Monday, January 01, 2007

Four Brothers

This picture, taken probably around 1906, shows four of the sons of Carl and Maja Till Eld in the back row from left to right: August, Oscar, Elmer and Adolph Eld. The child seated in the middle is Bertrum Carl Eld, second child and son of Adolph and Ellen Johnson Eld. Seated at the left is Emily Johnson Eld, wife of August Eld and she is holding their son, Wendell. In the middle, the girl in the rear is Ethel Amelia Eld, oldest child and daughter of Adolph and Ellen Eld, In front of her is Emily Eld, oldest child and daughter of August and Emily Eld. Seated on the far right is Ellen Johnson Eld, wife of Adolph Eld.

Adolph Eld and his wife, Ellen Johnson Eld, were my maternal grandparents. My grandfather was born September 26, 1874 in Bolstad, Dahlsland, Sweden and immigrated to America in 1881, with his mother, three brothers and one sister. His father had come here the year before and was living and working in a little coal mining town - long since defunct -in Lycoming County, near Williamsport, PA - called McIntyre.

My grandmother's parents were both born in Sweden and immigrated to America where they then met most likely someplace in New York State. I don't recall my grandmother ever talking much about her parents, when they came here or how they met. My grandmother was the next to the youngest of seven children and was born in Mayville, New York, October 1, 1880. (Mayville is located in Chautauqua County, near to Jamestown, NY.) Sometime in the 1880's, her parents moved to a little area just on the outskirts of Warren, PA, to a little place called Scandia, where they had a farm. When my grandmother was 14 years old, she went to work as a maid for some well-to-do family in Warren. She worked from the time she was 14 until her marriage at age 21, to my grandfather and somewhere along the way, went from working in Warren, PA to working, also as a maid, for a family in Olean, NY. It was while working in Olean that she met my Grandfather, who had gone up to that small city in search of work away from the coal mines of central Pennsylvania. He boarded there with his mother's sister, Anna Olson-Till Johnson.

The family story of how they met was that they both were attending the same church in Olean and both, being music lovers, had joined the church choir there. (My grandfather had one of the most beautiful bass voices I have ever heard and I guess because of his vocal ability, I have always had an affinity for the bass harmony.) My Mom's brother, Ralph, who was about 3 years older than her, used to tease my grandmother about how she and Grandpa had come to meet. Supposedly, the name Eld, in Swedish, means fire. Whether this is true or not, I have no clue as I know only a very few select words in that language. But Uncle Ralph, knowing especially how prim and proper Grandma tended to be, would always tell her that when he was first introduced to "Dad" and was told his last name was Eld, her comment to him then was, "OH, Eld! That means fire. You must be hot stuff."

As a kid, I often heard him gently tease Grandma about this and she would, lower her head slightly, blush and laugh at him, telling him, "You go on now, Ralph. My land sakes!" And, since this was a family joke, usually told around the dining room table at Christmas gatherings or for some other big holiday type event when most of my aunts and uncle and cousins would be here, this story just stayed within the house and the family.

However, the spring shortly before Grandma's death, she had been in the hospital for a few days and after coming home, our pastor at the time, The Rev. Edward Corneilson, had come to pay a house call on Grandma. As they sat out on our sunporch talking and he was inquiring as to her health and such, because he was relatively new to our parish, he didn't know much of people's background and so, he began to ask Grandma about her parents, her early life, etc.

During this entire conversation, my Mom (who related this event to me later that evening when I got home from work), was in the kitchen, preparing coffee, and getting other general kitchen work done but she stopped everything completely when she happened to hear my Grandma telling the Pastor this particular family story, which in essence was nothing but a joke. When my Mom told me about this, she said she wanted to laugh so hard, but had to choke it back at the time. However, as she related it to me, she was then howling laughing at this whole scene because to begin with, to call someone "hot stuff" wasn't exactly part of the vocabulary in the era when my grandparents met, plus had my Grandma actually understood the meaning Uncle Ralph was putting into this little tale, and for her to be repeating it to the minister, she would have been mortified!

But, back to the photo again. I never knew Uncle August, who was the third child of Carl and Maja Eld, as he died in the mid-thirties. But I did know his widow, as well as the two other brothers in the photograph. Uncle Oscar, who was about a year old or a little over that when they came to this country, was the joker of my Grandpa's siblings. Uncle Elmer was very quiet, never married, and generally just sat back and listened to what everyone else had to say, smoking his cigar and nodding his head apparently in agreement.

