Bernice Ruth Neffendorf Dryden - essay

My interview subject that I decided to choose was my Oma, Bernice Ruth Neffendorf Dryden. Oma, the German word for grandma, is the nickname I gave her when I was a young boy, so our whole family decided to adopt that name in place of grandma. She was born on October 1, 1934, in Fredericksburg, Texas, and is eighty-four years old.

She was the third youngest of twelve, with five sisters, Frieda, Laura, Edna, Vera, and Hulda, and six brothers, Richard, James, Lee, Raymond, Felix, and William. She has lived in the Gillespie County area around Fredericksburg, Texas her entire life. In Fredericksburg, she was an accountant at Kneese Accounting. In 1996, my oma retired in order to have time for her family, new grandchildren, and babysitting. Throughout the interview, Oma conveyed that family was and will continue to be the most important aspect of her life. My interview subject that I decided to choose was my Oma, Bernice Ruth Neffendorf Dryden. Oma, the German word for grandma, is the nickname I gave her when I was a young boy, so our whole family decided to adopt that name in place of grandma. She was born on October 1, 1934, in Fredericksburg, Texas, and is eighty-four years old. She was the third youngest of twelve, with five sisters, Frieda, Laura, Edna, Vera, and Hulda, and six brothers, Richard, James, Lee, Raymond, Felix, and William.

She has lived in the Gillespie County area around Fredericksburg, Texas her entire life. In Fredericksburg, she was an accountant at Kneese Accounting. In 1996, my oma retired in order to have time for her family, new grandchildren, and babysitting. Throughout the interview, Oma conveyed that family was and will continue to be the most important aspect of her life.  Bernice grew up in a low income family. Her mother, Frieda Magdelana Friedrich, was a stay at home caretaker that did household chores, made food from scratch, and took care of all twelve children. Her father, Richard Neffendorf Sr., was a farmer who took care of cattle, sheep, hogs, and chickens. My oma’s family income was based mainly on the farm activities, making it hard to feed a household of fourteen people. Both of my oma’s parents were strict, and they believed in punishing with a paddle if their children did not obey their orders around the house.

They hid a paddle on top of the china cabinet and even named it after the last child that got whipped with it.  One of the first memories my oma vividly remembers occurred in her early teens. On this particular Saturday in 1949, my fifteen year old oma woke up with fever and body aches. Her parents decided to take her to the hospital and they diagnosed her with polio. This news was a shock to the entire family because my oma was the first person in Fredericksburg to be diagnosed with this illness. She was quarantined at all times, and her parents were the only non-medical people that could enter her room. My oma expressed how family was the only thing that helped her through that hard time. To this day, she says that her doctor, Dr. Perry, saved her life by fighting the city council on their decision to separate my oma and her family in order to send her to a medical hospital. Family was an important crutch Oma relied on during her long, secluded hospitalization.  Bernice always felt as if something was missing from her life until she met my opa, William Aaron Dryden. A friend of my oma was always known as the town matchmaker, so naturally this friend decided to arrange a meeting with both of my grandparents. My oma instantly fell in love with William because of his loving and caring personality. He seemed to fill the void that had been missing in her life. 

William proposed to and married Bernice in 1962 in Fredericksburg, Texas. In the next seven years, they had four baby girls, Donna, Linda, Connie, and Dee Ann. My oma and opa thought the fourth baby was going to be a boy, so they were completely shocked when they figured out it was a girl. My opa decided on the name last minute. He knew this was going to be the last baby, so he picked Dee Ann because it sounds like the end. My oma finally felt as if her life goals were achieved once her family was complete. One of the memorable highlights of my oma’s life occurred when she went home with Dee Ann because she realized that her dream of having a family became a reality.  The next huge milestone in my oma’s life occurred when my mom, Connie, had my sister, Macalah. At this moment, my oma officially became a grandmother. As a babysitter for her neighborhood, my oma was never scared or clueless when it came to taking care of a child.

That is until June 16, 1999, when I was born. My oma had all girls as children and grandchildren, so she never had to take care of a boy. When I was born, the first words out of my oma’s mouth were “what do we do with that.” According to Oma, boys are similar to girls in caring for them as babies, and one of the only differences between the two is the speed at which a diaper has to be changed. As a mother who never had boys, my oma saw me as a treasure and took care of me whenever she had the time.  As my oma has gotten older, family and hobbies have become more important in her everyday life. Family has always been important to Bernice. In the past few months, she has relied on family support because she was moved into a nursing home. We try to visit her daily in order to make her feel as comfortable as possible in her new location.

Hobbies have also become more important to my oma as well. She was taught at an early age that keeping her mind active will help later in life. My oma always tries to do puzzles, word search, board games, or other activities in order to engage her mind. As Bernice has aged, she has noticed that her memory is getting worse. My oma believes that these mind games strengthen her memory, so she fits them into her daily routines.  Aging has given Bernice a different outlook on life. Each hardship that came in her path has strengthened her as an individual. Her hardships have become learning experiences that she can pass down through generations. She tries to share life lessons with others by providing examples from her past mistakes and hardships. The one aspect of her life that she regrets is not taking the time to learn from her parents’ past mistakes.

People and family come first to my oma, so she always puts others in front of her own needs and wants. Aging has allowed her to see the importance of human connections. I chose to interview my oma because I wanted to know her personal background stories and how they have shaped her into the individual she has become. The connection between my oma and I has always been strong, and I am elated to have gotten the opportunity to interview her. It was interesting to see that family was an essential aspect of my oma’s life, and I hope that I can continue to be the solid foundation she needs to prosper in the many years to come. The smiles, laughter, and heart-to-heart stories of the interview made the bond stronger between my oma and I. 

In conclusion, I learned about numerous aspects of my oma’s life that have molded her into a loving individual. My oma has always been there for me and continues to be one of the shoulders that I cry on when things go wrong. As we were finishing the interview, she told me one thing that affected my own personal viewpoint on life. My oma knows that I am a hardworking individual, and that I strive to do everything in a perfect fashion and usually put more than I can handle on my plate. She told me to look at a situation and determine if I can handle it. If I become overwhelmed , then ask for help and do not overexert my own abilities. This interview opened my eyes and brought me closer to one of the main role models in my life, my oma.

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