Remembering ‘Grandma Veda’

Camas man recalls his mother’s early years growing up with four sets

This photo of the growing Frothinger family was taken in the fall of 1912. At top is Veda, age 5. Back row, from left are Elmer, Edgar, Rose and Leona. Front row, from left are Freda, Ralph, Roy and Fred.

At Veda’s memorial service in November 1997, a poem that Ralph had penned as a child, “When the stork visits our house,” was read. Suzy, her daughter-in-law, included it with Christmas cards that year as well. “We hope you will enjoy it and think of Grandma Veda...” the card said.

“One time at our house things was a flurry.

Pa calls the Doc up in a big hurry;

He told us three kids to go hit the hay.

We were all glad to get out of his way.

I heard Pa saying, “This’ll make four.

Doc, I don’t guess I could feed any more.”

A little bit later I heard Doc put in,

“This time ain’t four, cause this time it’s twins.”

Pa had an awful time fixin’ two kids.

Why does the stork come when Ma’s sick in bed?

I heard Pa a cussin’ “It sure isn’t fun

Dressing two kids in clothes made for one.”

When those two kids were beginning to walk

Pa calls again and sez “It’s the stork.”

Later Doc told Pa “You’ve got twins once more.”

There was plop like Pa hit the floor.

It took Pa a year to get over that shock,

Then one night again he went and called Doc.

After a bedlam of bangin’ and noise

I heard Doc tell Pa “This time it’s two boys.”

Then for some time there wasn’t a fuss.

I thought sure the stork had quit bothering us.

But early one morning the hired girl said,

“your folks got new twins over there on the bed.”

The last time that everything got in a flurry

The stork brought one girl, an’ left in a hurry.

Pa said he hoped “that darn bird was through.

He’d just brought one kid, but Ma had clothes for two.”

Veda Grace Frothinger Lanz was the third of 12 children born to a farming family in South Dakota.

The number of kids was not at all unusual for the early 20th century, especially in a rural area. What was eyebrow raising was that there were four sets of twins among the 12. At one point, there were eight children, all 5 years of age and younger, living in the small home of George and Ella Frothinger. This was in a time before washing machines, dishwashers, microwaves, disposable diapers, grocery stores, and for many, electricity.

In those days, everything was bartered. People grew their own vegetables, raised beef and pork, and did their own canning. There wasn’t much opportunity for down time, although the kids still found ways to make mischief.

Veda’s son, longtime Camas resident Jerry Lanz, recalls a poem his uncle Ralph, wrote about him and his sisters taking the younger siblings for what was supposed to be a leisurely walk.

Instead, it turned into a stroller race down a steep hill, resulting in six dirty kids and two crying babies.

“Mom asked how they got dirty as we came from our walk, but we kids ‘didn’t know’ and they couldn’t talk,” the poem concludes.

“That poem is probably the best way to describe how life was with so many kids,” said Jerry.

Veda had six children. Jerry and his wife, Suzy, have four.

“We’re getting smarter,” he joked.

Lanz, of Camas, recalls his mother as a “very unique woman.” Although she stood only 5 feet, 1 inch tall, she could hold her own. She was a college swimmer and very talented at it.

“She lived a hardscrabble life when she was young and there was an enormous amount of work,” he said. “But she was very smart and went to college to become a teacher. It was one profession that was acceptable for a young woman of that time.”

“Grandma Veda” as he refers to her, was selected for the American Youth Award and American Teacher Award as the state representative from South Dakota. She traveled to the White House in 1926 to meet President Calvin Coolidge.

Lanz and his wife, Suzy, have a photo which Veda had as a keepsake. In the yellowed, aging print, one can still pick out several bright eyed men and women, the best America had to offer.

“When Grandma Veda first began teaching, she only made $30 a month,” Jerry said. “But she enjoyed it. She taught for 50 years.”

He recalls his mother as a “gentle, kind person.

“She was very smart and family-oriented,” he said, adding with a chuckle, “But she was an old school person as well. Discipline was done with a broom handle.”

Suzy met Veda as a 12-year-old girl growing up in the Parkrose area of Portland.

“My dad was a Portland cop and my mom was very strict,” she said. “I had no siblings so I used to love going to their house. I needed somewhere to keep my horse and they let me.”

Veda had six children, four of whom are still alive.

Suzy recalls spending hours riding her horse and bike with Phyllis, Jerry’s younger sister.

“I didn’t really get to know Veda until I was older,” she said. “She was always busy teaching school.”

Suzy describes her as a woman who thought of everyone else first.

“Grandma Veda gave up many of her own comforts and pleasures to help her children,” she said.

At the age of 82, Veda had medical problems which made it a challenge to live on her own, so she came to live with Jerry and Suzy in Camas for the final 10 years of her life.

“She enjoyed her time here,” Suzy said. “She was just a slip of a thing, but could eat a logger’s breakfast.”

The enormous appetite was the opposite of Suzy’s morning routine, which didn’t include food until a few hours after she woke up.

“I remember sitting with her in the kitchen one day and joking that thanks to her, I now had to eat something right away,” Suzy said.

Although Veda passed away nearly 17 years ago, memories remain strong in the lives of her children and grandchildren.

“All of the successes we’ve had really stem from Grandma Veda,” Jerry said.