Archive for June, 2010

My grandmother with her husband's family

My paternal grandmother Edith married when she was 14, on October 4, 1911. Her husband – my grandfather, Harry – was 38, 24 years old years older than his bride.  My grandfather is the in the front row on the left. My grandmother, his new bride – is in the second row standing, second from the left –  the short young girl. I have spent a fair amount of time trying to imagine what my grandmother’s life was like and what was going through her mind at this time of her life.  It sound atrocious that my grandfather took a child bride. But the way the story was told to me was that my great-grandmother, Edith’s Mom, died when Edith was 1-year-old. Her father re-married and put her out of the house when she was a teen because his new wife didn’t want her there. She was essentially an orphan and there weren’t any homes for 14-year-old girls then.

A close up of my grandparents after they were first married.

My grandfather Harry had been married before and he had 2 children from that marriage. Their son was reported to have some affliction, perhaps Down’s Syndrome. My grandmother Edith was hired to take care of this son. It might have resulted in a marriage of convenience, but I believe my grandmother loved my grandfather and that he cared for her too. I have spent some time looking at this photo and my grandmother’s face. 14 years old. Alone and no one to turn to. Pregnant. Bound to a much older man. Finally having someone to take care of her financially and a home. Her expression looks blank. She doesn’t look scared. She has no idea how her life is going to be. Bewildered might be the right word to capture how she feels. Hardened might be another term that best describes her. I think she looks remarkably confident and resilient at 14 years old.

Laundry with 14 children

Her first son was born March 29, 1912. That was 5 months after she was married. The baby reportedly weighed 13+ pounds. Her midwife or doctor told her that she wouldn’t have any more children. She had 13 more after the first one, 10 boys and 4 girls total. (See Being a Middle Child, #7 of 14) Her husband would be ill most of his adult life and she would be required to provide for the family AND care for her children. They survived the depression by my grandmother taking in laundry for others and for farming out her 10 sons to area farmers during those times. But somehow she provided a happy home. The bond between my aunts and uncles was close and real. My aunt’s account during this time that their Mom “somehow” scrapped enough money together to buy the material to make them suits for Easter. Another remarked that she received a watch for a graduation present. She was sure that my Grandmother made payments for a year to be able to purchase the watch for her. After dishes were finished after the evening meal, they would play rummy at the kitchen table or my Grandfather would help his kids with homework. It is astonishing to me that my Grandmother was able to create this great childhood for her children – with only a little help from her husband.

Photo Scanning Austin

My Dad's family in 1939

This photo was taken in 1939, 3 years before 4 of her sons would go off to war. She is here with all of her healthy children and her 66 year-old husband. I found newspaper articles about my Dad in some newspaper archives that describe a very active family. Most of the boys and some of the girls played high school sports. My Dad was on the tumbling, volleyball, basketball, and football teams. Other uncles were also on the teams, making all-area honors. I have several photos of the younger uncles playing in the yard and by the creek. It appears to be a pretty wholesome family.

4 sons in WWII

In December 1942, my Dad enlisted in the war and reported to Camp Wheeler, Georgia.In October 1943, my Dad arrived in Africa for duty in WWII and joined his older brother Frank in the region. In December 1943, my Uncle Jim was the fourth son to enter the war. I have telegrams that were sent to my grandmother telling that my father was missing in action and then seriously injured and hospitalized during the war. I can’t imagine getting these telegrams with little information. It was another serious sacrifice that she made when her sons served their country. I remember when my grandfather died. I was six years old. We visited him at my grandparent’s house and my grandfather was in a hospital bed in the living room. I remember the tender care that my grandmother gave to my grandfather. She truly cared for him – it didn’t seem to be a duty.

My grandmother realized the importance of family. It was perhaps because she didn’t have one that supported her when she was growing up. Without having the rich family experience herself, she crafted a wonderful household for her 14 children, even in dire economic times. When her children married and had children of their own, there were over 80 people in the immediate family, too many to gather in one home. In 1956, My grandmother started an annual tradition of our family reunion, held at a park where each family would bring a covered dish to share. There were games for the kids to play and a whole afternoon where all of her children could gather and celebrate their family. This reunion is still a tradition even though my grandmother, grandfather and most of her children are now gone.

