A Memory by Mildred Filbrun Heck  

My first clear memory of Grandmother Caroline Filbrun was on a warm summer day in about 1918.  Our family (the Ed Filbrun’s) and Uncle Will Filbrun’s family were in the small village of New Carlisle, Ohio, helping Grandmother move into another house.  It was just two blocks from where she had lived with Grandfather Peter Filbrun until his death a few years earlier.

On this moving day her furniture was piled on to a flat wagon and pulled by the men and pushed by the boys down the street and around the corner to the new house.  The women carried by hand or pushed in a wheelbarrow the breakable lamps and china.  Grandmother Filbrun had a large wicker baby buggy with high wheels and even it was pressed into use.  I was told to push the buggy piled full of pillows and bed linen down the sidewalk to the new house.  

I was a very shy kid then, only four or five years old, and was scared to death I would let the buggy tip over pushing it down the cracked, buckling sidewalk - or worse, that I would get lost!  I was too short to see over the mounds of bedding on the buggy so I had to steer by watching the pavement under my feet.  At the same time, I was trying to keep up with my older brother, Bob, and my cousins carrying household items. What an odd-looking parade we must have been!

When noontime came, everyone sat on the porch of Grandmother’s new house and ate from the big baskets that my mother, Sue Filbrun, and Aunt Ida Filbrun had brought along.  I remember we had fried chicken, bread and butter sandwiches, fresh tomatoes, crunchy radishes, milk and homemade cookies.  All of this was great fun and exciting for a farm girl – even though I probably was too shy to say a single word the whole day.  

I looked over the new place from top to carriage house.  I remember best the middle living room of the house that had a door with a pretty frosted glass pane that opened to the side porch.  This room had a large baseburner stove and was the only really warm room in the house when winter came.  To the rear of the house there was an outhouse and a small carriage barn with enough space for a buggy and a stable for a horse and milk cow, but Grandmother only used the barn to keep a few laying hens.

It must have been hard for Grandmother Filbrun, who had lived the first 70 of her 75 years on a farm, to get used to this small yard with such limited garden space.  But with time and hard work (and fresh manure provided early each spring from either my father’s farm or Uncle Will’s farm) her garden thrived and grew to the full length of the small yard.  I remember horseradish, rhubarb, strawberry, potato, tomato, peas, beans, parsnips, cabbage, leaf lettuce and oyster root plants and the fragrant-smelling herbs.  I can never forget her sweet pea vines growing on the fence.  (She gave me seeds from them to take home to plant.)  Grandmother always had a row of zinnias that she cut for table flowers.  A climbing pink rose grew beautifully on a trellis by her porch. 

Grandmother loved her garden and planted her seeds faithfully by instructions given in the Farmer’s Almanac – and always in the correct sign of the moon.  I recall one evening that she left her dining room still filled with family who were just finishing supper.  Taking me with her out into the dark night, I was told to hold an oil lantern close to the ground as Grandmother directed while she carefully dropped and covered a straight row of seed peas.  

At Christmas-time Grandmother always reminded me that she was expecting my visit for four days the next summer – a visit to which each of her granddaughters was treated separately during the summer.  As summer approached, I so looked forward to my visit “in the city”.  Grandmother Filbrun was full of fun and laughter, though her earlier life must have been little more than long hours of work and hardship.  Being the youngest daughter, her mother had wanted her to stay home to work rather than marry Grandfather.  But she had married, and took on raising seven children – two others had died in childbirth – and helped run a farm.  Yet here she was, happy and at ease, giving me her full attention on these visits when she was in her late seventies and early eighties.  

Each morning, at the breakfast table, we talked about what we would have for lunch and supper. I felt so grown-up, getting to help choose.  We picked something fresh from her garden.  We watered the vegetables and flowers before it got too hot.  We made the beds and washed the dishes.  During my earliest visits I had to stand on a chair to put the dishes away in the tall, cherry corner cupboard.

If Grandmother worried that I would break her dishes, she never let on.  Of course, these were all chores I had done at home, but somehow Grandmother Filbrun made them seem important and fun at the same time.  

[To view a few of Grandmother Filbrun's recipes, please click here]   

Then we would take a stroll “up-town”, just two blocks away.  New Carlisle’s shopping area was at that time just one block long with stores on both sides of the street.  We took lots of time looking through that wonderful five-and-dime store.  We went each day to the bakeshop where I got to choose the cookies I wanted for supper, as well as a donut for my next day’s breakfast.  After that, we stopped at the best place of all – the ice cream parlor with its small, round marble-topped tables and wire chairs with wooden seats.  Each day we had a different ice cream treat with a topping of marshmallow, chocolate or butterscotch.  This was pure heaven as far as this little farm girl was concerned.  For supper, we ate a sandwich of cold meat, cheese and fresh lettuce, garden tomatoes and cookies and milk.  After supper we spent the evening on the front porch swing calling, “Hello”, to neighbors and talking to the folks who walked by.  And, best of all, Grandmother told me stories and laughed a lot.  

Grandmother Filbrun belonged to the local Old Order Brethren Church.  It was a stricter, more conservative order than the one my family went to in West Charlestown, Ohio.  Because of that, Grandmother wore full-length dark dresses with long sleeves.  Each had a high neckline with only a small white lace collar for “decoration”.  While working around the house, she opened three or four of the top buttons on her dress and rolled up her sleeves, but she never did this while outside.  Grandmother complained that those clothes were too hot and she did not like them at all, but it never would have occurred to her to break the church’s rules, as many of her children had.  One day the church would be more modern and ease its ways, she said, but she did not live to see that change.  

Grandmother was a fine and fast quilt maker and made a quilt for every one of her granddaughters by the time each was ten years old.  She encouraged me to sew and embroider pretty towels and pillowcases.  Grandmother said I should get my Hope Chest started, as was the custom for girls then in preparation for marriage.  When I was 14 I finally did get a real wooden Hope Chest and I proudly put Grandmother’s quilt and other things I had made into it. But the chest and all that was inside was destroyed when our farm home burned down in 1940.  I was especially sorry to lose Grandmother’s hand-made quilt on which she had embroidered my name and birth date.

Grandmother Filbrun was gone long before that fire.  She died in 1931 at the age of 87 and joined Grandfather Peter Filbrun in the New Carlisle Cemetery.  Their last resting-places are well marked by a strikingly beautiful rose-colored granite marker.  Especially appropriate is the long-stemmed rose that is carved in the stone by their names.  Grandmother Caroline Filbrun loved flowers, so I think she would have approved the unchurch-like decoration and even overlooked – maybe even laughed at – the misspelled name “Filbrum” that remains to this day on the head stone.

The word “nice” has become so over-used that it is almost meaningless today.  But in Grandmother Filbrun’s day “nice” still meant “pleasant, kind, good-natured, fine, sensitive” and related especially to “a job well-done.”  In those meanings, Grandmother Caroline Filbrun was truly a Nice Grandmother.

- This story has been edited and biographical information added by Mrs. Heck’s brother, William S. Filbrun -

"Grandmother Filbrun was a nice grandmother" - Mildred Filbrun Heck - all rights reserved.  Permission to reproduce it or any part thereof must be obtained from the webmaster.

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