Remembrances of My Grandfather Cornelius Hiebert
By Susan Louise (Hiebert) Abel
My grandfather, Cornelius Hiebert, died when I was about thirteen years old, so my memories are not as rich as some would have of their grandfathers who knew them longer and more intimately; but I would like to tell to you what memories he left this granddaughter.
He was not a tall man, but neither was he a short man. I remember sitting in his lap near a window in his house in Torrance, California. I remember how old his hands looked to me, craggy and rough; but when I touched them, they were very warm and smooth. Now my hands are like his were then. His hair was of the whitest shade. It was a handsome glorious crown of hair, though a bit thin toward the top, which framed a face that smiled at me.
My grandfather was a cabinet maker, and a businessman. He came from Manitoba to California during the depression and that was a providence of God; for in Los Angeles, the movie business boomed in those years. There he could make a suitable living for his family, creating desks and office furniture of the most beautiful woods. When I would walk into his shop, I could smell, (and still smell in my memory,) the wonderful resinous odors from the cut wood.
I have heard that he never liked his first name much, because people called him Corny. That is the fault of the English language and not the name. My grandfather Cornelius was named for the Roman Centurion in the Bible, in the book of Acts, Chapter 10, who had given much alms to God’s people and prayed to God always. My grandfather lived up to his name in many ways. I feel that his mother Marie and his father Jacob named him well.
My grandfather’s main impression upon me was his very generous nature. My grandfather gave me many gifts including the gift of life through him, via my mama, his third daughter Ida May. But the first temporal gift I remember that he gave me as a little girl was a stuffed animal. It was a strange rabbit, small enough for a three-year-old to carry, that wore a pink and grey plaid suit sewed onto his white fur, with floppy ears that had pink fabric inside. I named that rabbit Boppy-Bear, and I do not know why. It became my constant companion for so many years that it might have been an embarrassing thing to my parents. It was finally lost one day and I have mourned over that rabbit, as it seems, permanently.
My grandfather knew little girls very well, for he had had five of his own. He knew when to be generous and when to be strict. My mama told me a story of how she and her sister brought home a recording of the Andrew Sisters and were happily playing it on their phonograph. My grandfather did not like that sort of music. He did not want them listening to things that might sway them to be common. He always encouraged good music in their home. That record was broken and they never listened to it again.
When my brother and I were little, our grandfather would often take us to the beach. We would spend an afternoon playing with the waves and digging in the warm sand and our grandfather would watch over us. I remember one afternoon when I became just too cold from all my play in the surf and I was shivering with goosebumps and complaining too. My grandfather bent down and cupped the warm sand in his big hands and rubbed that warm sand over my bare legs. It felt sandpapery but it warmed me up and I quit my complaining!
My grandfather liked being a successful business man. He would buy himself Lincoln Continentals to drive, one a light blue, and its successor was silver. He had nameplates engraved upon the driver’s door. He would take us for rides in his luxurious cars and there was never more comfort to be experienced in a drive around town! But my grandfather did like to give and not just receive.
I remember once he asked my brother to go get his umbrella out of his car, and when my brother returned with the umbrella, Grandfather gave him a ten-dollar bill! That was a lot of money back in the 60’s!
When Pacific College needed a new library, he was happy to donate the funds for them to build it. That library still bears his name. My grandfather Cornelius was a generous man, as was his namesake, the Centurion; and my mama, his daughter Ida May, is also that way. I pray that I may be as generous as they!