Grandma’s Story

A Keepsake and Memories Album for Grandchildren

Alice Sommer Vermette, 2002

Alice Sommer Vermette, 2002


“Grandma, where were you born?

 At Home: yes
Town:      Josephville, Mo
County:   St. Charles
State:      Missouri

“Was that a long time ago?”
Date:        April 13
Year:         1928
Hour:        10:00 p.m.

“How big were you?”
Color eyes:       blue
Color Hair:       Blonde

“What was your whole name?  Who did they name you after?  Why?
     My whole name was Alice Elizabeth Sommer.  My mother named me Alice after
Alice Roosevelt, the daughter of former President, Teddy Roosevelt.

“When did you walk and talk?
     I don’t know when I began to walk or talk.  With so many children, my mother could not remember

“Anything special happen?”
     When I was six days old, there was a fire in our house.  In the mad dash to get out of the house, my sister dropped me and my arm was broken.  There were no other injuries and the house suffered some damage.

“Any other facts?”
     During my childhood, I and all my brothers and sisters became ill with diphtheria.  We all recovered.  My mom and dad spent many hours caring for us.

“Did you have a baby nickname?  Why did they call you that?”
     No, I don’t think my family called me anything but Alice.

“Who did they say you looked like?  Why?”
     I was always told that I looked like my sister, Hedwig, because of my hair and other facial features.


“Who were your grandma and grandpa?”
 (No information given)

“Were you the youngest?  Any bothers and sisters?
     There were ten children in my family.  Seven were girls and three were boys.  I was the third youngest.


“Grandma, did you ever get spankings?  What for?”
     Yes, I recall getting some spankings by my mother.  Mostly, I was spanked for teasing my brothers and sisters.  Sometimes I was scolded for not doing my chores.

“Could you roller skate?  Ice skate?  Where?”
     No, I never learned to roller skate.  This was because there were no sidewalks or roller rinks where I grew up.  However, we did do a lot of sleigh riding.

“What kind of games did you play?”
     Mostly, we played with dolls and pretended we were mothers.  Sometimes, we played ball in the pasture by our house.

“Did you have a tooth fairy?”
     We did not have a tooth fairy.  My dad pulled our teeth.  We only went to the dentist with special problems.

“What kind of birthday parties did you have?  Your favorites?”
     For our birthday we received few gifts.  Our gift was our special food for dinner and a birthday cake.

“What were your favorite toys?  Did you have a bicycle?”
     My favorite toy was always my doll and other toy pots and pans, especially a toy percolator coffee pot that I remember getting for Christmas when I was eight years old.  No, I did not have a bicycle.

“Did you get to stay up to watch television?  Or to listen to your transistor radio?”
     We had no television or transistor radios.  Sometimes we were allowed to stay up late if we had friends or relatives visiting.


“What kind of house did you grow up in, Grandma?”
     I grew up in a farm house.  When I was very young, we had no indoor bathroom.  We took our baths in a metal tub.  There was no electricity, we read by coal oil lamps.  Electricity came to our rural area when I was sixteen.  My dad owned 80 acres.  He was a farmer.  We raised chickens, pigs, cows, and had a couple of horses.  We had free eggs, milk, butter, etc.  I enjoyed many things about the farm.

“Did you have a secret hiding place?”
     We had many outbuildings on the farm.  One of the sheds was called the smoke house (it was used for curing meat).  I usually hid somewhere around it.

“Did you have a fireplace to keep you warm?”
     We had no fireplace.  We used wood stoves.  One stove was in the kitchen, the other stove was in our living room.

“Did you have your own bedroom?  Bathroom?”
     Our house had three bedrooms.  One was for my mom and dad.  The girls shared a large bedroom.  The boys had the third one.  Each bedroom had a stove pipe running thru it – we huddled around the stove pipe on cold nights.

“How did you keep your soda cold?”
     We had soda only on special occasions.  We would drink all of the soda so fast that there was never any left to store.  Sometimes my parents bought dry ice or regular ice an ice house.

“What kind of lights did you have?”
     We used coal oil lamps.  We had one lamp, an Aladdin lamp that was brighter, this we used for studying.

