The beginnings of love affairs are always revisited, recounted, and remembered. Over 65 years ago, I experienced the beginnings of such an affair. To this day, I remain in love. This love has grown to a vastness all its own.
It all began when I was a toddler. There was something magical that lived right in our home with me. I was curious as I longed to discover what was hidden inside my toy chest. My mother treated those treasures with respect as they were carefully laid in the top of the chest. When they came out at bedtime, they were glorious in holding my attention. Excitedly, I looked forward to each nightly visit. I was in love! They were picture books whose story lines and illustrations cast a spell over me. The objects of my affection were Mike Mulligan who had a steam shovel named Mary Anne…that was my name, too. My other new love was a bull named Ferdinand, who was a peaceful soul. When my mother presented these stories to me, she was cracking a code called reading. I could not wait to be able to do that on my own.
As I grew in age, I fell deeper in love with reading. We had our own secret rendezvous spots. A favorite meeting place was my town’s library. What a sacred place that was! It was filled with the most glorious books. To add to my thrills, I received my own library card which entitled me to borrow my selected treasures…only to return them to savor more.
Since my childhood, I have never stopped loving my books. The beginnings of my literacy journey have taken me far and filled me with the joy of reading.
What would a second grade girl know about music in 1957? Oh, she knew Elvis, Little Richard, and the early rockers. Yes, she had seen Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show. She could sing and dance along to the music. Her babysitter would squeal and sigh as she spoke of Elvis.
Then, 1957 became an unforgettable year for her. It was that year that her family moved in a brand new house in a recently developed neighborhood. With a bigger house, her dad wanted a hi-fi system. A console model with radio was purchased…suddenly, the house was filled with the sound of her father’s records. Her dad sang along with the music, and she did as well. One of the first albums he purchased was “Love Is the Thing” by Nat King Cole. Nat’s rich voice reached out and invited them to sing along to “When I Fall In Love”, “Stardust”, and “When Sunny Gets Blue”. It was magical and unforgettable for the girl. Nat became one of her favorite male singers. But Nat’s voice was not the only one to fill out the house. The girl met Joni James, Keely Smith, Frank Sinatra. It was unforgettably heavenly!
1957 also proved to be unforgettable for the young school girl. She loved going to school! She loved to learn and wanted most of all to read and write. A new Catholic school opened in her town. She was in the first second grade class there. New friends and friendships awaited her. Also, her new neighborhood had a whole gang of kids her age to run around with and enjoy.
It was just a small detail, and it was just a small lie. The bigger picture was that he had been called to serve by Mr. Lincoln himself. It did not really matter…he was 14 years old, but he swore he was 17. He was small in stature at only 4’11” with a dark complexion. He was called to be a drummer boy in the 87th Regiment, Illinois, Company I. He was ready to make a contribution. Yes, sir, Private David W. Grubbs was ready to serve! He enlisted in August, 1862.
At first, David was required to learn many drum calls. These calls would direct his fellow soldiers on the battlefield. David was intelligent and could easily memorize these. He would not be carrying a weapon. Second, he had to prepare himself for other duties on the field. When the battle commenced, he would move to the rear to stay away from the shooting. He could be killed or wounded. He could be asked to assist medics in getting the wounded to safety. He could be asked by the surgeons to assist in amputations and other surgeries. He could be asked to hold down patients. He could be asked to dispose of discarded limbs in piles. David was a farm boy and had witnessed butchering on his homestead, but he had never before witnessed the slaughtering of other humans. The young boy was required to be mature and steadfast…no small tasks for anyone.
In July, 1865, Private Grubbs was mustered out. He was 17 years old. He went back to his family’s farm. Seven years later, he would marry and start his family. Did he tell his children any war stories? He would die at the young age of 47.
A large hole in the family was left by his death. His obituary stated the usual facts as far as birth, death, name of wife and children go. But hidden between the lines of writing was a larger story.
