ARTICLE

Remembering the birthday girl

I called my grandpa the other day, and the first thing he said to me after ?hello? was ?You know, you share a birthday with your great-grandmother??


I said, yes, papa, that?s why I?m calling.


You see, one of the ?interesting facts? about me is that my great-grandmother, Wilma Drahos Dolash, was born on March 12, 1911. Eighty-four years later, here I was, born on March 12, 1995.


I only knew my great-grandmother for a short time, but I do remember my mother telling me how happy Wilma was to get to get to hold me, her first great-grandchild. She sat on the sofa in our 100-year-old farmhouse back when we were living in Missouri. My mom placed me in her lap.


?It was very sweet,? my mom said.


I remember my grandpa asking his mother Wilma to show off by reciting the alphabet backward, Z to A. I remember spending Christmases at her farmhouse in Tama.


When she moved into a nursing home, we would sit and watch the birds. In her room, Wilma had a bright red stained-glass cardinal stuck to the window spring, summer, fall and winter.


Apparently, she was never given a middle name. She was born Wilma Drahos and became Wilma Drahos Dolash when she married my great-grandfather in 1934 in Marshalltown.


She also never went to high school. She finished the eighth grade and dropped out to work on her family farm in rural Traer. In those days, my grandpa said, kids who lived on farms, were meant to stay and help.


?We can see by her school papers, she was probably college material,? my grandpa said.


She was known as the best baker in town. Her kitchen was always filled with the smell of baking kolache, turnovers and other Czechoslovakian food. A first-generation, her father immigrated from Prague, which my grandfather said is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.


My mom agreed that she loved cooking and feeding people. ?She made the best kolaches,? she said. ?Everybody wanted grandma?s kolaches.?


Wilma?s father passed away when she was 16-years-old. My grandpa said they held the funeral right in the farmhouse. For three days, Wilma?s father?s body remained in that house. ?That would be difficult,? my grandpa said.


She always called herself ?boheme,? my grandpa said, adding that although some Czech people are offended by the term, it didn?t bother her, and it wouldn?t bother him any either.


Wilma had four sons, no daughters. My grandfather even admits they were naughty.


She loved to fish and had so much patience for it, whereas her husband did not. ?I wonder where I got that (lack of patience) from?? my grandpa said.


She also loved to garden and can vegetables. When she was hit by a car, breaking her pelvis, shoulder and collarbone after my grandparents were married, my grandma stayed with Wilma and cooked for my great-grandfather and canned Wilma?s vegetables for her.


Her farmhouse ? the one we used to Christmas in ? was small. My mom tells stories about when she was a child sleeping in the bathtub when they would visit. Wilma would fill the tub with a pillow and blankets, but my mom would be wide-eyed all night, terrified the faucet would drip and she would drown.


My mom also talks about going fishing with Wilma in Wisconsin every summer. While the fishing part isn?t necessarily her favorite memory, she recalled sitting in the back of the station wagon. Her grandma Wilma would offer her fruit stripe gum, and my mom would fall asleep in her lap.


Her garden was filled with peonies and tulips ? her favorite being red tulips.


Wilma always celebrated birthdays.


My grandpa didn?t sell his mom?s house until years after she moved into a care facility. My mom said it?s because Wilma always believed she would be moving back home. She also said it?s because my grandpa has a soft heart.


To sell it, would be the end of his childhood. It was hard for him to let go of ? I know. Sometimes, when they visit her grave, he still drives past that old house. ?He?s a little sentimental one,? my mom said.


Wilma died at 99-years-old on July 16, 2010. Her son, my great-uncle Gene, officiated the ceremony. I was in high school at the time, and while I don?t remember the funeral very well, I do remember it felt more like a celebration of life.


I write this, in part, as a public service announcement. Yes, my birthday is right around the corner. But mostly I wanted to take a moment to honor my great-grandmother.


She crosses my mind often, and I hope that through remembering her, maybe I can be more like her. While my baking leaves little to be desired and I could certainly learn the value of patience (although maybe not by taking a liking for fishing), I like to think a part of her lives in me since we were both born on the same day.


Who knows? Maybe I?ll find myself making kolaches this weekend.