“Did you have jobs to do around the house?”
     One of the jobs was gathering eggs.  Another was cleaning the lamp chimneys.  There was wood to be carried in.  We would take turns taking lunch to my dad, who would be working the fields.

“How did you keep cool in the summer?”
     There was no electricity, therefore, no electrical fans or coolers.  One means was just washing with cool water.

“Did you have an attic?  A basement?”
     The basement of our house was very large.  It was used for storing all the jars of canned food.  Potatoes were stored there for the winter.  Sometimes there would be large crock jars filled with sauerkraut.  Also, some jars contained fried meats preserved in layers of lard.

“Who lived with you, Grandma?”
     Sometimes Grandma Sommers would spend some months with us.  We took care of my “Aunt Diva” for about a year.  She was my mother’s maiden sister.

“Did firemen or police ever come to your house?”
     There were two fires at our house.  The one when I was very tiny.  The other when I was about 10 years old.  The town of Josephville had no fire department.  The fire was extinguished by throwing buckets and buckets of water on it.


“Grandma, do you remember your first Christmas?”
     The first Christmas that I remember was when I was eight years old.  That Christmas I received my favorite doll.  It was a stuffed doll with hair painted on.  There was also a hand made doll cradle to go with it.

“Did you hang stockings and decorate the tree?”
     Santa Claus decorated the tree after we went to bed on Christmas Eve.  Part of our Christmas was seeing the beautifully decorated tree on Christmas morning.  We used candles for lights and hung little baskets for Santa to fill.

“Did you bake cookies and make candy?”
     My mother spent many days before Christmas making candy, cakes, cookies, and popcorn balls.  Sometimes, she would let me help.

“Did Santa give you what you asked for?”
     We were told that we could ask Santa Claus for two items, one toy and one piece of clothing.  On Christmas Eve, we all put a plate with our name on it on a large dinning room table.  Santa left our individual presents and a lot of fruit and nuts.  If it was possible, Santa brought us the present that we asked for.

“Did you have snow, go sleigh riding or go skating?”
     Many years there was snow on the ground.  I have ridden in my dad’s wagon pulled by two horses thru the snow.  Sometimes we would make snow ice cream.  We’d take snow; add vanilla, sugar and cream.

“Did you go to your Grandma’s for Thanksgiving?”
     Sometimes we would go to an aunt’s house for Thanksgiving.  My Grandpas and Grandmas died when I was still young.  I do not remember my Grandpa and Grandpa Rothermick.  I remember Grandma Sommer died when I was ten years old.

“How did you trick or treat on Halloween?”
     We were not allowed to go trick or treating.  Sometimes my older brothers and sisters went.  The common thing in our town was for everyone to shoot their hunting guns off at 12:00 p.m.  Those with no guns would toot their horns.  This was not dangerous since no one had close neighbors.

“What did you do on the 4th of July?”
     Sometimes my brothers would get some caps for their cap-guns.  If they were not feeling upset with me, they would let me shoot a few.

Did boys send you cards or candy on Valentine’s Day?”
     During my school years, I made my own valentines.  These I would send to classmates and friends.  If I were to send one to a boy, I would not have signed my name to it.  I was very shy and did not want the boy to know that I liked him.

“What were your family traditions?”
     We were a religious Catholic family.  We did not work on Sundays and went to church every Sunday and holiday.  We were not allowed to eat meat on Fridays.  During the six weeks before Easter, (called Lent), we always had to give up something that we liked.  I always gave up candy.  On St. Nicholas Day, we were given candy and popcorn by Santa Claus.


“Where did you go to school, Grandma?”
     I went to school in St. Joseph’s School, Josephville, Missouri.  My teachers were nuns and we all wore navy blue skirts and white blouses.  There were only three children in my class.  The same three for eight years.

“Did you like school?”
     Yes, overall I really did like school.  It was very important that I studied hard.  My mom and dad had to work hard to pay for sending us to a Catholic school and therefore, expected us to study diligently.

“How did you get to school?”
     If the weather was good, we walked about 1½ miles to school.  Occasionally, my dad would take us in the wagon.  After I was about 12 years old, a neighbor started driving us to and from school.

