Today, July 3rd, would have been the 100th birthday of my maternal grandmother - Anna Louise Halfter Binstadt. I had the honor of presenting her eulogy when she died in 2007. It wavers between me referring to her as Ann and Grandma. It is reprinted below:
Grandma’s father, Julius Halfter, left his home in Germany and arrived in New York in January, 1909. A butcher by trade, he came to Cincinnati and found work, taking residence in an apartment on Central Avenue in the West End. It would not be until May of 1910 that his wife of ten years, Marie, joined him in Cincinnati with their three children: Caroline, Rudolph, and William. In 1913, when Marie was pregnant with their fourth child, five-year old Rudy died of appendicitis. Grandma said this was a turning point for her mother, that Marie had wanted to move back to Germany, but once her son was buried in Wesleyan Cemetery, she couldn’t leave him. On July 3rd, at 2 A.M., Anna Louise Halfter was born in their home on Livingston Street with help of a midwife. She was baptized at the First German Reformed Church in August. Younger brother Erich, who’s here with us today, came along in 1916.
Around 1918 they relocated to South Fairmount, on Knox Street, and then later on Waverly Avenue. A new neighborhood meant a new church, in this case Immanuel Evangelical Reformed, now Immanuel United Church of Christ, where she would be a member the rest of her life. In 1927, Immanuel moved to it’s present location on Queen City Avenue. Grandma was in the first confirmation class of the new church. Times were generally tough, but the Halfters had it better than some. Being a butcher was a good job, and they always had meat. But these were people built for tough times. Grandma often commented about her father and how we walked back and forth to work every day, a trip of a few miles, and that he liked his coffee cold. South Fairmount was built into a hillside, with long public stairways linking the streets. “We used to run up and down those stairs for fun,” Grandma once told me. Grandpa added, “We didn’t have television then.”
Fred Binstadt was also in Immanuel’s congregation. Five year’s older than Ann, he had been born on Waverly Avenue, but was living on State & Ernst by the time the Halfters got there. Fred and Ann met through the church’s youth group activities. Dates were simple, like a church hayride or a hike. “Nobody had any money,” Grandpa said recently. “You’d take a carline to it’s last stop and walk back to church.” Both of them attended West Night, an evening high school program at Hughes High School. Fred graduated in 1927, Ann in ‘32.
They married in 1937, the year of the great flood here in Cincinnati. They were married not at Immanuel, but in Louisville, where Ann’s brother Bill was a preacher. They were married in the parsonage, and Bill’s wife fixed the wedding supper. By Monday, Fred was back at work. Honeymoons would come later, especially their many trips abroad after Grandpa’s retirement.
In 1943 they moved into their home at 3021 Lischer Avenue. They raised their children there – Charles, Carol and Barb, who later brought around their own children. Grandma and Grandpa lived there 56 years. Looking back from the retirement village, Grandma most often recalled her pride in the large dining room, from which she hosted countless Sunday dinners and holidays. She also remembered the good neighbors she had, and that it was a good place to raise a family.
Of course there’s more…decades more. But the early days are the places and events that she talked about most these last few years. She couldn’t tell you what year it is or what she had for lunch that day, but she could tell you who her neighbors were on Waverly.
One trait that she held onto from her Fairmount upbringing was a certain German stoicism in the face of adversity. She could be utterly miserable, but she was no complainer. Her last night on Lischer Avenue in 1999 found her in so much back pain that she couldn’t stand. Her concern as Grandpa dialed 9-1-1 was for the neighbors, worried they would be woken by the commotion of an ambulance. “I’m ok,” she would always answer to “How are you?” “I’m ok,” she said matter-of-factly from many a hospital bed.
A year ago Grandma was in the hospital telling us she was ready to die. “Take care of daddy,” she told us. Visiting a couple of days later, there was Grandma sitting up and eating everything on her tray. This past Friday as we sat vigil, Grandma was muttering what seemed like gibberish, but it was her message to those taking care of her. “Thank you,” she was saying, over and over, “you’ve been so wonderful to me.” In her 1932 yearbook from West Night, each senior has a little quote next to their name and picture. Hers was a verse from Lowell that reads –
“She doeth little kindnesses
Which most leave undone or despise.”
This is fitting, I think, for even on her deathbed she was thinking of others. Graciousness, selflessness, steadfastness…these were just some of the gifts that she left us to live our lives by, along with the gift of love.
Visiting her and Grandpa over the past ten years has been my greatest joy. Grandma had a way of telling you exactly what she thought – unedited. She wasn’t afraid to let you know when you were getting too heavy, or she didn’t like your hair, or when she thought you were talking out of your hat.
Sometimes she and Grandpa would be separated, but the best visits were seeing them together. They were two halves of a whole, a combination nearly 70 years of marriage. What one forgot the other remembered, a couple of years ago, they had this exchange –
Ann: Where did we meet? I don’t even remember.
Fred: Well, through church…and we both went to West Night. Do you remember going to West Night?
Ann: I don’t remember a thing about it. [pause] I think I took German…
Fred: You were in the German Club.
Ann: [long pause] A man named Schaeperklaus ran it.
Fred: I remember him…He went to Immanuel...He used to have Bible class at his house.
Ann: That’s right…he had a nice wife.
Ann: They had two sons. One of them died. They were both riding a bike at the same time. The one on the handlebars fell off and he hit his head on the concrete and died. [pause] Isn’t it awful the things you remember?
I have her high school annual right here. I got it last night, actually. As far as I know, she didn’t have a copy. I would have liked to have gone through it with her. Now it’s too late. I will miss her every day.