Saturday, March 14, 2009

People of Importance

My friend, Mary, at Mary's Writing Nook writes a great blog -posting historical and geographical stuff about Canada (even about the US now and then too) along with some really terrific posts about her family. Her latest post -titled "Memories" is about her first husband's parents and in it, she asked her readers to tell about their own family members with pictures perhaps too that show a bit more about the individuals.

I decided to take her up on that idea. So, tonight I'm going to introduce you to some of the women of importance in my life. (Ok, a few men might show up here and there too, but it will be mainly about the women.)

First up -this is my Great-grandmother -Myja Lisa Till Eld -and her next-to-the-youngest child, my great-aunt Esther Eld Erickson. Great-grandma is the ancestor my granddaughter, Miss Maya, is named for -although Mandy opted to use the Americanized spelling of her name as opposed to the Swedish version. Grandma Eld came to America around 1882-83, crossing the Atlantic with five children ranging in age from about 18 months to the oldest being about 8 or 9 years old. Arriving in the port in New York, speaking no English at all, she had to find her way to locate money that was to be waiting there for her and the children, then find the train that would take her and her family to a little town near Williamsport, PA (McIntyre, PA -now a ghost town). The story about her problems with the immigration people -apparently they were the ones who she had to see about getting her money) were that the man she tried to communicate with told her there was no money there for her and she and the children had to wander around all day, waiting and when the next shift came on, the person in charge then located the money, explaining to her it had been there all that day. The other clerk was just being mean and miserable to my Great-Grandma and her children -making them go all that time with no money to buy food, to get her train tickets, etc.

After arriving in this country, she and my Great-Grandfather (Karl (aka "Charlie" Eld) went on to have six more children. Grandpa worked in the coal mines here, as did my Grandfather and several of his brothers. They built a home -located across the street from my house here in Grassflat and which today is a very pretty, older and well-remodeled home.

My Great-aunt Esther, shown in the photo with Grandma, worked for several years in Pittsburgh in the homes of some of the wealthy people there as did my younger Great-Aunt, Elin Eld Bengston too. Aunt Esther was more or less the caretaker of Grandma in her last years and she also cared for a brother - my Uncle Elmer Eld -a batchelor until his death too. Aunt Esther was also the family "cut-up" -as she had a terrific sense of humor. She was also a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates -never failing to follow their progress season after season and could spout statistics about their games and prowess too. She married fairly late in life so never had children of her own but all her nieces and nephews, as well as her great-nieces/nephews were high on her favorites list for sure. Her husband, Charles Erickson of Olean, NY, apparently was a fairly well-to-do-businessman of that region and left her enough when he died that she lived relatively comfortably for over 25 years after he passed away.

This is my Great-Aunt, Elin Eld Bengston and I have written about her before. She and her husband, Uncle Andrew, had six children -four sons and two daughters -and I have many memories about Aunt Elin, almost all of which involve food too, I must add. She, like Aunt Esther, also worked for some of the wealthy families in PIttsburgh -I think both of them worked as cooks, as opposed to being maids -but both Aunt Esther and Aunt Elin were excellent cooks and bakers.

Any time we (my Mom, grandparents and I) went to Pittsburgh to visit my Mom's oldest brother and his family (my Uncle Bert and Aunt Nellie) we always stopped in Indiana, PA to visit with Aunt Elin and Uncle Andrew. And the thing I remember most vividly about those quick-stop visits is that although Aunt Elin never knew in advance we would be stopping by her house, within a half-hour os so after our arrival, she would have pulled enough foods of all kinds out of her refrigerator and cupboards so as to put on a meal fit for a king for us. Because you see, it was tradition then that if company stopped in, they had to have a bite to eat before they continued on their journey. And boy, she made that stop so very worthwhile with all the great foods she would have on the table, always including too some fantastic homemade breads (rye and white) along with cake of some kind, cookies and occasionally even some pie.

