Ninety-eight years is a long time to live. A lot of things change in 98 years. As I was reading back through a list of memories recorded from my Grandma Boehm, I was struck by all the different places that she lived and what she remembered about each one. Each place held its own memories, representative of seasons of her life. Today I want to share some of those memories with you.
Anna Mae Mortimer was born in Rimersburg, PA, on August 25, 1919. During those early childhood years her first family home was on a houseboat on a river near Pittsburgh, PA. She remembered when her Grandpa David Mortimer would come to visit them with pink wintergreen lozenges in his pockets.
In 1924 she lived in Lawsonham just outside Rimersburg on a farm back in the woods near her Uncle Sam. In the country in Pennsylvania in 1924, the bathrooms, of course, were outside the houses. She remembers telling her Mum one day that there was a big bug inside the outhouse. It turned out to be a copperhead snake that Mum promptly killed with a garden hoe. We all know that many a snake spotted by Anna Mae in her life met the very same fate.
In 1925 the family moved to Florida near West Palm Beach because her dad, a carpenter by trade, was working on building a hotel nearby. The place they called home was a tent on a wooden floor built by her dad. Anna Mae loved the ocean and remembered their “white” Christmas in Florida. It was white because of the sand, not the snow. Her dad loved the beaches, but Mum complained that it was “just too hot!”
As times got tough in the late ‘20’s, “home” frequently changed as her dad tried to find consistent work. Around 1928 they moved from Florida to a boarding house in western PA. While living in a two bedroom boarding house in Rochester, Anna Mae remembered the electric and gas being shut off when they couldn’t pay the rent. At the height of the Great Depression, they got milk, flour, navy beans and lard at the Salvation Army. Since they didn’t have butter, they put lard on their toast, and also walked many miles to pick berries to eat. Once Anna Mae was so hungry she ate canned sour cherries without sugar – her face still puckered when she remembered that.
When they couldn’t pay the rent, they moved in with relatives, aunts and uncles and eventually Grandma Martha Cornman. Anna Mae remembered that Grandma baked big pans of buns and took in laundry to support the family after her husband died in a coal mining accident. She also remembered that Grandma Cornman would sit on the porch in a big brown rocking chair with her Bible and a crossword puzzle.
When Anna Mae was in eighth grade in 1932, they moved to Darlington, PA, where her dad worked in a coal mine – 10 cents for one load of coal. It was hard work for a tall and thin man. Their home was a one-room shanty with a slanted roof. Anna Mae slept on a homemade bed with a straw mattress. She was embarrassed about her house, and only one girl from school knew where she lived and none of her friends ever spent the night. Her dad built an outside oven and filled it with coal. Anna Mae would rake out the coals, and Mum would bake bread in the hot, slow oven – this bread was very light and very nice. She smiled when she remembered that bread. At night, sometimes for hours, her dad would play violin, and he even taught Anna Mae how to play guitar.
In her high school years, Anna Mae met Russell Boehm for the first time. She saw him at a house where both he and her sister Ruth worked doing extra chores. When she saw him, she was in her bare feet and embarrassed, so she made herself scarce. Eventually Oliver, Russell’s older brother, and his wife Viola set Anna Mae and Russell up on a blind date. She probably didn’t say much on that first date because she was so bashful. And when she graduated high school in 1937, she invited Oliver and Viola, but NOT Russell – she just didn’t know him well enough yet.
After graduation, Anna Mae went to live with her sister Ruth. There she saw Russell more regularly, and they dated for two years and never fought once. She said they were too happy to see each other to waste time fighting. On August 19,1939, Russell and Anna Mae got married.
After the wedding, they went straight to their new home in Economy Township near Baden, PA. It was a two-room house and not quite finished, but it was their own. While there, Russell and his brother Paul worked in a steel mill making bullets for the war. During this time Russie Jr. was born in 1942 and Kathryn came in 1943.
In 1945, they found a farm in North Benton, OH. Russell knew he didn’t want to work in the steel mill, and they wanted to farm. Paul and Betty Kilmer, their neighbors and close friends in Pennsylvania, moved to an adjoining farm the following year and continued the long, enduring friendship between the two families. Russell and Anna Mae tried dairy farming on the 58 acre farm, but found that hauling milk was more successful. In 1950, Ronnie was born and quickly became the object of much teasing from Russie and Kathy – at least that’s the way the story has been told to me. Eventually they added an indoor bathroom into this house – if you’re paying attention, this is the first time Anna Mae had a home with this luxury.
In 1970, they built a new house of their own on 18 acres just down the road. It had a big garage for the milk trucks, a huge plot for a garden and two indoor bathrooms – one for her and one for him. In her bathroom there was always a copy of the Daily Bread devotional. It was a simple two-bedroom house, but it holds memories for many of us here today. Some of my favorite were baking in her kitchen and hearing her laughing at the kitchen sink and the big Thanksgiving dinners spread out in the basement.
Anna Mae lived in this dream house they had built for forty years and made it a place of welcome for her three grown children and 13 grandchildren and 30 great grandchildren and 3 great-great grandchildren. Eventually her husband of over 50 years had to move to a nursing home because his dementia had progressed into Alzheimer’s disease. She told me that moving him out of the home they had built together was one of the hardest and saddest things she ever had to do. Shortly after he passed away in 2004, she thought it best to downsize into a smaller space.
Perhaps what I admired the most about my grandmother was the way that she graciously and humbly stepped away from this home when it was time. Some people who don’t grow up with much hold on to everything they get as they go through life. The scarce times make them hold more tightly to the abundant times. But Grandma seemed to be able to let it all go. I remember sitting with her and looking through her china cabinet. Her best china was a set she got for free from the bank when they opened an account. That Christmas she gave me a few teapots to add to my collection. She said she wanted to give things away while she was alive instead of waiting for someone else to do it when she was gone.
This generous giving and letting go continued until the end of her life. She eventually moved out of that big home into a mobile home on the same property. Then she went to live in a large room at Kathy’s house to a small room at Ronnie’s house. She ended up in a single borrowed room in a nursing home where she passed away last week. But the truth is we all live in borrowed rooms, and some of us understand this more than others.
My theory is that it was easy for her to let go of these homes because she knew that none of them would be her final home. She kept her eye toward heaven, knowing that one day she would go there to be with her Savior Jesus Christ and see her beloved husband healed and whole. And this is her home today. And the inheritance she leaves us is not a large farm house on 18 acres in North Benton. The inheritance she has left is the ability to make any place a home. To fill it with laughter – lots of laughter. To love deeply and unconditionally. To carry a simple, but deep faith with us through life. She has shown us all how to hold on tight in love and to let go in time. I hope that I will be able to leave this earthly home as graciously as she did. I know that when we see her again, we will be home.