“What classes did you like?  Hate?”
     I was very good in reading, writing, and arithmetic.  I hated what we called social science and could not remember historical dates.  However, in spite of this, I liked school since that meant seeing our friends.

“Where your report cards good?  What was your best?”
     I did well in most everything.  Music was hard for me.  I belonged to a harmonica class, but never did really learn to play one.

“Did you go out for sports?”
     One of the things we did on our lunch hour was play soft ball.  I did fairly well in hitting and batting.

“Were you a football fan?”
     No, I never enjoyed football.

“Were you given lots of homework?”
     We always had homework.  We were not allowed any recreation until homework and chores were done.

“Ever play hooky from school?”
     I never actually played hooky, but about twice I may have pretended I was sicker than I really was so I’d get to stay home.


“Where did you go on vacations, Grandma?”
     Our family did not take vacations together.  One of the things that I got to do every summer vacation was to spend two weeks with my godparents, Aunt Adele and Uncle Edmond Sommer.

“Were you ever on a train trip?”
     I went on my first train trip when I was seventeen years old.  My sister, Dorothy, married a soldier (World War II).  I went to be bridesmaid at her wedding.  The trip by train was from St. Louis, MO. To Austin, Texas.

“Did you ever go fishing or camping?”
     Sometimes I would get to go fishing in a creek that was near our house.  (With adult supervision, of course)

What was the longest trip you ever took?”
     The longest trip as a child was to St. Louis, Missouri.  St. Louis was about 50 miles from our town, too far to go by horse and buggy.  The trip I made was with some classmates.  We were selected to go to see an operetta.  This was an honor for us.  I also visited my first ice cream parlor and had an ice cream sundae.

“Did you used to go to the fair or carnival?”
     The church had special things for us to do.  Our picnics were very much like carnivals.

“What was your favorite vacation?”
     I guess my favorite vacation of all was the year that Grandpa, your Uncle Alan, and Aunt Cindy and I camped in a tent across to Missouri from California.

“Did you ever go to Disneyland or Six Flags?”
     Yes, we have gone to both Six Flags and Disneyland several times.  These trips have all been since I married your grandfather.


“Grandma, how old were you before you could date?  Who was your first date?”
     I was allowed to start dating when I was sixteen years old.  My first date was with Urbie Hakenwerth.  It was a double date with my brother and a girl.

“What’s the latest you ever stayed up?”
     The latest that I ever stayed up was 2 o’clock.  That was the night my brother Urban got married.  After sixteen we were to be home by midnight.  When I was 19, I could stay up later.

“What were your slumber parties like?”
     We rarely had anyone sleep over as youngsters.  When we did, we were still to be in bed by nine o’clock.  Sometimes we did whisper until much later.

Who was your favorite boyfriend?”
     My favorite boyfriend, of course, was your granddad.  I married him.  I really never dated anyone else for any length of time.

“What did you and your best friend used to do?”
     We always enjoyed playing tic-tac-toe, hopscotch, marbles, hangman-noose, and sometimes, if there was enough of us, we played ball.  I remember taking large leaves, using twigs as needles, and making long dresses for ourselves for fun.

“What was your nickname?”
I don’t remember any, but in later years my neighbor called me “Allibet”

“What used to make you mad?”
     I guess being told “no” when I wanted to do something.


“How did you meet Grandpa?  How old were you?  Did Grandpa have any rivals?”
     I met your Grandpa at the Forest Park Highlands in St. Louis when I was sixteen years old.  I had gone to work at a Catholic Hospital in St. Louis.  Some girls and I went there for an evening of dancing.  I dated sometimes, but was supposed to sign in the hospital by 11p.m.  I worked very long, hard hours.  When I went home for week-ends, I would date some of the boys I knew.  Grandpa was stationed at an Army base nearby.

“Where did you go on your first date?  Did you like him right away?  Did he write you love letters?  Did you ever get mad at Grandpa while you were dating?”
     Your Grandpa took me back to the same place on our first date.  Yes, I guess we liked each other right away.  After dating for about three months, Grandpa was stationed overseas with the army.  During his year overseas, he wrote me about six letters.  We had only two angry disagreements while we were dating.

