The idiom “When Life Give you Lemons, Make Lemonade” is often used to encourage making the most out of something bad and turn it into something good. My Grandma Pieper is one of those people who was a master at making the best out of a situation that was far from ideal. She was born in 1923 and her parents gifted her the name Noreen Elizabeth Broich. It wasn’t long before they gave her another precious name that would follow her throughout her life, “Dolly”.
In 1941 my Grandmother married my Grandpa, Francis, and became known to us all as “Dolly Pieper”. She has 7 children, 14 grandchildren, and many great- and great-great grandchildren. She and my Grandpa lived many places, and often rented the most inexpensive place in town. These places often needed lots of “sweat equity” and humor to make them feel like home, and my grandma wasn’t afraid to sweat or laugh.
Some of the stories about preparing homes for her family are simply gross. One of the homes they rented was used previously to house several dogs. The floors and cupboards were full of dog dung. To make the house their home she shoveled the dung out of the house, and cleaned the house from top to bottom with good old bleach. I cannot imagine moving into a home under such conditions, but she made it work. When she told this story she didn’t express sadness or self-pity, she laughed and seemed proud of her accomplishments.
She was a very hard worker and a very determined lady. I am told that if a house didn’t have water she hauled it in from the well, and captured rain water in a livestock water tank to get water to wash her clothes. If there wasn’t enough money to buy food she planted a garden and raised chickens. Protein for her family could include not only veal, beef, pork or poultry, but also fish, turtles, frogs or squirrels. Solutions required an open, creative and hopeful disposition, and she had that.
Like all of us, my Grandma was far from perfect. She had her moments where she lost her temper and acted inappropriately. She sometimes didn’t have a great filter for what she said and did, and that at times hurt feelings or made people uncomfortable. She was a little “rough around the edges”, but oh so loveable.
For over 10 years she took care of my Grandpa who needed help with everything due to a stroke. He spent most of his time in bed, received nourishment through a tube and struggled to communicate with others. I imagine taking care of Grandpa was much more difficult than she let on, but she did it and made the best of the situation. She had her crabby moments, but kept chugging along with love in her heart.
My Grandpa’s funeral took place on a very cold Minnesota winter day. She took time for remembrance, visiting, hugging, praying and mourning. Later that day when she returned home her son offered her a ride on his snowmobile. She did not hesitate one moment to take him up on the offer. Her smile and glorious laugh are part of the picture I remember of her and my uncle zipping away on the snowmobile. She did not hesitate to seize joy, even on a very sad day. My Grandma demonstrated many times throughout her life that joy is always welcome.
During one of our many visits to my Grandma’s home we joined her for lunch. In the middle of the meal she asked if anyone would like some wine. My husband said yes and she pushed herself straight backward in her wheelchair to the kitchen counter and grabbed a syrup bottle filled with a light color liquid. She took off the cap on the bottle and proceeded to take a swig and then smile. She then handed the bottle to my husband, who looked shocked and confused. She told him that it was her homemade dandelion wine. Being a good sport, my husband took a drink straight from the bottle. She smiled and laughed showing her delight with him sampling her dandelion wine.
I never did sample her dandelion wine or get her recipe, which I regret very much. For me, dandelion wine symbolizes my Grandma’s spirit and how she decided to go through life. She enjoyed life and made the most of whatever she had. She is one of my heroes. I raise my imaginary syrup bottle of Dolly’s Dandelion Wine and toast an amazing lady. When life gives you Dandelions, make Dandelion Wine!
Note: There are many different recipes available for dandelion wine. I understand it is a labor intensive task that requires lots of patience and time, mostly due to the fact that you need to pick a significant amount of dandelions. Unfortunately, here in the United States, most people view dandelions as weeds that should be removed or killed. Dandelions are not native to the United States, but were brought here my immigrants who knew that they had many good uses (in addition to wine). Bookstores, many free recipe internet sites, libraries, etc. have dandelion wine recipies, as well as dandelion anything recipes (tea, soup, salads, quiche, bread, etc.). I found several interesting dandelion recipe books on Amazon.com. One of the books I found was published about 1 year ago: Dandelion Recipes: A Cookbook Using Foraged Wild Dandelions by Laura Sommers.