Celebrating Grandma Merrimen Claire (Niccum) Bentz –
Today we celebrated the life of my Grandma Bentz. She was 94 and still living at home alone until the very end. She raised 6 daughters, who then multiplied to 18 grandchildren, and apparently 53 great-grandchildren. I had never sat down to count up all the great-grandchildren, but that was what the obituary said. That’s a boatload of descendants! I’ve actually never seen so many cars in our church parking lot as were there today (actually yesterday by the time I get this published, but I haven’t slept yet, so I still consider it today).
Merrimen Claire Niccum was born May 2, 1924 in Henry County, Indiana. She grew up in Delaware County, Indiana near Gaston. Her parents were Rollie Otto Niccum (Isn’t Rollie a cool name? He went by Otto though.) and Leota Faye (Perry) Niccum. Merrimen married Lawrence Frederick Bentz in September 1944 at Olive Chapel near Gaston. Olive Chapel was later called Agape Fellowship, and I believe it has another name now.
Several weeks ago when I went over to help Grandma Bentz turn on her window air conditioner because the heat index was over 100, she told me a story about having to drive clear up to Marion to file her marriage license. I’m not sure why marriages in Delaware County had to file in Marion then.
There was a tire ration because of the war, and one of the tires on Grandpa’s car was bad, so he had to use some kind of makeshift wooden tire to drive to Marion that day. Grandma said the car “went bumpity bump, bumpity bump” all that way, but they made it there and back. I had heard of food rationing, but that was the first I had heard anything about tire rationing. We’re not used to anything being rationed today. And my aunt said Grandpa and Grandma actually had to drive back to Marion the very next day because the license wasn’t signed.
Grandma was always full of stories about her early years and her family, and Grandma was always happy, happy, happy. That’s the comment I keep seeing as people offer their condolences to various family members online. Every person says something like, “She was always so happy. She was always smiling.”
Instead of going through a narrative about Grandma. I thought it would be fun to make a list of some of the main events I remember.
25 Important Things About Grandma Bentz
1.) Grandma was always happy. This was probably why she lived to be 94. She certainly had plenty of reasons she could have been unhappy just like everyone else. Heck, she lived through years when tire rationing was a reality. If she had wanted to be unhappy, I’m sure she could have found plenty of reasons, but instead, she chose to be happy. She never got bent out of shape about silly stuff.
2.) Grandma Bentz didn’t get mad when kids did stupid stuff. There was this really big rut that was always in the driveway at Grandpa and Grandma’s place. I think it was a rut from the tractor tires. Any time it rained, it left a big puddle. Once when were kids, we used the hose to make that puddle bigger and bigger until it was a giant mud pit. Then we started splashing in it. Then we got my brother and cousin to mud wrestling each other. Then we all started rolling around it that big mud pit until we were just covered. Grandpa Bentz was not happy. Our moms weren’t thrilled, but they didn’t really yell at us. They just sprayed us off with the really cold hose water before they would let us ride home. Maybe they figured the cold water was punishment enough. Grandma never said a word about it because she just didn’t get bent out of shape about stuff.
3.) Grandma had a black station wagon with an 8-track cassette player, and you could ride in the very back with no seatbelts.
4.) In late winter, there were always baby chicks in the garage at Grandma’s house. There were not just a dozen or so baby chicks like I get at my house. There were probably more than 100 baby chicks all together in a wagon in the garage with a couple of heat lamps. Any time I walk into a farm store that has chicks in the spring I can still smell that baby chick smell from the garage at Grandma’s. We would stand up on the edges of the wagon to play with the baby chicks who were all trying to pile on top of each other right under each of the heat lamps (or maybe they were just trying to get far away from us).
5.) Grandma could lick her own nose with her tongue. She would often use this trick to entertain small children while waiting for food in a restaurant, and she would always say, “Look. I can lick my nose like an old cow.” I tried many times as a child to mimic this cool trick, but I cannot lick my own nose.
6.) Grandma lost a finger in a farming accident long before I was born, but they sewed it right back on. Her finger got pinched between a wagon or snapped by the hitch or something like that. You could never really tell by looking at it, but she didn’t quite have full use of it.
7.) Grandma could fix anything with WD-40 (which she referred to as DW-40). Some people fix everything with duct tape but not Grandma. It didn’t matter what the problem was at Grandma’s house WD-40 could fix it. Squeaky tricycle tire? WD-40. Messed up door handle? WD-40. Ear mites on the cat’s ears? WD-40.
8.) Okay, so she didn’t fix human ailments with WD-40. Grandma fixed human ailments with Vick’s. When I stayed there a few times when I was home from school sick, she would make this sort of packet that had a big glob of Vick’s between two paper towels, and she would wrap it to my neck with something. She was also known to take a big glob of Vick’s and actually put it in her own throat when she was sick. She lived to be 94, so this was apparently not as harmful as one may suspect.
9.) Grandma loved hymns.
10.) My son loved taking Grandma shopping. My mom would take Grandma shopping for groceries once a month when she got her Social Security check. When my son was still homeschooled, he always wanted to go to Groceries with Grandma too. My mom invited him because he was helpful in carrying the groceries and opening doors and such. My son told me he didn’t want to miss it because “Grandma bumps into everything with the cart, and she doesn’t even care.” I think this was particularly amusing to him because he gets in trouble if he bumps into anything with the cart as a result of his crazy cart steering, but Grandma never got in trouble for it because she was old and probably couldn’t see well.
11.) Grandma had one tooth that was kind of sharp looking that she named “Old Chopper.”