Today, her daughter Arline Bengston Calhoun, who also still lives in Indiana and is now in her early 80s, carries on the same type of tradition with respect to the foods she always seems to have on hand or that she can whip up at a moments notice. My kids and I are very close to Arline and try to keep in touch with her as much as possible as well as with her brother, Paul, who e-mails me from time to time from his home in Delaware.

Beside the food and being an excellent cook and baker, the other thing I remember so well about Aunt Elin -and which is evident in this picture of her -is that I can't remember ever seeing her without that big smile -so warm, so happy to see family members, to share her offerings from her kitchen and always caring too for everyone who came her way.
This picture, above, is Arline Bengston Calhoun -Aunt Elin's daughter. She's a first cousin of my Mom's so I guess that makes her my second cousin then, doesn't it? (I always get confused as to the degree of cousins -first I know, but from there on down can never remember if they are 2nd or 3rd cousins or get the "once removed" status.)
This picture, taken in 1954 (I think) shows me (the bathing beauty) standing in front of my Grandpa, Adolf Eld, and the lady next to him is my Mom's older sister, Aunt Ethel Eld Gustafson and the that's my Mom, Hazel Eld Hill, on the far right. Aunt Ethel and her husband, Albin Gustafson, lived in Jamestown, NY and the 16 months or so that my Mom worked up in Niagara Falls -from 1951 to November of 1952 -I lived with Aunt Ethel and Uncle Albin most of that time. They never had any children and growing up, I was very, very close to them. Many of my family members would tell you that they spoiled me rotten and yes, I suppose they did that. But they tried to give accordingly too for all their other nieces and nephews as well.

Aunt Ethel, like her aunts (Esther and Elin) also worked for a number of years in Pittsburgh -again, in the homes of some of the wealthy families there. (Many of the young women from this little town went to Pittsburgh back in the early 1900's and through the twenties, to work as maids, cooks and/or nannies in various homes there.)

After Mom and I came back to live here in Grassflat with her parents -my grandparents -I spent several weeks every summer until 1962, when I graduated from high school, in Jamestown with Aunt Ethel and Uncle Albin. They bought me both the bicycles I had as a child, my roller skates too -among other things and lots and lots of clothes as well. Well, maybe not as many clothing items as the term "lots and lots" might imply, because they were no wealthy -just very hard-working people of what probably would have been considered perhaps lower-middle class back then. Aunt Ethel and Uncle Albin were also very attached to my older daughter, Carrie, and very much doted on her when she was little too! My son and Mandy never really got to be around them very much and they both died in March of 1982, a week and a day apart.

Now, on my Dad's side of the family, here's some of the women important in my life.
This was my Dad's mother -my Grammy Hill. She died when I was not quite three years old so I have no memories of her other than things I was told about her.

Grammy Hill was born in Scotland in 1878 and came to this country when she was about 2-3 years old. She was the fourth of five children to her parents. Her younger brother, Andrew, died when he was still a baby and her mother, also died at about the same time. If I am not mistaken, I think both her mother and her younger brother died of what was called "Consumption" at that time -or TB. My great-grandfather then married another lady from Scotland and went on to have nine or ten more children with her. So, when I tried to start working on my family tree from this side of my family, I had a really difficult time sorting out all those ancestors since not that much seemed to be known about most of them. Back in 1970 though, when my Dad's brother, Robert, died, I was surprised when I met two tiny white-haired ladies and learned they were half-sisters of my Grandmother.

My Grammy Hill had ten children but one -a twin -either was born dead or died at birth. She and my Grandfather were married in 1894, when she was only 16 years old and he died in 1922, leaving her to raise five of their children still at home -the youngest being around 4-5 years old when Grandpa died. Grammy had a very hard life -little money, so my Dad and his two younger brothers still at home supported their mother and their three little sisters then. My Dad didn't marry until he was 42 years old -probably waiting until my youngest aunt was through college and teaching and able then to continue to support Grammy.

