As one of the youngest grandchildren of my maternal grand-mother, Frieda, who died when I was only two, my quest has been to gather as many stories as possible to capture memories about her from my mom, aunts, uncles and cousins. My grandmother became a personal research project when, in 1989, I traveled for the first time to her native land, Germany. She left her homeland at age 18 and traveled alone to America. She married and had six kids; her husband died young. Her children matured and had children of their own. But as I grew up hearing the family stories, I always wondered about my grandmother's "backstory." Through all these years, with many questions emerging from within me, I've continued to gather data, photos and stories in an attempt to piece together her story. I've seen photos at family parties of my grandmother at various ages, but always felt unsettled that I never knew just what she was thinking or feeling. Her face betrayed undercurrents of powerful emotion, and my curiosity grew through the years. The questions continued to pop up and nag me. She lived a "simple" life on the surface—but the contradiction between that "surface" and the epic, even heroic personal journeys and transformations she made fascinated me. She'd left everything she'd known as a child to travel thousands of miles to America, found heart-felt friendships with other "hired girls," and romance. She endured crushing loss and loneliness in a small corner of the American Middle West—and all of it without a recorded "voice." Women have so often been written "out" of history. I discovered a passion for writing my grandmother (and by extension, the women in and around her life, as well as some essential part of myself) back "in."
The mystery tour of finding Frieda's footprint in this world has been intriguing and fun to track. Over the last dozen years, I began writing notes and accumulating a collection of ideas about what to write and which questions to research. Five years ago, after a trip to her childhood town, I began writing essays about her children, my mother, aunts and uncle, from my perspective, from my love for them and my longing to know their mother, my grandmother. Continued digging into family history through formal research, constant writing of questions, and searching for more answers have led to incredible discoveries about her life and the paths she traveled as an immigrant. Gathering the threads of information found in interviews, photos, old letters and postcards has allowed me to form a moving picture of Frieda as a child and into adulthood. This book presents essays that form a historical biography about my grandmother, and essays written in a memoir-style about her family, both those who remained in Germany, and her children, whom she birthed and raised in America. This is a tapestry of family history, women's history, and personal reflection woven together into a story-quilt that I hope represents the beauty and warmth of Frieda's life.