Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Remembering...

Today, January 26th, is a date that holds several memories for me.

It was on today, back in 1971, that I had surgery for the removal of my appendix and gall bladder. I recall too that evening, after the surgery, when my best friend and her cousin (who was also her roommate) came to the hospital to see me and she told me that another very good mutual friend of ours (part of a group of six of us at work who were best of friends) had her baby -a little girl, she named Susan. The mother, Esther, had a nickname in our group. One that today I'm sure would be frowned upon as being very politically incorrect but Esther herself gave herself that nickname because she was the only one of our little group who was Jewish and she referred to herself as "The Jew Girl" and well, it was one of those things that just stuck.

I remember when my older daughter was born, and the gang -all of 'em -came to the hospital to see me but mainly to see the new baby of course.They all referred to themselves as my daughter's aunts and I can still see Esther, doing a little dance, outside the nursery area and gloating that she is, after all, the only Jewish Aunt my daughter had! Still holds that honor to this day, come to think of it.

But, I'm digressing a bit with that little story -a move I do frequently when I write things -as most of you are well aware of by now I would guess.

The most important thing about this date though -and one that I rather doubt my cousins (on my Mom's side of my family) would remember but really, they should, is that January 26th was the birthdate of our oldest aunt.

Aunt Ethel!

She was the first child of our grandparents -born January 26, 1903 -and her full name was Ethel Elvira Eld! She was born the beginning of the year in which this house, where I live today, was built but most likely, she was actually born in the house two doors over from this one -because it's my understanding from family information passed down over the years, that my grandparents as well as my Grandpa's older brother, his wife and at least two of their children lived in that house too. As small as that place was/is, it was at one time, considered a "double house." Maybe by the time Aunt Ethel came along though, Uncle Erik and Aunt Beatrice may have already had their own home built and perhaps they were living in it by then.

I looked in the picture files I have on my computer for an early photo of Aunt Ethel and I thought there was a baby picture of her that I had scanned in but apparently not. This though is the earliest picture I could find of her.

This was her standing beside the second of my grandparents' children, my Uncle Bertram Carl Eld, who was born April 7, 1904, here in Grassflat. I would assume by the time he was born my grandparents were then probably residing in this house so that would make him the first baby born here. (I was the second to be born in this house then apparently! Although I had been told I was the ONLY one in the family born in this house, so who knows who was first and who was second? No one around today to verify that fact, ya know!)

Weren't they just the cutest two little children though?

I was really disappointed that I have been so lax in my scanning of old photographs of my family because I could only find two photos in my files -this one and a picture taken in the 50s of Aunt Ethel, my Mom, my Grandpa and me. This one!

That's Aunt Ethel in the middle, standing between my Grandpa and my Mom -and of course, the lovely "bathing" beauty in front of Grandpa -me. Not necessarily the very best picture ever taken of me, for sure. But it is a nice picture of my Mom and her older sister as well as my Grandpa too. Brings back lots and lots of memories of them, for sure.

Aunt Ethel got married on June 28, 1928 in Bellefonte, PA to a local fellow -Lars Albin Gustafson. Although his first name was Lars, he never used that name as he said he disliked it very much so he went by Albin but most everyone called him "Butch" - nickname he got because his father had a butcher shop here in the village from the turn of the century until possibly as late as 1930.

Aunt Ethel and Uncle Butch always lived in Jamestown, New York -a place I visited frequently as a young child. And, from October of 1951 until November of 1953, I lived with them in Jamestown too.

They never had children of their own but doted on all their nieces and nephews. Because my Mom and I lived with my grandparents here in the family homestead, I suppose that was part of how I came to grow up a bit closer to Aunt Ethel and Uncle Butch than some of my cousins were and probably because of those circumstances, plus my being an only child too, they did shower me with a lot of things throughout my childhood. That I ended up living with them in Jametown too I'm sure had a lot to do with that as well.

In the summer of 1951, my Mom decided she needed to go out and get a place of her own and in doing that, she ended up in Niagara Falls, NY, living with my younger aunt and her husband -Aunt Marian and Uncle Ed.

I recall that summer when we lived with Aunt Mamie and she and Uncle Ed had this large apartment in what had apparently been a big old farmhouse -located across the road from the Niagara River, just outside of Fort Niagara where the Niagara River empties into Lake Ontario. It was almost as great living there, as far as I was concerned, as it was to be living back home in Grassflat because there was a huge yard all around this farmhouse and Aunt Mamie and Uncle Ed had this beautiful dog, too -a collie, named Coral -who was smart as a whip! Uncle Ed had trained Coral to do several neat tricks -among them being how she would sit up on the kitchen chair, with her front paws draped over the top of the chair to beg for her food. Once given permission to get down, when she would start to eat, if she began eating too fast, Uncle Ed would give her a command to "Slow down" and she would then start eating very daintily. It was a neat trick in my book to see, for sure.

