52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Courting

Scene: 1943; Topeka, Kansas; VFW on a Saturday night

He said: I was just an 18 year old kid who had volunteered for the Army Air Corps enlistment. The fact be told, I lied about my age to join. Claimed to be 18 when I was still 17. I was from Philadelphia, a big city kid. I used to hitchhike to New York City on the weekends. Now here I was deep in the heart of America’s bread basket. I was stationed at the Topeka Air Base. Because of its vast pasture land, Kansas made a good location for long landing strips for training.

It was a Saturday night, and we could go into town. The local VFW was holding a dance so my buddies and I decided to give it a whirl. When we entered the hall, Glenn Miller and His Orchestra were blowing the jukebox with “In The Mood”. Then I saw her. Her name was Merna Mae Storer.

She said: Just 17 years old when I graduated high school, I decided I needed a change. You see, I was raised on a farm in a small Kansas town. I did not want to stick around and do man’s work on the farm all my life. I started studying the want ads and job postings at the state capital of Topeka. There was a listing for a secretary in the tax office based at the Capitol. I got the job plus lucked in to renting an apartment with four other girls. I was Topeka bound.

It was a Saturday night, and dances at the VFW were very popular events. We girls decided that if we met guys, they would be short-lived romances. These boys were going off to war any day now. Many would not make it back so no sense in tying up our heartstrings. When we entered the hall, Glenn Miller and His Orchestra were blowing the jukebox with “In The Mood”. Then I saw him. His name was Eddie Slabik.

Scene: 1946, Arlington, Virginia

He said: Survived the War in the Pacific and came back home to Philadelphia to stay with my sister’s family. I have been planning my future. Should I use the G.I. Bill and go to college to become an architect? Should I check out this Civil Service job to work for the Federal Government in Arlington, Virginia, close to Washington, D.C.? I have been seriously thinking about this girl I wrote to during the war. I love her…can I make a future for us? We only saw each other for two weeks back in Topeka. There are lots of job postings for secretaries in the D.C. area. Could I convince her to come east and eventually marry me? I am going to write her and ask her.

She said: The war is finally over, and thank goodness I am still in Topeka…not back at the farm. Got a letter from Eddie, and he has a suggestion. Do I dare take it? It would involve my moving to Washington and working in the office of the Department of the Navy. I have never, ever been that far from home. I love him…can I make a future for us? We only saw each other three times in Topeka. Am I willing to pack up and take the train to Washington? I am going to write him and tell my decision.

Scene: Saint Thomas More Church; Arlington, Virginia; 18 April 1947 Eddie and Merna Mae were married in a simple Catholic ceremony in the priests’ residence with the housekeeper and another priest as their witnesses. None of their family was in attendance. They took the train to New York City for a honeymoon. Then, they settled into their basement apartment to begin their married life. They remained married for 60 years with Eddie passing away in 2007 and Merna Mae in 2014.

This is part of my parents’ love story.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Landed

Brother Bill,

Finally, we have landed on our feet at our new home. When I last saw you in Morristown (Minnesota), we had decided to move on to Wisconsin and Iowa. My Andrew (Storer) is a man with wanderlust in his soul and visions in his brain. So kerplunk, here we are in Kansas, Osborne County to be exact.

The trip by wagon from Iowa to Kansas was bone jarring to say the least. Had to pack up our most precious possessions and supplies. I will be darned, but Andrew insisted that we bring a pig along. Most days it rode in the wagon as we walked! Some folks say it was the first pig in the county. That Andrew always thinking and dreaming.

Lots of plentiful pasture land out here. Andrew says it is just right for sheep farming. There he goes again with a vision. Most folks around here are planting crops and wondering just what he is thinking. Also, he has applied to a farming college in Mississippi about getting a grant to plant trees out here on the prairie. Cottonwoods is what he says he wants to plant. He talked a couple of other fellows to going along with him. So I guess we are also tree farmers.

I must say that all this moving has been hard on me. It is lonely for a woman out on the prairie. At times, I feel isolated with neighbors not nearby. Does keep me busy, though, teaching my girls how to be a farmer’s wife. How my day is never done! I guess this is the lot the good Lord gave me so I will count my blessings.

Hope to hear from you and give sweet Ellen my best.

Your sister, Mary Etta

Note: Mary Etta Soule was my 2nd great grandmother who was born in New York in 1833. She met her future husband Andrew Storer in Minnesota around 1852. She worked in the brickyard of which he was the manager. They married that year. Andrew was born in Maine in 1817. Together with their family for the next 20 years, they migrated through the Midwest where they finally settled in Osborne County, Kansas…along with the pig.

Brother Bill was William Riley Soule, a Civil War veteran, who lived in Morristown, Rice County, Minnesota.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Maps

Beginning this journey, I had no idea how to arrive at the destination. Where would I be going? Could I find these two places? I needed a map to discover the actual locations.

My grandparents emigrated from Poland and arrived at different times. They did not know each other back in the Old Country. They came from two villages in the same area that was known as Galicia. These villages were so small that some maps did not show them. They came from Jastrzebiec and Turaszowka. At the time of their emigrations, Galicia was part of the Austria-Hungary Empire since Poland and Galicia were not recognized as their own countries.

When my grandmother came to America in 1906, she was listed on the ship’s manifest as being born in Austria with a native tongue of Polish. My grandfather, arriving in 1912, was listed with the same information.

Looking to discover the location of these tiny villages was like sifting through sediment looking for gold nuggets. Would I strike gold, or go bust? I joined a Polish Genealogy group that was a teaching group. The group would help a member look on Family Search, and then one was on her own. I did find a map that was helpful, and I noted that these two villages were near Przemysl ( about in the center of the map in the midwestern section).

I was just starting my research with many miles to go. When would I finally arrive?

Then, I got to thinking: how did two people (my grandparents) come to this country, not know each other at first, both settle in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, live a few doors down from one other, meet and marry when they both came from tiny villages in Galicia? Truly, it was all part of the divine plan.