On November 28th my grandmother, Elisabeth Hoyer nee Kaiser, died just 9 days after her 91st birthday. My grandma was a very special person. She grew up in Berlin, Germany. Her father was an engineer and her mother a seamstress. She taught my grandma all about sewing. I remember one story from that time.
A customer wanted a silk velvet dress made for a fancy dance party. My great-grandmother told her that the fabric was unsuitable for a dress, because if she sat down the chair would leave an impression on the fabric which could not be removed and so ruin the dress. The customer insisted she wanted the fabric and she would not sit down the whole evening. A few days after the party she returned in tears with the ruined dress telling how at the end of the evening she was so exhausted she had to sit down.
For my grandmother’s trusseau the two of them made a set of bed linens. My grandmother crocheted yards and yards of lace to be inserted into the pillow cases and duvet covers. My great-grandmother sewed it all together. She used white linen. My grandma was a very practical women and she disliked white bed linens, because it would show every little stain. She was so happy when colourful fabrics came out for bed linens and never used her white ones again. She gave me the linens when I was a teenager. It is the softest fabric you can imagine. I love to use it in the summer.
She married my grandpa, Gerd Hoyer, just after the war when food was very scarce. She told me the most exciting food at her reception was pickles from a big jar. They left Berlin after my father was born and for the rest of their lives they never stayed very long in one place.
My parents divorced when I was two and shortly after my mother moved away without leaving a forwarding address. My grandparents lost contact with me until one day when I was around 10 my grandmother met my mother on a bus exchange hundreds of miles away from where they had seen each other last. Coincidentally my grandparents and my mother and me had moved to the same region. From that point on I visited my grandparents regularly.
My grandmother was a prolific crafter. She sewed, knit, crocheted, embroidered and did rug hooking. She also loved puzzles and baking. One thing she did not like was cooking. She had frozen food delivered to her house and mixed it up with a few canned goods. For me that was a treat. She always had french fries and ice-cream. I especially liked the pizza baguettes she heated up in her toaster oven for me. Nobody else I knew had a toaster oven. It was fascinating.
Unfortunately she did not teach me anything about sewing or knitting. I was just starting out at the time learning to knit. I never asked and she never offered. We played a lot of board games. My grandpa taught me about photography and ancient Egypt.
What I remember vividly about the time was that my grandma was always supportive of me. She was never critical and I could tell her anything. I always thought she was very modern and open-minded. I felt loved and accepted even though outwardly she seemed stern and brusk. I remember getting a kick out of hugging them even though they were not hugging people. I think I changed their minds after a while.
When I was 15 my grandpa suffered a stroke that changed him forever. He went from being a highly intelligent man, who liked to be in control, to being anxious and unable to express himself. He wanted to say something and could rarely complete a sentence, unable to find the right words. It was heartbreaking. He was utterly dependent on my grandma. She never complained. She took life as it was, trying to cope with whatever happened.
Shortly after they moved away to live closer to their son, Peter.
When I was 19 I took up sewing in earnest and consequently knit less. My grandma offered her services. I just had to tell her which sweater I would like and she would knit it for me. When I had my first child she would knit a stroller blanket, cardigans and sweaters. She also embroidered several table cloths for me. Her work was exquisite. On one of my visits she wore beautifully tailored, fitted shirt dress that she had made for herself. I was blown away. Not only was it so well made, but it also suited her exceptionally well. It was then that I realized I wish she could teach me, but it was not possible.
When we made plans to move to California for 3 years in 1999 my grandpa was diagnosed with end-stage liver cancer. I was able to say good-bye to him before we left. He grasped my hand and I think he understood we would never see each other again. He died shortly after we had moved. My grandma cared for him at home until my uncle stepped in and had him transferred to the hospital where he died a day later. My uncle saw how overwhelmed she was, but she was not someone who would ask for help.
After her husband’s death she moved in with my uncle. She had her own little one-room apartment under the roof of their old farm-house. It had a wonderful view across the fields. She liked that she had her own space, but was not alone if she did not want to. Adjustment to living in the country was not easy for her. She was used to city living, being able to use public transit whenever she wanted, browsing the shops to her heart’s content. Now she was dependent on someone giving her a ride and running errands for her. She had broken her wrist and crafting became difficult for her, but on the whole I think she was happy.
Several years ago she suffered a minor heart attack at night. She was examined a while after and the doctor prescribed her heart medication. She refused to take it. To her mind dying of a heart attack was quick and preferable to many other ways to go. After what she had gone through caring for her husband I think I understood.
During the last years of her life she became depressed. She was in constant pain in her hip and back. She did not want another surgery. She was not afraid of the surgery itself, but of the recovery time. She did not want to be a burden to anyone. We talked openly about her wish to end her own life. It was very difficult to have this kind of conversation with someone you love, but I wanted to show her the respect she deserved. She perked up when she heard my cousin was pregnant and she found a lot of joy in her youngest grandchild, Helene.
But the pain got worse and worse. For a while she found some relief in pain meds, but it did not last. A thorough exam just before her last birthday showed extensive damage to her hip, spine and knee. She refused any treatment. She could not get out of bed anymore. When I talked to her on her birthday she said to me: “The end is near.” She died in her sleep 9 days later.