But the thing I loved the most was when Uncle Ed would come home and grab me and begin to tickle me and as soon as I started to giggle, Coral would immediately think I was in some kind of danger and would come after Uncle Ed, pulling at him until he finally would let me go. Yes, she was a darned good watch dog in that respect -very protective of me as her charge, I guess.

But anyway -again, a little digression there. That fall (1951) Aunt Mamie and Uncle Ed had bought a little bungalow house on Chapin Avenue in the Falls and Mom and I moved into it with them. Therefore, I started second grade at a neighborhood school in Niagara Falls.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, so-to-speak, my grandparents were upset by all of this. They wanted me, at least, to be brought back to Grassflat to live with them. Yeah, my Grandpa missed me! So, three weeks into the school year, my Mom gave into their wishes and brought me back to Grassflat to live while she returned to Niagara Falls to work.

Now, this move didn't exactly sit too well though with my Mom's siblings as they thought that it was too much of a strain on my Grandparents to be responsible for me living here with them. At that time, my Grandpa was then 76 and Grandma was 70 and although they obviously getting up in years, they felt their health was fine to watch over me.

However, my aunts and uncle debated this issue and it was then decided that we -my Grandparents and I -would go to Jamestown where we would then live with Aunt Ethel and Uncle Butch, at least over the winter months.

And so, that's how I came to leave Grassflat that fall -three weeks in school in Niagara Falls, about another three weeks in second grade here and then, in mid-October, I began attending second grade in Jamestown at the school located I think, if memory serves me correctly, on East Second Street. We were living at that time in an apartment, second floor, at 348 East Falconer Street. An apartment with large enough rooms but not too great considering in our move, we also HAD to bring our dog, Lady, with us too!

Lady was part collie, part shepherd and a fairly large, very wooly dog. She was also considered to be an "outside" dog as she really didn't like being cooped up inside the house whether it was here in Grassflat, or in an apartment in Jamestown. And Uncle Butch wasn't quite the animal lover either that my Grandpa and I were and he disliked having the dog inside the apartment too so she slept out on the landing, just outside the kitchen entry to the apartment.

By February of 1952 though, Aunt Ethel and Uncle Butch decided the time had come where they really needed to purchase a house and so, they found this old house up on 18th Street -in need of a lot of repair and remodeling -and we moved up there. This meant another change of schools then for me and I wound up my second grade year in the fourth school, this one on Euclid Avenue.

By April of 1952, my Grandpa was chomping at the bit to be brought back home, to his house and to his land so he could begin getting the ground ready for the big vegetable garden he planted every year. And finally, by May, Aunt Ethel and Uncle Butch brought them back here -figuring at least they wouldn't have to worry about them having to deal with firing a coal furnace and removal of ashes, work like that in maintaining this old house.

But I remained behind to finish out the school year then in Jamestown. Much as I loved living with Aunt Ethel and Uncle Butch, I was getting pretty anxious too though by June to return here to my home, my friends, my life as I knew it, here in Grassflat and so, they brought me back here then for the summer months.

When fall rolled around again, I returned to Jamestown to school but my grandparents were adamant about not leaving their home again so they stayed here. Again, the problems of their being here alone were discussed by their children and this time, my Mom, I gather, was put under some family pressure to return to this area then too so that she could oversee my grandparents lives here then and keep them as content -and healthy -as possible for the rest of their lives.

One little side note though about my residing in Jamestown with my aunt and uncle, was that they were not permitted to sign my school report cards, initially. To take care of that situation, my Mom had to engage an attorney and have my aunt and uncle named then as my legal guardians -a move that I knew about and thought that all my aunts and uncles were also aware of that but didn't find out until many, many years later -after Aunt Ethel and Uncle Butch had both died -that my younger uncle (Cookie) and his wife, my Aunt Mary, never knew about that legal stuff until they, having been named administrators for Aunt Ethel and Uncle Butch, were going through their papers and things and came across those guardianship papers there for me.

Aunt Ethel was a person who was basically very easy-going -not just in disposition, but in movement too. And yet, as she would slowly move about, she had every movement organized in her mind so that she could accomplish more, moving at what seemed a very slow pace, than my Mom or others in the family could do as they rushed around, sometimes a bit willy-nilly, if you know what I mean.

Aunt Ethel and Uncle Butch were generous to a fault -not just to me directly, but to everyone within the family.

It was through them and my uncles that we came to have a bathroom built on to this house in the fall of 1962. That summer, when they were all here -probably for the Eld Family Reunion -my uncles and Aunt Ethel sat out in the backyard and planned how they would go about getting this addition built on to the house. It was decided that Aunt Ethel and Uncle Butch would pay for most of the materials to build this addition -the cement blocks for the foundation and the lumber. Uncle Bert and Uncle Cookie would provide the labor to build this room and Uncle Ralph, because of his business, couldn't be here every weekend to help with the building part, was responsible then for providing the bathroom fixtures -tub, vanity, commode -and those essentials. By that time, Aunt Mamie and Uncle Ed were then living in California, rarely came back east to visit and so, were not in on this family discussion and decision.