Uncle Oscar married a daughter of the family who lived next door to my great-grandparents. Her name was Hilma Johnson and she, like Uncle Oscar, had a great personality, a wonderful sense of humor too.

When my grandparents first married in October of 1901, they shared half of a house with Grandpa's older brother, Erick and his wife, Beatrice Johnson Eld.

Now, if you've been paying attention to the maiden names of the wives of these four brothers, don't for a moment think that they married sisters because all four of these women had Johnson as their maiden names. Not by a long shot! It was one of those things that is purely coincidental and due to the proliferation in Sweden of people with the surnames like Johnson, Carlson, ERickson, Anderson, etc. Sweden used the patronic naming system, where the child took the father's first name and added either "son" or "Dott" to the end of that for a new surname. However, if a man went into the Swedish Army, often they would be assigned a name - due to the confusion of having all these men with the same last name - and that is how our family surname became Eld, because originally it was actually Andersson! (My great-great-grandfather's name was Anders Svenson and when his children were born the boys had the surname of Andersson and the girls -some went by Andersdotter, others were listed as Andersson. Again, a bit of a "go figure" there too! I still can get majorly confused trying to piece together which Andersson this or that person is in my family tree without going to the records and looking it up to see, by the date of birth, which Andersson family this might be within the tree.

My grandfather, his father and most of Grandpa's brothers all worked in the coal mines here in central Pennsylvania. Some, like Uncle Erick, worked almost his entire life in the coal mines. The boys generally went to work in the mines around the age of ten and that was no different for my grandfather. But, he left the area, as had Uncle Erick in the late 1890's and both had gone up to Olean, NY to work. Both had met their wives there as well and I think it is possible that Uncle August too may have gone to Olean to work for a period of time too but I'm not positive about that.

However, both Uncle Erick and my Grandpa had moved back to Pennsylvania by 1901 and were working in the mines here then. Over the next couple of years, my Grandparents remained in this area, having built the family homestead here in 1903, which is now my home. But, somewhere along the lines, Uncle August, although he worked for a mining company, had managed to extracate himself from working in the mines to a position where he eventually rose to be a store manager for some coal company back then. Through this position, he and his family often got transferred from one small coal mining town to another throughout southwestern Pennsylvania and even down in to West Virginia for a time. Also, because Uncle August was in a position that had a little more authority, if times were hard back home here and work was sparse, he was the one who found jobs for two of his brothers, my Grandpa and Uncle Oscar, and they too then worked the mines or sometimes in a clerking capacity where ever Uncle August happened to be based at times.

It was from about 1906 till 1924 that my Grandparents moved around a lot in Westmoreland County especially, then down to Tunnelton, West Virginia, following the work demands through whatever mining company Uncle August was with at any particular time. Thus, my Mom was born in Edna, PA -which is someplace near Greensburg. I'm not sure exactly where Uncle Ralph, who was just above her in the family, or my Uncle Cookie (Clarence) were born, but Mom's baby sister, Aunt Marian, was born in 1923 in Tunnelton, PA and the following summer is when the family returned back to Clearfield County, to this little village of Grassflat, where I was born twenty years later.

LIfe was hard for my grandparents. Wages were low whether one worked in the mines or in a different capacity for the company, there was very little to go around. I find it amazing that while they hopscotched around the state for at least 17-18 years, they managed to keep this house by somehow finding tenents who must have been good, responsible people at that time and didn't rip the place apart as all too often can happen when one takes a chance to rent their property to others.

My Mom always credited my Grandma though for being the one who was the "manager" of the family and who, by her side work wherever they lived, managed to pay off the mortgage on this house. Grandma took in laundry for folks and also, being a very talented seamstress, would do dressmaking for others in these little towns where they happened to land during those years. Grandma, after they returned to this area, was known to many along this street too as being an excellent seamstress, one who women could bring a picture from a magazine or newspaper ad to her and show her a dress and from seeing the way a dress was shown in the picture, she could take measurements, make up a pattern from which to cutout the dress and stitch it up so well that no one would ever know it was not a "store bought" item.

