Heaven is a Porch with No Wind


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Gary Knutson, Twyla Knutson and Colt Foutz at Dublin, Ohio’s Irish Fest, summer 2001.

Lessons and Love from Gary J. Knutson

The first phone conversation I ever had with my wife happened during the opening ceremonies of the 2000 summer Olympics in Sydney.

We’d both been working as newspaper reporters at the Sandusky Register since late summer. It was a first job for both of us, and a young office on the whole — we’d pass the time after work, and after the odd late weekend shift, especially, tipping back beers on someone’s porch, or stumbling from one dive to another. Katie and I had barely known each other a month, and we’d be friends for several months before we’d start officially, ahem, dating. But in that first call, we discovered a lot of common points. We talked a lot about our families.

Her dad, like mine, was a salesman. Both moms? Elementary school teachers.

Katie had always figured she’d meet her eventual husband in college, where her parents met Freshman year and married in the summer before their junior years at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD. Mine started dating around the exact same time, but as juniors in their smalltown Ohio high school, where I also figured I’d find Miss Right.

By the following summer, Miss Of-the-Moment — but feeling pretty right — was Katie, and by then we’d mapped out a lot of our families’ histories and main characters. We’d been dating a few months when her parents, Gary and Twyla, flew into Cleveland to visit.

My on-the-hot-seat intro at least took place in my own car, though we got off to a bit of an inauspicious beginning as we cruised The Flats for a late-night dinner and I tried — and tried, and tried again — to angle my ’99 Mazda Protege into a parallel spot. But no pressure, no pressure.

We struck out that night — not with the parking, but the nourishment, as chain-brained Fado closed their bar and kitchen early and sent us across the state to Sandusky with… crackers.

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Colt Foutz, left, and Gary Knutson, Kelly’s Island, Ohio, summer 2001

But I soon fell into a comfortable enough rhythm with my eventual in-laws. The next morning, we made our way south to an Irish Festival in Dublin, near Columbus. And later in the weekend, we headed across Lake Erie to Kellys Island. The first joke Gary ever shared with me was as we escaped the girls’ candle and antique browsing and edged up to an island bar.

“How is lite beer like sex on the beach?” he asked. “They’re both (f-ing) near water.”

From the first I got to know Gary, conversation flowed naturally with a beverage. He was confident, at ease. The Dad. But generous with his stories and his humor and his time. He loved nothing better, it seemed, than to dispense with (or squirm quickly through) formalities, get his hands on a “real Budweiser” — as he never tired of specifying to any well-meaning waiter — lean back and settle in for a long session with family. And if you were a friend of Gary’s, you were (f-ing) near family.

The Gary I got to know, and in short order grew privileged to call father-in-law, appealed to me most whenever the innate never-grow-old smartass shone through. Which was often. I identified with that, I guess.

He was the son (and grandson, and great-grandson…) of Iowa farmers, jacks-of-all trades and household economic arithmetic with fix-it caves in the basement and alternatively stern and indulgent hands with their feral farm boys. He reeled off stories of he and brother Tim racing cars on Shell Rock Creek to and from the Minnesota border. Of his dad’s maxim for delegating housework to sons: “one boy is worth one boy; two boys are worth half a boy; three boys are worth none at all.” Of being forced to run Fall cross-country to stay in shape for winter basketball, and then having to run in the Army, and so now he was done with running (not to mention camping) for good.

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Gary Knutson, Northwood High Class of ’68

While running was a running habit of mine, and camping are two of the most blissful syllables to my ears, we were in no way identical in our interests or skillsets as father-in-law and “outlaw” son. But we were comfortable in our ways of talking about our backgrounds, each finding the humor in them, the shared benefit.

When I wrote a book about a rambunctious “street gang” of Chicago boys turned world championship drum corps, Gary found a lot in common with the legends and unrepentant pranks of the Cavaliers. They reminded him of his Zeta fraternity days at Augie.

We had both played trumpet in high school — and I would wager he played better, as I found my forte, instead, with the piano and composing. But our shared love for music meant he could ask me to pick out a Herb Alpert tune for him. Or arrange Billy Joel’s “For the Longest Time” for his men’s quartet at church — then “dumb it down” for them appropriately.

