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Happy Birthday Grammy Kocher!

By Rebecca Price Janney, Mar 29 2017 01:32PM

Today at breakfast I mentioned this is my maternal grandmother’s birthday, and once again I shared some stories about her with our son. He never met her, but through such tales and photographs, he is getting to know her in a different way. I’d like to tell you something about her as well.

Ethel Ritter was born in Easton, Pennsylvania—where else, right? Her childhood was moderately privileged according to old photos in which she’s seen wearing the latest fashions in hats and the requite furs of her day. She told me about outings with her girlfriends to a hotel in present-day Jim Thorpe and how excited she used to get whenever the circus came to town. When she was a young woman, her world changed when her father was killed in a railroad accident. Not long afterward, she married my grandfather. Together they raised five children, but their marriage didn’t reach far beyond their 20th anniversary because he died after a lengthy illness. There she was, without a father or husband, at the tail end of the Great Depression and on the eve of World War II. She gamely went to work to provide for her family.

By the time I came along, her working years were mostly behind her, but she remained active in retirement, especially as a volunteer at her church. She was Grammy Kocher by then, having married a coworker in her 60s—he was a World War I veteran and lifelong bachelor. To me, they’d always been together because I didn’t know either of them any other way, but when I was five, he died.

I spent a lot of time at my Grammy’s house over the years, including living with her during college, and she taught me a lot. Some things were funny, such as “Never leave the house without earrings,” or when someone dropped, spilled, or broke something, she’d do a quick assessment then pronounce, “Nobody hurt!” It was her way of putting the incident into proper perspective, and the saying is one I still keep handy. I also learned resilience from her. With faith in God, good humor, and determination, a person can get through anything.

Grammy always dressed nicely. For instance, when my mom would take her to the bank, Grammy wore a nice dress and heels, and gloves when women still wore gloves in public. However, she was never prim or prissy. When I was a student at Lafayette College, one day I took her for a ride onto the campus because I needed to get something at the library. As we drove along the Quad, Grammy was waving out the window and calling, “Hello boys!” I was mortified. “Grammy, you’re embarrassing me,” I said. She just smiled and went on greeting my fellow students. I think they were pretty amused because they smiled and waved right back.

When she turned 90, Grammy Kocher declared, “I’m never going to look in a mirror again.” I asked her why, and she said, “Because when I see what I look like, it doesn’t match the way I feel inside.” She died a year later, and I still miss her all these years later. Her warmth and humor, strength, and faith, however, still bless and guide me. Happy birthday Grammy! I love you.

Ethel Ritter Price Kocher
Ethel Ritter Price Kocher
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