Clem and Ester

6 Jan

My maternal grandparents were Clem and Ester Hoy. It is hard for me to think of one without the other. Family046She was crotchety with a frown that would occasionally turn into a smile (just like my youngest son Douglas)

Ester w/ Douglas

Ester w/ Douglas

and Clem had the devil dancing in his eyes most of the time. They had married June 8, 1921. She was 16 and he was 15.

Clem and Ester 50th wedding

Clem and Ester 50th wedding

My mother Betty was born that same year in November. When they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, I realized my mother was to celebrate her 50th birthday 5 months later. I called her to comment on it; she called me a very unladylike name and hung up on me! She was 50 years old and still embarrassed about being an “early” baby at 9 pounds! I thought it was funny. I never pictured my grandparents as wild teenagers. We did discuss it (she called back a few minutes later.) She explained that her Great Grandma Fredricks (Clem’s grandmother) told her as a child that their sin was the reason she was born without toes and fingers. That sort of thinking would have made it very hard for all of them in the 1920’s. Great Grandma used the normal births of Betty’s two younger sisters and then two younger brothers as proof because they were conceived within the bounds of matrimony. Betty never had a good thing to say about her great grandmother.

The Depression was also hard on Clem and Ester. She was able to stretch a penny farther than anyone I’ve ever known. She slapped my hands as a child because I had thrown out a butter wrapper when we were making a cake. She said we needed to save that wrapper to use to wipe inside the cake pan rather than using more butter on a paper towel. I don’t remember if she even had paper towels in her kitchen. To this day I do use a knife to remove all of the butter from the paper wrapper. I don’t save them for use on the cake pan; I don’t make cakes.

Ester was also known for her coffee – it was strong enough to melt a spoon. She boiled it on the back burner of the stove all day long adding more coffee as needed but never removing the old grounds until the end of the day. When a grandchild reached age 12, they were expected to drink coffee rather than milk at during visits or meals. She also expected that you would finish the cup. I was 25 before I actually learned to like coffee. Grandpa was a pro at straining the grounds through his teeth.

Clem and Ester w/ Gary

Clem and Ester w/ Gary

My brother Gary seemed to do well with Ester’s coffee. He was their 1st grandchild so maybe he got more practice.

Ester raised a big garden and canned everything she could. When they lived in the country in Argo Fay, Illinois, she also had chickens. I remember the chickens as being rather aggressive when she would send me out to collect the eggs. When they moved into a new house they had built in Thompson, Il, the large garden and canning continued but the chickens stayed behind. Maybe she felt the same way I did. Besides the chickens, what I remember most about the house in Argo Fay was the large weeping willow tree in the front yard. I spend many hours on stay over visits under that tree pretending it was my own little house. I still love trees that have branches that touch the ground.

Mother told stories about Clem working for 50 cents a day during the depression. By the time she was 10 they worked together cleaning chicken houses. He finally got hired on a railroad crew but Mother continued to clean chicken houses to earn money through her high school years. She had to pay for her books, drum sticks (she played in the band) and her prized possession letter sweater. I hope her graduation from high school in 1939 was important to both Clem and Ester knowing they never had that chance.

Clem worked on the railroad for the rest of his work life. He would get angry with either the Milwaukee or the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy lines and switch to the other through the years. That became important when he retired because his retirement was reduced for lack of continuous service.

Postcard souvenir

Postcard souvenir

It also impacted their annual trips to La Vegas when they had to pay for the trip after the route was switched. Ester loved to play the slots and would occasionally win.  Clem loved the roulette wheel but could only win playing Blackjack. He would play enough to cover their costs for the trip and then lose his allotted amount on roulette.

Clem also kept bees so he could sell the honey. He would spend hours putting together the small boxes and adding a small piece of starter honey comb to the corner of each box. I joined him. He would take a break to roll his own cigarettes being careful not to get any tobacco near the boxes.  It is hard to picture Clem without the cigarette and the smell of tobacco.

Clem w/hand rolled

Clem w/hand rolled

I also joined him when he would put on his bee hat and gloves and fire up his smoker to tend the bees. My bee hat often would slip down over my eyes and the leather gloves were too large and loose to allow me to position it well. I usually kept my distance.

bee smoker

bee smoker

One of his old bee smokers sits proudly on my bookshelf  with a empty can of Prince Albert Crimp Cut tobacco on the shelf above.  I hang on to odd “junk” to remind myself of where I came from and to remember the people who added to my life.

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