They left more than 50 years ago. They took with them pieces of my heart. Their partings were sudden and unexpected. What were you thinking, Lord? I was young…a teenager unformed in maturity and experiences. They were guiding lights and beacons to see the world out of the shadows. Why did they have to go? I was learning so much, and the lessons seemed to be abruptly cut off. Or were they? They left me a legacy, one of a social conscience and one of an attitude of gratitude.
They left more than 50 years ago. They are part of the long line of fallen heroes who graced my life and touched it. Forever grateful and forever remembering John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hiding in a drawer…tucked away from view…longing to be discovered…just waiting for someone’s intake of breath when viewed…I had never seen a photo like it. Was the photo taken to celebrate a wedding? The couple had been married on 27 April 1918 so the picture was more than 100 years old. In studying the photo, I was wondering why the bride was not facing the camera? To me, that added an exquisiteness to the pose. She appears to be wearing engagement and wedding rings when I look closer. The photo was taken at the Bennett Studio in downtown Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. The couple had been married in Hagerstown, Maryland, about 15 miles away. Daniel Johnston Haffner, 22 years old, and Anna Rebecca Flegel, 20 years old, were touted as a much loved and popular young couple according to the newspaper. They would be married for almost 40 years before Anna passed away in 1957. They would parent four children.
This little gem of a photo was discovered by me last year. The couple are my husband’s grandparents…it is a favorite of mine.
What was the question…what was the answer…what was the explanation? Who was involved in the decision-making? Who planned the moves forward and eventually westward? What compelled them? What led them? Were these moves each obviously a fresh start?
William Henry Stevens was born in London in 1844. During the Civil War, he immigrated to America and joined the Union Navy. Was that meant to be a fresh start in a new place? His assignments as a landsman were documented in his military and pension records. He was a mere 22 years old when this adventure began.
At the age of 24, he married Isabella Couchman in New York City. They also resided in Jersey City, New Jersey. They would parent a total of ten children…some born there and the remaining in a final start over location. Was this meant to be a fresh start in a new place?
For while, the family lived in Memphis, Tennessee, where Will worked at the gas company. Was this move to the South meant as a fresh start in another new place? It was a city albeit smaller in size than New York.
Will’s final start over was in Osborne County, Kansas. He became a farmer. A London-New York-Tennessee transplant making yet another fresh start in the early 1870s. What prompted this move when he knew very little about farming?
None of Will’s and Isabella’s real thoughts and ponderings have ever been discovered. Are they just dust in the wind?
You are a leaf on a family tree whose branches touch and caress one another. You are the child of your grandparents’ child. You have DNA that was engineered by the Creator. You can claim hundreds of surnames that are a part of you. You can look up at the stars and count your ancestors. You can find a document that tells the exact time of the moment you first drew breath. You have ancestors that traveled hundreds and thousands of miles to bring you to where you are today. You are a collection of all of your experiences and life lessons. You are a library of information radiating from your talents. You are your family historian and author. You are the treasurer of family stories and memories. You hold sacred the lives of those who came before you. You reverence the past. You are a record keeper, a document expert, a researcher, an archivist. Perhaps, You will meet yourself for the first time when the 1950 Federal Census is unveiled in 2022. You are a marvel of your generation…You.
Oh by gosh by golly, it’s time for mistletoe and holly…tasty pheasants, Christmas presents, countrysides all covered in snow (as written and sung by Frank Sinatra and first recorded in 1957)
It was the most wonderful time of the year…for a kid, of course! In our neighborhood lived our own Grandma Smith. Her real name was Mrs. Velma Smith. She was not really our grandma, and she was not anyone’s grandma as she had no children. She adopted us out in our growing up years. She began a tradition that we celebrated each year before Christmas. She assigned each of us a special day to go out with her. We would ride the bus downtown to McCrory’s Five and Dime. We ate lunch at the counter, and I was allowed to order whatever I wished including dessert. What bliss! Afterward, we visited Santa in the back of the store. I whispered my list into his ear. What happiness! Then, Grandma led me to the toy department where I could pick out some small presents for myself. Usually, I selected paper dolls to cut out and dress, a coloring book with puzzles, and a fresh pack of crayons. What excitement! Last, she had me select small gifts for my parents and brother to take home and wrap. What fun! On the bus ride home, Grandma and I would smile at each other…you know that secret smile shared between a “grandma” and her “grandchild”.