Love, with Gary, like my own family, was never necessarily pointed or verbal. It was shown every day, in the usual interactions. Early on, I struggled with making things official. Putting a rite-of-passage stamp on it. When I’d proposed to Katie, we invited her parents and mine to celebrate with us in the Chicago suburbs. While my brother and parents checked out the slopes in the ski lodge apartment complex where I lived, I got Gary to myself in the lodge bar and grill. As we munched burgers and sipped beer, I asked him, “well, is there anything you want to talk to me about, anything you want to know about me, or say?” you know, since I was about to marry his only (and favorite) daughter.

Pregnant pause. “Colt,” he said, “this is a good burger.”

OK, then.

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Gary and “favorite” (only) daughter Katie Knutson Foutz.

There was no shame, no disapproval, no “now-do-this-because-I-know-better” lecture. He was on-call for advice menial and momentous. From which oil to put in the snowblower (SAE 5W20), to how to clear out frozen sump pump lines, to reassurance when we made our middle-of-the-recession move from Chicago to Sioux Falls: he and Twyla had done the same thing at about the same ages, going from Sioux Falls to Kansas City, in an age of double-digit interest rates.

That he was proud of our move, and our house, and our kids, and our proximity to alma mater Augie, helped push us through a bit of life gymnastics. Which is what the best parenting is.

If you were struggling with something, or had done something stupid, more likely he’d make a joke out of it, or dryly observe, say, that “your lawn is going to seed.” And then accompany you to the hardware store to help make it right.

As I left the newspaper world and had kids and became more manager and business development guy in advertising than mere “creative,” we swapped stories of clients and hirings and firings and pitches and deals. And though he never overtly said it, I think he was proud and surprised at the turns my journey from poor parallel parking journalist to paternal head took. We grew into our opposing seats at the table on his beloved screened porch in Olathe, Kansas, and the gray in our hair and beards, puffing on cigars, sipping whatever scotch graced the cupboard (“it’s single malt — how bad could it be?”) and “solving world problems” over the course of the hours I most savored whenever we got together. By the next day forgetting the solutions, of course, so we could set out to sip and solve them all over again.

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Siblings Gary, Tim and Sharyl Knutson on Tim’s screened porch on the family farm in Northwood, Ia.

This essay is as wandering as my thoughts have been the last several months. Since early this year, when we learned of Gary’s diagnosis with end-stage pancreatic cancer.

It’s been too sudden, and too cruel: too much like life to send tremors through the truly blessed times we’ve enjoyed as an extended family. A squall freezing shut the way to the porch. A formal silence to sour the ever-flowing pleasure of each other’s company.

He’s too young, at 66. A painful reinforcement, for me, of what was lost when my own grandpa Foutz died of lung cancer at the same age. I was 4, a little older than my youngest son, Caleb. And my dad was 28 — a striking difference from my 40 years. What would a dozen more years have meant to my dad, to me, with grandpa’s knowledge, his memories, more times around the table? Whatever time we’re given, it’s never enough.

So what’s left is to be grateful for the time we’ve had. Maybe it’s the bipolar musician/writer brain I have, but there is an infectious and unforgettable music in Gary’s character — the sayings, the stories. That smartass grin always shining beneath. The almost-cartoon-character “hee-hee-hee-hee” of his laugh when he got over a particularly good one. As snippets to savor they are sparklingly bright, a brief Glossary of Gary:

