“Next time we get together, I want you to tell me about your mom and dad,” I told Great Aunt Jokie after I dropped off a copy of a recent newspaper column I’d written about her (“To control cravings, view life through the eyes of an 88-year-old diabetic”).
I never knew my Gerber great-grandparents, though Jehu, who died in 1963 at age 89, came close to living long enough for his life to briefly intersect with mine. In an era when parenting even small families can seem overwhelming, I was intrigued by this energetic Swiss couple who somehow managed to cheerfully and successfully raise a brood of 14 through two World Wars and the Great Depression.
Next thing I know, Jokie pulls out a 10-page family history, including a collection of Jehu’s “Words of Wisdom.”
The most compelling quote that struck me wasn’t on the list, but in the text of the history. It’s early on during the Depression, and after dinner one evening Jehu ties several pencils together and hands them to his youngest son, Truman, with instructions to try to break them.
Naturally, he couldn’t. Neither could his older brothers. Taking back the pencils, Jehu told them, “If we stick together and work as a family, we’ll make it, because we are going into very hard times.”
Here’s an assortment of other quotes from Jehu’s “Words of Wisdom,”** along with a couple of additional quotes that came from my most recent talk with Jokie:
*”It’s good to speak your piece, but in the end go along and support the majority.”
*”The cost of living is not as high as high living.”
*”It would be better to work more hours for the same pay. That way when you’re home, you would be tired and you would go to bed instead of spending money.”
*”What you learn is more important than what you make.”
*”It’s better to have the grain sorry sold than sorry in the bin.”
*”A little wine is good for the stomach. Too much can make you a new man, and then the new man wants a glass of wine, too.”
*”Ja, ja, das geht de nit gang so, und es het nit.” (Yes, yes, it won’t always go like this — and it didn’t, either.)
*”It’s better to work with your children and teach them how it’s done than just telling them what to do.”
*”Advantages are only an advantage for the people who take advantage of it.”
*”If someone wants to give you something, take it and say thank you.”
*”Give it time, it will prove itself.”
*”You can always add more salt, but you can’t take it out.”
*”When you fix or repair something, always do it right. … Otherwise you have to do it again because you didn’t do it right the first time.”
*”Give each day and each thing your best.”
*”A road has never been so long that it didn’t turn.”
*“If you’re not going to listen to what the doctor says, then don’t go.”
*”If you don’t die when you’re young, you’re gonna get old.”
**This collection was revised by Larry W. Gerber on Nov. 29, 2003