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.
The tools of the trade: library card, dictionary, pens, five daily newspapers, morning cups of joe, retirement time. These tools aided in his raking in untold wealth. My father, Edward Joseph Slabik, was a rich man, indeed. He was rich in vocabulary. That richness is the gold found in reading every library book he could check out…in thoroughly comprehending and absorbing five daily newspapers…in completing five puzzles a day. He was wealthy in his love of the words and in complex thinking skills that many of the puzzles demanded. He loved the challenge of getting the answers to “thinking outside of the box” clues. Word wealthy…that was my dad!
I first met her when I was adding the first branches and leaves to my family tree. I would learn little about her at first. None of my immediate family had seen her since the 1930’s. Their memories of her were vague and sketchy. There had been one last phone call from her 40 years ago when she asked my grandmother for help. When she was refused, her reply was, “I should have known my father’s people would not help me.” Elusive and mysterious…who was this first cousin of mine? The trail she left was winding and covered with crooked pathways.
My first cousin Betty Lou Boultinghouse Blackmore Scothern Million was found in a childhood photo with her cousins Merna Mae and Mary Lee. The girls were holding two puppies and two baby foxes. (Betty Lou’s father was the warden of a game preserve, and he had supplied the pups and kits for the girls to hold and cuddle.) At that time, Betty Lou was about 9 years old. She appeared childhood happy and connected to her cousins, but they would never meet up with her again. Her life would betray that appearance.
The rest of her story has been found in census records, wedding announcements, divorce decrees, obituary, phone calls, and tombstone. The next part of her life is found in the 1940 Census: her parents had divorced and remarried other spouses. Both parents stated that she was living with her mother in Wyoming and with her father in Nebraska and Colorado. Was she? Her new stepfather had taken her under his wing, but was she really alienated from her father? Later stories would tell the tale…alone gain.
At the age of 17, she dropped out of high school to marry her first husband. Together they had a son. The husband turned out to be a rake, a scoundrel, a philanderer. He deserted her and the boy, and she was left with nothing. Because she could not provide for her son, she entrusted him to her mother and stepfather. Legally, they adopted him and changed his name. She visited him when she could, but it was not often. Alone again…
At the age of 22, she married her second husband. Coming from an established family, her husband’s people were not quite accepting of her and her questionable background. To start a career, she graduated from beauty school to become a beauty operator. This marriage, too, broke apart due to tensions and family interference. Alone again…
Betty Lou wandered around Wyoming…listless and unfocused. Finally, at the age of 41, she met her last husband. He was a Navy veteran. He was stable. He was hard-working. She was happy. After 11 years of marriage, her husband passed away. Alone again…
Out on her own, Betty Lou somehow survived despite her pleas to my grandmother. From all accounts, her mother and stepfather heard little from her even though they lived in the same area of Wyoming. Her son barely knew her. She died at the age of 64…alone again, but now resting in God’s hands.
Her tombstone bears a strange inscription. “Dear Betty, Peace be with you. Jack Coffee”. Now on to the next mystery…
Note: In corresponding with Betty Lou’s son and grandson, I discovered she had told the boys little about her father, Edward Ralph Boultinghouse. Both boys only knew him as “Jack”. They did not know his birth name. When offered help in learning about him, they refused seeking any information.
The Depression left the Storer family with plenty to work for just to keep afloat. Their oldest daughter, Merna Mae, was just six years old in 1930. It was time for school to begin. Would her father be able to take time from his daily farm schedule to get her to the one room schoolhouse? Would her mother with an infant daughter be able to get her there? The parents decided that they would teach their Mae Mae (Merna’s nickname) to be independent. They would teach her how to ride her horse Beauty to school. Her father Andrew would help her practice the route as he rode along on his horse. He would show her the dirt roads to travel and landmarks for which to spot. She would be able to do this on her own each school day…the little six year old.
Each school morning, little Mae Mae and Beauty were traveling companions. Most days, they spotted a red fox peeping out of the brush at them. The two would pause to study the fox. He just stared back. So it was that Mae Mae looked for friends in nature to greet them each morning.
Mae Mae graduated from her one room schoolhouse in 1938. Her school records show that she had no absences or tardies. She won an art contest while in 8th grade that set her future sights on painting and creating.
Throughout her life, Mae Mae was very proud of the fact that her school transportation was her beloved horse Beauty. Also, she wanted to remember her foxy friend. She purchased a print by artist Bonnie Marris to display in her living room.
Now big yellow school buses transport the students of Osborne County, Kansas, to daily classes. One room school houses are an educational memory. And the great grand kits of the peeping fox sleep in the sun of the plains.
Note: Twenty years later, Mae Mae would become my mother. Her stories of Beauty and the rides to school are treasured memories.