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  • “Oh, sugar. ” His sanitized way of cursing, usually over a household project.
  • “O’-dark-thirty.” A frequent time of rising, especially for farm chores or hunting expeditions to exterminate prairie dogs.
  • “Hey! What’sa mattah with yas?” Quoting an uncle. Oft-used with popular porch stories.
  • Burping-I-was-burping.” A more amusing use of your vocal cords the next time you burp.
  • “Hello… Feret.” Repurposed from Seinfeld, a way for Gary — and instructed grandsons — to greet choir best bud and porch foil, Jim.
  • “It’s single malt… how bad could it be?” Last words before trying a suspect vintage of scotch.
  • “Smooooooth as Lulu’s thighs.” Borrowed from Feret. Used on the occasion of finding a particularly good scotch to sip.
  • “Not half bad.” Norwegian-to-English translation: pretty damn all right. Bestowed upon (mostly) deserving in-laws.
  • “Outlaws.” See: in-laws.
  • “Pow.” Borrowed from his father, Cornell. Accompanying brief fist tap on dinner table. Indicates a “not half bad” meal.
  • “A real Budweiser.” Instructions for wait staff. When f-ing near water will not do.
  • “The Fun Knutsons.” Gary’s family. In contrast to “the Good Knutsons” — his wife’s, which features no fewer than four pastors. In experience, both can be fun and good (at times). But Gary embodied both.
  • “Six or five times.” Often. As in, the familiar stories you’ve heard over scotch.
  • “Exactamuuuuuuuundo.” Quoted by Katie early on, probably a Dad relic from youth. A lighter touch than, say, “no shit, Sherlock.”
  • “Plumber butt.” Something young grandsons suffer often, remedied with a swift yank on the pants.

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    Gary and grandson, Caleb Foutz, 2016.

  • “nose job.” As in, “need a nose job?” for grandsons with runny noses that need catching.
  • “Swipe dipe.” The perfect remedy for when a nose job is needed. The ever-present burp cloth thrown over the shoulders of new parents.
  • “Punt dog.” Your dog. Exclusive of size, really, but meant for yippity yappity varietals of pooches. Gary and Twyla are cat people who have accepted my family’s golden retriever, Macallan, as a not-half-bad, non-punt dog.
  • “Checking my eyelids for holes.” An artful exit line for escaping to the basement lounger in front of the TV, usually with a Natty Ice — the household substitute for Real Budweiser.

A man of dry wit, Gary loved the one-liners of Steven Wright. Though he also couldn’t get enough of Blazing Saddles. Mongo would often make an appearance whenever he had to go on a household garbage run. With a close sibling being Vacusarous, whenever Gary got to unleash his whole-house central vac. Usually accompanied by Tim-Allen-esque grunting at the manliness of said chores.

William Shatner’s Boston Legal character, Denny Crane, had Gary saying that signature name in the signature way for several years, in time with the talking bobblehead that would sit near the scotch cupboard. And he quoted, for awhile, the flag-waving radio host Earl Pitts and his exclamation to “Wake up, America!” Also handy in many other situations, political and non-.

We fell into the usual, casual sports banter of father- and son-in-law. I had my Ohio teams to root and rave over, and save for a couple memorable (for Kansas) Ohio State-KU basketball matchups, our rivalries were fairly segregated. Gary loved when his Lincoln home office colleagues suffered through a Nebraska loss. And he described the Big 12 conference as “the Big 8 plus those Texas schools.” When Missouri left to join the SEC, he advised any Tigers fans “don’t let the door hit ya” on the way out. And he was quick to call up a phrase he’d once heard a mechanical cowboy utter on his travels across the country: “How about them… Hawkeyes” in invoking anything to do with his home state.

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Gary “checking his eyelids for holes” on one of the mirror screened porches modeled after his original, next to grandson, Ben Foutz.

He was tremendously proud of the screen porch he measured and cut and constructed off of his home for nearly 30 years in Olathe. It became the model for at least a half dozen copies around the neighborhood and country. And staging ground, of course, for our bouts of solving world problems.

In his days as a hard-pranking Zeta in college, Gary would open up memorable Saturday mornings in a local bar, sipping tomato beer and enjoying local delicacy Chislic, served on toothpicks with accompanying saltine crackers. After those joints lost out to Sioux Falls progress, he found new favorite watering holes educated in the Chislic way at Al’s Oasis, halfway across the state to his beloved Black Hills, and in Dakotah Steak House “west river.”

Another boyish habit: his enduring last-ritual-of-the-night making a sandwich on ordinary bread with “cheap yellow mustard,” which he’d eat over the kitchen sink and wash down with chocolate milk.

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Niece Ingrid and big sister Sharyl, with Gary, in the old tractor shed on the farm.

We had to grow into our airs as cigar aficionados. As recently as ’03, standing outside the farmhouse with an Aass imported (Norwegian) beer and biting the ends off whatever cigar was handy was good enough. It took time to add scotch and cocktail ice cubes and weekend kits with official guillotines and reamers and favored H. Upmann Vintage Churchill Cameroons.

