Monday, October 17, 2016

Dad and I were Auction Groupies!

Part of the farm that I went to the auction last week.
That last blog entry was pretty heavy, so I promised myself that I would lighten up with the next one. I actually had a plan, then changed it when I went to an estate auction last week.  My mother gave me permission to say whatever I wanted to, because auctions in our life could be very funny.

My father died at the age of 47 when I was 24. If it were not for that, I would have been in the habit of going to auctions with him until he couldn’t go anymore.

We started when I was young. Dad always told me to get an amount in your head before you started bidding, and quit. (He said the same thing about poker games, give yourself an allowance and then quit). I remembered this as I bid on a quilt last week that was VERY similar to one I had at home that my husband’s grandmother had made—or maybe it was great-grandmother. This was the same pattern, trimmed differently, but in the same colors. I thought I could do something with both of them together.

Having watched the bidding in general, things were going fairly low. That is to say some things did, and then some of the craziest things went very high. That is part of the entertainment of the auction. So, in my head, I was not in Amish country bidding on a great creation (although it was nice). I set my price and lost it.

But I digress.

My mother never knew what my father was going to bring home. He had a garage workbench and a basement workbench to store some of this stuff, so the only ones who really suffered were the folks who had to clean up the workshops for the auction Mom had after he died. Sometimes he brought Mom something, that to her was the same as the cat bringing a dead bird to her. She usually took it in stride.

But not always.

There were box lots. Box lots, to the uninitiated, are when the auctioneer throws one good thing into the box, and then throws in a bunch of junk to get rid of it. While we know that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure—and the same thing goes for women—usually the box is full of junk.
Tools are handled differently and Dad did have an affinity for tools……but he still bought those box lots. Mom would remove the items out of them while we all sat around in the kitchen and we would laugh uproariously at the ridiculousness of it. “Oh, just what every family NEEDS! Milking machinery cleanser!” I would nearly wet my pants.

This could go on for any length of time, and we were easily entertained in those days. Silly as it seems, it was family (and whatever friend might be witnessing this) bonding time.

There were times it wasn’t so funny. Dad bought a dining room suite without consulting Mom. That, friends, we don’t do! However, in the big scheme of things, she only had to endure it for about three years, because when the house we sold on land contract was refinanced, we came into the proceeds and Mom got all new furniture and carpet for the downstairs and the kitchen table she dreamed of. The point is, do not buy furniture at an auction unless husband and wife are there together.

It was difficult to watch my grandparents’ things auctioned off in 1972, and I didn’t attend the auction my mother had in 1978. When I settled my uncle’s estate in 1992, the auction wasn’t difficult for me at all. When the estate auction for my in-laws was held in 2002, I did not attend. That was a bonding time between my husband and son. They came home with stories and I smiled. “That (piece of crap) sold for $XXX!” Yeah, I know.

I went frequently with my Dad, but he had other “auction buddies.” We teased them just as much. When I was ready to start up housekeeping on my own, I never knew what he would find. He bought an antique ironing board for 25 cents that I wish I still had today.

One of Dad’s friends went to “auctioneering school” with him. Then the friend set up a business, still in effect today with his son running it, and Dad helped him at the auctions.

One thing is for sure. When you’re working, you can’t buy!

Auctions are social events too, for many of the people attending. Certain auctioneers have a following. (groupies?) Lots of people buy and resell it in other ways, flea markets, Ebay or whatever.

But you definitely can see that it’s social. The good auctioneer knows his people so well that he knows when a brother and sister (husband and wife?) are bidding against each other and don’t know it. A great auctioneer stops a person from bidding against himself. He stops the show and gets everyone straightened out before proceeding. I’ve seen “volleys” but never out-and-out bidding wars. These are local country folk who all know each other and have to face each other at the NEXT event!

The auctioneer at the event I went to last week was the grandson of the man who did my grandparents’ estate auction. Life marches on.

P.S. My in-laws farm (land) auction is a great story, but I don’t have permission to write about that.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Skeletons Rattling in the Closet: A Story that NEEDS to be told!

My mom, her aunt and her
grandfather. Long before this
story took place.
I could also title this story “It couldn’t happen today.”

Every family has skeletons in their closet. Ours is no exception. I will not be using names in this because there are survivors out there that may not even be aware of the story. I don’t want to be the messenger.

My grandmother had six adult siblings. One of her sisters was married and divorced. I know nothing about that relationship except that it happened and there were no children involved. She married for a second time at about 30. She and her husband liked to "socialize," whatever that meant for the day. They went out a lot. When she was older and pushing 40, she had three children in three years, with between a year and 18 months between them.

