Growing up in Toledo, Ohio, I knew all of my grandparents. Although I had close and loving relationships with all of them, my paternal grandmother Emma was an especially important influence in my life. Emma Lydia Enderlin was born in 1893 to a German immigrant family in Toledo. At the age of 27, she married my grandfather Helmuth Baehren, a recent immigrant from Germany who escaped the horrors of World War I. My father Paul and his brother Jim came along soon after and she cared for them while my grandfather ran a portrait studio.
Later on, my grandfather established Baehren Photo, selling cameras, film and equipment. In a separate building, my grandmother ran the photo finishing operation. She was one of the few businesswomen I knew. In fact, she kept the books for the business well into her 80s. One of my earliest memories is walking through the darkened photo lab with only a yellow light to guide the way. If I close my eyes and visualize it, I can almost smell the chemicals. When I took the bus downtown with a friend, we would first visit my grandmother and then my grandfather. Both would provide a little "taschengelt" (pocket gold). Sometimes I would stay downtown and have dinner with them at Smith's Cafeteria.
As the first of seven grandchildren, I was possibly the most photographed baby in Toledo. We spent nearly every Sunday afternoon and holiday with my grandparents. I graduated from college and she told me to buy something I didn't need with her check. When I showed her the box of fancy lingerie, she was thrilled. Later on, I started a dessert catering business and once again, she sent a check with instructions to purchase the best equipment. We kept up a letter correspondence until late in her life. Her letters were often quite funny, with margin notes "censoring" her self if she dared to say something unflattering about someone.
Grandma adored her seven grandchildren and the scads of great-grandchildren that came along. When she passed away just a few months short of her 100th birthday I talked with my cousins and discovered each of us thought we were her favorite. She listened to our problems, kept our secrets, loaned us money, and often went to bat for us with our parents. My late brother Pete's daughter was named for her.
Although I'm almost 74 now, I still think of her often and try to be as good a grandmother to my grandchildren as she was to me.
I'm Chris Barabasz, retired from a 35-year career managing communications for health care development (that's fundraising for you civilians). I'm a wife, mother, grandmother and freelance writer. My husband Andy and I moved from Delaware to Texas to be closer to our daughters and three adorable grandchildren.