Posts Tagged With: marriage

A Ritual Worth Remembering


Single malt scotch and cigar

Keeping the ritual: single malt scotch and prepped cigar ready for (solitary) porching.

Remembering How To Solve World Problems, One Cigar at a Time

In our most blithe — and, I’d wager, boyish — of justifications, whenever the growing brood of grandkids was (mostly) tucked away in beds, and the ice bucket still newly cold, and the womenfolk hadn’t caught up to us yet, my father-in-law and I called our ritual nightcaps of scotch and cigars “solving world problems.”

Even if we’d forget the solutions the next morning.

(That’s an excuse to solve the problems all over again.)

There was more to it than that, of course. (More than solving world problems? Well, yes.) There was a father-in-law generous with his time, and stories he’d told “six or five” (or a hundred) times, and laughter amid the ashes in the open air of a screened-in porch, as welcome at the end of a journey — his or ours — to see them, for a holiday, or an ordinary day, or goodbye at the end of a heartwarming stay, or the ways we ended up marking time, through 16 years: of engagements, and weddings, and births, baptisms, first houses, and promotions, publications, big moves… and end games, divorces, demotions, departures, funerals.

But that’s getting ahead of the thing. Smoking right to the label before really savoring a puff. Reaching into the ice meltwater for enough of excuse to warrant a last pour.

We had to earn it. In the way of all world-savers.

Or ordinary dads, at the end of another hard-fought day.

I looked forward to the ritual of the thing. Knowing we’d be headed to their place, I’d stock up on some “good stuff” for the trip. A nice Highland Park 12- or 15-year. Maybe a Clynelish, yeah, show off a bit. Or (what came to be) my favorite, Laphroaig 10. Smoky and peaty and climbing right out of the glass. Tangible. Like a good solid fist rap on the table. POW. The good stuff.

Load my portable humidor with a selection palatable to me: some Romeo y Julietas, or Macanudos, or Punch, Hoyo de Monterrey, A. Fuente. As long as it was of “conversation” length. Commitment. We’re talking Robustos, at minimum.

His brand was always Macallan 12-year. And H. Upmann Vintage Cameroons. Churchill length.

And of course, I’m full of shit, in the way of all good stories and the fuzzy (careworn) memories of guys talking guys stuff. Always was whenever it suited us, or eventually what suited us. It didn’t start that way.

I’m proud to have been around a bit early, though not from the beginning.

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Shivering in a Tractor Shed…

For that, so I’m told, you’d have to trek back to the Farm. Always the Farm. Of course.

In days when Grandpa Cornell and Granny Ila ruled the roost, the good stuff was more than likely “Sheep Dip” (finest blend of anywhere from 8 to 21 scotches). The cigars worthy of biting the ends off and spitting them in the weeds somewhere. And always a good farmcat scamper well away from the big house. Maybe even in the tractor shed. If you’re lucky, the space heater might even have been working.

I remember a few nights like that. After my Thanksgiving indoctrination as the (serious) boyfriend. Standing around on the path outside the side door. Nothing more formal than passing around whatever cigars somebody had likely bought in bulk. Not a “guillotine” among us more fancy than incisors, molars. And cups — could have been Dixie, for all we cared — of whatever swill was in the cupboard above the workbench. Aged by proximity to Ford tractors. Call of the coyotes.

Hey, maybe even it was Norway’s elusive import, Aass beer.

But finery is the coat you weave out of your own experience. Or aspirations. What the hell, right? So long as it fits. You get to like it. Get to shimmy a happy little shimmy whenever you shrug into it.

Takes time, though.

Before my wedding, stocking up in Chicago, I bought a bale of discount cigars at the shop a stumble up the road from our first shared apartment in Naperville. Stashed ’em in the trunk of my college Mazda Protege, beside a bottle or a few of my dad’s wine least likely to explode en route to Kansas City for the big day. They ended up wine-soaked. And awful. I heard — since I was too busy glad-handing and 5-minute-guest-visiting as Gary made use of them anyway, smoking up in the parking lot outside our reception at Figlio Tower in Country Club Plaza.

How come the brag-worthy moments aren’t always the ones you plan with an iron grip? And take place even with you on the periphery? Like the noteworthy hookups that weekend, we couldn’t take even a smidge of the credit. But it’s the backdrop of the best times. And you bask in the residual (lighter) glow.

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A Brief History of (Family) Vice

But the best parties are the ones you’re a part of.

And sometimes they’re just a party for 6, when you welcome son- and daughter-in-law, and your son and daughter, and your wife.

