Ada (Krueger) Wasbotten (1898-1972)

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Joel’s Grandma Ada died when he was only nine years old, so his memories of her are a little blurry, but fortunately his siblings are great storytellers. According to them:

Ada drank Sanka, ate Raisin Bran, and wore two different colored support hose. She always wore a hairnet. Always. And two combs on either side of her head above her ears and a pair of clip-on earrings. Always. And when anyone had an upset stomach, she prescribed hot milk with a pat of butter, with saltines crumbled in the bowl, eaten soup style. And she smoked Kents. And she ALWAYS had Wrigley’s Spearmint gum in her purse. Always. Her purse smelled like spearmint. And, there was always a deck of cards nearby because as soon as the dishes were washed, the cards came out and the Cubs game came on. And tweezers and a mirror were always nearby as well because she was constantly hunting for and plucking her chin hairs.

Ada is remembered most for her world-weary sense of humor. She would kind of roll her eyes and then say something hilarious. Two of Ada’s famous one-liners were, “How do like them crab apples?” usually delivered after she had passed or received bad trump in cards, and “Aw, you’re full of blue mud!” when someone said something outlandish. And her laugh – Ada’s laugh would come from so deep inside her that she would lose her breath which would then cause her sister, Emmy, to start the ‘wheeze laugh’ where no sound would come out at all. What a pair!

What I know about Ada is that after her husband left during the depression, she raised two little girls alone – Glee and Barbara, Joel’s mother. She worked hard as a school lunch cook and thankfully, family love was close by because she had help from Emmy and her father whom Joel’s mom remembers with deep love as her solid father figure. As all of the fun stories about Ada are shared among Joel’s family, I’m always feeling Ada’s strength – a single mother during a time when there were very few, a sense of humor that has been passed down to the next few generations, and a commitment to family that made her girls and their families never feel lacking in love.

Emma ‘Emmy’ Krueger (1902-1989)

As mentioned above, Aunt Emmy was Ada’s sister and played an integral role in their family’s life. She never married and she never sat down which is why she doesn’t have her own place setting. She was always busy wiping, cleaning, spilling, cleaning, serving, cleaning, gossiping with her girlfriends, cooking, and yes, cleaning. This is why an apron serves as the placemat at this spot.

According to Joel and his siblings, there had to be something to do with tater tots by Emmy’s place as they were featured heavily in all her hot dishes, so I created a mini tater tot cookbook with a newspaper cutout recipe that was taped inside the cookbook we inherited from her.

She worked for the post office and thus, letter writing was a favorite past time and the kids all have memories of receiving Emmy’s famous letters, a bit disjointed since, as noted above, she could never sit down long enough to write more than one sentence at a time. The letter at the table is one addressed to Joel’s sister, Jane. Thanks to the wonders of modern communication, it was scanned and emailed recently which sparked a wonderful array of memories for everyone. Emmy would have been amazed!

The photo of her shows her in her earlier years, but a little later, when her hair turned stark white, the kids always thought she looked like George Washington. Pretty cool to have a great-aunt that looked like George Washington! That’s why you’ll see a quarter next to her photo. It’s OK…Emmy would have thought that was hysterical and started her wheeze laugh all over again just imagining it!

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Regina Leffers McCaleb, Ph.D.

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