Anyone of any age that has had three children within three years knows that it’s a challenge. To have them later in life, is even harder. To have them via Cesarean section is even worse! 

And it’s especially hard when the father is not home to help with them, but is running around with his secretary.

Back in the day, my great-aunt had what we might say was a “nervous breakdown.” Who can blame her? She took all three children out in the winter snow and was found in the middle of the street, yelling, "The Germans are coming!" (I estimate this to be 1944 as I put this all together, I don't believe the war was over yet). 

Her husband took the children to his parents' home, and I am sure they were loving grandparents. He had his wife committed to the state mental hospital. I have learned that his parents wanted to adopt them, as well as another cousin and husband, who could not have children.

He got a divorce and married the secretary. We have no knowledge that his parents knew what was going on there. The children were taken to see their mother on rare occasion, but got to the age where going to the hospital wasn't something they wanted to do. After all, they barely remembered this woman, and the secretary was their "mother." (Incidentally, she had another sibling for them)

My great-aunt wanted to get them back. She just didn't have any money. I think she struggled with what we know today as bipolar disorder, but she WAS able to work for the hospital in a role of secretary to the doctors. 

She was given electroshock therapy sometime in this process and that did NOT help the situation, but she was able to function.

At a certain point, which we think was "retirement" from whatever work she did, she was moved into a retirement "cottage." I have got to think of this as a step down situation as you do not put the craziest people in a cottage.

She spent the remaining days of her life (at least 40 years) in the mental hospital or the cottages. I remember my grandmother monthly getting on a bus—she never drove—and going to visit her sister. She spent the day doing laundry, cleaning her room or cottage (my grandmother was if nothing else a cleaner!) and making sure she was taken care of. I do not know if any of her other siblings went to see her, but certainly not regularly.

When my grandfather died, grandma bought six plots, because she knew she would have to see to her brother’s burial (which happened to be the next year) and eventually her sister. When her sister died, grandma buried her alone. I’m sure her pastor was there.

Her children knew about her, but the grandchildren (who today would be in their forties and fifties) never knew anyone but the secretary as their grandmother.

I guess it’s pretty easy to say that this story really stinks! We didn’t know the whole story until my aunt, who was studying for her degree in Psychology at the Ohio State University, took a “field trip” to the state hospital before it was closed. She asked about seeing her aunt’s records and they were within months of being destroyed, so we are fortunate to have that part of the story.

So the questions that remain to me now are:

Where was her family? Why didn’t anyone stand up for her? How did a husband have SO MUCH CONTROL over this situation, with no questions asked? Maybe she was eccentric. Maybe the circumstances threw her over the edge. But no one came to her support. No one wanted to talk about mental illness in their family.

As my aunt and I discussed this, she being the same age as her youngest cousin in this family, we were reminded that my grandmother (her mother) and this aunt/sister were only two years apart and they were the cabooses of the family. Everyone else was older and had families of their own to be concerned with. I like to think that HIS parents/the grandparents might have helped, but we all know as parents, that once our child has set their mind on something, they usually see it through. We don't know if they hated this situation or eventually accepted it.

Could this happen today? Well, we don’t have the mental hospitals anymore, so it wouldn’t be like that. I’d like to think that there would be a woman’s organization that she could go to, and provide assistance. But she didn't, she went out in the cold with her babies, so there was some instability. We know that women’s shelters are important today. What I want to say is that nothing is new. 

To be fair, there is no evidence that my great-aunt was physically abused. It was about neglect, and infidelity, and no one to stand up for her.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Crashing Another High School Reunion

Some time ago, I wrote about my childhood hometown’s Bicentennial. It was a wonderful day to connect with old friends and make some new acquaintances. During this planning time, I became involved with the Historical Society. I met new people too. As I previously mentioned, last names were familiar to me, and my maiden name was everything. They didn’t know me as a Derge.

My neighbors

So it seemed natural that I would go to the 45th Class Reunion of the school I WOULD have graduated had I not moved. I have kept up with many friends and my childhood neighbors—which was a close neighborhood—and made new friends via Facebook. I have gotten together with several on some different occasions here and there. I seem to see TOO many people at the funeral home.

First of all, I must say that they graduated 274 to my class of 639 (who walked). Obviously, it’s a different situation. They repeatedly use the American Legion Hall and it was perfect for the group. It would not have been big enough for the reunion we just had. It was more casual, and that was fine. It was what the group was comfortable with.

