Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Root Beer Floats and Other Reflections of Our Grandma Ethel (52 Ancestors #20)

This is another article for the series "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks", a challenge by Amy Johnson Crow on No Story Too Small.

Ethel Kendall Hibsch c.1979
Photo courtesy of Cousin Linda
Last year on the anniversary of her birth, I wrote about my grandmother, Ethel May Kendall Hibsch. The life sketch described various milestones through photos, newspaper articles and personal knowledge.  As her birthday, May 22nd nears, it dawned on me that I wasn't the only descendant who knew her.  She had five other grandchildren with their own experiences.  In fact, a lot given the ten year age span between the oldest and youngest grandchild.  I sent an email to my brothers and cousins with an invitation to send me a few memories of Grandma.  Off the top of their heads, quick, simple. I needed their comments in time to make the deadline for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.  Within hours of sending the email the memories poured in.  Snowball–like momentum developed.  Many responses prompted more memories and several “oh, I remember that” comments.  (Everyone received a copy of each other’s response.)

And now, enjoy the collective memories of our Grandma Ethel.

Personality and Pastimes
Martin remembered a certain formality about her and that she was kind.  Donna said she giggled. Marcia reflected on her fear of Grandma when she was little.  She mused that Grandma didn't quite know what to do with rambunctious kids, and she never knew how to behave when visiting Grandma’s house.  In adolescence, Marcia said she discovered that Grandma was bright, well-informed, and curious and thoroughly enjoyed having conversations with her.

Donna reminded us that two of Grandma’s pastimes were playing bridge and canasta.  She often hosted card parties at her house.  The living room became a sea of card tables covered with ecru-colored crocheted table cloths.  If I recall correctly, each granddaughter received one when her estate was settled.

Music to Our Ears
Grandma’s upright piano sat along the wall opposite the huge formal dining room table.  I played chopsticks on it, quite well actually.  A special time for Linda, Donna and Marcia was standing around the piano as Grandma played and everyone sang “How Great Thou Art”.  The hymn remains Marcia’s favorite to this day.

What’s to eat?
Source: Campbell's Soup
I don’t know if green bean casserole was her signature dish but ask my cousins about a food item that brings Grandma to mind and immediately, in unison, they say green bean casserole.  She made it for holiday dinners.  Their Dad said she could buy all the ingredients and not have anything left over. Hmm, works for me.

Jars of sweet pickled watermelon rinds frequently appeared at family gatherings.  Oh Marcia, this sounds yucky to me but you remembered this – fondly??

How about creamed tuna on toast?  It was lunch time at their house.  Grandpa sat opposite me at the kitchen dinette.  Grandma placed a slice of toast on our plates then poured on the warm creamed tuna.  I scrunched up my face because it was an unfamiliar concoction to a then six year old.

Source: retroplanet.com
And best for last, Grandma’s root beer floats – mouth-watering, refreshing, delicious.  Marcia recalled drinking the float from tall skinny glasses with long iced tea spoons.  Linda said Grandma’s recipe was specific – Hires Root Beer and Van de Kamp's Ice Cream.  Wouldn't you like have this tasty treat right now?

Driving in Style
Dean remembered Grandma’s brown four-door Mercury.  Martin said she once got a traffic ticket or warning on Kellogg Hill (by Cal Poly Pomona) for driving too slow.  I always think of her and the ticket when I drive the hill.  I wonder if she was driving the Merc at the time.  Donna said she always wore driving gloves and driving shoes.  Both were kept in the car and she would change shoes whenever she drove.  She also sat on a pillow while driving.  “I don't think she ever pumped her own gas – always went to a Union 76 Station for full service!” recalled Linda.

On a Personal Note
Hibsch Teddy Bear in
Grandma Ethel's chair at
Denise's house 
A light brown square hassock in her den stored toys for the grandchildren.  I think there were more toys in the cupboard in the corner - the one with the set of fancy hardbound Reader’s Digest books on the upper shelves.  Dean said the hassock had all kinds of little plastic cars he played with the few times he visited.  I now have the Teddy Bear she made when I was born. She made it from pre-printed fabric which was readily available.  My husband had one just like it, even clothed with the same checkered shorts and suspenders.  All of the grandchildren played with Teddy but it was left to me.

Martin appreciated that Grandma took him places and was always interested in what he was doing. “In later years, I could tell she liked [that] I moved past the issues my parents had.”  A major memory was his overnight visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s house on Maine Street in Baldwin Park, California where he slept in Uncle B’s bed.  This may have occurred in the early 1950s while Uncle B was in the service.  In her house in Covina, California, Martin said his visits always included a trip to the Market Basket for food.  And “she liked to take me out to dinner at one restaurant in Glendora [California] or the far end of Covina.  She drove SLOW.”

Grandma always kept a well-manicured yard.  Marcia remembered not being able to walk on her backyard lawn because it was dichondra.  Her yard-related memories continued: that cool bird bath in the middle with the little birds in it; walking on crunchy gravel by the roses in the backyard; a riot of snapdragons at the front garden bed every spring, and making their mouths open and close.  Wasn't there a large tree in the back yard with seating around it?  Weren't there also pansies in the front yard planter?

Marcia observed the billy club Grandma had hanging on a nail next to her back door.  “Always cracked me up,” she said.  “A lovely memory was getting to go to the Ramona Pageant with her and all the other old people [who] traveled with Scott's Tours.  I loved that day!”

