Lend-A-Hand Club

Mae Jabus

Editor’s Note: There is a photo of my maternal grandmother sitting at the kitchen table in our house on Madison Street at my first Thanksgiving dinner. She looks on while Father carved the turkey and Mother captured the photograph. I sat against the wall between them. This post is about my return to Iowa from Fort Benning, Georgia for a brief Thanksgiving visit before departing for Europe in 1976.

Grandmother lived near or with us from my earliest memories until we moved to the Marquette Street house in 1959. After that we visited her occasionally. More commonly, Father picked her up at her apartment and brought her to our house for a special meal, holiday or event. Eventually she located at the Lend-A-Hand Club at the foot of Main Street on the riverfront.

The Lend-A-Hand was established in Davenport in 1886, part of a national network of Lend-A-Hand Clubs — a place for young women who lived and worked away from home to associate in a safe environment. After Grandmother left the farm in Lincoln County, Minnesota, she found such living arrangements, either with the people for whom she worked as a servant or cook, or in small apartments in a subdivided single family structure. In 1973 the Lend-A-Hand Club was rented to the City of Davenport and converted to elderly housing. Grandmother was one of the first residents after that. The building was listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

I visited her often after leaving Davenport in 1970. I can remember her room as if I were there today. She took a couple of photographs during those visits and I use them from time to time to aid my memory.

When senior dining began at the Lend-A-Hand she volunteered as a hostess. She also used an electric skillet to cook some of her own meals in her room. I often shared meals she cooked during my visits. She worked as a cook, seamstress and housekeeper most of her life and was good at it. I keep a couple of recipes she wrote down for me in my cook book in the kitchen.

The 1970s hold fond memories of our time together. On Nov. 26, 1976 I visited and wrote this journal entry. It became important later in my life as I became involved in the local food movement. It is lightly edited because I couldn’t stand some of the usage.

Today I visited Grandmother at the Lend-A-Hand and we ate ravioli from LaSalle, Illinois. They hand pack it there. It is a treat whenever we get a chance to make some.

I wonder about the brand names which grace our pantry — Kraft, Nabisco, Campbell’s, Carnation, Betty Crocker, Aunt Jemima, Libby’s, Quaker Oats, Folgers, Post, Hershey’s — and marvel at the simplicity of the containers in Grandmother’s shared kitchen.

There are milk cartons with all the ladies’ names on them; bulky, shapeless packages with owners’ names written on them; old butter dishes covered and taped shut; white and tan boxes each with a name on them. It seems fitting that the name of the consumer rather than the producer or canner appear on foods awaiting the pot.

Perhaps these women are not swayed by the numerous labels enticing them from supermarket shelves. Maybe they learned that a carrot is only a carrot, no matter who laid hands on it. But food is food and when one has it, one is grateful.

Journals, Davenport, Iowa, Nov. 26, 1976