One of the first things that I notice is the Memorial Table. While I use a PowerPoint display, we have lost 75 out of the 639. They have lost 40 out of the 274. Usually, when I talk to people, in-laws, cousins, the percentage of loss is about the same, regardless of the size of class. My class has lost 12% and less if you count all the people who didn’t walk. They have lost 14.5%, which is significantly larger in real life.

I would say that I knew about 1/3 of the people there, but what was impressive to me is how many of the other 2/3 introduced themselves and asked who I was. Some of them hadn’t moved into that area until after I moved out! They could never have known me!

The one teacher that attended was the choir director. One of the classmates sings with me in Symphony Chorale (a surprise to both of us!), and was sitting with him and his wife. I introduced myself and started talking music. When I said where I went to high school, he (at age 86) immediately knew who my choir director was! We had a lovely conversation about music education.

There was casual food, what I call picnic food. Fruit, veggies, a pasta salad, two kinds of meat sandwiches, and “cheesy potatoes,” which I understand is a favorite of one of the members of the committee. I get that. I always wanted carrot cake at every reunion. Actually, I didn’t make it to the dessert table this time.

Good people!
They had a very nice disc jockey who played great music. It was a little loud, but that’s because of my hearing. It’s harder and harder to hear plainly at these events. They had a nice table with pictures and mementos of high school life. Other than varsity letter jackets and choir robes, I have put most of these things and more on our web site and I direct people to that. But we always have something to look at.

This reunion was a good “fit” for the number of people who came. What is most important is how they made me feel. They were welcoming and we had nice conversations. My “best” friends didn’t feel the need to stay with me all evening. I moved around the room and met wonderful, friendly people.

That’s what it’s all about anyway. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Tale of Two Families

This is a story about how different families handled very similar situations “back in the day.”

This picture was taken in 1923 of the seven surviving siblings.
My maternal grandmother was born into a family of ten children. Only seven survived to adulthood, so she didn’t even know them all. Her father was a schoolteacher and factory worker and her mother had babies and was a homemaker. I think they were married in 1888.

Their first child lived only three weeks. She was followed by another daughter, a son, a daughter, another son, and then four daughters and finally, another little boy. My grandmother was #9. She was born in March, 1905.

Two years later (like clockwork) her mother had a son. Great-Grandmother Rachel went out into the chilly morning air too soon after her little guy was born, and she caught pneumonia that would end her life. This was 1907. I don’t think she reached her 40th birthday.

The family tried to keep the little boy alive, but there was no one to nurse him and Lord only knows what all they tried. The oldest girls were able to care for him otherwise, but there was no milk, or not enough of it. You didn’t just run to the store for Similac© in that day. I don’t know what all they did, but in September 1907, he too died.

The story doesn’t get any better. The following April, the 8-year-old girl contracted Typhoid and she too died (although her two older brothers survived). My great-aunt, born in 1899, told me how the home was quarantined and the other children went elsewhere. The four of them, mother and father, baby boy and little girl are buried in West Jefferson Cemetery. I don’t know where the first little girl was buried.

What is interesting about this family is that my Great-Grandfather John was able to keep his family together without farming them out all over to different friends and relatives, or marrying some young girl to take care of the place (or an older spinster or widow). We will find out later, it doesn’t always work out like that. He was a teacher and while not a “farmer,” they had land near West Jefferson, Ohio and grew their own food. Later, when my grandmother was 7 or 8, they moved to Springfield, Ohio where her Dad worked in a factory. The older children were leaving home, getting married and starting their own families. Grandma was the youngest and “benefited” (?) by playing and learning from older siblings.

When my husband and I got married, over the course of time, we discussed family histories, I was interested to learn that my husband’s great-grandfather also had a large family, and lost his wife in much the same way as my grandmother’s mother died: three weeks after her last child (my husband’s grandfather) was born. The word pneumonia was never used, but it was in early Spring and was too similar to believe it was anything else! It was a few years earlier as this first marriage took place in 1874.

However, his great-grandfather handled things differently. His first wife gave birth to six children, and he couldn’t take care of them and farm. His step-sister took the baby, and although the word “nurse” was never used, that is to be assumed. He kept the other five at home and he got ready to marry the girl down the road, to take care of them.

The family reunions started with those six siblings. 
I am making a lot of assumptions here, but it seems that he married for one reason, a housekeeper and mother for his children. Perhaps they learned to love each other over time. The baby was eventually weaned and returned to the family, and they had another son of their own. Life went on and it was a happy family. The six siblings (an 8-year-old also died in this family!) started the reunions that we still attend today. I never met my husband’s grandparents, but I did know the son of the second wife.

