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A Memory From A Family Friend

Rose Behnke with her son Albert H. Behnke
Rose Behnke with her son Albert H. Behnke

A Memory From A Family Friend

A few weeks ago, Pat Torbert Kral reached out to me to share a memory she had of my grandparents.
Pat’s sister, Frances Torbert, was one of my mother’s (Sonja Behnke Festerling) very best friends. They went all through school together and worked in the African Violet House together. I went to school with Pat’s daughter, Cay, when I lived in Beltsville.

Pat and her partner Bruce Clark moved to Riderwood 17 years ago. She had lived on Powder Mill Road in Beltsville when she married Jack Kral in 1980. After coming to Riderwood, Pat took a class called” Write Your Story.” One assignment was to write about your first job. So came to be this story of her one day working for the Behnke Family.

I always heard from many what a taskmaster my grandfather Albert Behnke was. If you were working for him, you were working ALL DAY. Many would never know but while being the sweetest person, my grandmother Rose Behnke expected a lot from any that worked for her. I should know… There were lots of days spent scrubbing floors in my childhood. I hope you enjoy Pat’s story. I did. And if you have a memory you would like to share with our readers, I would love to hear it.  ~Stephanie

My First Paying Job ~ Pat Torbert Kral

My very first paying job lasted for only one day. I was about 12 years old at the time and spent one Saturday babysitting Little Albert, the youngest child of Albert and Rose Behnke who owned Behnke Nurseries on Rt. 1 in Beltsville, Maryland.

My older sister Frances was the same age and very good friends with Sonja Behnke, the only daughter of Albert and Rose. As teenagers, Frances and Sonja worked weekends in the African violet greenhouse at the nursery. African violets were very popular at the time – the late 1940’s – being a relatively new house plant that came in many colors. In addition to selling plants, the girls were expected to root new cuttings, water, and fertilize the plants – anything that was needed to keep them thriving. Weekends were extremely busy all around the nursery. The greenhouses where house plants were located were a big draw, especially the African violet house.

The Behnke family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Behnke (Albert and Rose), two sons (Roland and William), a daughter Sonja, and an infant son, Little Albert, who was named after his father. The entire family was expected to help out around the nursery. At that time, the family lived in a house that was located smack dab in the middle of the nursery property. Since the nursery was so busy on weekends, Mrs. Behnke felt the need to be out and about helping Mr. Behnke with sales and supervising employees. This was difficult to do with an infant in the house and somehow – I have no clue as to where the idea came from being only 12 years old at the time – I was chosen, asked or told, I don’t remember which, that I was the very person to watch Little Albert on weekends. It sounded like fun. After all, how hard could it be to watch a baby who was not even walking yet?

On Saturday morning, my first day on the job, I was driven to the nursery along with my sister. Ordinarily, no employees were allowed in the house, but since my sister was such a good friend of Sonja Behnke, she had special privileges. Frances was allowed to come into the house and put her lunch into the refrigerator in the kitchen and to eat in the house with Sonja. Since I was going to be watching Little Albert inside, I, too, was allowed to put my lunch into the family fridge.

My first instruction from Mrs. Behnke was that I was not to pick up Little Albert. I don’t know if she thought I would drop him or what. It’s kind of hard to watch a baby who is not yet walking and never pick him up. I must admit I broke that rule in very short order. Mrs. Behnke was out and about the nursery grounds but came into the house frequently to see how things were going.

Little Albert went down for a mid-morning nap, and I was instructed to go outside while he was sleeping and take down the clean, dry clothes that were hanging on the clothesline behind the house, fold them up into the laundry basket, and bring them inside. Mrs. Behnke had apparently washed these clothes and hung them out early in the morning before I arrived. I did as I was told.

Lunchtime came, and Sonja and my sister came in from the greenhouse to eat their lunch. I sat down with them at the dining room table, which was littered with envelopes, stamps, mailing labels, and a stack of flyers. I think we were to have just 30 minutes for lunch. The girls went back to work in the greenhouse, Little Albert woke up from his nap, and I went back to watching him.

I honestly don’t remember anything about the baby’s lunch, whether I fed him or perhaps Mrs. Behnke came inside and fed him. After playing around for a while, Little Albert was ready for his afternoon nap. By this time, even I was tired and was thinking what a nice rest I would have while the baby was napping. No way! If you worked for the Behnke’s, you worked your entire shift. I was instructed that while Little Albert napped, I was to clear off the dining room table by folding the flyers, stuffing the envelopes, and affixing mailing labels and stamps.

I was so thankful when 5:00 o’clock came, and my mother arrived to pick up Frances and me. When we got home, I was asked how I liked my first day of work. Almost in tears, I begged my mother not to ever make me go back to work for the Behnke’s.

I did do a lot of babysitting as a teen, but I never again worked for such a hard taskmaster as Mrs. Behnke. I have no recollection as to how much I got paid for that day’s work. Whatever it was, it wasn’t worth it to me.

Pat KralSept 2013




Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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