Monday, December 5, 2016

Giving the Klines Equal Time

Wedding picture of Charles and Lorena Kline
I’ve spent much time writing about both sides of my mother’s family and I have received good feedback from the entries, especially the one about my great-aunt, who was committed to a mental hospital by her husband.

There is far less excitement about my father’s side of the family—or I was never told the stories—but they too had an interesting life for their times. It probably resembled many other families of the day.

My Grandfather Charles Arthur Kline was from Medway, Ohio. His wife, Lorena Catherine Laing was from Greenville, Ohio. In today’s automobiles, it’s at least an hour’s drive. I do not know how they met; but I do have evidence that he wrote to her during WWI. They were married in September 1920. I don’t know anything more about their courtship. With the distance, I am left to my imagination.

They were eight years apart. When they were married, Grandpa was 29 and Grandma was two months over 21.  They moved into a house in Medway where they started their family. Three sons were born to them. Carl Arthur came along in 1922, Charles Ray in 1925 and my father Robert Lee in 1930. Having a baby at 30 was about it for my grandmother, although she doted on him.

I know my grandfather was involved in farming with his own father, and he worked at the grain elevator, but later in life (presumably after my great-grandfather died) Grandpa worked at the Fairborn Post Office until his retirement. The USPS also employed my Uncle Ray after he returned from WWII. Eventually, he was appointed Postmaster in Medway, Ohio in 1959. It is in this capacity that he is still remembered by many of the “old timers.”

1959. The new Post Office was dedicated and my uncle
was appointed Postmaster.
Carl built houses and my Dad helped him (Ray did too, when he could).  At a certain time of his life, my Dad left working for his brother and went into sales to provide better for his family. It was a rift in the family that lasted a long time. Carl moved to Florida in mid-life to continue his building career.

The Klines didn’t live long lives. Grandpa lived to be 79. His cause of death is hard to determine. He recovered from a massive heart attack, only to succumb to the after-effects of prostate surgery. I firmly believe this was mental, not physical. There was no reason, even in 1970, for him not to recover from that surgery. He just decided life was over.

Grandma, who I physically resemble, had Type II Diabetes. I watch my sugar like a hawk, since my brother ended up with Diabetes. She only lived two years after my Grandpa died, and although she had a massive heart attack, and it was easy to see why physically, I think there was a mental element to it also. There was nothing left for her to live for.

My father died tragically at the age of 47. That’s another story that has nothing to do with heredity.

Uncle Carl and Uncle Ray both had lung cancer. Carl died at 61 and Ray at 67. I have outlived Carl and nearly Ray’s wife, who died about 18 months before he did. Much of their illness had to do with heavy smoking however, and I haven’t ever smoked a cigarette. I took a puff once and I DID NOT INHALE, and wondered what it was all about that all my family did this!

I don’t know much about Grandma’s family. She had two brothers and she was the baby of the family. I can see where my father and my one brother resemble them. I don’t remember meeting them; but her parents and the one brother and sister-in-law are buried a stone’s throw from my grandparents, aunts and uncles, dad, and brother. The other brother went out west or something. There was no “estrangement” but he had another life.

Grandpa Charley had one sister, Hazel. She died of something we can prevent today when she was 19 years old. My grandmother always said that I resembled Hazel somewhat, but she didn’t know her. She is buried in a plot with her parents (although my great-grandfather married again, he is buried with his first wife) and my first cousin’s cremated remains. He died at the age of 50 from AIDS.

Judging from my father's age, I would guess
this to be about 1936.
 A question that I ask myself is why, when I was not as close to this side of the family, do I still have such an identity with them? Oh, I have great memories as a child and I loved living in their small town, and my decision to be buried in their cemetery has never been in question…. ever! When I go to the historical society meetings, there is a connection to these people, and to their history as a community.

This goes beyond the obvious physical attributes—and I certainly have physical attributes from my mother’s side of the family too—sometimes it’s like I FEEL their blood running through me. My reactions are what I think theirs would be in this setting. It has been 10 years since the last Kline died.

I don’t have the answer to this question, but I put before you, the reader: do you not have similar feelings about certain relatives?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Uncle Frank on "Making Do"

I’m pretty sure every family has an “Uncle Frank.”

Dated 1918
My mother’s uncle has been mentioned before. This is the brother of my grandmother who came to live with them when he was 63 or 64. He was given 6 months to live, but no one told him that. He lived six years. It was some kind of spinal cancer, and to my knowledge he never had any kind of treatment.

He had lived in Cleveland, and because he and his wife had no children, even my mother didn’t know him well until he moved in with her parents. His wife had some illness but refused treatment as she was a Christian Scientist. She died in her 50’s or perhaps early 60’s.

Uncle Frank was born in 1893. He would have been in his 30s and 40s during the Depression. Uncle Frank was the epitome of “making do” and even inventing ways to make do.

The coffee table, many years later.
My grandmother bought a new coffee table and it had glass on the top. One day, someone spilled some coffee and it got under the glass. Frank thought we should drill a hole in the table and put a gallon jug under it to catch any possible future spills. This was how his mind worked.

This is close to the type of car he
sold my Dad.
When he moved in with Grandma and Grandpa, he sold his car to my Dad. It was a 1953 Ford. My Dad called my Mom out to look at this car when he got it home. In the trunk, where the spare tire was kept, it was secured with no fewer than nine nuts on one bolt! That spare tire wasn’t going anywhere!

He had to have been a bit eccentric. He always said that he drove in the middle of the Interstate (between the lanes) because there were possibly nails in the gutters. Keep in mind, these were the 50s when the Interstate system was new. Can you imagine someone driving down the Interstate today in the middle of the road? They’d be arrested.

When my aunt was too young to drive, her Daddy, my Grandpa, took her and her friends to a drive-in movie. Uncle Frank suggested that they keep a gallon of water and rags in the truck so that they could clean the windshields and watch clearly.

Whenever someone “jimmy-rigged” something together, we invoked Uncle Frank’s name. Whatever it was, however it was put together, it was NOT GOING to come apart!

There was another side of Uncle Frank and as I write this, it may come as news to any family member that reads it. My grandmother told me this, and as far as I know, it was never discussed. Whenever Frank came to visit, he left a $20 bill under her jewelry box. It was for the extra food or whatever he thought his visit cost them! Grandma and Grandpa did NOT need this money! However, Grandma saved it over the years and eventually was able to buy the lot next to their home so there would be plenty of room for children to play—and of course, no neighbors. She never told Grandpa until she had the entire amount. They purchased the lot.

I don’t remember much about Uncle Frank except from the background. It’s a shame that as a young child I didn’t spend more time with him. Although he had no children, he certainly didn’t have an aversion to them. He was about my age when he became ill. If my life was limited as his became, I would enjoy the conversation of little ones.

I regret not knowing him myself, instead of remembering him from the “Uncle Frank stories.”

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!