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It Is What It Is

Daddy called her Freda grace … I call her wonderful!

Sandi Leonard Polvinale

It was a hot day as I sat with drips of perspiration slowly trickling down my cheeks, reading quietly in a chair not too far from my dear friend Freda. She was looking outside each large window in her old stone farmhouse, shuffling her feet a bit and not knowing whether she wanted to watch TV or read the Gettysburg Times. "I feel as restless as a willow in a windstorm!" she sighed.

Putting my book down, I knew something was stirring…. But maybe not in a bad way. "What's going on, Freda? Talk to me." "I just don't know what to do with myself today. Maybe I'll take a walk around the room." Freda is a very strong woman though at times appears a little frail to others. She makes good use of a walker to keep safe on her travels around the large farm estate and just around town on errands. We don't want her to break her hip again! Mercy! At one point this winter, Freda and I were in the same hospital at the same time!

Freda knows the protocol for safety very well, for she was a Superintendent of all the head nurses in hospital operating rooms and nursing homes. Caring for others has been a lifetime vocation that has never ended, for she cares for her "girls" any way she can. Yes, Freda now, is BEING the one cared for, instead of doing the nursing for others she so lovingly has done all her life. I might add that even though Freda is the one with a full nursing staff on call at her own home, she is also the one caring for us in so many different ways. Even when my own mother calls, Freda is giving straightforward advice in the comforting way only old school nurses can do.

On Memorial Day Freda's niece Bonnie came over and the three of us drove all around the Taneytown, Emmitsburg and Gettysburg areas placing flowers so carefully arranged on all her family's grave sites. As I stepped out of the vehicle with Bonnie, Freda said from the car," Can I help you gather stones to hold them up?" I paused and looked at her with those big compassionate eyes and said, "Would you like to, dear?" Well, yes, but…. We agreed it was too hot for her to do that. It was no problem at all for me to do it, but as Bonnie said, it is Aunt Freda's nature to always help. It is just her wonderful nature. I smiled because I know. I see what goes on behind those eyes. Warmth, love and a longing to please. Truly, a nurse for life.

Freda even recalls as a young child, Mom ( Maude Rosella) putting a band around her head like the nursing caps of years ago and taking food on a tray to family members at home when they were sick. "I always knew I would be a nurse," she said, smiling reminiscently. "I was the one who diagnosed my niece Sonja when she had diabetes." I am not at all surprised at this statement, for Freda really should have gone on to be one of the greatest doctors. She has a gift of good diagnosis. "Sonja's breath smelled like juicy fruit gum." Freda said. "I was still in nursing school." Some people are given special gifts from God, like the gift of diagnosing a disease. Freda had no experience in active duty as a nurse, but was already using her gift to save her niece's life! It was rough back then when you had a child with such a disease. I can't imagine the heartbreak and anxiety a Mother would endure for her little one.

When I assisted her with her evening care, she asked if I would say her evening prayers with her. How intimate I thought. What an honor also! I knelt down on the floor to be at eye level, for she was lying in bed at this point. This brilliant woman, mover and shaker in her day, started out the prayers with the innocence of a child praying the first prayer her mother taught her. I held back tears, because it was also the first prayer my own mother taught me. "Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." She said an ending I had not heard so I just listened to the ending thanking Jesus. We said our intentions and at one point she asked Jesus to take her to join her son and husband and parents when the time comes. I whispered, but not too soon, Lord! Not too soon. I know that is selfish of me because I know the longing Freda has to be with her beloved family and her God she loves so much. But we love her too. I am enjoying the autumn of Freda's life. We share a lot of laughs and secrets and our sorrows. Being widowed myself and my mother having one foot in heaven and one foot on Earth forms a tight bond with friends who have been to that emotional place.

"Yes, I feel as restless as a willow in a windstorm," she said again! "That's a saying I have never heard before, Freda." I love the saying she used one night that is so Pennsylvania Dutch. She was all tucked in bed and she sighed a long breath and said "I'm all in!" I love that saying. It comes from farm living when the farmer has put all his animals in the nighttime care mode and all is finished and the day is done. I'm all in. I love it! We both smiled about that dear saying!