Born in Waynesboro, Franklin County, Pennsylvania, in 1848, Jeremiah Frederick Bowman was one of eight sons. Five of those sons would go off to fight in the Civil War…three would come back. Jeremiah enlisted at the age of 16. At that time, one brother had died in a hospital in Washington, D.C., with burial in the newly planned Arlington National Cemetery. Another brother had died and was buried at Andersonville, Georgia. The other two had been wounded. Did this inspire him to enlist and lie about his age? Could his parents sacrifice another child? Jeremiah survived the fierce fighting with no wounds or injuries.
Jerry, as he liked to be called, married Martha Bell Shatzer. They were the parents of six children. Martha died at the age of 27. They had recently moved to Ohio. Now a widower, he had the large duty of raising children and managing a farm. But he would not remain alone for more than two years with his marriage to Sarah Matilda McFadden. Together, they would have 10 children. All of the children reached adulthood which was unusual for the times. Jerry was surrounded by many hearts and souls.
Jerry lived to be 88 years old with his wife Sarah always by his side. In total, he would have 98 grandchildren. What stories did he share with them about his life? What little scraps of grandfatherly wisdom did he impart to them? He left behind a large family with a large legacy.
Note: Jeremiah is my husband’s third great uncle. In locating his obituary from 1936, I was inspired by the largeness of his life to relate just a small part of his human story.
When I first saw the face of the lady in the harbor, I knew I would never go back to the old country to live. Her face was beautiful to me, and it held such promise. No longer would I be a Polish farmer owned by the Kingdom of Prussia. My country of Poland did not exist in August, 1912…it did not exist on a map, but it did exist in my heart. It was the motherland of my people. My people had passed along family stories of Catholic kings and princes who loved us. What hardened my heart against the old country was that I was conscripted into the Prussian army…I did not want to serve greedy men. I longed for freedom…freedom from want, freedom from hunger, freedom from oppression. My brother Jan went to America where he lived with other Polish emigres in Philadelphia. He had a job. He had a family. He had a roof over his head. I made a decision to leave my remaining family, including my parents, for a new country. I left with a little money in my pockets but big wishes in my dreams. I was 25 years old.
In May, 1906, I was 14 years old. I was an orphan. I was alone, but for the family members who took me in. I had nothing, and I had nothing to lose. I was of Polish extraction. My brother Antoni lived in a place called Connecticut in America. He begged me to leave the old country and join him. He found a family for whom I could work. I would be a charwoman in a large household…I did not know what that meant. My country was suffering from labor strikes so I had no future. If I could get from my village in Austria to Trieste, Italy, I could board a ship to this America…that was almost 600 miles to carry my belongings on my back and find a way to get to the ship. Three other orphan girls from my village traveled with me. I had little money on my person. I was leaving the old country to claim a new home.
In 1914, we (Francizek and Anna) were neighbors in a Polish neighborhood in Philadephia. Much of our lives centered around our Catholic parish of Saint Ladislaus and its activities. We grew to love one another so we married. We had three children: Emilia, Stanley, and Edward. In raising our children and educating them, our goal was to guide them into being American citizens with a love of their country and its people. We spoke little about the old country to them and followed little of our Polish traditions. We wanted them to learn English and make their way in this America, our new country. Our lives were simple, and we were a simple family. Anna died 20 years before me, and she never returned to the old country. I, however, returned for a simple visit with remaining family. I experienced the old country through different eyes. My homeland had been desecrated by two world wars. In returning to my beloved America, I lived the last of my days in my beloved new home.
Note: This is the story of my paternal grandparents, Anna Mroz and Franciszek Slabik.
Imagine taking a journey thinking that others will soon accompany you. Imagine them being so excited to join you that they cannot wait for the next leg. When you get ready to leave the station, the reality is there is no one joining you on the platform. Not one single soul is standing there with ticket in hand and luggage beside her. You are traveling alone…you are going solo.
As you travel from place to place, you are thrilled to become acquainted with small towns and farmland. You reach out to family you have never met. You look for their stories and clues left behind to explain exactly who they were and how they lived. With enthusiasm, you share with your folks back home all the family you have newly embraced…none of these folks is truly listening. To them, you are speaking of strangers that they have no intentions of welcoming. You are adventuring alone…you are going solo.
