Friday, January 14, 2022

Gather Family Stories & Go


My Great Grandmother's Headstone
Mount Hope Cemetery, Rochester, NY

Students - I spend lots of time thinking about today and tomorrow and yesterday. But lately, I find myself thinking about many yesterdays ago. My mother is writing her parents' and grandparents' stories, and I love reading these echoes of our past and thinking about how they may have changed me without me even knowing it. She is doing this through Storyworth, an online service that helps you print a book, one story at a time, all throughout the year. Last year she wrote her own life stories, and this year she is writing memories about her/our ancestors.

My Mom's First Book

My mom has given me permission to share her story about her Grandma Katherine. Enjoy this delightful step back in time:

by Deborah Ludwig, January 11, 2022

   Katherine Moeser Dreyer was my dad’s mom.  She was an amazing person in so many ways and had such a wonderful impact on my early life.  My mom was ill a lot as I was growing up and I lived at Grandma and Grandpa Dreyers for much of the time.  Grandma came from Germany when she was a little girl with her two older sisters Minnie and Margaret.  The three girls had been orphaned and the family felt they would have a better life in Rochester, New York living with an uncle who operated a successful butcher shop.  She learned English and was able to go back and forth in her conversations in both languages.  She stuck to German when I was around, especially while discussing family gossip.
     Grandma was an excellent cook.  I sat in that large kitchen watching her and her sister Minnie get everything ready for her wonderful vegetable soup.  Minnie and her husband Fred lived with my grandparents in their half of the double side by side home they owned.  My grandma did most of the work in those days as my grandfather William had fallen off the stairs of a bus and had a hard time getting around.  He was a clothing cutter for Hickey Freeman in Rochester before his accident.  Grandma was known for her special dinners of sauerbraten, red cabbage, and potato pancakes.  Her baking was amazing.  Every Saturday my dad and I stopped at their home on Hobart Street and picked up a home-made fruit kuchen which can never be duplicated. They always had fruit all over the top and my favorite was cherry.  Dad and I would go in to the house around noon on Saturday and pick up his shirts all cleaned and ironed.  My mother stopped doing his work shirts when he said his mother did them better.  Grandma and grandpa would be watching The Big Top Circus show on their black and white tv.,  Grandpa smoking his cigar.
      When they celebrated their 50th anniversary, I was too young to attend the party and sat at the top of the stairs watching all the celebrations.  Grandma hated to be called Kate and I have a vase she got on this occasion that said Bill and Kate.  I am sure she hated it.  Years later it broke, but I was able to find someone to fix it and still treasure it today.
   Grandma had a gorgeous garden full of huge daises, poppies ,  and so many other lovely plants.  She was so proud of it and I spent many a day in that garden and on their front porch, dreaming and reading as a kid tends to do.    
  When I was really little, I would walk two blocks with her to the grocery store, and then she would buy me a piece of furniture for my doll house.  Those days were really special.
    She used to stoke the furnace in the basement with coal and even lost her engagement ring doing that.  My Uncle Fred had a secret cabinet in that basement with either wine or liquor which was totally off limits to me.  Once I even got to witness the coal delivery and to me it was exciting to watch that coal come down the chute.
   I knew my grandma was getting older when I had to thread her needle for her as she said her eyes weren’t so good anymore.  She was beautiful with waist length long white hair and when she let it down to brush it, I thought she was amazing. I would sit near that claw foot tub and watch her let it cascade.
     Grandma had a tiny parlor with the most beautiful glass swan filled with red water to tell the humidity.  I would perch on the formal sofa or chair and watch it by the hour.  This was the fancy room as the dining room was more like the family rooms of today.
      I can still see her on her knees lacing my grandfather’s high button shoes which were even old-fashioned for the 1950’s.   She was the life and breath of this family.   The picture of the little girl hanging in her bedroom still stays with me as this was the room I always slept in.
     When I was 10 years old, my mother came into my room in the morning and told me grandma had died.  She was 78 and had washed and ironed all her curtains that day.  I missed her so much and it was the end of a very special time in my life.

Do you know any of your family's old stories? If so, consider keeping a page in your notebook to list the ones you remember. You can also ask questions of your parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles, questions like:
  • What was school like when you were my age?
  • What was your favorite toy?
  • Can you tell me about a special memory you hae of time with one of your grandparents?
  • How did our family members settle in the cities where they lived?
  • Will you please tell me something about your great grandparents?
  • What is this object? (Find something in your house that looks old.) What is its story?
Once you have a story that particulary interests you, you can ask more questions about it:
  • Is there anything else you can add to what yo told me?
  • Do you remember anything else about that?
  • Are there any photographs or objects that I can see connected to this?
  • Is there anyone else I can ask to learn more?
Try taking one story or memory that you have learned about your family and writing it as a poem. You might, as I did, choose to take a lesson from the story. You'll notice that my poem tells the story first, and then it tells what I take away from it. 

Or, you might choose to simply tell the story. If you are uncertain of a particular detail, you may choose to invent it. For example, I do not know for sure that my great grandmother and her sisters held hands on the boat, but I sure imagine that they must have. How scary it must have been for them...

Our family histories are part of us, and I am looking forward to learning more. Who are these people in these photographs? How I wish I could speak to them today.

Mary Lee is hosting today's Poetry Friday roundup at A(nother) Year of Reading with a wise poem titled "What the Pomegranate Knows." Please know that all are welcome each Friday as folks share poems, poem books, poetry ideas, and friendship.

I wish you fascination in your story-collecting journey.


Please share a comment below if you wish. 


  1. As a grandma I relate to this story with so much love. How wonderful your mother had this beautiful relationship with her grandma and how much I know her grandma loved her. Such a hardworker and talented maker. I am thinking maybe the DNA is surely alive in you, her beautiful gr. granddaughter she would so have loved and cherished. I have Storyworth to work on. I am so glad your mother can tell these older stories. Janet Clare F.

  2. Amy, this is so sweet. I signed my father up with Storyworth last year and haven't gotten the final book yet. He isn't writing nearly as much as your mother. But I love the idea of it. It's something you can treasure forever.

  3. "Instead, I'll remember my strong great grandmother." There's such power in those words. I love that your mother is recording these family stories and that you can honor them with poems.

  4. What a gift your mom is giving you. I could never get my mom to write down the stories. I treasure the videos I took of her talking about all the glassware from the china cabinet, that summer I took it all out and washed every piece. I'll have to go back and watch those. I'm sure there are poems lurking there, waiting to be written...

  5. A wonderful poem...and so in line with my plan for Poetry Month! I'm excited to share. And, I toured Mt. Hope Cemetery last summer with college friends. Oh, there is so MUCH wonderful history there. A fantastic post!

  6. Such beautiful memories, Amy. Your poem is a beautiful way to honor your great grandmother's memory. And kudos to your mother for sharing her stories.

  7. Your poem fills me with longing. I never knew my grandmothers or grandfathers. It's a hole in my heart, but I have faith that there is a life after this one where we will get to know and love one another.

  8. What a tribute to your great grandmother. I love bing steeped in family history.

  9. Lovely rhythm and touching familial lineage-connections you create in your poem Amy. I can feel and see the scene you've painted with your words. Brava for your mom and her words too, thanks for all!

  10. It's a wonderful poem & I do love reading that memory, too, Amy, from your mother. Our grandmothers were inspirations, weren't they?

  11. Those stories are sweet and, as your poem captures, often strengthening. We're here because they made it, made it work.