The note in the cabinet
Photo courtesy of Cousin Marcia
“As a child I was fascinated by the contents of a cabinet in her living room.  There were tiny frogs made of shells, little figurines, small vases.”  Marcia remembered “standing on my tiptoes to try to see the top shelf.  When I was older I was allowed to open the glass door and explore those treasures, many of which she'd picked up on her travels.  I was so touched when I found out that that cabinet was the piece of furniture she had chosen to leave to me.  Today it lives in my front room.  Her note is tucked inside its drawer:  'This bookcase is for Marcia, it belonged to her great grandparents.  E.M.H.”

Source:  Wikipedia
Speaking of the cabinet, a stereoscope was in it similar to the one pictured, right?  I remember being fascinated by it as I looked at postcards.

Linda also got to go on the Scott's Tour Bus to the San Juan Capistrano Mission.  She wrote “It is quite fun being the only child on the bus. When we stopped for lunch, everyone wanted to give me their dessert!  She traveled all over America with Scott's Tours, but had no interest on leaving the USA.  She collected postcards from many places she visited. I have a lot of them - wish she would have dated them!”

Linda remembered Grandma's trip to Hawaii on the Ship Matsonia in the early 1960s.  “She brought us home a Hawaiian dress (I still have mine for some unknown reason).  She also bought real Hawaiian Lei's for the grandchildren but had to throw them overboard on the way home - they didn't last that long.”  And more memories - “I loved to go to Clifton's Cafeteria with her, at Eastland Shopping Center. I got to pick out exactly what I wanted for dinner and dessert.”  Then there were the surprise visits some of us enjoyed – Linda recalled coming home from the hospital with their first child and seeing Grandma parked in front of the house waiting for them!

Bill the grandson in-law remembered this hilarious story as told by my cousin, his wife, Linda: Grandma drove herself and two friends out to dinner.  As they left the restaurant, she fell down a few steps.  The restaurant staff insisted she go to the hospital for evaluation so she did.  That left her two friends at the restaurant who were too shaken to drive Grandma's car home.  Don’t worry Grandma, help was on the way.  Bill, his then girlfriend Linda, and his brother devised a plan.  Linda and the brother dropped Bill off at the restaurant to drive Grandma's friend’s home while they continued to the ER to check on Grandma. Picture Bill, the 20 year old, 6’ tall Prince Charming, helping these two 80 year old ladies get in and out of the car!  One had a stiff leg and had to sit in the backseat sideways. The other got in the front seat.  Bill attempted to get into the driver’s side bench seat which was pulled up to the steering wheel.  Grandma was not 6’ tall.  He had to stand outside the car and figure how to backup the seat - the ladies thought it was hilarious.  Then he had to make small talk with the ladies as they directed him to each of their homes.  They told Grandma later that he was the perfect gentleman who walked them each to their doors.  Grandma was proud of him!  By the way, Grandma was perfectly fine!

Grandma Ethel with three family generations,
c. 1979.  Photo courtesy of Cousin Linda
Donna remembered “she was very excited to get a pantsuit to wear on a cruise because she previously only wore dresses.  I think this was about 1972.  She came by the house in it to show us her new pantsuit."  Donna's Grandma surprise moment was “when my first child was born (Grandma was 79), she drove from Covina to Ontario, California (about 35 miles) without using the freeway, to see the new baby.”

Denise and Grandma Ethel
1966. Photo courtesy of Denise
My Grandma surprise moment occurred in the summer of 1969.  Grandma, at age 70,  drove herself to San Francisco to visit me in Moffatt Hospital.  I still remember her standing in the doorway to my room.  I was astounded and happy to see her, especially since I lived 90 miles away so visits from family and friends were infrequent.  Coincidentally when she was there, my doctors arranged for me to go to a medical event at Letterman Hospital at the Presidio.  I asked her to stay over to accompany me and she did.  I’ll always remember that special time.
She Said What? – Grandma-isms
It’s not uncommon for language use to vary between generations causing the youngsters to roll their eyes.  Our family was no different.

“She’s slipping you know” always evoked a giggle from her granddaughters.  Donna said this was a favorite as Grandma’s friends began to age - not her of course!  “Isn't that queer?” Donna recalled with bemusement since Grandma meant ‘strange’ and Donna knew a different usage in high school.

“Rolled over” she would say when her friends died, as in ‘Gordon rolled over on Tuesday.’ Marcia thought that was queer.”

“All my friends live in Oakdale,” I recalled her saying on my overnight visit about 1980.  She was about 81 years old then.  Huh? The only Oakdale I knew was in northern California.   Well, she had snared me with her wry sense of humor.  With a grin, she clarified that Oakdale was a cemetery in Glendora, California!  Grandma lives there now.

As you can tell, Grandma loved her six grandchildren.  She made a concerted effort to have 1:1 interaction with each of us.  We’re left with fond if not downright hilarious memories of her.  Despite three of her grandchildren being separated from her until adulthood due to parental discord, we likewise made a special effort to get to know her better and spend time with her.  We are richer for that.

Thank you to my cousins and brothers for helping me celebrate the 115th birthday of Grandma Ethel May Kendall Hibsch.  I hope you enjoyed going down memory lane.  Please leave a comment below (click the envelope) to add any thoughts.


  1. OK. now I have a craving for a root beer float! ha

    1. I know what you mean Colleen! Remember the recipe - Hires and Van deKamps! Thanks for stopping by for a read. BTW, too bad our Browns aren't related ---as far as I know anyway.


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