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The lace hankie

Grace Modereger
Yankton, S.D.

My dad had six brothers. Dad was the seventh son. He was so much younger than some of his brothers he didn’t remember them ever living at home. It was nice being the youngest boy. He could “hang out” with Mom. She had time to teach him to make bread and pie.

They spoke only German at home. His mothers’ friends also spoke German. Her best friend was Mrs. Gross. The Gross family was from Berlin. They spoke a different dialect of German than Dad’s family who were from a rural community in Bavaria.

Mrs. Gross arrived every afternoon for coffee. Dad admired her very much. She dressed like a “grand” lady and had a pretty lace edged handkerchief tucked in her cuff. She was very nice too. That didn’t stop Dad from imitating her dialect. His mother would give him a firm rap on the shoulder, but he still did it. It was fun the way she rolled some of her vowels.

One day after their coffee, Dad found Mrs. Gross’ hankie. It not only had a lace edging, it had a small flower embroidered in the corner. He was going to take it to her, but instead he took it to his room, found a piece of wrapping paper in his mothers’ stack of pretty paper, and gift wrapped the beautiful handkerchief.

That evening Dad presented his gift to his mother. He didn’t expect her reaction. She was angry. She was firm. “This is Mrs. Gross’ hankie. I know you didn’t steal it, but finding it and not returning it is the same as stealing.” His mom handed the package back to him. “Take it to her at once.”

This was the worst sort of punishment, he thought. Guilt sets on your soul.

He felt even worse when Mrs. Gross praised him and told him how proud he made his mother. She added, “Such a good boy,” as he walked away.

He gave a little wave and vowed never to imitate her again. He never did.

That summer Dad got a job in a bakery. The first thing he did was take Mrs. Gross a loaf of bread he helped make. Maybe he could live up to her praise. He was 12 years old. The year was 1906.


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