So that fall, from Labor Day weekend when the ground was broken in back of the house where the addition was to be built and every weekend from then on till Thanksgiving of that year, Uncle Bert and Uncle Cookie and their sons -my cousins Ray, Dave, Ken and Tom -came here to work on building this bathroom extension to the house. Most weekends, Aunt Ethel and Uncle Butch were also here too but not always as Uncle Butch wasn't as skilled in the carpentry area as were Uncle Bert and Uncle Cookie (Clarence was his given name but acquired the nickname of "Cookie" early on in his life and it, as often happens with nicknames, was one that stuck firmly!

Over Thanksgiving weekend that year, my uncles were ready to get the plumbing all hooked up -water to the fixtures, to the radiator, heat from the old coal furnace -and then, the bathroom would finally be usable. Not totally completed, as the finishing touches -woodwork and such -still needed to be completed, but the necessities would be done. With the help of a cousin's husband, who was a plumber by trade (Steve Sabolsice), they got all of this stuff hooked up and working.

Then, on Monday evening, when it was time for my Uncle Cookie and his boys, Ken and Tom to return to their home in Corry, PA, Uncle Cookie announced to my Mom that he was done with what he had to do with building this room and that he WOULD NOT be back to do anymore work on it, that my Mom was now on her own with finishing it all up!

Needless to say, she wasn't overly pleased by these words as she said later, it was just as she had figured all along that would happen. The "boys" (meaning her brothers) would come here and start this project and then, not finish it!

But I knew the real reason why Uncle Cookie said and did that!

He was highly ticked off with my Mom, who from the get-go, would go messing around during the week, moving equipment, supplies, stuff like that, around to where she believed was a better place to have those things so then, when my uncles would arrive each Friday night that fall to begin working on the bathroom early Saturday a.m., they would first have to spend half of the day, looking for all the equipment and stuff they needed to begin the work! That, plus my Mom did know a good bit about carpentry and plumbing too -learned it from her brothers, she did -and she didn't hesitate to put her two cents in to tell the "boys" what she THOUGHT they should be doing and how to do it too!

Yeah, she did have a very irksome trait like that! Now, Aunt Ethel, on the other hand, would never have tried to boss her brothers, and certainly not her husband, Uncle Butch, around. Not. At. All! If she thought they maybe were making a little mistake here and there, she might have mentioned it at times to my Mom but she never would have ever thought to correct, much less boss those men around, for certain. Just wasn't part of her disposition in the first place to do things like that!

Lest you think that the reason this bathroom was built was because we didn't have indoor plumbing, that was not the case. Although some -okay, several -other homes along this street still had the old outhouse outback, we did already have a bathroom -of sorts -in this house, but it was located in to different parts of the basement! The tub was in the "laundry room" which was under the kitchen and where there was a bucket-a-day stove and the hot water tank and which made for a really, really cozy warm area in which to bathe in the winter time what with that bucket-a-day putting out all kinds of heat, ya know.

The commode was located at the foot of the cellar steps in what was referred to as the furnace room because, of course, that's where the old coal furnace was and where the oil furnace we have today is located now too. There was a partition around the commode for privacy purposes and with the furnace located there, it wasn't icy cold to use it but it was far from being a nice, pretty and warm set-up too.

That was though life as I knew it until November of 1962 when the new bathroom was ready for use! A move that was instigated mainly because Aunt Ethel -and her brothers -thought going up and down those cellar steps all the time was entirely too risky for my Grandma and that this was a way to provide her for some extra comforts in her last days on earth. She died the following May, a little less than six months after her new bathroom had been built for her -and anyone else in the house too, of course.

But back a bit now too about Aunt Ethel and by extension, of course, my Uncle Butch too.

From the time in November of 1953 when I returned to live in Grassflat with Mom and my Grandparents, there wasn't a summer that went by that I didn't go to Jamestown to spend several weeks there with Aunt Ethel and Uncle Butch. And as happy as I had been initially to return home -to this old house, this neighborhood -each summer I couldn't wait for the weekend to arrive when I would be returning to Jamestown with them then too!

I was one lucky kid there in that I then kind of had two families, two homes, two sets of great friends to play with as well! Aunt Ethel and Uncle Butch and their next-door neighbor's son, Jimmy Johnson, who was three years younger than me but who became a bit of a fixture too at Aunt Ethel and Uncle Butch's home, and I would go fishing, have picnics down at a state park fairly near to Jamestown but which has now escaped my memory as to the name of the place. There was a big dam and swimming area there -that I remember quite well -and the drive into the park area was very wooded and filled with lots of wildlife -bears, deer, rabbits, raccoons -animals that often would wait by the roadside and tourists just as often would stop and give these animals food too! A practice not really highly recommended by the Forestry Department for sure, even back then, but it never stopped folks from doing that anyway!