"It is close to Father's Day, Freda. What was your father like? " "Aw, he was a cutie pie! His name was Jacob Moses Stanbaugh. He had sparkling blue eyes and wasn't a big man. I can see him now with his Stetson hat on tilted just a little to the side with his hand on his hip. What a sweetie pie! Back in the old days you used first and middle names. My dad called me Freda Grace. I never really liked that. My mother called me Babe, 'cause I was the youngest of the bunch. It was funny, because the kids couldn't say Freda, so they called me Petta or Pettie.

"So," I asked, "who did you look like, Freda?" "I resembled my dad rather than my mother," she replied. She motioned for me to get a photo in a frame from the other room. Her father was a handsome man at the very least. I loved the custom back then of wearing a nice Stetson type of hat. The men had to take off their hats whenever they entered a building or tipped it when passing a church. Times have surely changed now when men wear baseball caps and never take them off. It reminds me of times gone by when we had rotary dial phones and watches we wound up to work! Yes, a wind up watch! I was in the drug store yesterday and was winding my watch and the young girl looked with astonishment and asked me to show her how these old time watches work! Ha! "It is a Timex," I said. The jingle years ago was "Timex takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'!" Ha! Not made in China!

Back to men in Stetson hats…I asked Freda what the funniest things were that happened to her growing up on her daddy's farm. She had several stories.

"Daddy was a dear man. He surprised us one day by buying a house without telling any of us, including my mother! It was down Old Wesminster Rd. There was nothing wrong with the house, but it was just too far from the area where we lived. He ended up selling it and buying a house on Harney Road with our approval. He bought it from a retired postman named Charlie Baumgardner, who sold the horse and wagon with the home, so every time we went riding down the street, the horse named Nellie stopped at EVERY mail box! So, it took a very long time to get anywhere. A 'destination hold up' so to speak."

We bought that house from a retired Postman named Charlie Baumgartner in the early 1930's. Freda talks lovingly about Nellie. "Old Nellie was a dark beautiful soul." "You talk about her like she was human." Freda laughed! "Well, she was!"

"My dad drove a Model T Ford. Mom would never let me ride with him. Mom said he would get to talkin' and not pay any attention to me. One day he rode around a curve too fast and upset the car! Laid the Model T right on its side! It was on Harney Rd. near the Presbyterian Church. He waited for the first person to come along and right the vehicle. Good thing he was a strong man! He never got too excited about anything. I remember the man's name. He was a man named Wag Clingan. Yes, Wag Clingan helped to set the Model T upright. Ha!"

"Jacob Moses farmed for a living and sold insurance. He drove into Taneytown and sold his beautiful raspberries from the back of his truck, along with the produce he raised from his 56 acres. Mom had a truck patch. You don't hear that term used anymore. A truck patch means a big garden. We had corn, tomatoes, limas, potatoes, cabbage, peppers, and of course chickens, cows and pigs."

"Mom did all the canning, baking, and cooking and still had time to make our clothes. She used the same dress pattern and dressed us alike. Since I was the baby, she made bloomers to go with my short dress. I just loved to twirl around to see my cute bloomers! Ha! For the fabric, Mom went to the dry goods section in Penny's Departmentt Store in Hanover. And we had aprons made from feed sacks."

"So, what did you do for fun or to play, I asked." "Well, we did simple things. I had a doll baby called Byelo. It looked like a real baby." "We also had Bingo parties on weekends! Mom would make lard-cooked potato chips from our own potatoes and all of us kids helped. We had a potato slicer and cooked them on the cast iron Home Comfort Range that was stoked with wood to heat. Mother would grind chicken to make chicken salad. Oh my lands, yes! We had wonderful times."

"My mother's maiden name was Ohler. She and Dad were married on December 28th in the 1800's. The snow was so deep they rode over a fence right over the snow in a horse pulled sleigh to get to the church!"

"I came along in 1919. Dad had a heck of a time getting a Doctor to deliver me. The Doctors were all celebrating the 4th of July! Well, I couldn't wait to be born, so we had a midwife. Being born on a holiday was difficult! Mother had a friend named Freda, so I was named after her. My sister Ruth was born in 1906. My siblings were all born at home. Most were in those days."

