Thursday, October 1, 2020

More About Great-Grandma Wilmesherr

. . . and her zither. So don’t you want to hear more about my great-grandma? Pauline Wehmeyer (1875–1950) was born and raised in Kansas. She married my great-grandpa William August Wilmesherr (1872–1936) and lived with him on her family’s farm in Kincaid, Kansas. They had their first three children, including my grandma, Clara (who was born September 17, 1897), while they were farming there. She used to help her husband with the farm work while her mother babysat the kids. William Wilmesherr wasn’t a big sturdy guy; he was “slightly built,” and a childhood bout of what may have been typhoid might have diminished his constitution.

At the end of the 1800s, falling farm prices helped convince the couple to relocate to Washington, Missouri, about 1900. So they moved all their possessions, including a couple of horses, from eastern Kansas to Washington, Missouri, by boxcar. William rode in the boxcar with the horses, to take care of them.

In Washington, they bought an old house on Henry Street, south of a city ballfield in a neighborhood then called “Goosetown” (east of MO 47 and north of MO 100). In addition to a thriving economy, they had plenty of relatives in the city. William worked as a teamster, hauling brick to locations where houses were being built. The brickyard guys would throw a stack of four bricks to my great-grandpa, and he’d catch them and load them onto his horse-drawn wagon. (So much for being “slightly built,” huh?)

I never could have known them, but I can’t visit Washington without thinking of my great-grandparents, and remembering all the many relatives who lived there.

The German community in Washington was very musical, and the various members of the extended Wehmeyer and Wilmesherr families were involved with the pipe factory band, the Elks band, and the Washington Civic Orchestra. Some of them were very involved with music.

The zither dates to about 1900, so we’re not sure if Pauline bought it before or after moving to Missouri. We think she must’ve bought it soon after moving to Washington, though it’s possible she got it in Kansas. No one knows. My mom suspects she might’ve gotten it via a Sears catalog. There was a famous zither manufacturer in Washington, but I bet those instruments were much more expensive.

In addition to the zither, my great-grandma also had a parlor organ, which she taught herself how to play. Mom says she liked to play “lively hymns” like “Heavenly Sunshine.” Before marriage, she must’ve been a Presbyterian or maybe a Methodist, but her husband was German Lutheran, and that’s what she became after they were married. Apparently, she never much liked the dour, serious hymns of the Lutherans, and that was the one thing she really didn’t care for about her new denomination.

Really, everyone likes to have a fun time. Grandma Renner described how her parents would have get-togethers in their home. The Wilmesherrs would have the Fillas, or the Noelkers over. Or the Dennlers, Lohmeiers, Kampschmidts, Schmidts, Kampschroeders, Huxels, or the Stumpes. They’d serve “dishpans” full of popcorn to their guests, and they’d play cards, or people would bring instruments over and play and sing with Pauline’s parlor organ. Homemade wine might be brought out for the guests, too, and everyone would sip the precious, sweet liquid from little wine glasses.

Great-Grandma Wilmesherr must’ve been a remarkable woman. No nonsense, practical, a capable mother and farmwife, yet musical, curious, and creative. She was famous for her ability to make anything green grow, including vegetables and flowers. She had coldframes and sold flowers and bedding plants to people who stopped by. She had a goldfish pond. My grandma, her daughter, followed in these footsteps and had the same talents and pastimes. Even a goldfish pond.

In winter, Great-Grandma Wilmesherr read “Westerns.” Why not? She had known the plains of windswept Kansas in the late 1800s, and the West was a real thing for her. It might have been the closest thing to actual travel she could have. I think she had an independent streak. I grew up hearing stories about how, as a widow, she’d drive, solo, on curvy, hilly Highway 50 from Washington to Jefferson City, peering at the road through the space between the top of her steering wheel and the dashboard.

When I got married, my mom gave me Pauline Wilmesherr’s wedding ring to use in our ceremony. (She also gave me my great-grandma Renner's wedding band, as well, and that's what Sue used.) It’s the most beautiful wedding ring I could’ve imagined, invented, or asked for, and I see no reason to replace it with anything else—it’s such an honor just to have received it.

Sometimes when I practice my trumpet, I play in my office, where the zither rests in an honored position. With its open strings, it sounds with resonance when I play notes in accordance with its tuning—concert Cs, Gs, Fs, and all their overtones. I play the notes . . . and it breathes again.