Some people are given a birthright in form of money or an inheritance. No one in my family passed down any material goods for sure. My birthright comes instead from my grandmother doing the best she could with the little that she had. “Nothing we can do can change the past, but everything we do changes the future.”

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Me and my Dad

My Dad died 28 years ago. He had a massive heart attack when he was 60 and lived for a couple of  days after it. My husband and I hit the road to drive back home as soon as we heard that he was in the hospital, but we got there right after he died. My baby son was 2 months old and we stopped often on the road so I could nurse him. We ran into fog and was behind a 9-car pile up on a Tennessee  highway and we stopped for the night because traveling wasn’t safe. We called home before we left the next morning and heard that my Dad had died overnight. I didn’t get to say goodbye. My Dad didn’t get to see my baby son. He would have loved that. I would have loved that even more.

My Dad was the best dad. My Mom told the story that at my Dad’s 40th class reunion, each classmate had to get up and tell what accomplishment made them the most proud. All other men mentioned their career, or the car they drove, or the house they lived in. My Dad talked about his children and how well we were doing, how smart we were, and how happy he was. It was pretty progressive for a man of his generation to speak of his children. She said he even choked up a bit – maybe because he was nervous. But Mom wanted us to know what he had to say about his life and his accomplishments. He was telling his truth, even if it meant exposing some emotion.

My Dad saved a man’s life once. At age 58, he worked on top of a stack at an oil refinery. He used high-pressure air hoses to clean the stack. While working beside my Dad, a co-worker fell into the stack. Without company training, my Dad instinctively knew that his co-worker wouldn’t live long inside the stack without air. There were poisonous gases inside the stack and getting oxygen to him was critical. My Dad took one of the air hoses and pointed it into the area that his co-worker fell. His quick thinking gave the emergency response team time to climb the scaffolding to the stack and rescue the worker. My Dad received a citation and a plaque from the company for his quick-thinking. His photo was in the newspaper. Not only was he my hero, but in the eyes of his co-worker’s family, he was Superman.

A dance with Dad

My Dad enjoyed his organic garden ( My Dad – The original organic farmer.) , telling corny jokes ( Knock-knock) , playing with his grand-kids, and getting to know people – especially new acquaintances. He lent money to friends who were going through hard times, even when he endured going without work himself. He volunteered as a football coach for “Pee-Wee” football (Football Boogie ) in our community. He spent extra time with my blind cousin to make her feel special whenever he saw her. He taught us to dance  Saturday night in the living room when the Grand Ole Opry was on TV. He worked hard to provide for us as best as he could. He was essentially the laughter and soul in our family.

Even though he was one of 14 kids in his family (Being a Middle Child, #7 of 14), and grew up in a family were affection wasn’t really shown, my Dad somehow knew how to let us know that we were special. He parented us better than he was parented for sure and our lives were much better than he knew as a child.

Father’s Day used to be a tough day for me. But now I just spend some time with the memory of my father and the rich feeling that I am truly blessed to have had the father that I had.

My Dad

For my father’s funeral, we read a poem by Emerson that described my Dad exquisitely. He wasn’t a rich man, or famous, or prosperous in his career by any means. But he did triumph at being a father. He truly did the best that he could.

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty,
to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better,
whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier
because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

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During my childhood, I only had 2 real family vacations. I have vivid memories of both of these vacations – I can remember the tiniest details of each trip. Traveling in the car through the countryside made quiet an impression on me. Other than visiting my mother’s brother in Indiana or going to Cedar Point for the day, we stayed close to our home in Ohio. It was a real treat to venture for an extended trip on a “real” vacation.

My childhood vacation in Tennessee

The first vacation was when I was seven. My Mom grew up in mountains of Tennessee  (See: The Story part of Family History) and though she left the hills when she was young, her brother and his family still lived there.  My older brother, my Mom & Dad, and my two sisters and I fit into a borrowed truck with an attached camper on the back and we drove to Tennessee. We stopped at roadside picnic tables to retrieve the prepared fried chicken with honey from inside the camper. Mom thought it would be a good meal for our travels because stopping to eat along the way at a restaurant was too expensive and fast food was not very available. We loved the chicken with honey, but the bees loved it too and swarmed us as we tried to eat it. My dad’s potato salad (See: Schlumgolian ) and Kool-aid rounded out the lunch-time meal. It was a perfect lunch for a family with kids.