Today, we take for granted things like formula, medical care, and paid childcare (although that is not necessarily used in crisis). When a family loses a parent, friends and family step in. There are crisis services available. In those days, people DID step in to help, but ALL of them had large families of their own and they could only do so much. That’s why many siblings were split up.

Thankfully, for both of these families, although each was done a different way, the family stayed intact.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Carrie M. Howell Johnson (Babe)

She really is lovely and
looks nothing like my
great-grandmother, her sister.
The last time I wrote about my great-great grandfather, and this time I want to write about my great-grandmother’s sister. To put this in perspective, this great-grandmother was GW Netts’ daughter-in-law Mabel Howell Netts, so this is not a “blood” story. (At least to him)

Carrie M. Howell was Mabel’s sister, but I don’t have her birthdate. She was called Babe. Common sense tells me that she was younger than Great-Grandma Mabel, but I don’t know.

Babe married a preacher and on her wedding night climbed out the window of the bathroom and ran away over to her sister and brother-in-law’s. This would have been her first marriage.  She divorced her husband because he smoked. (I guess people didn’t know each other well in those days!) This would have had to be about 1898. I do know my Great-Grandma Mabel Netts was married in 1900 for what that is worth. 

Babe’s and Mabel's father, (my) GG Grandpa Benjamin Frederick Howell, set up in her own flower shop which is now called Netts’ Floral, still in existence, so she would have a livelihood.

She was ahead of her time. Her nephew told stories that she wore pants (jodhpurs) when no woman wore them and swore like a sailor.

Later she married John Wilson and died in childbirth (the baby was 13 lbs.) where we could have saved them both today. At that time my Great-Grandmother Mabel Howell Netts took over the florist shop, thus the name change of the shop. Two of her sons worked in it (until my Grandpa went to work for the Springfield Sun in the 40s), then her grandson and his wife, and today their daughter (who is my second cousin).

From the story about GW Netts, it sounds like he helped get the flower shop started for his daughter-in-law.

I am missing some pieces in this story as to time, but I write this so that the readers would know that at the turn of the 20th century, there WERE women who didn’t put up with anything they didn’t like in a husband, even if he was a minister!

She was a woman who didn’t mind wearing pants when no one else did, maybe it was because of running a greenhouse. As to the swearing, I guess she and her first husband wouldn’t have gotten along well anyway! Babe was 20 years ahead of her time in manners, custom and dress.

She must have been a character!

Friday, September 9, 2016

George Washington Netts

Credit: Heritage Center of Clark County
My great-great grandfather was born in 1847 to first generation immigrant German parents. His name was George Washington Netts, and I always thought he was born in Germany; but it doesn’t make sense that two German people would name their son after the former president of the USA. It does make sense that they would name their first child born in America after George Washington. I know he did have siblings, and I do know he was born in Springfield, Ohio.

What is interesting about him is that he journaled his life from 1868 until fewer entries in 1933, the year he died. I do not have the original journals, although I have personally seen them and they showed his declining health by his handwriting.

As a family, we donated the journals to the Clark County Historical Society. They were delighted to receive them, because as a unit, they tell much about a life at a particular time. If you “like” the historical society on Facebook or follow them on Twitter, they put an excerpt from the diary on Mondays using the hashtag #GeoNettsDiary.

What the diaries tell me:

He began these diaries the year he turned 21. One day seems like another until you come to April 15, 1868, where it says, “This is the third anniversary of A. Lincoln’s death.” WHOA! That tells you that you have entered another world.

George spent his youth making windmills. Many of them were in the area, but he did travel out of state. Even today, when I see one, I wonder if he made it. His travels were interesting. He traveled with other men (workers) and they didn’t stay in Holiday Inns. They made do in many situations. Men slept together back then and no one thought a thing. I don’t remember all of the places he went, but it included the Midwest and went all the way to Chetopa, Kansas; where he met his future wife.

He built furniture and returned to Springfield a couple of times. It does not appear that he was “going steady” with Lizzie, as he had many friends in Springfield. He received letters from her. On June 10, 1974, they were married and she left her home and came to Springfield, Ohio. (Although the diaries do mention trips back to Chetopa). Their first child, my great-grandfather Charles was born in September of 1875.

By this time, George was making furniture in Springfield. He had social interests with the Masonic Lodge, the Universalist Church (as well as Lutheran) and the YMCA. He played cards and had discussions with other people. He and his wife (and child) socialized also, spending much time with his sister, who lived about four or five blocks away. These residences no longer exist, but I’m able to figure out where they were.