"How did you meet your husband William?" "I was working in a hospital then and had a girlfriend who wanted me to have a sleepover with her. I came for the overnighter and ended up talking alone with her brother all night. William said he didn't think I would look at him twice. He was 8 years older than me. He thought I was lovely. He never said it but gave the impression." (Believe me, I have seen photos and I see why William was so taken with Freda.) Men never communicated things like that back in those days. "We got married when I was 41 and he was 50. He was embarrassed, for lands sake, when I got pregnant because we were both older! I just laughed and said well, my lands, what did you think people were thinking, that we were playing tiddlywinks?!" Freda laughed and a huge grin came over her face. She was remembering wonderful times in the old days. "He always remembered my birthdays and anniversaries with flowers and candy and such. Such a fine man". "I can see that he worshiped you Freda!" "Yes, he did at that."

"I left Taneytown in 1941 and went to work at N.I.H. I worked as a secretary for a pathologist. That got me interested in nursing." Freda's niece Bonnie, or Bunny as her grandfather endearingly called her, recalls riding with her humorous grandpa. "My grandfather Jake would point out everything on the way to town in the fields, so I would know what was growing, being as he was a farmer." Bonnie said. "The funny part was that while he was driving giving his commentary, the steering wheel would go in the direction where he was looking! And before you knew it, we'd be in the corn!" Jake would say, "Now, Bunny, that there is sweet corn, and over there is field corn." "And there we were again, IN the cornfield!"

"I was just a little kid at the time, but he thought it would be very important for me to know, being as he was a farmer." Bonnie adds.

Jake, as Maude called him, was very humorous even when he didn't want to be. "He was a stitch," Bonnie said. "Grandfather would make us all laugh!" In Taneytown, there was one light. He would get close to the light and say, "Now Bunny, what color is that light?" I said "RED, Grandpa." He said, "That's just the way I want her!" "Then he would smile, and wave to the cop (Cuttie Hahn) as he drove by," Bonnie laughed. "Jake knew everybody and everybody knew and loved him." "I always liked smelling the kitchen." "We would wake up to the smell of wonderful aromas." "I lived there for 2 weeks in the summer and thought I'd gone to heaven!" Bonnie says smiling a big nostalgic smile. "Grandma was a great cook." "She would bake all in one day." Every day had a specific chore. She baked for the week on Fridays. "Oh, the wonderful smells of sticky buns, pies, cakes, and shoo fly pie!" "Grandma never measured anything." She made pepper slaw with sugar and vinegar. Very Pennsylvania Dutch.

The wash was done on a Monday. There was a separate wash house for that job. There was a fire-heated kettle to heat the water with the wringer washer! Doing the wash back then was an all-day affair. You did the wash in a round tub, then placed the clothes in the wringer, rinsed them again, then hung them out to dry.

"I left Taneytown in 1941 and went to work at N.I.H." Freda recalls. "I worked as a secretary for a pathologist." "That got me interested in nursing." "I went to nursing school in 1945."

Freda recalls that her husband William had a good sense of humor. "He called cemeteries 'marble orchards'" Ha!" William was very reserved but would get into long conversations with Freda. Freda said, "I did most of the talking in our marriage." "My son David took after me." "David was even put out in the hall by his teacher for talking during class." And Freda was smiling while saying this. "Yes, David said, 'Well, I didn't mind. I could hear everything that was said in there anyway!' Ha! David married a wonderful woman named Maggie who gave him so much joy. David, like his brilliant parents, went on to be a Vice President of a bank in DC. He was asked to be President of the Adams County Bank and was looking forward to this, being closer to home in Gettysburg, PA, but God had a different plan. Not the plan we all wanted at all. God loved David so much, that he called him home before us, at an early age of 42 or so."

Just not fair, I was thinking to myself. Just not fair at all! There are a lot of questions I will ask God when I see Him face to face one day. I do hope and pray I do see God's shining face one day. But that, along with why he loved my husband Christopher so much to call him home at 47 will be my first question.

So, dear Freda Grace, that Daddy, Mother, William, Bonnie, Sonya, David & Maggie, and all your siblings loved so much…… I deeply can understand why you long for home. Why you said you were homesick that other week when you were already at your home. I do understand. But God has work for you to do. Mentoring, laughing, reading, joking, teasing, and chatting with Pearl and all the wonderful people at your church that love you as well as all 'your girls' who adore you! Yes, you will see your God and your dear ones again….. But please, not too soon!

Happy 90th birthday to a wonderful, dear, intelligent, talented, strong woman! You make me proud to call you …. Friend. By the way, Buffy said so too. He sure loves his Mommy. And so do I. And Arf! Arf! Not to forget cute Bailey!

With grateful love and a full heart, Sandi Leonard Polvinale

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