I don’t know. I don’t know how to bring this to a close. If you were a friend or family to Gary, you have dozens, hundreds of stories, in all the wonderful points of the compass his wonderful life took him to. This was my little window, and I will never forget the profound example he set as husband and father and grandfather and businessman and church member and friend. There’s anger at the cold shoulder of life. And deep and grasping grief at the time that is lost.

But like a long day that ends in the glow of the lights of home — the warm, familiar smells; the grateful hugs — and moves, as the children head to bed, to the introductory scrape of a chair on the porch, the clink of glass to glass and a welcoming “Skol,” I believe there is a next chapter, with a promise as full of possibility as a night without wind, and a solid 70 on an over-optimistic porch thermometer, with a “commitment”-size cigar and a fresh bottle, and all the time in heaven to ease into the comfort of the old stories, to tell them six or five or fifty times, over and over and without an end.

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So, This is 40


Weible Robert Elks Lodge

The dates on my great-grandfather R.O. Weible’s Elks leader portrait probably peg his age accurately — 39 in 1931, right on the cusp of 40.

Family Men at 40: A Rogue’s Gallery

I’ll say this for investing a little time in genealogy as a hobby: the presents you can create for family sure beat the silk off gifting another tie or purse.

As much as genealogy plays into my passions for research and writing, my bouts of document diving and image archiving have generated a few keepsake Christmas and birthday and anniversary and just-because gifts commemorating loved ones lost and living.

What fun would it be, after all, not to share?

Blogging about my Grandpa Foutz’s special 1931 football season led first to a Christmas book collecting both his source scrapbook and my blogs about his exploits, and later to a project to create an authentic reproduction of his 1931 jersey, as well as his actual game-worn uniform.

Before that, I’d taken a first crack at a frame-worthy family tree poster for my parents’ 35th anniversary. Then, a few years ago for my own 10th anniversary, I’d included my wife’s side back to the great-greats in an even bigger piece that hangs in our dining room at home — a record I’ve got to update, anyway, since we added a third little grape to our own family vine, oh, three years or so ago.

I’ve gladly cut my cousins into a trove of photos and newspaper clips I’ve stockpiled for their own efforts at milestone-marking.

And speaking of milestones, some of the less-sleuthworthy but more generically blogworthy posts in this space have focused on monthly birthdays and anniversaries of our ancestors.

This blog site and the notion of Whispering Across the Campfire, of course, is a means of sharing, too — releasing the newfound mysteries and facts so we can revel at them together, or send a beacon to relatives yet unknown in order to make sense of a particularly gnarly nugget.

You can bet I get a lot out of that, too.

So genealogical generosity, evidence indicates, is mostly a zero-sum game. You get what you give.

Well, today, I found my thoughts turning to… myself. Specifically, at about 12:12 a.m., the clock having ticked to a milestone of my own. I found myself, newly 40, pondering… a variety of sleep-evading thoughts, mostly on family. For instance:

  • my inlaws, in their 60s; when we’d first met, sharing beers at a festival tent in Columbus, Ohio, they were barely 50. Is it possible so much time has racked up, and so quickly?
  • my youngest son, turned 3 just 3 days before; when I’m 50 he’ll be 13, still house-bound to us for another 5 years, but also likely to leap in an eyeblink.
  • my oldest, almost 10, will be out of the house by then; his brother, Ben, on the verge of leaving.
  • my own parents, at 40, contending with a 16-year-old me. Seems so recent, but actually….
  • the things I’d hoped for, some lost, some attained — were they me? Another me? Someone else?
  • and the memories which still seem close enough to step into; events and people at 12 and 20 and 9 and 30, how long do we hold them, and for what end?

All right. So at least I’m old enough to know the antidote — a trusty book, kept bedside. Reshuffling my thoughts in the rhythm of narrative. Finding rest.

Mostly, in that interval, I thought of family. And the lessons we grope at — however profound, however fleeting — of the things they’d done, and the ways they’d lived. What it says about us, about all this: there is always someone who came before, always stories to be written after.

Ahem. Well.

OK, so I eventually found sleep. And woke up today with a little nugget of an idea for a milestone blog of sorts. Not about me, really. But a visual reminder of some of the ragged thoughts bumping around in my middle-aged brain.