In normal succession, another baby, Robert followed and a few years later, Benjamin. Then a little girl was born in 1983 and another in 1886. Tragically, the little girls, 6 and 3, succumbed to diphtheria, three weeks apart in early 1889. This was probably the saddest part of his life, losing his two little angels. He doesn’t elaborate on his sorrow though—I’ve always said that I would like to read Grandma’s diary. Women didn’t have time to write with seven children.

Two more male children followed, James and Stanley, who was born in 1893. He was only 8 years older than my grandfather Benjamin Charles, the first grandchild, who was born in February of 1901.

For most of his life, George was a furniture maker, but he did odd jobs here and there also. There was a period of time where they ran a store and lived above it. There was a time when he was “appointed” (this was a political appointment) the superintendent of City Hospital. The short of it is that hospitals were NOT what they are today! That could be a book all by itself! GG-Grandmother did all the laundry and cleaning! This only lasted two years, so I guess they didn’t do so well. Some of his other activities are documented in the picture I have used. The credit for that layout belongs to the Heritage Center of Clark County.

What I find interesting in this whole scene is that there was no Social Security in those days, but he was a planner. He managed to get on the Board of the Merchants and Mechanics Savings Association, where he was able to secure loans at an “employee” discount. He built several homes and rented them out, so that the rent would pay the loan and by the time he couldn’t work anymore, the loans would be paid off and that would be his income. 

He lived in at least two of these houses. Actually, for someone who lived in the same town, within a few blocks, they moved quite a bit. I’m going to guess (without looking all of this up) seven. They certainly didn’t accumulate much. Great-Great-Grandma Lizzie died 11 years before George did, and he was 8 years older than she was. She was only 68 and he lived to be 86. She died June 9, 1921, the day before their 47th wedding anniversary.

George never went home after the funeral; he went to his son James’ home. There were things to “settle” as with any death, but he never slept in their house again. He claimed that was the worst day of his life.

His last eleven years were much of a daily routine. He had his interests and his son and daughter-in-law had theirs. In 1925 he became a great-grandfather for the first time with my aunt. On our branch of the family, he lived to mark the births of five great-grandchildren. His second son did not have children, and I am unsure of the others. Stanley, the youngest went out west and was not heard from again. My mother tells me that he did have two children at some point.

The last two years of his life were slower and he complained of tiredness and spending much of his time in bed or laying down. He marked the deaths of friends and companions. His last entry was August 11, 1933. He died August 26, 1933.

My mother would have not been quite two years old.

Firsts that George Washington Netts would have seen or heard:
  • The first lawnmower (push lawnmower).
  • The first automobile.
  • The first airplane.
  • The first telephone.
  • Indoor plumbing as it came to the middle class. (They did have an outhouse, and he went to the YMCA to bathe).
  • Incandescent lighting as it came to the middle class, along with electricity.
  • Radio (wireless).
  • Silent films (although he doesn’t mention this as a form of entertainment). The first “talkie” was The Jazz Singer in 1927. I doubt, at 81, he went to see it.

What he did not live to see or hear:
  • Movies as we think of them, even the early ones. “Gone with the Wind” came out in 1939.
  • Television.
  • All electrical appliances that we think of.

Although he died during the Depression, I don’t think it affected him much. He lived with his son and still collected rents from his houses. Eighty-six was a long life back then. He is buried with his wife and two daughters in Ferncliff Cemetery.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Remembering Where We Came From--Links to Family History

We aren’t recording our family history anymore. Oh, a few of us join up for and some have gotten their DNA analyzed, which is VERY interesting, but do our kids know what their grandfather’s profession was? Or maybe great-grandfather?

I’m going to try and record some funny stories and not so funny stories and just plain how it was back in the day. My kids may never be interested, but maybe a grandchild or great-grandchild will be. I have already posted some interesting stories and here they are for easy reference. Many were complete accidents and some were intentional.

As you can see from the links, I have already written much on family history. I think it’s a good thing to have them all in one place. But as we head forward, I’m going to concentrate on history that’s a little bit older. I think it will be interesting, at least some day.

The three blogs on settling estates were requested, but I think there were many people that got something from them:

And the gut-wrenching Settling Estates: Part Three

Then there are other entries which just tell a story set in a certain time period, or are about something specific.

So if you’ve looked at even SOME of these, they are history. They are stories. But next time, I am going to focus on my Great, Great Grandfather. I never knew this man, yet I did. You’ll see why next time.