“What did your folks think of Grandpa?”
     My parents did not know Grandpa as a young person.  They would have preferred that I dated a boy from my hometown.  After they grew to know him, they gave us their blessings.

“Where and when did he ask you to marry him?”
     He asked me to marry him when we were seated on a park bench.  The park was located across from the Union Station in St. Louis, Missouri.

When did you get married?  What was your wedding like?  Who was in your wedding?”
     We were married on June 14th, 1947.  The marriage took place in the school at Josephville, Missouri.  The Catholic church had been damaged by a storm.  Services were being held at the school temporarily.  It was the same school building that I attended for eight grades.  The attendants were my sister, Dolores, John Huff, my brother, Bernard, and Grandpa’s sister, Lauryne.  My flower girl was Jeannie Sommer.  Grandpa wore a tux, I wore a long white dress and long train.  The bridesmaid wore lavender and yellow.  Jeannie (flower girl) was 3 years old and wore a long handmade dress.

“Where did you go on your honeymoon?”
     We had no honeymoon.  We were married on Saturday, June 14, and Grandpa had to report to work on Monday morning.  On our 25th wedding anniversary, we celebrated by going to Lake Tahoe for several days.  Grandpa had arranged for champagne and flowers to be in our hotel room when we arrived.  We enjoyed that week very much.

“Where was your first home?”
     The first home that we purchased was on St. Xavier Lane in St. Anne’s, Missouri.  It was a new home, but quite small.  There were two bedrooms, 1 bath, a living room and a large country type kitchen.  There was but one bathroom.  One of the nice things about the house was the large basement for Mike and Steve to play.  The purchase price of the house was $9,800.00.  We lived there for several years before moving to California.

“Where were your babies born?  Who were they named after?”
     Paul Michael was born in St. Louis, Mo.  He was named after Grandpa and his father.  Steven Gerard was also born in St. Louis.  The Gerard was after St. Gerard.  Brenda Susan was born in Missouri, named for St. Mary Brendan, a special Catholic nun.  Alan was named by Danny Vermette.  He was born in California.  Cynthia Marie was born in California.  The name was decided on by her older brothers and sister.


“How did you learn to cook?”
     I really learned to cook after I was married.  I was one of the younger children and, consequently, only helped very little in the kitchen.

“Did you have to help in the kitchen?”
     One of the kitchen chores that I did do was washing dishes.  I might add that I did not always like doing them.  It seemed that dishes took at least an hour to do.

“What was the first thing you cooked?”
     I remember making corn bread at an early age.  We ate this often in the winter.  We usually ate white gravy over the corn bread.

“Do you remember any disasters?”
     From my childhood memories, I recall being terribly afraid of lightning and thunder.  Since there were many storms in Missouri, I spent a lot of time trying to hide from the storms.

“Did you have a garden?  Did you can?”
     Yes, when I was growing up, my mother raised all of our fruits and vegetables.  This required a lot of cleaning and peeling in preparation for canning.  At this time, I had to do my share.  During the winter months, we had a time for butchering a couple of cows and usually one beef cow.  This also required long hours of work.

“What was your favorite recipe?”
     I guess my favorite things to eat were noodle soup, bread pudding, and corn flake cookies.  However, when the weather was very cold, corn bread and gravy were sure good eating.


“What was Grandpa’s favorite?”
     Your Grandpa’s favorite dish was Goulash.  This is made with ground beef, tomato sauce, onions, red kidney beans, and macaroni.


“Did you have your own stereo and tapes?”
     No, it was unheard of at the time I was growing up for young people to own these items.  In fact, our only form of music was a hand-cranked Victrola and one small radio, shared by all.

“What were your favorite songs?  Singers?”
     I liked western music.  The few dances that I attended while at home were all cowboy-type dances.  I remember on one occasion a popular radio cowboy singer appeared in our town.  I got to go.  That was very exciting for me.

Grandma, did you have to take music lessons?”
     The only music lessons were harmonica lessons for one year.  Somehow your Grandma Alice does not seem to be “musically inclined”.