A few years ago, when my parents turned 60, I put together a little slideshow compiling photos and facts of their own parents and grandparents and great-grandparents: what they looked like and the way they lived in the years they turned 60. A little parallel time capsule, of sorts.

So today I find myself thinking about the men in my family. A few of whom I’m told I resemble. (That’s generous, in some instances, plainly tragic in others. But ah well. Our faces are just the facades we present to the outside.) Without over-narrating, then (having done that already), a slideshow. Of Foutzes and Leys and Weibles, etc., at or around when they turned 40.

Of course, 40 is relative. (Accidental pun, hahaha. Relative.) What would it mean, without a little juxtaposition? So, I’ve thrown that in, too.

Prost! Skol! Cheers!

So this is 40? A Slideshow

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Erma Johnson, Don Foutz Wed in Early AM Ceremony


 

 

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Don & Erma Foutz, on their wedding day.

 

Details Bring Life to Foutz-Johnson Wedding

Awhile back, I shared the newspaper account of the 1942 bridge card game at which my grandparents, Don and Erma Foutz, announced their engagement and pending early-morning May wedding.

The article from our hometown Dover, Ohio Daily Reporter shared some great details of my grandparents at the time, including their employment, and paired with the engagement card that was in my parents’ possession, was a neat window on who they were as a newly-wedded couple.

But there were — of course — some questions. For instance, cool on them for getting married at Grace Lutheran Church in Dover, where my dad and his brothers were confirmed, and where Grandma worshipped until her death in 2000. But why were they married at 6:45 a.m.?

And was the picture above, which my wife and I featured prominently with those of our other grandparents at our wedding some 60 years later, really from that day, May 9? Could it have been, since Grandma is pictured in a suit, not a gown? And if no gown, was the rest of the ceremony more traditional, or matter-of-fact, hence the unusual time?

Well, we don’t get all the details served up, the way we might in a conversation with them, could we ask. I say might, since memory and company have a way of shading some things, hiding others. But the official record, this time from the crosstown New Philadelphia Daily Times, fills in a lot of blanks. And helps confirm some cool pictures we have from that day as, yes, being genuine wedding-day shots.

Of course, some errors in the account needed some extra research to untangle. See editor’s notes in the excerpt below.

Early Morning Wedding ‘A Pretty Affair’

From Saturday, May 9, 1942:

Spring and early morning combined to make the wedding of Miss Erma Johnson of this city and Mr. Donald Foutz of Dover a pretty affair today. Miss Johnson is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. C. A. Johnson of New Philadelphia and Mr. Foutz’ parents are Mr. and Mrs. Vance Foutz of Dover.

The two exchanged marriage vows this morning at seven o’clock in Emmanuel Lutheran Church (INCORRECT — Emmanuel was in Phila, but Pastor Ebert presided at Grace Lutheran Church in Dover) in Dover where two large white baskets of Madonna lilies and Star of Bethlehem were grouped at the altar. The Rev. Paul F. Ebert, pastor of the church, officiated for the ceremony, which was performed with Miss Margery Taylor of this city as maid of honor and Mr. Dale Andreas of Dover, best man.

At six-forty-five o’clock, Miss Maxine Renner of Sugarcreek played a recital of organ numbers as a prelude to the marriage service and included in her selections “Ava Maria,” by Schubert; “The Rosary,” by Nevin, and “O Promise Me,” by de Koven. During the ceremony, Miss Renner played “I Love You Truly,” by Bond, and used “The Bridal Chorus,” from Lohengrin as the processional with Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” as the recessional.

With her smartly tailored brown and beige shepherd checked suit, the bride used dark brown accessories. At the shoulder she had a brown-throated white orchid.

Miss Taylor’s becoming ensemble consisted of a beige suit with aqua and brown accessories. Her shoulder arrangement was of Johanna Hill roses. Miss Renner had a Briarcliff rose corsage.

After the ceremony, members of the bridal party were served breakfast at the Johnson home.

Mr. Foutz and his bride left for a short wedding trip and when they return, will reside for the time being in the Metz Apartments (by the location of Goshen Dairy in Phila today), this city.