And just as I went to Jamestown every summer where I would spend much of my school vacation with Aunt Ethel and Uncle Butch, always at some juncture along those weeks, I would also get to go to Corry, PA for at least a week, sometimes two, to stay with Uncle Cookie and his wife, Aunt Mary and their four children -Ken, Sue, Tom and Becky.

I've told my kids over the years that had it not been for those weeks in Corry, spent playing out in the big backyard of their home, I never would have had a single clue as to what life is like for kids to grow up with siblings! I have Uncle Cookie and Aunt Mary and their children to thank for that experience and I'm so glad I had those few weeks every summer to learn a bit more about the family socialization process!

When my daughter, Carrie, came along, she became the "fair-haired"child for Aunt Ethel and Uncle Butch to love, cater to and spoil. They absolutely adored her!

Unfortunately, by the late seventies, Aunt Ethel had begun to show signs of senility. Call it what you want -"hardening of the arteries" is what it was called when it struck my Grandpa and what it was still called when it began to affect Aunt Ethel. Today it would most likely be called Alzheimer's or perhaps simply Dementia. But her mind began to falter more and more and it was heartbreaking to watch the decline in her and also, the toll it took on Uncle Butch too.

He was as devoted to Aunt Ethel as she was to him and one of the ways in which it affected her, was that she would often spend days searching their house, looking for my daughter, Carrie! Try as he would do to explain to her that Carrie wasn't there; that she was also no longer a little toddler either, of course, those explanations fell on deaf ears. Sometimes, he would phone me, sobbing, and beg me to talk to her and tell her that Carrie was here, in Grassflat, with me and that she was fine. And also to tell her, over and over again and again, how old Carrie was by then too. As much as it hurt me to deal with this part of her illness, long-distance, it hurt more I think to listen to him crying as he tried to reason with her then too.

Finally, the time came when it was no longer feasible for them to live by themselves in the big old house they had worked so long on to fix it up, making it a beautiful home, inside and out and they moved into the Lutheran Home in Jamestown as Uncle Cookie and Aunt Mary took over the work of clearing out the house and seeing it all sold. That was something I was eternally grateful that I was living here -130 miles away -and thus, not close enough to be there for the clearing out, the auction, the sale of the property as I don't think I would have handled that very well at all as it would have been horribly depressing for me to see so much of my childhood gone forever except in my memories.

It will be 29 years this coming March since my dear Aunt Ethel and her husband, Uncle Albin or Uncle Butch (pick a name) both passed away within a week of each other. That year, our family actually had three funerals -each within nine days of the other -beginning with the untimely death of my cousin, David, my Uncle Bert's youngest son, then Aunt Ethel and ending with Uncle Butch's passing. A whole lot of of heartache and heartbreak that year and the month of March since then has always been a very depressing month for me due to losing three very important members of my family, of my life.

But today, I just wanted to write a little bit about the sweetest lady -Aunt Ethel -on the occasion of what would have been her 108th birthday!

And if any of my family -my cousins especially -would happen to read this piece today or in the future sometime, to ask them to take a bit of time and remember what a wonderful aunt we were all so blessed to have had in our lives. As much as she loved each of us, to remember her too -as well as Uncle Butch and the rest of our ancestry -with the love and respect she so well deserved from all of us.

And also, to say, how much I still miss her, the comfort of being held close to her when I needed a hug, just to let me know that she cared, to comfort me if I was hurting in any way. I will always remember that and to send a prayer to her, wherever she is, to say I loved you so much then and always will.

For you, Aunt Ethel, on this day that led to so many things -wonderful, happy things -and for being such a huge part of my life! How I wish my children had all had the opportunity to know you better and that my Grandchildren will, if I have anything to do about it, know who you were and what a beautiful, loving person you were.

3 comments:

Lori said...

What a beautiful and touching tribute to your aunt and uncle...they really were a strong foundation and rock for you. You sure had quite the growing up years but how blessed to be so loved by so many people. Thank God for people like your aunt and uncle that stand in the gap when it is needed. ((((Jeni))))

TechnoBabe said...

You did a lot of moving around too as a kid. What a great feeling for you it must have been to have so many family members looking out for you and wanting you with them. It is so enjoyable to read your memories as they pour out of you and you share here.

terri said...

I love when you write like this, Jeni. I was transported back to your childhood, getting to know all of those family members, picturing what it was like in the yards of each of your homes and playing with the cousins. What a beautiful tribute to your family and especially your aunt!