“Do certain songs bring back memories?”
”That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine”, “Red River Valley”, “May I Sleep In Your Barn Tonight, Mister?”.  These are songs that I associate with early childhood.  “South of The Border” is another.  Then there were “Begin The Beguine”.

“Do you remember your first dance?  Who with?  What dances?”
     I guess my first dances were with boys from the general area of Josephville, MO.  Your Grandpa Paul says that I have never forgotten or lost the extra little kick I supposedly have which I guess could be called the Josephville Bounce.

“Did Grandpa sing or dance?”
     When Grandpa was about five he took tap dancing lessons for about one year.  He still enjoys music and will spend free time playing songs on his Lowry organ.


Color: Blue
Book: Little Women
Movie: Gone with the Wind
Actress: Vivian Leigh
Song: Red River Valley
Radio Program: KGO talk shows
TV Program: Nova Programs
Ice Cream: French Vanilla and Heavenly Hash
Jelly: Orange Marmalade
Soup: Tomato-noodle
(Homemade noodles of course)
Sandwich: Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato
Toy: I guess music boxes
Hobby: Making quilts
Vacation Place: Yosemite Valley
Magazine: Better Homes and Gardens
City: San Diego, CA
Actor: Cary Grant
Tree: Oak Tree
Bird: Humming bird
Flower: Camellias
Pet: Birds
Dinner: Chicken and dumplings
Month: May
Season: Spring
Vegetable: Carrots
Cookie: Corn Flake Cookies
Participation Sport: Bowling
Cartoon: Dick Tracy
Time of Day: Evening


“What are some of the funny family stories?”
     I heard that my father was quite a dancer in his early years as a young man.  In that era, a man would sometimes have special shoes which were called his “dancing shoes”.  These shoes were worn only for this reason.  I remember seeing my dad’s shoes.  Sometimes he would do some jig dancing for us.  We always enjoyed and laughed heartily at this.

“Any skeletons in the closet?”
     I have been told that a relative, Casper Sommer, was the bugle boy in Napoleon’s army.  The story goes that he was told to blow the signal for advance, but instead blew the sound for retreat.

“How many different homes have you had?”
1.  St. Annes, Missouri (10604 St. Xavier Lane)
2.  3528 Ferndale Ave. San Bernardino, California
3.  25563 Date St., San Bernardino, California
4.  Fieldcrest Circle, Pleasant Hill, California
5.  423 Riverside Dr., Times Beach, Missouri
6.  41 Arbor Drive, Cotati, California
7.  901 Hacienda Circle, Rohnert Park, California

“Ever had any family reunions?”
     Yes, we do have family reunions.  They are usually held at my sister Joan’s house in O’Fallon, Missouri.  There are occasional reunions held at my childhood home.  My brother, Paul, still owns the house.  Many of my dear elderly aunts are still living.  I have thirty-two nieces and nephews on my side of the family.  Family reunions are always fun.  It’s always fun to see relatives that we don’t get to see often.  There is always lots of good food, homemade ice cream, etc.  Aunt Dorothy (my sister) always brings her special home made Angel Food Cake.

“Where are all your relatives living now?”
Many of my relatives are still living in St. Charles County in Missouri.  My sister, Hed, is living in Houston, Texas, near her daughter.

“Did you ever work besides at home?”
     Living in a small rural area, most of the women had their babies at home.  Having larger families was not unusual then.  During recovery from childbirth, many women would hire someone to help with the older children.  Sometimes I would do this for free, sometimes I would be paid, but very little.


     I do remember some get-togethers at my Aunt Annie Huff’s place in St. Paul, Missouri.  They had their own ice house and so we were able to have homemade ice cream in the summer.  I also remember some fish fries at Ben Felderwerth’s in Josephville, Missouri.  He lived by a creek.  The men would go fishing and then everyone would gather for a fish fry.  The fish were fried in huge black kettles over a wood fire.


      I guess the only chance that I had to do any acting in plays was when I was in the 4th grade.  I  played the lead part in a play, put on by the school.  I played a black girl.  I got to be a star and at the same time enjoy eating many cream puffs as part of the plot.  I truly enjoyed this.  The play was for money to fix the roof on the school.  I think they charged some small amount and the whole town came to contribute.