Although Grandma taught my Mom many of these sewing skills, Mom never learned how to make her own patterns but she did become quite adept too at doing alterations and often did sewing when I was a kid, mending clothes, taking in seams or letting some out, hemming, etc for many of the neighbors.

Now it was this talent of my Mom's that was something of a befuddlement to me though. Someone could bring her a skirt they bought and although it maybe fit perfectly around the hips, it might be very loose at the waist and Mom would alter it to fit their waist to a tee! However, when it came to sewing clothes for me, that talent seemed to fly right out the window!

When I was in high school, Mom decided since I needed to have a gown type dress to wear for the high school chorus' spring concert, she would make the gown for me. She found a pattern she felt was suitable - even had spaghetti straps on it - got some taffeta in a not pale blue, more of a color I would call a light steel blue, nylon tulle net and went to work on making this gown for me. All was fine until she put it together with straight pins and had me try it on for sizing. The bodice fit tighter than you can imagine, pulling my breasts in till they were virtually as flat as pancakes. Then at the waistline, although it was to be fitted down to the waist and then the skirt, gathered mind you, attached there, as the bodice worked down to the waist and the skirt was pinned to it, it flared out there! I was irate and told her this just wouldn't do because it didn't fit me properly. We argued and argued over how much should be taken it to keep the bodice fitting snugly as to where it attached to the skirt, but she would always win out by putting her hand in the waistband area and by having the side of her hand against my skin, thus creating a gap of about 3 inches between my skin and the skirt, she would proclaim that there was no way you could possibly have this skirt, the waistband area, any tighter!

I tried and tried to show her how she was making this big gap there, but for some weird reason or other in her head, she could never see this my way!

Now that I think about it, I do believe that gown may have been the last piece of clothing my Mom ever made for me. I know everytime I saw it hanging in my closet, only ever worn one time for that spring concert, it still was a thorn in my side because it never, in my opinion, fit properly along my side from below the bust to the waist!

That story is a little off-topic from where I started relating about my Grandparents and great-uncles and their families, but just thought it "fitting" to put it in here when talking about the sewing talents that did exist in my Mom and in her mother before her as well!

My grandmother, as long as I can remember back in time, always, every October, would set up her quilting frame in the living room of our house. That quilting frame came down about a week or two before Christmas and as soon as the tree was removed from the living room after the Christmas holiday, the quilting frame went back up and stayed up usually until early, even mid-May. She worked on quilts all winter long. During the late spring and summer months, she would spend her evenings sitting with all types of scrap materials she had accumulated and would carefully mark out the designs for her quilt patterns and then begin to stitch these together. Then, come October, she would have gathered the fabric she wanted for backing of the quilt, batting for the inside and these pieces all sewn together would be stiched in place on her old treadle sewing machine - a Singer - that she had bought while working as a maid in Warren, PA in the late 1890's. She would then lay the pieced part of the quilt over the batting with the backing underneath it all and somehow, I have no idea how she did this, she would wind it onto the quilting frame and night after night, would sit there, carefully marking with a ruler and pencil her quilting lines and then, stitch this all together.

I have no idea how many quilts she had made in her lifetime but I know she made one for the older four of her grandchildren which were given to each one of them as their wedding gift from her. I know she made several quilts too which were given to each of her children for use in their homes, for their kids to be kept toasty warm. Considering we had three bedrooms in this house, plus a twin bed for a while that was in my grandparents' room, and with the 13 bedroom total count of the rest of her children's homes, at a minimum of two quilts for each bed, would come to at least 36 quilts right there that she had made. Considering the fact that each bed here had at least two quilts on it, year-round, and there were enough quilts stashed away upstairs in the cedar chest, in storage drums in her closet, in the attic in more storage drums, heaven only knows what the final tally of quilts might have been.

All I know is that it was an extremely labor intensive project and one that went on, in one form or another, year-round as her pasttime. I still have one of her quilts made in the late 50's, before her eyesight finally gave out on her and she couldn't see to make the tiny, meticulous stitching for which her work was known. And that quilt doesn't look all that worn considering it is close to fifty years old now.

Now, that was quality workmanship!

There are probably many other stories that will come to me from time to time about my ancestors, others within both sides of my family tree, but for now, I think it's time to find that last quilt here and crawl under it and get some sleep to be ready to tackle another day!

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