Friday, March 13, 2009

Grandma Luckenbill

Martha Nellie Coon Luckenbill
March 12, 1887 - May 29, 1958

I didn't get smart enough to appreciate Grandma Luckenbill until long after she was gone. Today I don't know of anyone whom I would wish to have known better than her. Here are some memories of her that belong mostly to others, since -- sorry to say -- I didn't pay that much attention.

To help her family through the depression she took in laundry and, once a week, made doughnuts which she sold around her North Manchester, Indiana, neighborhood for 10-cents a dozen. (That 10-cents would buy, for instance, a quart of milk.) She also cleaned houses for several of the store owners in town.

During the war she worked in a factory; in those days it was common to "dock" workers if they were late for work -- if, say, you were one minute late, you might get a quarter hour's pay deducted from your wages. On her way to work one morning a train was stopped on the track. Not wanting to get docked, Grandma crawled beneath the train to the other side.

She was a great cook, and didn't use recipes. One time when my sister Joan was making something she asked Grandma how much molasses to put in. "Oh, a couple glubs," Grandma said -- a glub being the vacuum-ey sound made when molasses was poured from a small-mouthed crock jug. Grandma made her own bread and wonderful cakes and pies all the way back to the days when ovens were heated by a wood fire, had no thermostats, and yeast didn't come in a package but was cultivated at home.

She had a big garden and canned vegetables and fruit, made jams and jellies, as well as a crock of sauerkraut and a crock of dill pickles for the coming winter. Joan told me that Grandma bought peaches for $1 a bushel and was really "ticked off" when they went up to $1.50. She raised and butchered her own chickens, and fried them in lard. It was said that hers was the best fried chicken around; she said that this was because she fed her chickens only cornmeal.

She read regularly from the library. Joan remembers her reading Uncle Tom's Cabin and crying over the way "poor little" Topsy was treated.

She was an expert with needle and thread. In the quiet winter nights she made quilts, generally one per winter. Toward the end she planned to make each of her eighteen grandchildren a quilt but she barely got started on this project before her death.

"She'd cuss all week and go to church on Sunday," Joan told me. She never missed going to church. One Sunday after the service she asked Joan if she'd seen the hat worn by a woman named Ruth Dawes. Joan said she hadn't noticed. "It looked like a turd on a tussock," Grandma said.

(Grandpa Luckenbill, on the other hand, did not care to step foot into a church but liked to claim, with eye-twinklings, that he'd become bald from sitting in damp churches without a hat!)

Grandma was a strong presence in any room. She had a truckload of charmingly pithy comments, some typical, some not: "Waste not, want not." "Use your head to save your heels." "What stuck the burr up her butt?" "Don't throw water on a drowned rat." "Spare your breath to cool your porridge." "Idle hands are the devil's workshop." There were many many more; I wish I could know them all.

One evening in her seventy-first year she said she didn't feel well. She lay down on the couch. The others -- Grandpa, Uncle Rupert, Uncle Gene and Aunt Tess -- were in the next room watching television. Seeing that Grandma had fallen asleep, they didn't wake her when they went to bed, figuring she would wake whenever and get herself to bed. She never did. Rupert found her in the morning, still on the couch, dead, apparently of a heart attack.


  1. I'm just getting around to reading this. The word "rich" comes to mind. Rich memories, rich stories, rich for having known her, and for sharing her DNA.


  2. David LuckenbillMay 1, 2009 at 3:07 AM

    Hello, my name is David Luckenbill, Martha was my great grandmother; Albert Junior was my grandfather; Jill Luckenbill Coker was my mother. I was surprised to see a picture that I have posted online. Your story of Martha is heart warming. As for her comments, I to had heard several of them come out of grandpa's mouth. I reconized some of the names in your story for I have a few letters and a picture album with some of them in it. Untill recently I did not know who Ray, Eugene, Tess ect. were. I am not sure why the family did not stay in touch but I would like to here more. If you don't mind you can e-mail me at Hope to hear from you. Thanks again for the great story.