Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Aug. 12, 2011
"I'm going to town. Where are my teeth?"
The recent reunion of husband Art's Herrmann cousins was low-key. In past years, kids ran in and out of the house and there were so many people that we had "enclaves" of folks here and there, inside and out. But this year's get-together was small enough that we could include everyone in one big circle on Art's cousin Judy's and husband Jack's patio. As people arrived, we just scooted our chairs out to make room for them.
As usual, we first caught up on each other's family news, ailments, work and recent trips. Kris and husband Jim and Art and I have children who are in the middle of moving out. Jeff and Jim recently retired. Bob lost wife Arden a few months ago. Art's brother Tommy just moved out of his apartment of 28 years into the house their folks owned. Jeff's mother-in-law will turn 90 at the end of the month.
But, as usually happens at these gatherings, talk eventually turned to family members who are no longer with us. The Herrmanns seem to have a disproportionate number of "characters," so there is no shortage of stories about Bup and Bum and their five children - Art's mother Donna, Arline, Ione, Pete and Art, for whom husband Art is named.
Bup and Bum were actually Charles and Alvina Herrmann, but they're also known in the family as Bup and Bum - the result of oldest grandchild Tommy's mispronunciation of Grandpa (Buppa) and Grandma (Bumma.)
Although Bup and Bum and their children Arline and Pete died long before I joined the family, I've heard so much about them that it seems as if I knew them.
From what I've heard and from what I observed of the siblings' interactions, Donna, Arline, Ione and Art were the hard-chargers in the family, and feathers often flew when they got together.
In contrast, Pete was easy-going and didn't let anyone else's schedule - including his employer's - get in the way of a good conversation. Art has often told how Pete would go to work, pick up the company truck, and then drive straight to his parent's home where he'd spend the next hour reading the previous night's newspaper and eating breakfast. Art said that if Pete happened to bump into him during the day, he'd always pull the truck over and talk for a half hour or more. This also meant that to get his work done, Pete usually worked well into the evening, but that didn't bother him.
Their mother Bum was also easy-going, although she's also been described as long-suffering, having to put up with argumentative children and a husband who was self-employed and like Pete, seemingly followed no particular schedule. She also was afflicted with multiple sclerosis. And two of her children - Arline and Pete - died before she did.
Jeff recalled the time Art arrived with a basket of clothes to be mended and put it in front of his mother, declaring it to be her birthday gift. Jeff said he thought it was just terrible, until he discovered Bum actually enjoyed mending.
Tommy remembered Bum as being extremely patient and kind and said if anyone should be nominated for sainthood, it should be her.
During World War II, Tommy wrote his own little newspaper, The Daily Bugle, in which he described every-day activities of the family. He then sent the Bugle to his Uncle Art, who was a B-29 pilot in the Army Air Force.
"Bum was my society columnist and I would write in everything she said - including when she sneezed. I put the sneeze in parenthesis," Tommy said. "Art, of course, liked to read what his mother back home was doing, and Bum got a kick out of me writing down everything she said."
Tommy spent many hours at his grandparents' home and, as the oldest grandchild, remembers more than many of the other grandkids. But husband Art has a lot of stories as well.
He often tells about when his grandfather went duck hunting with his dog, Butch. Another man, who was also hunting, shot a duck and Butch, who loved hunting and was a strong swimmer, eagerly jumped into the water and retrieved it. When the other man protested, Bup responded, "Get a better dog."
Like most people of that time, Bup and Bum had false teeth. But unlike his wife, Bup would usually only wear the lower set, complaining that the uppers hurt. Bum told him that the problem was he never wore them long enough to get used to them.
"But he'd always wear them in public," Art said. "When he was getting ready to go to church or downtown, he'd say, 'I'm going to town. Where are my teeth?'"
"He often carried them in his shirt pocket," Tommy added.
One day, Bup hit a duck when it wandered from a farmer's yard into the road. While Bup was known for his less-than-perfect driving skills, he was also known for assuming anything on the road was fair game. Whatever was in play that day, he stopped, opened the back door of the car, and threw the unlucky duck onto the floor.
The trip had been to pick up something and whatever it was, Bup was carrying part of it into the garage when one of the boys came from the house to help. As he opened the back door to the car, Bup turned and yelled, "Don't schtep on my duck."
Another time, he returned home with a wooden highway culvert marker in the trunk, the product of his poor driving. Someone asked why he had brought it home and he replied, "It'll burn really good in the furnace."
Years ago, Art completed writing a booklet about his Uncle Art and has been working on another about his Uncle Pete. Art also plans to write about his grandfather and in preparation, he typed a list of single-line "bullets" as prompts of things to include. It's two pages long!
Tommy also has been writing his memories about the family and he has shared them with us. He is up to installment number five about Uncle Art.
Although they were characters, all these Herrmanns had other sides as well. Bup was the church council president when they built a new church. Pete was as skilled in manual arts as any yester-year blacksmith. Art became president of a divison of Kimberly Clark.
But the telling and retelling of these stories serves a purpose beyond their simple entertainment value. Kris, 26 years younger than Tommy, said she only remembers Bum as being very frail. One of the few images she has of her grandmother is of her peeling apples with shaking hands. She was only 5 when Bup died and about all she recalls of her grandfather was him sitting in his green rocking chair. So these stories also serve to bind the cousins together in their common family.
Left: the Herrmann relatives gathered recently on Art's cousin Judy's and husband Jack's patio;
right: the Herrmann clan gathered in 1946 for their parent's 40th wedding anniversary.
From the left, Arline, Pete's wife Betty holding daughter Betsy, Art's mom Donna,
Arline's husband Ora holding son Jeff, Art's Uncle Art, Art's dad Tom holding Art, Ione,
Tommy, Grandma Alvina (Bum), Grandpa Charles (Bup) and Pete holding Judy.