Ley-Weible Genealogy Newsletter
The only great-grandparent I got to know, growing up, was my grandfather’s stepmother, Florence Jones. She’s better known to the family as M.A. Ley.
She died in 1984, when I was 8. It was August. I was home from Cub Scout camp, done in by my allergies, or something else that reached out from the woods of Tuscazoar and brought me down. I remember Mom coming into my room one night and letting me know she’d passed away. And I don’t remember much more about that conversation other than an anecdote, which to me forever cast her as a somewhat feisty character, even unto death.
As I remember it, during her illness, in a conversation with doctors, or the family, or both within earshot, M.A. directed her voice to the heavens and declared, drawing on a popular commercial of the time, “Move over, bacon. Here comes Sizzlean!” [Although Mom has disputed this anecdote and said that it doesn’t really jibe with M.A.’s personality. Anybody know where else it could have come from? I was just 8 at the time, after all. And I remembered even from back then noticing that they got the commercial slogan wrong. Memory… did somebody in the family tell a joke about someone else and I just remembered it this way?]
I remember climbing up the big flight of stairs that led to the apartment above my grandpa Ley’s dental office at Second and Walnut streets in Dover, and M.A. being there to greet us. And sitting on what seemed to me even as a little boy to be impossibly dainty furniture — ornately carved rockers and chairs with delicate fabric upholstery.
Beyond that, though, there isn’t much. And I wish there were. For M.A. was a connection to the yellowed pages of Grandpa’s earliest history. His father, Robert Earl Sr., died in 1959, when my mother was even younger than I was at the time of M.A.’s death. And Grandpa’s birth mother died when he was barely 2. Of pneumonia, we were told. While she was pregnant. Grandpa was sent to stay with his mother’s parents for several years while his father started over, met Florence, and began a new life before sending for him to join their family, which included a new younger brother, Dickie. Grandpa would often point out the house in New Philadelphia where he was raised in his boyhood by his Fisher grandparents. But beyond that, I didn’t hear much.
Even fewer witnesses were left to that time when Grandpa’s half-brother, Dickie, died tragically. Grandpa was barely a teenager, and Dickie not yet 6. [Apparently, the story I remember about Grandpa washing a car in the driveway and Dickie coming out to see him before collapsing is also another short-circuit in memory. The account from the death record, Mom and Aunt Pinny follows.]
According to the death certificate, Dickie had received a smallpox vaccination about a week before his death. Mom remembers this as being his second such vaccination, that doctors felt the first one didn’t take. According to Aunt Pinny, Dickie had been sick in bed much of that week. Before leaving for a baseball game that day, Grandpa visited Dickie and told him he’d hit a home run for him, or pitch a no-hitter. When he returned home, he announced to M.A. that he had done just that. M.A. said that Dickie was taking a nap, but that he would love to hear the news. She went upstairs to wake him. A moment later, Grandpa heard M.A. scream. She called for him to come up. She told him something was wrong with Dickie, and told him to carry him downstairs. Grandpa later reported to Pinny that he felt awful, carrying his little brother, because he could tell that he was dead by the way he felt in his arms.
From what I remember, Grandpa volunteered such stories, as he did many others. He talked about not knowing or really remembering his mother. And about his father feeling a “strangeness” in his hands as he was washing up at the dental practice they had come to share, before the collapse that ended in his death. The evidence of these ancestors was all around — in the letters of R.E. Ley Sr.’s name that remained near the entrance to the dental office even in my childhood; in the picture of my great-grandmother and my grandfather as an infant that hung in his den; in the twin memorial LEY benches that marked her grave in East Avenue cemetery in New Phila and also the grave of her husband and his second wife far across the grounds from where she lay in her parents’ plot; and in the stories, of course.
As I researched my family’s history, I wanted to see how many other details I could fill in.
This post continues in Part 2….