But the one-on-one time is always time to savor.

A typical night would begin with the benign. “Is it time?” he’d usually say, on his turf. Or me, on mine. “Sure,” I’d reply. His answer, more honest. With feeling. “Oh, good!”

The ritual: glasses. At his place, from the cupboard next to the fridge. The hooch, too. Usually, Macallan. But sometimes, in a pinch, a Glenlivet. Or Glen Fiddich. Even Johnnie Walker, something blended. “How bad could it be?”

At mine: our regular midget glasses. For juice. Now something stronger. Whatever stuff I’d convince him to try that trip. Eventually, usually, Laphroaig. “Froggy.” After my own early mispronunciation, badly remembering a scotch guide from Esquire, or some tripe. “PHROG” … not. But see? We grew into it.

The bourbons, he didn’t countenance much. Once rode along on a Saturday “honey-do” chore trip to Home Depot; snuck in a side trip to Meijer after. Ostensibly comparison-shopping for the good stuff. He came to tolerate something from his Iowa farmboy roots, Templeton Rye whisky, literally, “the good stuff.” A bargain at less than $40. And goes down smooth.

I don’t know when he bought his “kit.” The little silver-plated suitcase. Stocked with lighter after lighter. Sometimes a fancy butane “torch.” Oftentimes, not. But he swore by his wooden draw-poker contraption. “Want a ream?” he’d ask. I always did. And I swore by my “notch cutter,” instead of the straight guillotine cut. I had a black plastic cutter I’d picked up somewhere, in Chicago. I can still see his chrome metal one, with the wings you’d push on the side. I’d peel mine out of plastic; his came in a cedar sleeve… fancy. Fancier than the guys about to smoke ’em.

You know what they say about anticipation? Sweet anticipation. Sometimes sweeter than the thing itself, once it’s quickly done. (And too soon.)

We’d carry our glasses to the porch. Or, for a time, to my little firepit in the yard in suburban Bolingbrook. Pull up the rocking, swiveling metal deck chairs. Hose out the glass ashtray with the little indentations molded into it for cigars. Bring along the ice bucket — their cork-looking one with the cooler liner and lid; my silver cocktail one. Or else the big, red rubber cocktail cube makers, one of the best Christmas presents ever, from bro-in-law Jonathan. Something nostalgic in the ice bucket though — reaching in, coming out with dripping fingers, knowing that would buy you another 15 minutes, another drink. Who cares, cause you’re on vacation? Solving world problems, natch….

It’s not something I did, at home. Alone. Not regularly, anyway. Bought some cigars when my son was born in ’06. Took ’em to the old place of employment, the paper, Naperville Sun. Talked a few buddies from the newsroom into joining me on the concrete patio outside the cafeteria. First one with a kid. Straight puffing. Nothing to wash it down with. Few problems of the world to solve, and in broad daylight. Tried walking around the neighborhood one night after my book deal was signed; cigar in one hand, young man’s empty fancy in the other. Not the same.

Not the same.

On the porch we might talk about his Army days. How he’d never run, or camp, again. (Good riddance.) How he once had Robert James Waller, yes, of Bridges of Madison County fame, as a grad school economics professor. Sheee-it. Or the first time my wife had gotten gussied up for a middle school (or high school) dance. Or what the interest rates were like the time they bolted Sioux Falls for Kansas City. Or how his dad reacted to his boyhood antics: racing cars along the frozen Shell Rock creek, up beyond the Minnesota-Iowa border and back again, more or less in one piece.

As a young journalist, I talked Chicago garbage strikes and elusive mayors and the time a resident/source commented, “I thought I’d have heard about you buried in a concrete pillar by now.” First mortgage rates. Salary negotiations. Shared association of growing up in small towns. Interviews with unreformed Chicago “street gangs” as I wrote my book. And yeah, eventually, ad agency shenanigans and hirings and firings and the art of the pitch.

Time to relight. From the guttering flame. Take a deep draw. Breath out. Repeat.

Or, we’d bark in time to the neighbors’ “punt dogs.” Wave to the girls on the other side of the sliding glass door, inside. Check the score of KU. Or even fire up the laptop, tune in to a webcast of Ohio State versus Oklahoma. Versus Wisconsin. Wins. The full moon. A breeze getting colder. The dog shivering by the door. One last swallow. Time to head inside.

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Time to Head Inside… in a Little While

It’s gonna be a hard damn week. OK?

Just because we delay these things… you know? You know they eventually catch up to you.

