew the value of money all right. But there is a line between knowing the value of money and stinginess; and Helena thought she knew where that line was, especially when it came to the supporting of a wife by a leading businessman in town. Johann was no clerk, he was the owner of his own hardware store. She was his wife and entitled to being supported in proper style. She also drew a line between what was her business to manage and what was Johann's, and she resented interference. When Johann crossed either of those lines, he soon found himself under attack.
There was the time Johann and Helena had been invited to a party at Peter Franz's, a really high-class affair for the important businessmen in town, and Helena wore her very best dark crepe dress with a bustle and bouffant sleeves. Her blonde hair was swept high on her head. She was not at ease with the German aristocracy of the town, but she did the best she could, greeting the others in high German, watching and learning. At the party she turned now and then to say something to her husband beside her. Only he wasn't beside her. He was in the other room. She trailed after him and stood tall beside him and chatted with the others, then turned to Johann again. But Johann, again, was not there, he was back in the first room. She began to notice that whenever she walked into a room, Johann would soon walk away into another one. Well!
As soon as they got home she drew herself up to her most elegant height and lit into her husband--what sort of business was going on that he would humiliate her in front of all those distinguished guests?
"I don't like the dress you have on," Johann said in his quiet way.
"Goat! Good!" exclaimed Helena. A long silence followed. It lasted all night and into the next morning. Johann should have known better than to allow that long silence, for it gave Helena time to plan her strategy and bring up the rear platoons.
Next morning she told Johann she wouldn't wear that dress again. . .good, said Johann. . . on condition that he straightway give her money to buy material for three new ones.
"Three!" Johann exclaimed. But he realized he had been ambushed and there was nothing he could do but surrender. He got out his wallet, and Helena sailed downstairs to Hiebert & Franz's drygoods and picked out the best material they had.
(Check again next month for Part 3 of The Training of Grandpa Jungas)