Louise (Maas) and Philipp Sauer

(1906-1996)             (1902-1996)

louise philipp3

Grandma Louise was one of those women you’re grateful to have as part of your family tree – strong, wise, fun-loving, and quietly dignified. With breakfast she always had a melamine coffee cup filled with plain hot water (for regularity) which she sipped with all the finesse of a wine connoisseur. She also almost always wore bracelets which would glimmer and clink delicately as she moved her left arm while eating, somehow magnifying her remarkably classy, dignified manners.

She savored every mouthful (of her own cooking) with an appreciation which was borderline sensual and indecent. My first time meeting Grandma was at a family dinner where she and Joel’s mother had worked all afternoon making their perfect fried chicken. As I daintily nibbled at my piece, I looked up to see Grandma Louise very loudly getting every last piece of meat off of her chicken bones. Savoring each morsel, smacking her lips, humming to herself, commenting on how delicious it was, licking her fingers. Now that’s how to savor every bite!

After the dishes were done, she would smoke her only-one-per-day filterless Chesterfield cigarette, again with such pleasure that it felt like one should leave her in private.

My favorite memory of Grandma Louise, was toward the very end of her life. Joel and I were visiting her at the nursing home and preparing to take her out for lunch. She was probably 89 years old then. She didn’t feel the greatest and couldn’t eat, but wanted to go to lunch to be with us and watch us enjoy our food. (We didn’t know this until we ordered our meals and she said, “No, thank you, nothing for me” to the waiter.)

That alone is a fond memory of that day, but the one that really sticks with me was from before we left for lunch. She had gone into the bathroom to comb her hair. When she came out she said, “You know, it’s the strangest thing. I feel 18 years old. I go through the day like I’m 18 years old. Then I look in the mirror and see myself and all of these wrinkles and think, ‘When did this happen?’” Amen to the perfect example of age being a state of mind!

Joel’s Grandpa Philipp came to the United States from Germany as a young man carrying with him many of the traditions that made him feel at home. The fork you see at his place setting is the one he used every day along with a knife to cut and spear every bite of food including braunschweiger, liver sausage, head cheese, and other German delicacies from a downtown Cleveland deli. And sauerkraut – he pulled sauerkraut out of his ears to entertain the kids. It worked. Sauerkraut has been a staple at our Thanksgiving dinners ever since my first holiday with the family.

Grandpa loved to go on walks, and the walks got longer as he got older. He always wore dress shoes that didn’t look well suited for taking long walks, but made the best clicking noise on the sidewalk. When a grandchild was along, he walked very slowly and often whistled, not a tune, but just blowing out air. And he’d stop often and quickly, saying something like, “Oh, look at the birds” in his thick German accent.

And of course, their placemat has the German toast, Ein Prosit, on it. Before my kids could say their alphabet, they could sing Ein Prosit with the proper pronunciation and on key. It might be mandatory for anyone in the Sauer family, but mostly it is a tribute to Philipp and Louise.

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Regina Leffers McCaleb, Ph.D.

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