Every year, I loved sharing this with Grandma. It wasn’t the lunch and shopping. I loved sharing giggles, smiles, and Christmas joy with someone who made me feel loved and special.
The craft of writing has been a passion of mine since childhood. I am a storyteller. I weave tales of fact and fiction. When an idea comes, I begin by “writing in the air” and listening to the sounds of the words and phrases. I twist and turn the ideas and themes. Sometimes I use alliteration. Sometimes I balance the phrases by repeating parts of sentences. I revise and edit as I go along with word processing and not paper and pencil. I am a lifelong reader so my computer brain stores up other authors’ nuances and wording. I am a lifelong writer so my computer brain downloads techniques and styles. I write blogs, prayers, poems, greeting card sentiments, bios, journals, instruction books, genealogical notations…whatever the challenge that I can fashion for myself. This is my craft.
She was a thief. She was a little scoundrel. She had stolen his heart pure and simple. He would love her forever. Looking into her eyes made his heart pound. There had been no other love like this for him, but he was at the mercy of this tiny thief. When he gazed at her face, he discovered himself in her. It was Tuesday, 6 December 1949, at 2:17 a.m. His sweet daughter Mary Anne had just been born. She would be Daddy’s little girl and would grow up to be her father’s daughter. A thief can snatch a heart in a second!
It was not his choice. It was a command, a demand, an order. He would leave his Polish village in the mountains and become one of them. It did not matter that he was a man of peace. It was no concern of anyone that his heart and soul did not want to be a part of this. He was conscripted with no choice. It was the early 20th Century, and it was his turn to take his place as a soldier. Reluctant, strong-willed, he did as he was instructed to wear the uniform and live the life of the lowest rank in the Prussian Army. Franciszek Slabik would do his service as instructed. He would serve with a heavy heart, and he would serve in selected silence.
In time, Franciszek would emigrate from Poland in 1912 to travel to this dream of America. He had escaped the Great War on the European continent. He married and had a daughter and two sons. His sons would serve during World War II. His older boy was a parachutist who was shot down over Belgium; later he received a Purple Heart. His younger son would fight against the Japanese in the Pacific. Soldiering had continued in his family.
Later, his first grandson would become a cadet at West Point. Proudly, he shared with him his picture in his Prussian uniform. “Be as good a soldier as I was, ” he instructed the young man. His grandson would have a lifelong career in the military and achieve high rank.
Soldier, soldiering…what is its real meaning of sacrifice and honor?
His family is shrouded in layers of unanswered questions…poor man. His paper trail spells out a lack of financial stability…poor man. The road to his final years comes to a screeching halt at a brick wall…poor man.
Benjamin Haffner and his bride Julianna Beason married in Martinsburg, Berkeley County, Virginia in 1825. (This part of Virginia would form part of the new state of West Virginia in 1863.) They would parent six children: two sons and four daughters. Two of the girls would die before their third birthdays. Benjamin made his living as a ploughmaker. His success in that occupation is unknown.
According to the 1850 Federal Census, Benjamin was listed as a “pauper”. The census for that year listed special persons in column 13: blind, deaf, insane, pauper, idiotic, or convict. What did that actually mean? Were he and his family receiving charity and help from the county? How was that notation made?
Benjamin’s and Julianna’s last appearances are in the 1860. At the age of 69, Benjamin has no occupation listed. He and his wife are living with two unmarried daughters who are seamstresses in Martinsburg. Within the next year, that town will become divided and torn as the Civil War rages in the Shenandoah Valley. What happened to them? The brick wall stands in the way.
As of this date, Benjamin and Julianna remain a mystery. He is one poor man among many whose life story is hidden and buried. Perhaps one day, the poor man will be resurrected and his story known.