 Mrs. Foutz was graduated in 1939 from New Philadelphia high school and is employed in the offices of Greer Steel Company in Dover. She is a member of Mu Chapter, Alpha Pi Sigma Sorority, of Dover.

Mr. Foutz is a graduate of Dover high school, class of 1931 (incorrect – that was his final year of terrorizing Phila on the football field; he graduated in 1932), and is an employee of the Fred P. Potschner Garage in Dover.

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Don Foutz, probably on the day of his wedding, May 1942.

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Zula Ley: Little-Known Fact #4


Ley Zula Robert Jr. 1918

A 1918 portrait shows my great-grandmother, Mary Zula Lucrece (Fisher) Ley, and her newborn son, my grandfather Robert Earl Ley Jr.

Tragic Death Tied to Flu Epidemic

When I started this blog, it was to share what’s most interesting to me about genealogy — the way the lives and personalities of our ancestors come to life in the stories we uncover.

At times those stories are tragic. Perhaps none more so than the story of my great-grandmother, Zula (Fisher) Ley.

Posts in the last weeks have shared snippets of her young life — acclaim for her acting in a senior play, notching a finalist finish in a national beauty contest, sneaking off to Wellsburg, W. Va. to marry Great-Grandpa Earl Ley.

These and other portraits show Zula as vital, intelligent, beautiful.

But her life is defined for her descendants by its tragic end, subject of the second post ever in this blog. It was front-page news in neighboring Dover: how the young wife, 24, of a prominent dentist passed away of influenza and pneumonia late on a Sunday night at home in New Philadelphia, Ohio.

An account in the hometown Daily Times, however, also ties Zula’s death to a sudden epidemic that winter.

The Feb. 2, 1920 edition, front page, broadcasts in bold headlines: FLU EPIDEMIC CLAIMS THREE; RED CROSS TAKES UP BATTLE. Whole Families are Reported Ill. Relief is Sought. Three Persons Die Over Weekend.

While influenza is fast enveloping New Philadelphia in a grip that claimed three fatalities Sunday and Monday the Red Cross is preparing to combat the epidemic with nurses.

Mayor E. N. Fair Monday as chairman of the influenza committee of the Red Cross was seeking a nurse for a family where help could not be obtained to take care of the ill.

Whole families are ill with the epidemic, and many patients were reported on the verge of death, Monday.

Young Wife Dies

Mrs. Mary Zula Ley, 24, wife of Dr. Robert E. Ley, Dover dentist, succumbed to influenza-pneumonia at 11:30 p.m. Sunday following ten days’ illness.

The death of Mrs Ley which occurred at the residence on West High street, caused widespread sorrow.

The husband and one son, Robert Earl, aged 16 months, survive.

Years later, with more information known about our family history, it is believed the hereditary presence of Factor V Leiden, which causes abnormal clotting of the blood, particularly in veins, may have contributed to Zula’s death.

Reported in neither paper was the stillborn death of her infant daughter, also named Mary on a separate death certificate.

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Zula Ley: Little-Known Fact #3


Robert Earl Ley Sr. and Son

A very young Robert Earl Ley Jr. and his father, Robert Sr.

Secret Wedding for Zula Fisher & Earl Ley?

There are certain major checkboxes in the Genealogy-by-numbers game. Birth and death are the bookends. And, if a particular branch should bear fruit, marriage the node not-quite-in-between.

Know those dates and you’ve got the basic sketch of a life’s trajectory. But what’s behind a date? Pair it with a location and you start to have a story.

We’re born where our parents’ lives began to blossom, sometimes in the stomping grounds of previous generations, often in a new place, with new possibilities.

We pass away at the terminus of a hopefully long journey, the many bends and dips and peaks along the way often not documented as boldly, yet significant in their bearing on life’s course.

The place we’re married, now, that can be a waypoint with ties to our youth, the places where parents raised us; or to the place where we fell in love, got our starts; or even someplace random or dreamy in its romance, significant unto itself.

And of course the stories get deeper beyond mere dates and places. It’s more than mere rite of passage. A party, a reunion — and union — of relatives (some sober, some significantly less so), a crossing of a particular threshold, an adult declaration of commitment.

Yeah, I bet there’s a lot of stories tucked in there.