And it’s not all bad. It’s just…. Just, it is. It is what it is. It’s the end of the night, the scotch is nearly gone, the cigar’s about out, and it’s time to bring it all inside and face the next day.

We forget all the problems we solved the night before.

But we have faith we’ll work it all out again.

Today is my father-in-law’s birthday. What would have been his 67th. The first since he passed away, just short of two months ago. The first I’ve gone through the ritual without him. My place. My scotch. My remaining three cigars since we last settled in, with an H. Upmann I was proud to lend him, since he was in short supply, on his way out west into retirement, into the unknown.

I forget if that was one of the times we had Ohio State on my laptop this past fall. The win over Oklahoma. The win over Wisconsin. Probably later. Maybe not. But what does it matter? What matters: the time spent. That last time, shared. The ritual. The things said. Some remembered, some forgotten. But all of it: together.

This week, we grieve. We journey to visit old, cherished friends in Kansas City. In Olathe, proper. To remember. To celebrate. Then, on to Northwood, Iowa. His hometown. To lay him to rest in the embrace of family living and gone onward, ahead of us.

It’s a hard damn week.

It’s his birthday, today. I said that, I think. Sixty-seven years. Such a small number to bargain for. To hope for. To dream of, in the background, of all the conversations over all the sips and puffs and quips and stories. We never know how many lines we have left.

No matter what the ritual, the routine and warm embraces, the family we cling to. The times we count on. We remember. We forge on.

Tonight, I sit alone on a day that is growing late, and colder. Remembering. Ashing out in the glass tray I’d put away in the garage the last time he’d visited, before heading west. The remains of his cigar, from then, and mine.

My cigar’s about gone. The scotch… a few too many refills and almost drained. I’m shivering, typing. The battery meter’s about half gone. I’m rambling. The dog’s looking at me strangely. The motion-sensing porch light’s winking off.

Time to go inside.

Problems of the world? Ha. They go on. As we go on, in the light of morning. Older? Yeah. Wiser? Perhaps. But, and this I hope: fortified by the amazing light of all the people we have known and loved and lived through a time or a thousand with, in whatever minor verse or movement, carrying with us what we’ve learned and laughed through, putting the details to memory, however middling and ritualistic and taken for heavenly granted. We remember.

And that’s gotta be worth something, OK? That we were here. And shared it. And LOVED it. For our time. Right?

We gather up the bottles, and the glasses, and the warmth that’s left inside the nurturing garments we’ve knitted together with careless care, over the years, and we go on.

The world is smaller, the night colder, but we carry it and we go on.

OK.

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Erma Johnson, Don Foutz Wed in Early AM Ceremony


 

 

Don Foutz Erma Johnson

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.

Foutz Don wedding 1942

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

Categories: Foutz, Johnson, Milestones | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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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A Visit with Great Aunt Nellie | Repost


Colt Foutz Nellie Johnson Fitzgerald

Colt and his great aunt Nellie (Johnson) Fitzgerald at her home in March 2011.

Hugs & Hospitality in the Home of Nellie (Johnson) Fitzgerald

Great Aunt Nellie (Johnson) Fitzgerald passed away Nov. 19 at age 99. This post, from March 2011, recounts a visit.

I was once a quite enterprising reporter, so I should have known better.

Presented with the chance to spend an afternoon chatting with my Great Aunt Nellie, 94 years young as of last September, I fumbled around with my laptop, spent a good half hour busying my hands consuming trail bologna and deviled eggs and macaroni salad and the like, and utterly failed to pop open a notebook and record our winding conversation with anything more reliable than my own noggin.

Which will have to suffice.

We spent the day chatting in her home, site in the summertime of many a family gathering, afternoons filled with sunshine and pickup softball games and plenty of food and lemonade. There was snow on the ground this time, and a chill in the air. But the atmosphere inside was cozy.

Nellie still lives at home, with some assistance throughout the day, and frequent visits from her son, who lives just up the road a piece. She was also kept company, during our visit, by a former daughter-in-law (I think?) and a great-grandson. So the house was filled with conversation, and I found Nellie to be as delightfully frank, and sweet, and feisty, and fun as I remembered.

Johnson Leona Miller

My great-grandfather Charles Johnson’s first wife, Leona Miller, died shortly after they were married.

The Tragic Tale of Leona Miller Johnson

Nellie has some trouble getting around these days. She greeted us from her easy chair, and moved about the house with the aid of her “horse” — her walker.