You choose to write poems and letters about these newly embraced ones. You design scrapbook pages to lay out photos and newspaper clippings. You are making a picture book that will showcase their memories. You share with the folks back home who merely glance at the pages. You have resurrected these lives only for yourself. You are creating alone…you are going solo.
Then, glory of all glories! You met newly found cousins. You join an online group. You talk with others who have gone on journeys of their own research travels. You have an audience that wants to know your stories. You have a comradeship with others who cherish their ancestors, too. You have come home and been welcomed. Now, you are traveling in the company of kindred spirits…you are not going solo.
She was in the middle of her 17th year as she had lived out her youth in Osborne County, Kansas. She had substituted as a teacher at the one room schoolhouse. She had ventured off her little town to take the train to visit her married sister in Kansas City. There she helped take care of her nieces and a nephew. She had survived the Spanish influenza. Most days, she worked at her parents’ store and restaurant. At times, life was uneventful…it was autumn of 1920. Her name was Isabella Mary Boultinghouse, daughter of Lafe and Naomi.
He was in the middle of his 24th year as he had lived all his life in Osborne County, Kansas. He was the son of a farmer and made his living with his hands. He had ventured off to serve his country in the Army at Camp Funston during World War I. He trained other men in the handling of horses and wagons. His military experience gave him admission to the newly formed American Legion. Most days, he worked alongside his father and younger brothers in the fields. At times, life was uneventful…it was the autumn of 1920. His name was Andrew Earl Storer, son of Wash and Mina.
The American Legion held dances often in the middle of the week. A gentleman who attended and wanted to dance paid an admission fee of one dollar. If a gentleman wished only to be an observer, he paid 35 cents. Ladies were invited with no charge. Monies were used to support activities of the newly founded American Legion. It gave young people the chance to meet and socialize. Not knowing one another, Isabella and Andrew met in the middle of the dance floor. Friends introduced them. They talked and danced. They agreed to see one another at the next social.
During the next two years, they courted and grew sweet on one another. They decided to be married during the middle of October, 1922. They would remain married for the next 55 years when Andrew passed away.
There is a postscript to the story. Their daughter Merna Mae would meet her future husband at an American Legion dance in Topeka, Kansas, in 1942…right in the middle of her future husband’s army training.
Five years ago, I was cleaning out my parents’ home so it could be sold. In the linen closet, I noticed some bedding. The quilt lay folded and protected in a plastic encasement. I had never seen it before, and I had never heard my mother talk about its existence. As I unfolded it, I had discovered an unexpected treasure. The purple and white bedding featured signature squares of a friendship quilt. When I studied them, I read my grandmother’s signature, Isabella Storer. The last square read, “B.B.C. July 17, 1930”. She belonged to the Busy Bee Club.
Beginning an unexpected research adventure, I copied down the name of each club member. Using the 1930 U. S. Federal Census, I looked up each woman’s name. I wondered how old each person was in 1930, and where each was born. In that particular census, spouses were asked how old they were when married for the first time. I already knew that my grandmother was born in 1903 so she was 27 years old. She was married at 19. She was born in Osborne County, Kansas. The other 22 members of the club ranged in ages from 18 to 57. The youngest age that someone married was 17, and the oldest age was 27. Most of them were born in Kansas while others came from Iowa and Nebraska.
The next part of my unexpected adventure led me to the newspaper archives of the Osborne County Farmer. What could I find out about the Busy Bee Club? Several of these clubs were in Osborne County. The one to which Isabella belonged was the Riverside Busy Bee Club. (The Solomon River weaves itself through their farmlands.) Combing through the articles, I discovered that this club was started in 1926 with a dozen charter members…my grandmother among them. They met twice a month at each other’s homes for lunching, sewing, chatting, and playing star checkers (Chinese checkers). The lunch menu was to be “two eats, a drink, and pickles”. Their motto was, “Let us all do the good we can, in all the ways we can, for we pass this way only once.” The chapter’s colors were purple and white. Members brought their children along so they could play together since babysitters were unknown in 1930 rural Kansas. In July 1930 (the year of the quilt), my mother (Merna Mae Storer) was five years old so she had many playmates to enjoy. My aunt (Mary Lee Storer) was only one year old; when it was time for her nap, she rested in an open drawer or cardboard box…whatever the hostess could provide. Mention of each gathering could be found in the weekly county newspaper. For the rest of her 93 years, my grandmother remained a member of this group.
