Monday, May 31, 2010

Tribute to My Grandfather, Henry Edward Hess, Sr. (In His Final Days)

Dear friends,

As I write, my 97 year old grandpa, Henry Edward Hess, Sr., is in his final days, or even his final hours. He is in hospice care at my parents' home in Maryland after a heart attack last week. He is not able to talk and we're not sure he is really aware of anyone. I am expecting a phone call any time now to tell of his passing. I am so grateful that he is surrounded by loving family, including my mother and father, my sister Barb's family, my Aunt Barbara from Hawaii, and my mom's cousin Ruth Ann, who drove up from central Virginia to help.

The apples don't fall far from the tree, because Grandpa and Grandma are two of the most loving people I know.  They are a mere 24 days away from their 76th wedding anniversary, and their marriage is full of warm and genuine affection.  He and Grandma have done a whole lot of extra kissing and handholding in the past week, just like they did when Grandma was in the hospital after breaking her hip a couple of years ago, as pictured to the left.  They always speak kindly of one another and serve one another gladly.  What an example to me!   Grandpa has always been affectionate to us children, too.  It was always a pleasure to cuddle up on his lap in the rocking chair and hear him tell jokes. 
Grandpa has kept his trademark sense of humor to the end, asking my sister a few days ago if she wanted his false teeth. Barb said, "No thanks, I have my own. Do you want them?" He replied, "Nooo, I came in without them and I may as well go out without them." As they say, you can't take it with you. Grandpa had to have a blood transfusion while in the hospital, so my cousin Elizabeth's joke made him chuckle: "A man got a blood transfusion, but the hospital ran out of blood so they substituted borscht. Now his heart never skips a beet."

After retiring as an insurance agent, Grandpa and Grandma took the opportunity to travel around the globe. I can't remember all the places they visited, but I think I remember Iceland, New Zealand, and Germany, among other countries. For more domestic trips -- say, a 10,000 mile round trip Alaska trek (via our house in San Francisco) -- they drove a bright orange VW bus that we dubbed "The Orange Crate." They liked to have fun at home, too. We always played games like Scotch Bridge when we visited their "Squirrel Hill" homestead in Pennsylvania, then their retirement home in South Florida, or more recently my parents' home in Maryland, where they have lived for several years. I hope I always keep their sense of adventure and family fun.

Grandpa is also known for his thriftiness and resourcefulness. One symbol of that would be his garden. When they lived on 10 acres in Pennsylvania, he had a huge vegetable garden. I remember snapping peas on their porch.  He still has a garden -- he just makes other people do the work for him!  He hunted deer every year and smoked his own venison. Grandpa is the one who inspired me to learn how to make turkey scrapple from scratch.  See here: My Scrapple Experiment (It’s More than Meat and Cornmeal to Me!)  It's one thing he always made for us when we visited. He's quite the cook. When he came home from the hospital this weekend, he ate some soup he had made and frozen a few weeks ago when my Aunt Nancy from Kentucky was visiting them.

Perhaps my dearest memory of visiting Squirrel Hill is that at a Hess family reunion there in 1976, I became aware of God's mercy and took Jesus as my Savior.  (Read more here: My Story of Liberty in 1976.) I wish I had a picture of that momentous gathering, but here's one from the 2006 reunion at Frances Slocum State Park.  Grandpa is in the light blue shirt in the front row.  I'm toward the right with Melody sitting up on my lap.

It is an honor to be a member of this Hess clan. Not including myriad distant cousins pictured above (many of whom are my dear friends), my grandparent's direct living descendents add up to five children, thirteen grandchildren, almost thirty great-grandchildren, and soon-to-be four great-great-grandchildren.  My daughter Mary's son Jacob is due on Grandma and Grandpa's 76th anniversary on June 24 -- which is also Mary's birthday and the date of the aforementioned 2006 reunion. May his memory live on in the stories we tell and the pictures we share.

I thought you might like to read something that my grandmother wrote about 15 years ago. I added in a few things she told my sister this week. This is a great lesson in family history because she tells what life was like throughout the early 20th century.  There are more similar photos here: Vintage photos from the Hess and Ransom families

Memories from Dorothy Ransom Hess
Your grandfather Henry Edward Hess was born in 1912 in the small town of Forty Fort, Pennsylvania, on the Susquehanna River. Years before there had been a fort built there. Forty settlers from Connecticut walked or came by horses to settle in the Wyoming Valley on the Susquehanna River and named the area Forty Fort. I had a great, great grandfather, Captain Samuel Ransom, who was killed and scalped by the Indians while trying to defend the fort where the settlers went for protection.  (Read more on this here: American Revolution stories from our family history.) 

Grandfather Hess lived at Forty Fort through his kindergarten years. Public schools did not have kindergartens at the time; private people ran them and charged for it. Then his father decided to move to the country to raise his children and he bought a 165 acre farm out beyond Dallas, Pennsylvania, near Demunds Corners. They had cows, horses, chicken, pigs, turkeys (I was scared to walk over there sometimes to see my best friend Elizabeth because they had a mean turkey gobbler). They hired a man to help them farm because Great Grandfather Hess was really a banker and drove one of the few automobiles in the area down to the city of Wilkes-Barre each day to work in the bank.  He worked in a bank in Scranton, then became President of the Dime Bank of Kingston. 