We began our visit by flipping through old photos — everything I had stored up in my Family History Master folder on my computer. She confirmed some of the old relatives I was wondering about, including some beauties of my grandma Erma (Johnson) Foutz as a young teenager (see below), and chuckled at ones of herself shortly after her wedding to DeLoyce Fitzgerald and especially at one of her as a baby, posed with older sibs Leonard and Virginia.

“Oh,” she said (of the photo at the bottom of this post), “I forgot to wear my socks that day!”

Nellie’s house is decorated with scores of old photos and mementos. She was kind enough to have copies made for me of a portrait of my grandmother as a baby, and of my great-great grandparents Palmer (which I featured in yesterday’s post).

In her current bedroom hangs a very unique portrait — that of my great-grandfather (her father) Charles Johnson’s first wife.

Leona Miller and Charles married shortly after Valentine’s Day, 1907. She was 23; he was 20.

According to family lore, and retold by Nellie during our visit, Charles, a coal miner, came home one day, perhaps as early as the week they were married, and found Leona on her hands and knees, scarlet-faced, scrubbing the floor.

As he knelt down to tend to her, Leona collapsed. She died shortly after.

Charles returned to the home of his parents (as noted in the 1910 census), and wouldn’t remarry until 1911, when he wed a girl from nearby Dennison, my great-grandmother, Viola Palmer.

“When you think about it,” I knelt down to murmur in Nellie ear, “it’s a sad story, but without Leona dying, none of us would be here.”

“Oh,” Nellie said, the whisper of a grin on her face, “I don’t know.”

There’s not a lot we know about Leona beyond her fate and the image preserved above. According to the New Philadelphia cemeteries department, she is buried in the same plot as my great-great grandparents Clement and Anna Johnson, but I found no marker to indicate such during my stop at East Avenue/Evergreen the next day.

Erma Johnson Foutz

This picture of my grandma as a very young teenager was taken in 1933, when she was not yet 13. Scribbled on the back: “Camp Birch Creek, F-60, Dillon, Montana. C. 15-1 C.R.R.,” which we’ve determined was a WPA-era camp at which her brother Joe was spending the summer. Joe’s name was also written on this picture.

A Big Sister’s Take on a Boy’s Grandma

The part of me that deeply misses my grandma Erma since she passed away in 2000, and yearns to be able to visit her again, really felt fulfilled by seeing Aunt Nellie again.

I remember the time I’d seen her before, after the funeral of my grandma’s second husband, Max, hugging Nellie felt a lot like hugging grandma. And yeah, I miss that.

This time around, I was full of questions. Things I wished I had asked Grandma, growing up. Or had paid more attention to her answers.

Nellie confirmed the many addresses in New Phila her family called home over a period of 25 years. These moves were logged in war records, censuses, and the certificates recording three of her brothers’ untimely deaths.

I also wanted to hear about how my grandmother and grandfather met, if she could fill me in. I’d read in the article detailing their marriage announcement that grandma was a secretary in the offices of the steel mill, where my great-grandfather Foutz and two of his sons worked from way back. But my grandpa only joined the mill later on, after he’d spent years as a sales agent for the local Ford dealership.

So, how, I wondered, did a girl from New Phila end up mixing with a boy from crosstown Dover, and one some seven years her senior at that?

“Oh, your grandma got around pretty good in those days,” Nellie quipped.

“Oh, your grandma was beautiful,” one of her visitors gushed. “And a very nice lady.”

How can an enterprising reporter hold up, in the face of comments both sly and complimentary?

Palmer homestead Scio Ohio

Another view of the old Palmer homestead in Scio, Ohio as it appeared in March 2011.

Tracing the Tree Back — Johnson & Palmer Roots

Nellie was keenly interested in some of the stops on my genealogy tour, asking about the state of the Palmer homestead, where her mother grew up and generations of the family farmed before that.

She was more interested, though, in how my parents were doing, and my wife and kids. “They should come and see me,” she said. And who could argue?

The visit ended much too soon. And I felt, not for the first time, that I’d already crammed way too much into three short days. And felt the weight, in leaving, of not knowing how soon my path would wind back her way again.

But in the work of honoring our ancestors, there are still volumes rich with information to mine.

Nellie had shared with her daughter, Sara (who in turn helps spread the word and get the family tree in order on Geni.com and Ancestry.com), the tale of her grandfather, Thomas Johnson, a Civil War mule skinner who died on a march through Mississippi in 1864. And there is limited info to go on past that, but a definite location to dig into — Guernsey County, where the Johnsons seemed to have first set up shop in Ohio.

