Sunday, September 17, 2006

Family Is It!

Down RIver Drivel

Family Is It!

Without one's family, what do you have?

Sometimes, you have a very calm, peaceful, quiet life. But I think you have nothing.

There are times when all is chaos within my family. But, it's a chaotic thing I wouldn't trade on a bet, in a heartbeat, for love nor money. Nope, not ever!

I have three children, three grandchildren and three step-grandchildren now - all beautiful, lovely and very loving individuals each.

Growing up, my life was considerably different from that of my friends, my peers.

My dad died of stomach cancer when I was 17 days old and my mother and I then resided with her parents in this little coal mining town in central Pennsylvania called Grassflat. My joke about the name of the town is that it had to be some drunken old Swede who gave it a name like that since there really aren't many flat places in the village. My home then - and now - is in the valley section - known as West Clymer - which just happens to be on the eastern side of town. Go figure!

Because I grew up with my maternal grandparents, it was only natural then that I had a closer relationship with that side of my family. My Dad's family homestead was only 8 miles away and though I saw some of his siblings and some cousins on that side fairly frequently, I still didn't really know that side all that well, growing up. For that matter, 60 some years later and I am still getting acquainted with some of my Hill relatives.

Back in 1950, when I was six years old, my Mom's family organized a reunion for the descendants of my great-grandparents - Carl and Maja Lisa Till Eld. And that reunion has been operating every year since then.

This set of great-grandparents came here from Sweden with my Great-grandfather arriving in 1880 and Great-Grandma came over the following year bringing with her their five children who ranged in age from the youngest - Uncle Oscar who was a year old to Uncle Eric, who was 9 years old. They came into New York City at the immigration center that preceded Ellis Island and from there, took a train that brought them to Williamsport, PA where they reunited with my great-grandfather who was by then working as a coal miner and living in what is now a ghost town, called McIntyre.

Three years later, my great-grandparents and their children packed up and moved with the rest of the townspeople in McIntrye to follow the mining work up to Clearfield County where they then settled in what would later become yet another ghost coal mining community -Peale, PA.

By the time they moved to Peale, both my grandfather and his older brother were now also working in the mines. Considering my oldest grandson, who is now nine years old, is the same age as my grandfather was when he first went to work in the mines, I can't imagine how difficult that could have been to lose one's youth that young and be required to work every day then at such hard, grueling and dangerous work as coal mining was then. Not that it is all that much easier or safer today - just a different set of circumstances that has seen many improvements over the past century plus to lessen the dangers somewhat.

While the great-grandparents were still living in McIntyre, they had another child, a son name Elmer. After moving to Peale, they had two more sons and three daughters added to their clan.

Those great-aunts and uncles then formed the core four of them who had passed away prior to my arrival on the scene. But the ones I knew were all really wonderful, loving, caring and fun to be with relatives.

My grandfather (Adolph Eld) and his older brother, Eric, frequently whiled away their retirement hours sitting out on our sunporch and talking about everything and anything they remembered of their life in Sweden, the boat trip to America, McIntyre, Peale and finally, Grassflat - where they both made their permanent homes.

And I usually played at their feet, with my dolls or coloring books or other toys and listened to their conversations, occasionally even chiming in with questions for them about their lives. How I wish so often now that I had been older and better able to remember the things they talked about. I think it was probably those conversations I heard from them that gave me a very early love of history and the desire to learn more about "the good old days."

My grandfather left Grassflat in the late 1890's and went up to Olean, NY in search of work as did Uncle Eric. They boarded there with a sister of Great-Grandma Eld -Aunt Anna Till Johnson and it was there that both of them met the women they would marry and bring back home to Grassflat then to live out the rest of their lives.

My Grandma Eld was born in Mayville, NY but her parents eventually settled in Scandia, PA - just outside of Warren and when she was only 14-years-old, she went to work as a maid for one of the oil tycoon families in Warren. From there, somehow, she found her way up to Olean, NY where she met my Grandfather through the church they both attended and both sang in that church choir. Grandpa had a beautiful bass voice - which probably explains why all my life, I have had an affinity for men with really deep, low voices.

The family joke here was that when Grandma first met Grandpa and learned his surname was "Eld", her comment to him was "Oh, Eld - that means fire in Swedish so you must be hot stuff." Knowing how prim and proper my grandma was, I think this was most likely some little line made up by my one uncle who loved to tease Grandma about everything and anything.

My Grandparents came back to Grassflat and were married here in October of 1901. They shared a house initially with Uncle Eric and his wife, Aunt Beatrice, which to see that house today, one would wonder how the heck it ever served as a double home. Most likely, Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Eric had four rooms while my grandparents had three rooms on the other side of the structure but it had to be really cramped living conditions no matter how the place was split because it is a very smallish home.

In 1903, the corner stone was laid for the house my grandparents built and which in October of 1944 became my birthplace. With the exception of about 10 years of my life - give or take a little bit - I have lived in this old house.

By the time I was born, Grandpa was retired from the mines but he was one busy man in his retirement as he planned out each winter his gardens for the coming year and read up on seeds for both vegetables and also, flowers that he was always planting here and there around the house. Roses was his big love and he had some beautiful rose bushes back when I was a child which instilled a love that exists to this day for that particular plant, especially yellow roses which are my all-time favorite.

My grandparents raised six children - Ethel, Bertrum, Ralph, Hazel, Clarence and Marian. Hazel, being my mother. They also had 11 grandchildren and before Grandma died in 1963, there were by that time also four great-grandchildren. Eventually, more great-grandchildren were born to bring the final total of descendants of that generation to 30. Today, there are now 24 great-great-grandchildren who descend from the marriage of Adolph and Ellen Johnson Eld and this family now extends almost cross-country too so knowing who the cousins are now is very difficult compared to when I was a kid and my cousins either lived in Monroeville (outside of Pittsburgh), Corry, up near Erie or Hagerstown, MD!

Four of these great-grandchildren are also Asian American as my cousin Becky and her husband adopted all four of their children from Korea which made for some really interesting family photos when that generation came together at the family reunions - most the Eld Grandkids tended to be blonde, blue-eyed little ones and then there would be Beck's four with their black hair and dark eyes too! Quite a contrast but a testament to diversity and acceptance these kids all had of the others as their cousins.

That's the beginnings of my story, my family - a group of people I share many things with but mainly a blood line going back to Bolstad, in Dahlsland, Sweden.

1 comment:

Beth said...

Hi! My father and his 11 brothers and sisters also grew up in Grassflat. My grandfather worked in the mines and died of lung cancer. Very intersting to read about someone else who grew up there. I also wondered as a kid how they came up with Grassflat...can't remember any flat parts, HA!