The third part of my unexpected adventure took me to a Google search. Could I locate a history of the Busy Bee Clubs? There it was…Busy Bees was started by a farm wife in 1920 in Nebraska. Her intent was to gather her farm wife neighbors to her house to quilt and have lunch. It gave the women socialization since farm life could isolate women. Why quilting? Often farmhouses had no heat in the bedrooms so layers of quilts would keep sleepers warm and comfy. When they gathered, they would sew this needed bedding. Sewing friendship quilts was a part of their ritual. Often during meetings, young children would play beneath the quilting frames. News of this club spread across the Midwest, and other chapters sprang up. So, my grandmother’s club started in Nebraska and ended up in their little town in Kansas.
An unexpected discovery of an unexpected treasure led to an unexpected research journey. With loving hands, I can caress the memories that my grandmother helped create 90 years ago.
Well, it was certainly no surprise…no surprise at all. Professional genealogists had warned that this could happen with handing down family stories. In fact, one professional listed types of stories that are often just that…stories. Well, my Boultinghouse family has one of those handed down myths. Time to lay this story to rest. So here it is…
One story that genealogists warn about is the story that three brothers came from Europe. One went north, one went south, one went west. The handed down story relates that the three Boultinghouse brothers, George, Joseph, and Bedford, came to America through the port of Boston on 16 December 1773. That is the date of the Boston Tea Party. In the story, the brothers witness the protest and jump off the ship to help the Colonists throw the tea in the harbor. Hold your pen…this is historical fiction. The brothers were born in the Colony of New Jersey in the 1740s to their parents John Boltenhous and Mary Elizabeth Bedford.
During the American Revolution, brother Joseph did join the 3rd Regiment of the New Jersey Militia. He would show his allegiance to the Patriot cause in that way. Alas, he deserted for unknown reasons. Was it the lack of pay, supplies, and clothing? Was it the harsh winter spent with Washington? Was it an emergency at home? That part of his history is not known.
I feel compelled to amend the handed down story of the Boultinghouse brothers. I have seen that story repeated in several Boultinghouse genealogy books. I found a copy of it among my mother’s family history papers. I have seen it surface on a Boultinghouse family group page. When possible, I have refuted the handed down story so cousins may know the real story to hand down. My main message is simple: research documents for answers rather than repeat stories.
These past two days near Shiloh have been horrific. I have seen the men of my company die all around me. I have not known if God would spare me or send me to my eternal reward. I have put my trust in the Almighty and my leader General Sherman. How I have dreaded being so far away in Tennesse from our Illinois home! I pray for all of you each night as I study the stars and wonder what these uncertain times will bring.
My job as an ammunition wagoner demands that I have nerves of steel to guide the horses through the rough roads and pathways. It is quite a task to keep the horses calm and steady. Here in France, it is a mishmash of trenches, uprooted trees, and devastation. I pray this war may end soon, and that we may bring our allied nations to victory. Many days I feel so uncertain as to whether I will greet you again. My best to little sis Isabella.
Each day seems so filled with work. Working to feed Andrew and the girls, working to grow vegetables, working to keep my hens fattened, working on all the chores of being a farmer’s wife. When I sit, I am mending and sewing. My greatest joy is attending the Busy Bee Club for the monthly meeting. Each lady is making enough quilting squares so each member of the club receives one. We write our names in embroidery stitches on the squares. Each lady will make her own quilt. It is a wonderful time when we ladies can all chat, catch up on the news, and encourage one another. These uncertain times fill me with dread and anxiety. Praying our new president can get our country back into shape. My best to your girls.
Isabella (Boultinghouse Storer)
When are times not uncertain? When are we certain that all is safe?