Other connections of the family to the great conflict between the states include that of Anna (Burkey) Johnson’s father, Joseph Burkey, a soldier in Company B of the 126th regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Military records indicate he served from May 1864 through June 1865. I’ve visited his grave and snapped a picture there, but I’d love to hunt down a photo, and more info on his time in the war.

Meanwhile, Sara has traced the Palmer connection back through Harrison County farmfields and beyond, to the Balmers of 16th century Germany. A good, yawning gap of time to gape at, and wonder at all the ancestors — and their stories — in between.

Erma Foutz Miller Nellie Johnson Fitzgerald

Colt’s Grandma Erma and her older sister Nellie at his high school graduation, in 1994.

Johnson Leonard Virginia Nellie

A pic of the oldest Johnson kids — Leonard, Nellie and Virginia — about 1916.

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Charles Johnson First Marriage Tragedy


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Life & Death of Leona Miller Johnson

 

The thing that fascinates — and at times, frustrates — me about good, honest, thorough genealogy is that it doesn’t take one interview with a relative, or a hectic week of research, but years, many of them, to continually deepen and fill in, untangle and add detail to the family record.

This sustained bit of exercise runs counter to my usual sprinter impulses, the hustling act of “getting ‘er done” after first encountering the vision of what it could be, what it should be, hot and inspiring.

Maybe not the way most people think about genealogy, but there we are.

When I first began digging into my grandma Erma Johnson Foutz’s side of the family in 2008, I’d encountered a bit of a legend about great-grandpa Charles Arthur Johnson’s first wife, who’d died the same year he married her.

A few years later, visiting with great aunt Nellie Johnson Fitzgerald in 2011, I put a face with the name, since Nellie had, of all relics, a portrait of her father’s first wife hanging in her bedroom, along with other actual blood relatives.

It was a sign that this tale had legs, but probably a beating, even anguished heart to it. Nellie related the story in this way:

Leona Miller and Charles married shortly after Valentine’s Day, 1907. She was 23; he was 20.

Charles, a coal miner, came home one day, perhaps as early as the week they were married, and found Leona on her hands and knees, scarlet-faced, scrubbing the floor.

As he knelt down to tend to her, Leona collapsed. She died shortly after.

Charles returned to the home of his parents (as noted in the 1910 census), and wouldn’t remarry until 1911, when he wed a girl from nearby Dennison, my great-grandmother, Viola Palmer.

We didn’t know much more about Leona than that. But in the idle hours over Christmas break, nearly four years after hearing Nellie’s version of things, I turned up the printed record, researching on newspapers.com.

In the Monday, Feb. 18, 1907 edition of the New Philadelphia, Ohio Daily Times:

JOHNSON — MILLER

A quiet wedding occurred at the home of the United Brethren pastor, Rev. H. H. Davis, 146 East Front street, this city, Sunday evening, February 17 at 6 o’clock, the contracting parties being Miss Leona Miller and Charles Johnson, both of this place.

The bride is a daughter of Mrs. Mary Nixon formerly of Pennsylvania, who for the past seven or eight years has lived with Albert Kensler, corner of Fair and Seventh streets. The bride is a young woman highly spoken of and commanding the respect of a large circle of friends. Mr. Johnson is the son of  Clement Johnson living at 397 East avenue. He is an energetic young man and is employed by the Goshen Hill Coal Co. He is held in high esteem by all who know him. They will reside on East Avenue.

Just over three months later, the young couple were separated by death, according to the Wednesday, May 22, 1907 edition of the Times:

HOME EARLY BROKEN.

Leone (sic) Miller Johnson, 24 years of age, married to Charles Johnson only three months ago, died at 11 o’clock Wednesday forenoon of quick consumption following an attack of the measles. Mrs. Johnson was born in Belmont county. The funeral will be held from the residence on East avenue Friday afternoon at 1 o’clock followed by an interment in East Avenue cemetery.

As far back as 2010-11, I’d learned that a Leona Miller Johnson was supposed to be buried with Charles, great-grandmother Viola (Palmer) Johnson and sons Carl, Joseph and Charles Jr. in the family plot at East Avenue Cemetery in New Phila. But I could find no marker during trips back home.

Interestingly, though I have yet to confirm the significance of this, Charles and Viola named their first son Thomas Leonard, perhaps in homage to Charles’s first wife. Something, perhaps, we’ll uncover in the coming years.

 

Categories: Foutz, Johnson, Milestones, quickie post | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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