Grammy Hill was very, very tiny - only about 4 foot 9 or 10 inches tall. She endured a lot during her lifetime -from a hard marriage to a man who was a heavy drinker, losing one child at birth, her youngest son and twin to the infant who died, went to work in the coal mines in Morrisdale, PA when he was 16-17 years old only to get his leg caught between some railroad cars on his first day on the job and he lost a leg as a result of that accident. Uncle Bill went back to school and was to graduate in 1930, but he died two weeks before his high school graduation of some type of kidney disease. Then 14 years later, Grammy lost another son -my Dad -to cancer. My grandfather, who died in 1922, supposedly succumbed from having been drunk, falling into a ditch and laying there overnight and getting pneumonia from that episode. When I was a child, my Mom told me that Grandpa Hill died of a ruptured appendix but in 2000, when I went to a big reunion of my Dad's family, the widow of my oldest uncle (Aunt Henrietta) mentioned about how Grandpa Hill actually died. Hmmm. Family secrets I guess there, huh?

And then, there are my Dad's three sisters!
This picture, taken around 1918-19, shows my aunts -Elizabeth, standing in the read, Janet (aka "Sis") standing in the front and Anna Mae (Aunt Mike) seated in the chair. I love, absolutely love this picture. When Aunt Mike died last spring and I got a great big tote container full of her pictures accumulated over the last 90 plus years, this photo was in there and she had apparently had it enlarged and framed. It is such a sweet picture of my aunts -all three whom I absolutely adored -that I have it on the shelf above my computer now.
This is my Aunt Lizzie -Elizabeth Hill Fitzgibbon -who was about 6 years younger than my Dad and the first daughter born to my grandparents. Aunt Lizzie was a fighter from way back as she is reported to have had polio as a young child and the doctor who treated her advised my grandparents that the best thing to do for her to help restore use of her legs was to get her a tricycle, which they did. What a struggle it had to have been for them with five older sons and this little girl -low wages my grandfather earned as a coal miner back then -to splurge and buy a tricycle for one child to use. But apparently it worked as Aunt Lizzie did walk but one leg was shorter than the other. However, she refused to wear any type of special, built-up shoe and very few people knew she limped either as she had mastered a way to her gait that hid it very well! Aunt Lizzie went to college -taught school (first grade) for many years. Back in the late 40s, when her son was still a fairly young boy, she went back to college and got her Master's degree too -leaving her husband and two children home to fend for themselves during the week while she went to college away from here. If I were to pick one word to describe Aunt Lizzie, it would have to be "Spunky" because she sure did have that quality about her! When the tv show -"Golden Girls" came on, my kids loved that program and then began to refer to Aunt Lizzie as "Sophia" because that character always brought Aunt Lizzie to their mind for the attitude -and loads of it -that Sophia, as well as Aunt Lizzie had no qualms about displaying!