In my research, dutifully documenting these dates of significance for relatives on various branches of the tree, for those in Ohio in the early decades of the 20th century a particular place dots biographical records enough it begins to coalesce into an arrow pointing to … West Virginia. Specifically, Ohio and Brooke counties.

Today, we’ll take a look at Wellsburg, W. Va., county seat of Brooke, and an occasion in summer, 1917.

Wellsburg, ‘Gretna Green’ to Ohio, Pennsylvania Elopements

The official record reads that Robert Earl Ley and Zula Lucrece Fisher were married June 27, 1917. The place, with a little more digging, is Wellsburg, W. Va.

But the newspaper announcement of their marriage — and the timing some six months later — reveals a bit more.

From the New Philadelphia, Ohio, Daily Times, Dec. 19, 1917:

Wedding Announcement

Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Fisher announces the marriage of their daughter, Mary Zula Lucrece Fisher to Liet. Dr. Robert Earl Ley, son of former County Treasurer Charles Ley and Mrs Ley of East avenue. The marriage took place at Wellsburg, W. Va. June 27, 1917.

Dr. and Mrs. Ley wil spend their Christmas vacation in the East, after visiting relatives and college friends of Dr. Ley’s in Cleveland. They will be the honored guests at several social events while in Cleveland.

Mrs. Ley is a graduate of the New Philadelphia high school in the class of 1932. During the past two years has been teaching in the Dover schools.

Dr. Ley, is a graduate of Western Reserve Dental college and for the past year and half has been practicing in Dover.

Both Dr. and Mrs. Ley have a host of friends and relatives in New Philadelphia and Dover, and the announcement of their wedding will come as a surprise.

“The announcement of their wedding will come as a surprise,” OK! And to their friends in two cities at that. OK!

Also significant in the timing is that it’s not just six months after their nuptials, it’s just about nine months exactly before the birth of their son, my grandpa, Robert Earl Jr., Sept. 30, 1918.

Interesting, eh?

I am sure there are some stories in those intervals of six and nine months, respectively. The story of Wellsburg, though, is documented in a number of places.

Wellsburg served as a famous “Gretna Green” in the U.S. for its fortuitous lack of a waiting period before marriage. Thousands of couples each year crossed from Ohio and Pennsylvania to wed. As surrounding communities enacted longer waiting periods before couples could tie the knot, the flood increased — more than 4,000 couples were married before Christmas Day in 1933; the annual tide swelled to 10,000 by 1936. In 1937, the county responded to pressure from parents in Pittsburgh, among other municipalities, and toughened its laws.

So, Great-Grandma and -Grandpa were products of the time. But as it turns out, there’s another twist to this story.

 

John & Addie Fisher Family, New Philadelphia, OH

Great-great Grandparents John and Addie Fisher are front, center. Great-grandma Zula is front, left. Sister Alverna is front, right. In the back are brothers Byron, Clyde and Oscar.

Fisher Sisters Tie Knot on Same Day?

June 27, 1917 was a Wednesday. Wellsburg was a little over an hour away — 65 miles — down present-day 250E and 22E toward Pittsburgh.

Did 23-year-old dentist Earl and 21-year-old teacher Zula sneak off on a weekday alone to get hitched? As it turns out, probably they did not.

Although I could find no newspaper announcing the wedding of Zula’s younger sister, then 19-year-old Alverna, and 21-year-old Olin Abbuhl, family records on Ancestry.com all reported the same marriage day for the siblings. Curious. And could be wrong.

But diving for the actual records reveals this: at the top of page 238 in the Brooke County wedding registry you’ll see Earl and Zula; at the bottom of page 241 you’ll find Olin and Alverna. Although they recorded Earl’s age as a year older than he really was, only the inaccuracy for Alverna bears any legal implications. At 19, she fell two years short of the age requirements — though there was no checking. So the license records her age as 21.

The lack of a wedding announcement for Olin and Alverna — even their obituaries in 1962 and 1977 do not report their wedding date — leaves several possibilities. Were both sisters wed in secret? Were Olin and Alverna wed officially, with Earl and Zula deciding in the moment to also tie the knot? Not likely, due to Alverna’s (actual) age.

We don’t know the exact details now. But the facts of date and place certainly tell an interesting story.

 

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