The Maguire Gallery

Dolly Diehl Maguire

Grandma Diehl

            Grandma was in the cellar again.  It was wash day.  The outer cellar door had been unlatched and opened outward onto the cement and grass.  Sunlight slid into the stony grey dampness of the cellar.  There were soap stone tubs and a wash board.  A new cake of soap had been removed from the cellar shelf where the homemade soap was kept, yellowish tan stuff cut in rectangles and drying out on newspaper.  Mice or rats didn't chew on this soap, the lye in it would have killed them if they had.

            Grandma Diehl was thin and I loved her!  She was always working and always happy it seemed to me.  At least, she was never angry or annoyed when we children followed her around.

            She carried the big basket of clean clothes up the steps and out onto the yard.  Rope was strung from trees to poles back and forth and back and forth.

            I still remember the mysterious part of the yard where you could slip between the tall hedge bushes out to the driveway that went back to Skelton's Coalyard.  To be back there with sheets and towels blocking the sight of the became a secret place to be.

            We played around the yard as Grandma worked and worked and worked.  She didn't seem to believe in getting children to help.  At the end of the day the wash was all down, the clothesline rolled up, the cellar door closed again and the cellar clean, dark, and empty.

            On Tuesday she set up the ironing board by the dining room window and ironed and ironed.  I stood beside her and talked and watched.  My head was just about level with the iron and she seemed tall above me.  She ironed all the little undershirts and bloomers for us.  She said that made them feel smoother and softer for us, less scratchy.

            Mama was mysteriously absent, upstairs somewhere with my baby sister.

            Grandma made noodles.  She rolled the yellow dough out till it was very thin.  Then she cut it in narrow strips and set it on top of the boxy oven part of the stove to dry out.

            The only time I remember Grandma in the living room was after she had gone away and no longer lived with us.  She came back to visit and sat on a straight chair in the living room.  The man she was going to marry was with her.  She wanted us to meet him.

            We three children stood around, not saying anything.  We hated him!

            That marriage didn't last long if, indeed, she did get married.  Soon she was alone again and living in a row house in Frankfort.  She rented out the upstairs to "Mrs Warder."  There was a tiny living room, a hall went back to the kitchen and the dining room was like a bay along the way.  Out the kitchen door was a patch of back yard with a wooden plank fence around it.  A door in this wooden wall opened into an alley!  A narrow passageway with tall wooden walls on both sides.  Harrison and I ran down and peeked around the corner.  But we were scared and ran back again.

            Oh Grandma Diehl, how I loved you!  I loved you till it made me cry.  I cried in that miserable living room, sitting on the cot that was probably her bed.  I cried and cried, no one knew why.  Mama told Harrison to take me up to the corner store and get me an ice cream cone.  I cried because Grandma made the wrong kind of strawberry shortcake.  The "poor" kind.  I knew Mama didn't approve of that kind.  It was cake, not biscuit, and the whipped cream wasn't whipped cream but was egg whites beaten white and sugary and stiff.

            Oh how awful I felt. Grandma, who had been at home with us--my friend--my dear familiar person was now estranged.  I was okay when she was just gone, but to go visit and see her for only a little while in this miserable, strange place and then to leave. Oh sorrow!

            I don't remember seeing her again.  It's possible that she came out to visit once or twice on a Sunday.  Oh yes!  Once we went into Wanamaker’s store and Grandma was working in the mailing department wrapping packages for mailing.

            Then we learned she had cancer.  Then we went to her funeral.  I was 12 years old.           


Editor's note: Grandma Diehl was Louisa Danhamer, born in Pennsylvania in May, 1873. Her father, John, was born in Germany and her mother (Josephine Oster) in Elsass/Alsace. She had brothers John and George, and sisters Anne and Caroline. There may have been more siblings.

She was the second wife of Charles Diehl and was nineteen years younger than he. They were married about 1891. I think Frank was their only child, but Charles had other children by his first wife.

Picture this 1900 household: Charles (46); Louisa (27); Frank (8); three of Charles's children aged 20, 17, and 15; her sister Caroline (19); and Charles's uncle John Roth, age 87. A woman's work is never done!

If she died when Dolly was twelve, then she was only 53 or 54.



Other Maguire Gallery artists:  Dolly Diehl Maguire, Barrie Maguire, Bonnie Maguire Wren, Deborah Maguire, Brigid Maguire, Jim Meehan, Kenna Doeringer, Patrick Meehan, Terry Maguire, Cindy Maguire, Joseph Meehan