Supposedly, my Dad had wanted me to be named Elizabeth -after Aunt Lizzie -but my Mom prevailed and named me Jennifer as a way to be named somewhat after my Grammy Hill. Grammy's first name was Janet -or Jeannette -but she was always known as Jennie or Jen Hill. I never realized that had been her nickname though until I was a senior in high school and our home economics teacher, who had known all my Dad's family, said that when she saw me, she didn't see Jennifer Hill but rather, she saw a little lady known either as Jennie Nelson or Jennie Hill. Took me a bit to figure out what she meant by that but today, I know exactly how she meant that statement.
This is my Dad's second sister -Janet (or Jeannette) Hill -but known to all the family as "Sis." Aunt Sis was very special to me as a child -always gave me some kind of stuffed animal for very birthday, Christmas, Easter or any other special occasion that came along. Now, those gifts were things though my Mom never allowed me to have out much less to play with. Instead, she covered them with paper and plastic bags and stored them in the attic. Probably saving them for good or some such thing! I've never been able to figure out my Mom's logic about doing that. But I had enough stuffed toys that had Mom allowed them to be out, I could have had my room pretty much wall-to-wall with them! Aunt Sis was married twice for sure, possibly a third time but no one is really positive if she actually was married to the third one or not. She never had any children as my Mom said she was terrified of having children. She also had a terrible problem too -a disease called alcoholism -that wrecked her first, probably her second marriage too and ruined her health as she died in 1965 barely in her early 50s. She was a sweetheart to me though and in my high school years, at a time when her drinking was really taking a hard toll on her, she would almost always send me a card for Christmas, sometimes for my birthday if she happened to remember it, and always there would be a nice crisp $5.00 bill inside with a note for me to get myself a nice pair of gloves. One year -either in 1960 or 1962 -at Christmas she sent me a package and in it was the most gorgeous pair of red leather gloves, with black knit inserts along the fingers. Soft, supple, stylish and yes, warm too and they were one of the best gifts I ever received. That Aunt Siss had thought to buy these for me, made them extra special and I had them for at least 10-12 years. I don't remember what happened to them -if they wore out or if one may have gotten lost or what but I felt terrible about no longer having them simply because of the sentimental value they held for me.
This is my Dad's youngest sister -the baby of the Hill family -my Aunt Mike. Actually, her given name was Anna Mae Hill but somehow, when she was around 3-4 years old she acquired the nickname of "Mike" and it stuck! Boy did it ever! (The only time my kids and I ever referred to her as "Anna Mae" was if we were picking on someone who was showing signs of being very stubborn and we'd say "OK, Anna Mae!" Aunt Mike was one of the most stubborn people I think I have ever known. She wouldn't say she was stubborn but rather that she had perseverance, was persistant -and oh my yes, how she was that, indeed!

Aunt Mike -like her older sister, Aunt Lizzie -went to college and became a school teacher. She generally taught first or second grade but for a time, was also the music instructor for the Morris Township Schools near here. She was a pianist and served for many years as organist and choir director for the United Methodist Church of Morrisdale too. Innovative for her era as a music teacher, she formed various groups from students and they even traveled around the area performing in the late 40s and early 50s.

Aunt Mike was in her mid-thirties when she married Bob Goodman. As she told a writer friend of mine a couple years back when my friend interviewed her for a Mother's Day piece, all she ever dreamed of as a child was getting married, having her own home with the white picket fence and children of her own.

Aunt Mike had one child -a daughter -in 1957. From the beginning, it was obvious there were things not quite right with Jane Ann and Aunt Mike spent at least the first 2-3 years of Jane's life taking her from one doctor to another to yet another, in an effort to find out what was wrong with Jane and also, to find whatever ways she possibly could that would help Jane too!

As it turned out, Jane was born with birth defects primarily as a result of the Rh blood factor which caused physical and mental disabilities in her along with cerebral palsy. But Aunt Mike never gave up on Jane and until she and Jane were placed in a nursing home -in August of 2006 -Aunt Mike still insisted that the young women who came to the house to assist her with Jane that they do various exercises with Jane to try to keep her leg muscles somewhat active and also, little games geared to help Jane learn how to put the wooden puzzles little children learn with together. Anything Aunt Mike could think of that might help Jane learn the least little thing, she was there, supervising if she couldn't do the work herself, to see that Jane got the best advantages humanly possible.

Aunt Mike was in so many ways, my guiding star -truly the "Wings Beneath My Feet" as she gave me so much in the way of support over my life and especially in the last almost 30 years after my Mom died. Aunt Mike was the grandmother to my kids that they never (except for my older daughter, Carrie) knew! And my kids worshipped her and adored her and loved her to pieces! As did I too.