12.) Grandma made cheesecakes for everybody and anybody. Grandma Bentz loved to make cheesecakes in those pre-made graham crusts. Grandma loved to bless people with cheesecake. She would take them to doctors who treated her. She would make them for us. She would send them to various people she knew. There are actually several of those graham crusts still sitting on her kitchen table ready to be used.
13.) Grandma was a problem solver. Grandma loved to look out her front storm door to see everything that was going on and watch the cars going up and down the road all day. Once a couple of years ago (after she was 90), my mom called to check on Grandma because the temperatures were subzero, and you always have to worry about the elderly in extremely cold temperatures. Grandma told my mom it was pretty cold in her house. My mom was concerned and had to investigate further. It was eventually revealed that Grandma was cold because she was standing at her front door with the main door wide open, using a hair dryer to melt the frost on the storm door, so she could look out and see what was happening outside (which was probably nothing at all because it was too cold for anyone to want to be out and about). My mom had to order Grandma to “Shut the front door!” She probably opened again as soon as my mom wouldn’t know though.
14.) When I was a kid, my cousin used to joke that Grandma could cook anything in a crockpot. I think this was because she always had a chicken in the crockpot when we were there, but he liked to joke about “Crockpot Pizza,” “Crockpot Spaghetti,” and other crockpot creations. Grandma was apparently way ahead of her time because I can now find hundreds of recipes for every crockpot food my cousin mentioned on Pinterest.
15.) Grandma Bentz would never let you visit her without forcing you to eat some kind of food she made for you. You could tell her dozens of times that you were fine and didn’t need that ice cream cone, but she was going to force you to take it anyway.
16.) Grandma lived in an old farmhouse, so it didn’t have central air. Only in the last few years did she even have a window air conditioner. The house was smoking hot in the summer, so Grandma often removed her shirt. This created an interesting scenario once when my sister brought friends trick-or-treating, and grandma opened the door to them in a bra. I mow my yard in a bathing suit top, so I really don’t see the big deal.
17.) Speaking of bras. Grandma always had chewing gum when I was a kid, and if she gave you a piece of Wrigley’s Spearmint, you can guarantee she whipped that stick of gum right out of her bra. This must have been a common practice for that generation because my elementary music teacher also stored money and her car keys in her bra.
18.) Grandma tried to save every takeout container, plastic food tub, and foam cup that ever came into her house. She also saved straws from fast food cups to rinse out and use again. She was way ahead of California and their banning straws deal. She was reusing straws long before it was a trend. When the girls started taking care of her more, they must have been stealthy about throwing away all the takeout containers and margarine tubs, but before that, she had quite the collection of brown-little-tub Country Crock ware.
19.) There were walnut trees in Grandma’s yard, and she would gather up the walnuts and throw them in the driveway for the cars to run over to get the outer shells off. Then she would spend all winter cracking walnuts which is super hard work. She would fill jars and jars of them and give them away generously to relatives and friends. She would also freeze the extras.
20.) If Grandma was cooking something and wanted you to taste it, she was not going to use a spoon. She would, instead, scoop a big bunch of mashed potatoes or whatever up on her finger and expect you to have that taste to tell her if it was alright.
21.) Grandma Bentz LOVED the Mexican restaurant. Not that long ago when she had been eating like a bird at home, she went to Mexican with us one Sunday. Her meal came, and it was a huge plate of food which no one thought she would ever come close to eating, but she ate every last bite and was licking the plate after. She also loved the attention when they would bring out the sombrero and sing Happy Birthday.
22.) If you stayed at Grandma’s house as a kid, you were going to be watching Price Is Right and Wheel of Fortune. For the last few years, it was always Gunsmoke she was watching during the day when I was there.
23.) Grandma refused to be a victim of poor health. Grandma drowned in a slop bucket when she was a very small child, and one of her uncles who had been in the military and had medical training there revived her. She had diabetes the entire time I’ve been alive. She’d had a stroke and heart attack that no one even knew she had until later tests. She continued for years and years in congestive heart failure. She survived cancer. But you would never know any of this! She just kept right on going.
24.) Grandma once had to go to the principal’s office because she put a tack in her shoe and kicked the boy in front of her in class. He had been picking on her, and she got tired of it.
25.) Grandma Bentz never refrigerated her mayonnaise or ranch dressing. If you ate either of these at her house, you were doing so at your own risk. They both just sat out on the counter or the table. She also ate raw hamburger. If she was making a meatloaf and wanted to see if she had seasoned it enough, she would just scoop up some of the raw meat mixture and taste it just like that.
Could tasting raw hamburger and not refrigerating the mayo be the secret to long life?
Grandma lived to be 94, and more importantly, she was still coherent and in good spirits in her last days.
I would like be able to conclusively assert that the secret to long life is something easy like not refrigerating the mayo or ingesting Vick’s, but I doubt either of those were her secret (though it obviously didn’t really hurt her). I suspect Grandma Bentz’s secret to longevity was really her refusal to stress out about anything. So what if the mayo had been on the table for weeks? She didn’t believe it would harm her to eat it, and it didn’t. She had a lot of not-so-great medical diagnoses, but instead of worrying about each diagnosis and what it meant, she just went right on doing whatever she wanted to do.
Grandma did not become bitter with age. She did not grow old and mean. She didn’t treat her caregivers hatefully or spitefully. She simply continued her life to the very end in the same good spirits. She didn’t get bent out of shape about whatever life threw her way. I suspect that was Grandma’s secret.
“For Length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.” -Proverbs 3:2
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