Moving On, a Family Tale

photoSilent storytellers, a pair of ladles hangs on my kitchen wall. Family and friends scarcely notice them with all the other distracting things cluttering the gathering space. Clutter, my identity-wrapped treasures, the never-ending project waiting attention and bane of my existence, combine to hide precious objects in plain view.

We gather here, munching or feasting, pouring coffee easily brewed in the electric pot all while threads of conversation weave around the room from several clusters of people engaged in animated dialog. It is comfortable here. The thermostat is set just right for a group. Friends open the fridge at will to find creamer or space for a sandwich brought from home. I have freshened the supplies in the necessary room. My chief concern now is what to do with all the left over cake and pie at the end of the day.

And the ladles hang silently by in the midst of this comfort and ease with a story from another time, other places. If function determines value, they fall in the category of needless, worn out, passé, disposable inventory since they have been hanging on my wall, unused for at least 20 years.

But, you see, it is the story they have to tell that holds value to me. They connect me directly to the one who stirred her stew in an iron kettle over an open fire. Rachel they called her. Her great grandfather was one of the many Palatine Germans who had been forced to leave their homelands some 80 years before she was born. There had been famine brought on by one of the coldest seasons in memory. Even a bird froze in mid air, it was said. There was ongoing religious persecution because of the Catholic-Protestant divide.  It didn’t matter which side you belonged to; the unrest and general disturbance affected everyone who wanted to live in peace. To add to the mix, the near-by French troops had made incursion after incursion, under orders to destroy everything in the land.

It was time to get out and move on. Time to take his family through the almost unbearable conditions of an Atlantic journey to the hope of a better life in a new world. Packed together like the proverbial sardines, with non-existent sanitary facilities, only the strong survived. The littlest one, just barely one year old, was buried at sea.

The leader of the family was a blacksmith in the old country; once landed, his strength helped them push on to find space and safety. After buying supplies in Philadelphia, they headed up north and west, north and west. The first homestead was rough, one-roomed and sufficient to house and comfort the family for several years, even as more babies came. But this soil was shallow and rocky; on they moved west again until, like Baby Bear’s porridge it was just right. Near Macungie and Fogelsville, in the general area of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, they finally found rest.

Just as Abraham after leaving home for a far country built an altar for worship, so Rachel’s grandfather built a church, establishing a Lutheran congregation with another Palatinate and recent immigrant. The Jordan Lutheran Church, Orefield, PA is still a viable church, proclaiming the gospel as they celebrated 275 years of service in 2010.

Grandfather Johann did not remain a blacksmith. He tried his hand at several things, building a family business, farming, raising the best apples anywhere around and developing a distillery to make applejack which found a ready market in Philadelphia. He was always ready to move on, if not to another country, to another way to prosper. This was Rachel’s heritage: Godly, hard working, self-reliant, and ready to move on if needed. This was the air she breathed, the culture she absorbed as she grew. But she was not the only one growing in that house. There were 8 girls by now, and one lone brother. So many girls, so few suitors. This is a major problem in a society where every woman needed a husband to have a family, to be complete.

As a new bride she felt something needed to be done to help her sisters find suitable mates. Her solution? Go west!  Move on. Out there somewhere there will be husbands, sturdy men who are developing the frontier and needing wives. She then packed up a covered wagon with all the supplies they might need, and with her new husband and three of her sisters rumbled off to the unknown west. She was 28 years old.

The road situation in 1843 was rudimentary at best. Bridges? Way stops? Comfort? Not a bit. No McDonalds when hungry and tired. No Days Inn for a night’s rest. She did have her kettle and the ladles for stirring and scooping when they built a fire and hung the pot over the flames. I wonder if while cooking their meals she felt homesick for those she left behind, those she probably would never see again. They pressed on, over the seemingly endless Pennsylvania mountains. On into Ohio with its miles and miles of miles and miles. Nowhere seemed to be “just right.” Days and days. Weeks and weeks of stirring the pot over open fire.

Arriving in Indiana, there it was. The place that felt like it could become home. Somewhere near Akron they stopped, to begin life anew. They found some other settlers who had arrived just before them. “Akron was founded on July 4, 1836 by 47 settlers seeking new lands in what was then an uncharted wilderness.” She sent word back home for her brother to come join them. Her own babies came as their lives stabilized into a settled farming routine. More modern supplies were purchased and the ladles were packed away. Eventually they were handed down from mother to daughter, a visible expression of the invisible strength, determination and character of the woman who used them. She was my great great grandmother.Rachel L Berlin The silent ladles speak volumes. I am honored to be a steward of their story.

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Notes on Family, History, Cherished Objects and Other Arcane Matters

For some years I have lamented, whined really, that I was full of information and wisdom, and no one ever asked me for it.  All dressed up and no place to go, I thought.  Full of knowing about people and times of my past, my first hand experiences, but the general attitude seemed to be “So what?”

Now when I am faced with teaching, editing, reducing clutter to simplify my life, weighing options for my future, and playing with my new techno toys… now, I am asked to write these gems, collecting them before both they and I are gone from view. Hmm.

These tidbits will be in no special order, but only as they come to mind or discussion. I will put up my net and try to capture them before they fly out of sight once again.

Engine DeanWeaver CleanedI was asked about this picture of a train man standing on an engine. The nattily turned out one in his conductor suit. The man has part of one finger missing. Who is that?

That man is Dean D (without a period) Weaver, my maternal grandfather.  He was born in Mexico, Indiana and had joined the railroad as a young man. The train line he worked for went through parts of Ohio, and it was there that he met a fine Irish gal, Maude McEwen, sweeping her off her feet.  Maude was actually Scotch-Irish, part of a family that was known for being scrappy, politically minded, and having the ability to survive difficult circumstances.  I believe her family lived in Sycamore, Ohio, a rather nondescript town in the central part of the state.