Grandpa Hess attended a one room school for his first eight grades. They walked about a mile to school. When the weather was nice they could cut across fields and through the woods to get there. There were about 15 in the school and three in his grade. The first teacher was a man teacher who was quite mean. He used a switch on them and sometimes would yank them out of their seats by the hair and hit them for talking or misbehaving. He was glad when they got a woman teacher. Each day one of the big boys would take a pail and go down the hill for a pail of water for drinking. They all used the same dipper. They had two outside toilets and Grandpa's brothers were so embarrassed that he went into the girls' toilet one time. They had a potbellied stove in the room for heat.

When it came time for high school, the township had to pay for them to attend any school they could get to. Some folks would move in town with relatives or friends for the week and go home weekends. Of course with Great Grandfather Hess working in the city, his children would ride into town with him and go to Kingston High School. Grandpa Hess and his best friend Hilton Long would sometimes take the trolley out to around Dallas and walk the five miles on home so they didn't have to stay in town such a long day. They graduated from Kingston High School.

I was born on down the river from Forty Fort in a small town called Dorranceton, later merged with Kingston. I went to Kingston schools. The first five grades I walked about three blocks to school. Then it was six blocks until I was through eighth grade, then further to walk to high school. When I was around five years old, my father decided to buy a farm, too, and bought one right across the dirt road from the Hess farm. So you see, we grew up as neighbors. We only stayed at the farm from May until October and then would go down to our city home. That was until the big stock market crash in 1929. Then my father sold our city place and we lived in the country one. My father was a contractor and built hundreds of homes in the Wyoming Valley. Imagine, in those days he sold homes for $500 and automobiles cost about $500. He was also one of the first to own an automobile in the area. The houses of course didn't have plumbing nor electricity at the beginning. Like out in the country, we used oil lamps and candles and gas lanterns until our fathers bought Delco light plants for our electricity.   (The picture above left is of the Ransom home in Demunds.)

Airplanes were a rare sight. We would go outside to see them when we heard them flying over. I can remember going outside to see Charles Lindbergh fly over on his way to New York, and then he flew solo in his little plane clear across the ocean to France. That was quite a feat. We didn't have the big planes at that time and couldn't hop a plane to New York or Philadelphia like we can now.

Our first radio caused lots of excitement. We had to use our ear phones so only one could listen at a time until we finally got a speaker to set up on top the radio. You didn't just plug in your radio at first, you had batteries working it. Folks would brag that they heard Chicago last night, or New York.

When I was fourteen I invited him to a Valentine Party and they played kissing games. We said we'd all invite boys. So I invited Henry. And he'd never been to a party with kissing games. He drove the Cadillac down, and all the kids were saying, "Who has that big Cadillac?" He was 16. He kissed me and some of the others too. We played Post Office and Spin the Bottle. It was all the rage about then. After that he asked me for a date. From then on if there was anything going on at school Henry and Elizabeth and I would all go together.

When we first got married we had an apartment over the Ransom garage. We had a nice sized living room and a small kitchen and a bedroom, and we built a big porch across the back. There was an outside toilet, or we used a pail. It wasn't really winterized but we had a heating stove up there.  Our daughter Barbara was on the way when we had the apartment. My mother wasn't well and Mother Hess got sick, and I guess that first winter we went over and stayed with Mother Hess and Henry's brother George in the big Hess house. She died that spring.  Henry's older sister Amelia and her husband Sam were in the Hess big home, and we had George come live with us in the little Hess house down by the road.  There were two Ransom houses and two Hess houses.

One of your Grandfather's first jobs was in an ice plant. Before they learned how to manufacture ice, men cut ice from lakes and ponds and stored it in an ice house where they packed the ice in sawdust to keep it from melting. Then men would truck it from house to house and sell you maybe fifty pounds for your refrigerator and it would keep things cool for a few days. We were married over ten years before we bought an electric refrigerator. After the refrigeration business died down, your grandfather learned how to sell life insurance and that remained until retirement.

While still in the ice business, the war, World War II, came along and your grandfather served in the Navy. He was a Machinist Mate second class. He didn't have to fight. He was on a repair ship to keep refrigeration units working. He was gone for almost two years. They were a long two years for me for we had five children and I was expecting the sixth. While he was away in 1944, David George was born in the back of my brother Willis' car with his cord around his neck.  All I could remember was taking the blanket and saying "Here Louise, wrap him up in a blanket." Willis came later and said, "Dorothy, we buried the baby on top of Mother Hess." They wouldn't take a whole grave for a baby. I never wanted to go to the cemetery to see. I heard Henry telling somebody that when we die and are buried he wanted something about David too.  I was in the hospital a week and I don't even remember being in the hospital.

Then along came TV. Our neighbors bought a TV set and graciously let our children and the neighbor children to come in Friday night and sit on the floor and watch a certain family program, like "I Remember Mama" or some such show. It was a great Friday night thrill. After a year or two they wanted to buy a better set so offered their set to Grandpa Hess for a reasonable price and we became TV owners.

Now we are into the Computer Age. What fantastic changes every day. We just can't keep up with what they are doing. Look at your children, as young as they are, having their own web site and we don't even know what all that means.

Grandpa and Grandma with their five living children,
celebrating their 75th anniversary last year

My cousin Elizabeth took this sweet picture a few weeks ago.

Here is a picture of Grandpa and me in November 2008.  I took him to his favorite restaurant, Red Lobster, for his 96th birthday since Grandma was still in the hospital and my Mom was caring for my Dad after his traumatic brain injury (from which he fully recovered).

Want to read and see more?

I love you, Grandpa, and I'm going to miss you so much!  As I prepare to become a grandmother this month, I hope I am as sweet as you are!


[Epilogue: Grandpa passed away on Thursday, June 3.]

1 comment:

  1. A beautiful tribute to your grandfather (and grandmother). How blessed you are to be in their legacy.


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