My Stories: On Grandmother’s Knee

When I was growing up on the farm, I spent lots of time with my Grandmother Esther.    I remember my grandmother.

The life of Esther Kronbeck was not an easy one.  She was the oldest child in a very poor pioneer immigrant household with a sickly mother.  When her mother died, her funeral was held on my grandmother’s birthday.

She spent most of her youth, raising her younger siblings. Her youngest sister always said that she was more of a mother to them, than sister.

As a child she  worked hard doing chores, cooking, cleaning, and did the family sewing. Her siblings always said that she was good fun, laughed a lot and saw to it that special moments in their lives were recognized, even when they weren’t in her own.   They described her as a treasure.

Her sister once told me of a Christmas, when they were so poor they had no money for gifts or even decorations for a tree.  Then, on Christmas morning a neighbor came with a bag of apples and each child got an apple.  She said it was the best present she had ever received up until that moment.  Then, my grandmother presented each child in the home with a gift.  She had spent any free time she had late at night in the barn making traditional Swedish straw ornaments.  They all decorated a tree and had a very lovely holiday.  Over 70 years later, my great aunt still had that ornament!

As a young woman grandmother worked as a servant girl in a mansion on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, MN.  She saved her money to buy items to be used to set up housekeeping with a young man that she greatly loved and hoped to marry.  He went away to fight in World War I and never came home.

Eventually she met my Grandpa George and they married.  They had five children and raised them on a farm that is owned by our family.

Her youngest child, Ruth Marie, died in her first year from birth defects.  She lost her son Wendall in the Korean War when he was killed in action.  The funeral for her son was held on his birthday.  She suffered bouts with depression and anxiety for the remainder of her life.

In the 1930’s when the great depression hit this nation, my grandpa and grandma came hours away from losing their farm.  Grandma used to tell me that they were so poor that they fed the cows thistles harvested from the slough and they ate oatmeal three times a day.  We were eating oatmeal when she told me that story.  I asked her, how she could still eat it?  Wasn’t she sick of it?  She smiled and said she liked oatmeal.

My Grandmother Esther had fortitude and perseverance.  She had learned to, “make do”.  She never stopped loving the simple joys in life like planting a seed, watching baby chicks hatch, baking the perfect peanut butter cookie or playing with a child.

I remember these things and so many more about my grandmother, but what I remember the most about her was her unshakable faith in Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.  No matter what came to us on the farm good or bad, she turned to the Lord.

My grandmother died when I was just seventeen.  I was there that day when she left us to go home to the Lord.  I will always have wonderful memories of my Grandmother Esther.  I remember her laugh,  kindness, generosity, creativity, honestly, perfect penmanship, work ethic and her speaking Swedish.  While are many words and stories  can be used to describe my Grandmother Esther she was defined by her faith.

It is the memories of her perseverance during hard times that helps me cope with many of the emotions,  stresses and physical pain in my current battle with the cancer — multiple myeloma.  It is her legacy that the faith learned on her knee gives me peace, hope and keeps fear at bay as I face more chemo and a stem cell transplant.  She taught me that I am never alone and that no matter what comes the Lord is with me, will stay with me and in his own good time will call me home to heaven.

I wrote the following poem when my children were young so that they too could meet this remarkable woman and share in her legacy of faith.

On Grandma’s Knee

When I was a little girl, I’d sit on my Grandma’s knee,
And she would tell many stories to me.
She’d never talk about princes, queens or kings.
Her stories were about glorious marvelous things.

She’d tell me about pigs and how sloppy they’d eat.
She’d chuckle about the horse who just loved a sweet.
She’d tell me why cows are milked in the barn.
Then, ma would explain how sheep’s wool is spun into yarn

Ma told me about toads, one that could climb a tree.
She explained about snakes, so they’d never scare me.
She’d marveled that lakes were made out of rain,
Those same drops when heated to stream could power a train.

Sometimes, we’d sit on the back steps and pound,
Walnuts we’d pick right off of the ground.
She’d ask if I knew how we had that nut tree?
Why, “That nut in your hand is really a seed.”

Patiently, she would take the time to explain,
Why birds can fly, then, we’d pretend to be planes.
Ma would always walk slowly, even to get her mail.
She understood about short legs, little hands and puppy dog tails.

Ma, Ma, why do some ships have a sail?
Ma, oh, Ma, how much is in half a five gallon pail?
Did, men really, Ma, walk on the moon?
Do those big black beetles only come out in June?

And, will bats really, get stuck in my hair and bite?
Oh, no, She’d say, their job is to eat bugs in the night.
My questions she’d answer, on her face was a smile.
She’d answer them all, and sometimes it took quite a while.

Today, I’m big and all grown-up
With two children of my own, a dog and a pup.
Ma’s stories now, it’s my turn to tell
To my children, whom she’d have loved so well.

Stories like the one about honey and old Henry the bee.
Oh, I can just hear her laughing with me.
At night when I tuck my children safely into bed,
The greatest of all her stories pops into my head.

Her favorite was of Jesus of Galilee
Who said, “Let the little children come unto me
With folded hands, bowed heads on bended knee,
we’d pray, “Jesus Tender Shepherd Hear Me.”

Each night with my children I share,
The love of my grandmother, by praying this prayer.
May my children and grandchildren repeat this phrase,
Praising our Savior, Jesus, all of their days.

Jesus Tender Shepherd Hear Me.
And, bless this little Lamb tonight
Through the darkness be thou near me,
keep me safe until morning’s light.”


Pat Turgeon
Copyright 2000




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