They were married on Christmas Day, in 1905; my mother Maxine was born Dec. 23, 1906.  He used to complain that every time he hung his trousers on the bed post Maude got pregnant. That is some exaggeration since they had only three children, spaced well apart.

In any case, the finger event happened when he was working at a coupling, to unhook two railcars from each other. The engine either started to back up, or one of the cars started to roll, but the result was his finger was smashed between the two. That was not the immediate cause of his leaving the rails; he continued there for some years.

He was a bit too old for the First World War, I think.  Somewhere in his adult life he decided to move his family to Detroit where they ran a corner grocery store. I have a picture of that on some disc. I also have another bit of information that says the family moved to Battle Creek, Michigan for a while.  I am not sure which is accurate. Another time they all moved to Florida.  My mother was then a teen ager; her brother Dean was about nine.  Grandfather did some work for a man while there. The man was cash strapped and offered to pay him with some land. It was typical Florida sandy scrub in which he could see no value. Therefore he sold it to avoid having to pay taxes on it.  It is downtown Orlando today.

Another loss he sustained had to do with helicopters.  He was always a tinkerer and dreamer, an inventor of sorts. Flight was becoming newsworthy in the Twenties and Thirties; he thought about a type of reverse propeller which could lift a plane vertically.  Some one “helped” him send the design to the Patent office; either it was rejected or he never heard back.  Later the helicopter came forth using his idea which he and the family believed was stolen from him.

He was an amiable, easy-going man which is a good thing since his wife Maude lived true to her heritage and was a woman of strong opinions frequently expressed.  We called her bossy, and felt that he was somewhat “hen-pecked.”  When she got on a rant or found fault with him, he would just go to the piano or pick up his mandolin and start plunking out a tune.  I remember his playing “Over the Waves” time and again.  It was his way of escape.

One thing that would get her going was finding cold, smelly cigar butts left in inappropriate places, like the back of the toilet, for instance.  But no matter how often she fussed at him, it made no change in the behavior.  I do not remember seeing him ever actually smoke a cigar.  I only recall the short, somewhat soggy butts.

There is a story behind the D (without a period) middle initial of his name. I think it had something to do with conscription or some governmental requirement which said he had to have a middle initial on the form.  Bureaucracy being what it is, he came up with one. The no period means the initial doesn’t stand for anything.

Of course, by the time I was old enough to pay attention to the people in my life, he was about 60. I remember times when we, my mother and I, would be expecting them to come from Warsaw to South Bend for some occasion. There was always the mandatory looking out the window or down the street until they finally came into view. We were living in an apartment on Bartlett Street when I was between 10 and 12.  It was there that I tried to draw a picture of him while he napped in the chair.
Sleepy Grandpa 1941

Along the way, he got training as a draftsman.  When the Second World War broke out and America geared up for war, he got a job with Bendix Corporation which was making air planes, or parts.  It was the first decent job he had had in some years, so their fortunes improved considerably.  It also meant they had to move to South Bend where the work was.  For a season of time, they moved in with us. I was 13 and Mother had moved once again to a little house on the other side of town.  It was a difficult time of adjusting, making room, giving up and getting along, especially for me who was growing like a weed, in puberty and not too energetic or eager to change to the new circumstances.

Eventually, they found and rented a house back on the west side of town (749 Lawndale Street) that had room upstairs to make an apartment.  Mother and I moved with them, taking the apartment. It was a good solution from Mother’s point of view; she was now in a job that took her out of town for a week or two at a time and I would have some supervision and care in her absence. Once again we settled into a new routine. By this time I was 14, a sophomore in high school, taking the city bus to and from school.

It was there, that year, when things were beginning to look up for this kind man that his life came to a sudden end. Six weeks later his wife followed him into eternity and my world was rearranged abruptly. But that’s another story.

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I did an interview with my mother in 1988 using a small portable tape recorder, the highest technology available at that time. She wanted to tell me the background and/or value of the things she owned which I was to inherit. In the process I learned a little bit about her family and ancestors. She began with that which was the most important to her, the pieces which are to be kept in the family and handed down to those who will care for and cherish them.

Her large walnut blanket chest with solid top and lovely finish was made by my great grandfather Weaver out of walnut from his grandfather’s land in Indiana. My great grandfather, who was the father of Dean D Weaver (above) was Francis Marion Weaver.  He made the chest and a one-drawer table for his wife Mary, whom he lovingly called Molly.  Francis wanted to get involved in the Civil War, but was too young to be a soldier so he became a drummer boy. I believe he was 14, or so the story goes. The genealogical records show him to be 14 in 1860 which would verify that. Checking my Family Tree Records, I note that his grandfather died when Francis was about 10, but the Grandmother lived until he was 28.  Since he was 26 when he married Molly, he would have had access to the farm, and its trees in order to make the furniture for his bride. Doing the math dates the chest and table to 1872.

This is a photograph of a family gathering at a picnic held at Winona Lake in Indiana the summer of 1930.  My dad is holding me, a squirming toddler;  an assortment of other family is nearby. Francis, the Civil War drummer boy who was a widower by this time, is in the back row, wearing a bow tie. It is astounding to realize that my life overlaps his. He beat drums in the 1860’s; I use WiFi to play music on my iPhone. His three children are in the group: Aunt Jessie who never married, is standing next to him; my grandfather, Dean, sporting a straw hat is next to his wife, Maude; Aunt Flo or Floy as she has been called is on the blanket to the left; Dorothy, age 7, is holding the ball on the right. Weaver Family in Akron