She was often hell on wheels in the last 5-10 years of her life -often difficult to contend with much of the time. My cousin Margaret Anne and I, being the only of her many nieces who lived near to her, would often be the ones who would get the brunt of her outbursts when she was in a not so very great humor. If there were things, medical issues, we felt perhaps should be looked into, rarely would she pay any heed to what Margy and I would tell her, even though Margy was a registered nurse and very attentive to many of Aunt Mike's health concerns. If there were something going on that we felt should be examined further, one of us would call our cousin, Mikie, Aunt Lizzie's son who had power of attorney for Aunt Mike and who she sometimes would listen to as well. Aunt Mike you see, was of the old school, believing that women were a bit of the underclass and only men knew the truth and the real answers to things. But by the last year or two of her life, she wouldn't even listen to Mikie and his wife either then.

From 1979 until 2005, my kids and I spent every Thanksgiving and every Christmas dinner at Aunt Mike's house! Until about 2000, she always cooked everything for those meals herself but then acknowledged it was really very difficult for her to do all that cooking so my girls and I took over that job then. Usually, we would cook almost everything at my house and then transport everything up to Aunt Mike's to have our holiday meals together. It was a traditon my kids and I depended on as did Aunt Mike because she always wanted some family to be with her, especially on those holidays.

Aunt Lizzie died on her birthday in May of 2005 and Aunt Mike died four days after her 91st birthday on April 26th, 2008.

I come from a long line of strong -very strong women. My great-grandmother, my grandmothers, my Mom and my aunts -all of them.

I am very proud of my immigrant history -both sides -from Sweden and from Scotland. Although, because I grew up with my Swedish grandparents, I know more about ethnic traditions from that side of my family than I do from my Scottish roots.

I hope that my children will keep alive the traditonal things I learned and will pass them on then to their children and grandchildren too some day. My older grandson, Alexander, is also named for an ancestor as is my granddaughter, Maya. Alex is named for my great-grandfather, Alexander Nelson -father of my Grammy Hill.

Maybe someday Alex -and Maya too -will want to learn more about those people who came before them and will view them as very important people in their lives -just as I do.


HalfCrazy said...

Aww, that clerk is so mean! I feel for your poor Great Grandma! But hey, she made it and gave birth to many children! :)

Looks like your family is of good cooks! From generation to generation, so fun to read! And you were so spoiled! Ah well, everybody goes through that stage - spoiled even if it's not right lol!

Maggie May said...

Life as tough in those days, wasn't it?
Its a wonder any one survived without all the mod cons that we have today.
Well you obviously came from good stock!
A good looker in your bathing suit, when all the others were clothed!

Red said...


What a great blog. I love history and this passage is so full of women and importance. The pictures are stellar. The woman in your family are lookers. I can't make up my mind which is my fav to look at! I think the second one down (your great gram was it?) with teh handbag in front of her! She is a peach.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jen for another great post...from another genealogy buff and a good friend who always enjoys hearing more about your home town and your family. Keep up the good work...always my favorite thing on the puter ~ checking up on the latest with Jeni!!!


Travis said...

It's really terrific that you have this kind of history to record for your grandkids. They'll appreciate having it someday, and adding their own memories to it.

The Collector said...

I really enjoy reading your blog.

terri said...

I always love these posts about your family history. I'm amazed at the details you know about your ancestors!

Mary said...


Thanks so much for taking part in my "Memories" challenge. I enjoyed getting to know the women in your family. Sounds like they were all very strong and I can tell you have inherited their strengths.

Take care, my friend and have a great week. We'll have to do the "Memories" challenge again sometime.


Jocelyn said...

I love the pictures that punctuate each story. Of all the posts you've written, I suspect you will treasure this one the most, in the long run. Wow!

Debo Blue said...

This could easily be a documentary on: life for immigrants and their struggles; strong women during the early 19th century; class changes or evolution.

But the main thing is that this is a beautiful post. You continue to inspire and move me Jeni.

Dianne said...

I love the name Myja

the photos are amazing, it's so good that you have them and that you have organized them and put down their stories

fermicat said...

I love old family photos. Love the styles, the poses, the backgrounds. Like that old adirondack chair that Grammy Hill is sitting on. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post Mom! I loved the pictures. I wish I could still look into Aunt Mike's beautiful eyes. We were blessed to have these people in our lives.