The Smoky Mountains

Before we went to my Uncle’s house, we spent some time in the mountains at a camping ground. We feared the bears and stayed close to the camper during the day. There was something about this trip that made my mom anxious. She was not enjoying herself and perhaps her anxiety rubbed off on us. I thought at the time that she was afraid of the bears as well, but found out later  – much later – that she was claustrophobic in the camper. She couldn’t sleep at night and stepped out to be able to breathe, only to be chased back inside by mosquitos. She later remarked that she grew up without indoor plumbing or electricity, and by cooking over wood. She had absolutely no appeal for camping. It reminded her of her tough upbringing and she liked the comforts of home. Camping was a means to an end, as we could afford to take this vacation in the camper. We would not have been able to pay for a hotel room for sure (see My Dad – the Original Organic Gardener).

We visited a Cherokee Indian reservation in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and watched an exhibition and tribal dance that the natives put on for visitors. Bears lived in the area and we saw a baby bear just off the road. We wanted to hug it – thinking it would be like our stuffed animals at home. But my mother was aware that the Mama bear some distance away would be protective of her cub and Mom kept us away.

After a few days of camping, we arrived at my uncle’s home in Eastern Tennessee – near Cumberland Gap. He lived in the country, near a pond and a wooded area. We warmed up pretty quickly to our older boy cousins and were playing outside. Cousin Bruce pushed us on their swing set. Mom came off the porch and asked us if we had seen Jane – my youngest sister who was 3. We didn’t know where she was. Panic surrounded us when my Mom ran inside the house, then back outside shouting her name. Mom started out into the wooded area near their property, shouting her name more and more loudly. She instructed my Dad to check near the pond. Neighbors quickly sensed that an emergency was occurring and dropped their activities to join in the search. Eventually someone called the sheriff to report my missing sister. My Mom started to cry and she N-E-V-E-R cried. I went back into the house to see if I could find her and looked under beds and in closets, but there was no evidence of my sister anywhere. After what seemed like an eternity, my aunt came out of the house carrying my sister. Jane became tired after playing outside and retreated to one the bedrooms to take a nap. She had crawled under a makeshift mattress on the floor that we slept on the previous night. It had been propped up to dry when one of us wet the bed the night before. She was under it far enough to conceal her nap. Afterwards, Mom seemed as protective as the Mama Bear that we had seen a few days earlier. She kept a watchful eye on us all. She enjoyed visiting with her brother and sister-in-law, but we could tell she was ready to return home.

Our second vacation didn’t happen until I was in high school. My dad’s favorite childhood cousin had come to town for a visit and asked my Dad to return to Michigan with him for a week. My Dad was unemployed and it was easy for him to take the week off. This cousin lived near a lake located on back side of a state park in Machinaw City. They intended to fish for a week – just like they did in their younger years when they were free and unencumbered with family. The following week then, we would drive to Michigan to visit for a few days and drive back with my Dad.

The trip to Michigan was in our family car and it held 6 of us. It was crowded  and we even took a tent with us as there wasn’t room in the their house for us all. My younger sister’s boyfriend came with us and my Mom forced my Dad to sleep outside with the kids to make sure that all was totally proper. We all drove north to visit the locks at Sault Ste. Marie and even ventured into Ontario, Canada. It was a big deal that we left the United States – even if it were only for 1 hour.

The thing that impressed me the most was the blueberries. We strapped the handle of gallon plastic water jugs that had been cut back at the top to our belt loops and set out in the woods to pick blueberries. I ate twice as many as I put in my gallon container. I tried to conceal how much I ate, but the blue on my teeth gave it away. We still came back from the woods with gallons of blueberries. For dinner, we celebrated with blueberry pies and cobbler. It was probably the best dessert I ever had.

We drove home as quickly as we could. We now had 7 in our Chevy Impala and with 4 in the back seat, we couldn’t get home fast enough. It really was an adventure to go on vacation. But sometimes just the process of getting away makes you appreciate home even more.

Picture This! will help you create the gift of a lifetime. Call us to scan your heirloom photos or to preserve your videos. 512-263-0546

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Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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