Etta the Neat-nick
Etta and Albert Westra, circa 1928
I had the pleasure of knowing my maternal grandmother Etta Westra for a long time since she lived to be more than 100 years old. Etta Berendine Pauw was born on 09 July 1902 in the small town of Octelbur (now called Riepe), Germany. She was the seventh of eight children born to Ewold Pauw and Martha Reemt Jürgens. When she was a young woman, she met my grandfather Albert Westra while working as a house servant for a doctor in the Netherlands. They were to be married and they decided that immigrating to America would be the best option for their life together. Albert left to secure a job and get things arranged a year before Etta. Traveling from her homeland of Germany, she stepped off the ship the SS Ryndam on March 3, 1928 in New York City where my grandfather, Albert Westra, was waiting for her to arrive. She was married to Albert just three months later on 03 June 1928 in Little Falls, New Jersey. They eventually settled in Newton, New Jersey, and this is where I had the pleasure of getting to know my grandmother.
If you ask me to describe my grandmother in one word, it would be neat. She took her occupation of homemaker very seriously. While my house is overrun with dust bunnies and dog hair, Etta’s two-story house was spotless. Unlike my paternal grandmother who loved knick-knacks, stuffed animals, pillows, refrigerator magnets and pictures, Etta’s house didn’t have many superfluous items. You might even say she bordered on the austere. There was one mahogany, corner cabinet in the dining room that held a few precious decorative plates and some figurines. Each of the tables in the house usually had only one item on it whether it was a lamp or one of my grandfather’s miniature windmills.
3 Townsend St., Newton, Sussex County, NJ
Keeping the house neat followed a schedule. For hundreds of years (until women started pursuing independent careers outside the home), many homemakers followed a standard. Each day had its own task, and so the work was done in a logical, orderly fashion as the week progressed. Mondays were for laundry. Tuesdays were reserved for ironing or gardening. Wednesdays were for mending clothes and sewing while Thursdays were grocery shopping days. Fridays were for dusting and vacuuming. Saturdays were baking, porch cleaning and possibly scrubbing of windows if the weather cooperated. Only Sundays were exempt. They were for church, rest and socializing.
My mother, Martha, remembers that when she and her siblings were little they were taught to keep all their toys in a “toy closet” in the kitchen. All toys had to be stored there and none were allowed out when they weren’t being played with. Once a week, on Fridays, Etta made them clean the closet and if it wasn’t done up to her standards she would make the children rearrange the toys to her satisfaction. Nothing willy-nilly thrown into the closet was allowed. One year, the children all got roller skates for Christmas. Etta flipped out when she discovered them skating in the kitchen on her freshly waxed floor.
While dusting the downstairs, Etta had specific dusting clothes for her dining room chairs. One cloth was for wiping the upholstery and another for the wood parts of the chairs. Heaven forbid if you used the upholstery cloth on the wood parts or vice versa. Another set of cloths were used to polish the end tables, coffee table and cabinet television. The wall-sized mirror in the living room was wiped and streaks were buffed out.
Etta sporting her housedress, circa 1975. She’s not for sale, the windmills are…
Neither the attic nor the cellar were exempt from the neat rule. While the attic was used less, and even though it would get quite toasty in the summer, it was regularly swept and inspected for dirt and debris. The cellar floor was tiled with linoleum and the walls were finished and painted. After working all day in his dusty carpentry workshop, Grandpa had to come in through the basement, head straight to the wash room down there, take off his dusty clothes and leave them in the laundry bin. Grandpa then used the basement shower and dressed in the fresh clothes Etta made sure to have ready for him.
“Albert, are you almost ready for dinner?” Etta would call out from the top of the cellar stairs.
“Yes, I’m just finishing up now.”
“Gutt, the pork chops and carrots are almost done. Don’t be too long.”
Only when he was finished was he allowed upstairs to the living room and kitchen. While my grandfather was downstairs cleaning up, she would be upstairs changing for dinner.
Etta had housedresses for the work around the house during the day but dinnertime was dress up time. The jewelry and the stockings would come out. A nice sweater, blouse and skirt were the standard attire.
3 Townsend St. in full bloom
Etta’s neatness spilled out of the house and into her gardens. Flower beds and the types of flowers in them were always changing but the rows, circles, or hanging baskets of petunias, tulips and geraniums were a standard sight on 3 Townsend St. in Newton, each spring and early summer.
During the summer, my sisters, my mom and I usually spent most of the day at the public pool. The nice thing about the pool was that Etta’s house was between our house on Merriam Ave and pool on Moran Street. We would stop each day on the way back from the pool at Etta’s house for tea.
Some of Etta’s fancy teaspoons
Tea time was an event at grandma’s house. First, the placemats would come out. Then the dainty, china tea cups and fancy silver tea spoons – staples in the tea time ritual – would come out from her spotless white cabinets and would be set out on the table; one in front of each person partaking of tea. The tea was never the bagged kind. That would be sacrilege. It was loose in the tea pot and a strainer was used when it was poured into the tea cups. Bits of tea leaves got through and were meant to be ignored. But you only got about a half a cup. To this day, that is one of the running jokes between me and my mom. If she wants to get a laugh out of me, Mom just sets a half a cup of tea or coffee in front of me. And when I want a laugh from her, I set a whole cup of tea down in front of her.
Etta Westra, circa 1982
Etta’s neatness also translated into her hairstyle. She had a matching silver set consisting of a brush, a mirror and a comb that sat on her dresser. On the rare nights my sisters and I got to sleep over at Grandma Westra’s house, it was a pleasure to watch her do her hair in the morning. The mirror was the kind that had a loop for a person’s neck so that your hands could be free when you were using the comb or the brush. She would loop the mirror around her neck and then proceed to sweep her hair back from her forehead with the comb. In her older years, her hair had turned a gorgeous silver color. Since my hair was long and blond she would use the long strands collected by my mom from my hairbrush to augment her “poof” in front.
I believe that Etta’s neatness was a hereditary trait passed down to her descendants. It completely missed my mom and me though. We are much more laid back in our housekeeping and personal care styles. But it landed full force with my middle sister Jill. It may not be a complete coincidence since Jill shares the birth day of July 9th with Etta. While playing outside, Jill never liked getting her hands dirty with mud pies and wouldn’t dream of ever touching a worm. Now that she’s older, Jill dresses impeccably (even while jogging) and keeps a house that Etta would be proud of.
 Germany, Office of the Registrar, Geburtzurkunde, birth certificate (1902), Etta Berendine Pauw. Issued in Reipe, Germany on 25 May 1967, parents are listed as Ewold Pauw and Martha Reemt Jürgens.
 Newton, New Jersey, Sussex County Clerk’s Office Naturalization Record Book 1205-1234:1217, Etta Westra, 07 September 1940, certificate of arrival; Hall of Records, Newton.
 New Jersey, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Marriage Certificates, marriage certificate no. 232 [stamped] (1928), Westra-Pauw.
 Martha E. Strait (Lafayette, NJ), phone interview by Jodi Strait-Shutts, 14 December 2013; interview held by Strait, Tucson, Arizona, 2013. Martha, a daughter of Albert and Etta Westra, spoke from personal knowledge.