Back to Stories

Grandma's Multi-Level Family

by Phyllis Martens

Part 3

And then Helena and Johann had three children of their own: Al, Anna and John.

Al was an adventuresome little boy. Helena kept having to find him. Once on a visit to a farm he disappeared completely. They searched the house, then the barn. When Helena saw the pigpen, in which several enormous hogs were rooting about in the muck, she became hysterical. "Find at least his bones!" she cried piteously. The farmer's wife, hanging on to her senses, ran down the driveway to the road. A buggy driven by an old man was approaching, and on the seat beside him was a child. "He's here!" she screamed, and grabbing Al she ran with him to the house.

Anna became greatly occupied with a large family of dolls. Her mother's concern for the proprieties did not trouble her overmuch, as for example the day Helena looked out the window and saw, to her horror, Anna pulling a wagon on the sidewalk of the main street below--wearing her black kitchen apron. Helena ordered her upstairs instantly. Anna, realizing she had broken one of her mother's strictest commandments, came up but took refuge on the far side of the dining table. Helena, bent on punishment, went around one way; Anna went the other. Around and around they went until Helena gave up, stating that Anna would be dealt with by her father that evening.

Johann was not much of a hand at discipline. After supper, however, having heard his wife's indignant tale, he told Anna to come for her spanking. Years later Anna was asked how she felt about it. She replied, "Well, I thought my father must have loved me very much because he spanked me near the stove so my bare bottom wouldn't get cold."

John was born with a nose for business. Once when his father offered a dollar (very big money in those days) to anyone who would eat a clove of garlic, he went to the pantry, found his mother's garlic and ate it all. Further business ventures of this busy son are told in a later chapter.

The years went by. Johann's hardware and shoe business prospered. Henry and Al grew old enough to help in the store. All the children went to school. Helena kept them in hand-knitted black stockings and smart clothes, washed her floors by hand, and entertained fashionable visitors for afternoon coffee.

Henry, Al and Anna

Into this promising scene entered once again a powerful variable: the early 19th century mortality rate among young mothers, which, when combined with Helena's elastic sympathies, brought about a Jungas family expansion of major proportions.

News came that a certain Mr. Wiebe's wife had died, leaving five small children. The family had recently arrived in Mt. Lake from Russia and was without a network of relatives, so that the children must be taken in by kindly families in the community. That very evening Helena put on her hat and coat and, taking ten-year-old Anna with her, walked down the street and up a flight of stairs to the attic where the children were being cared for by their grandparents.

"Guten Abend," she greeted the elderly folks--properly, in high German. They, sad and worried, said very little. "Don't bother with coffee, I just want to say hello. I'm very sorry about your daughter."

Anna stood in the middle of the crowded room looking the children over, which was precisely what Helena was doing, though she didn't say so. The boy had climbed on the window seat to look down at the street. The older girls were cutting things out of a Montgomery Ward catalogue. Little Elizabeth, age 5, was sitting on a stepstool holding a rag doll. Having made up her mind, Helena chatted with the grandparents about this and that, then called Anna and went home.

Late that night, when Johann had come up from the store and was getting ready for bed, Helena announced, "I decided to take Elizabeth."

Johann paused to think this over. Finally he said, "Well, Anna can help you."

Next morning Helena hastened back to the attic. The grandparents packed the child's few clothes into a sack, gave Elizabeth a rag doll to hold and kissed her goodbye. "Tante Helen has a nice bed for you," the grandmother told her. "Her house is right there, across the street. Look...you can see the windows from here."

When Anna came home from school that day she saw a strange blonde child sitting on the floor in her, Anna's, room playing with her, Anna's dolls. Anna was furious. She rushed into the room and snatched away the dolls. The child began to cry.

Helena ran in. "Why, Anna!" she exclaimed.

"They're my children. She can't play with my children," Anna cried. "Get her her own dolls." She marched determinedly about putting away dolls and blankets.

"Yes, yes," Helena said, "But give her just one for now. You should feel sorry for her. Her mother died a few days ago, and now she doesn't have her sisters and her brother either."

Anna grumbled but finally let the child play with her worst, bald doll.

After dinner Johann, up early from the store for a change, sat down to study his Sunday School teacher's quarterly, stroking his beard. After a while he got up, picked up Elizabeth and carried her around the house, showing her everything. The child was especially enchanted with the red and blue parrot in Helena's glass cabinet.