Part 2: June 1872

Researching ancestors sometimes leads to brick walls, so that’s when imagination takes over.  

https://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/story/35787/20180314/north-country-at-work-when-eggs-were-money-and-the-store-came-to-you

            The iron-mining industry boomed from 1860 to 1870 in Black Brook allowing the Allen family to move up in the world.  In 1865, just as the Civil War ended, Franklin Allen bought a small one-acre farm that sidled up to a crook in the stream called Black Brook.  Not too far from the house, the brook pooled where an adult could wade in waist high.  Franklin, Dinah, and their five children lived in the newly built two-story farmhouse with a large front porch on which Franklin liked to take his Sunday afternoon nap.   “It’s God’s day to rest, so it may as well be mine too!” he’d often say.

            The first floor had a large kitchen with a new cast-iron potbellied stove that had a fire burning in it year round; a dining room and parlor; even two closets, one upstairs and one down, and a cold pantry that eventually would house an ice-box; and on the land was an outhouse, a shed for the chickens, and a small barn for the one horse.  A 20-foot by 20-foot vegetable garden was ploughed on the east side of the horse barn.  This was quite a big step up from the small rented house they had in the early ‘60s.  Franklin enjoyed the prosperity; after all, he knew he deserved it.

            The morning before Ruby gave birth, Franklin took his two sons into the big town of Plattsburgh to get their portait taken and to get the week’s supplies from the J & J  Rogers’ company store.  He got a bonus slip and some cash from the iron company, the same company that built and owned the store, and this weekend was a good time to go, as Dinah told him Ruby was close.  Now, two days later, he was back home.

“Ruby, stay here and keep the baby quiet,” Dinah whispered to Ruby who was nursing the baby on the cot in the kitchen.  Dinah went into the dining room to meet the boys and told them to leave the wares on the dining room table.  She’d bring the supplies to the pantry.  “Esther!  Elizabeth!  Come and help your brothers bring supplies into the house.”

            Dinah smelled the cigar smoke before he opened the front door.  “I’m changing outta my good clothes before unloading the wagon.  Wait’ll you see what I got, Dinah!    The boys had a good time in the city.”  He let the brand new screen door slam behind him. “Frank and Lyman, start unloading, eh?” he called over his shoulder.  Then upstairs he went.

            Frankie entered first, his arms filled with flour sacks and cans.  “Ma, we brought you some jams, crackers, flour, and sugar!  Rogers’ store got in a new shipment, and ‘ol Mr. Disco gave us a good price for the eggs and potatoes we brought him.”  He gave his mother a brushed kiss on her cheek as he passed her into the kitchen, completely ignoring her earlier request.  Lyman was right behind him, uttering a smooth “Hey, Ma” on his way past.    The family got busy putting away the supplies and chatting.  They all ignored Ruby and the baby.

            Dressed in his faded corderoy overalls and clean white shirt, Franklin came back downstairs and went straight to the outside to the wagon and unhitched the horse.  He did some more chores outside and talked with his sons until dinnertime.  

            Dinah, Esther, and Elizabeth set the table in the dining room.  Cloth napkins were out, dishes of hot beef stew and fresh rolls were plated for each person.  In the middle of the table, a plate of steaming trout and carrots served as the centerpiece.  The Allens weren’t an overly religious weekly church-going family, but Dinah made sure everyone said a quick “Thank you, Lord, for providing for us” before anyone took a bite of food.   One chair, Ruby’s, was moved away from the table and placed off to the side against the pale pink painted wall. 

            “Elizabeth, I brought you some ribbons.  Don’t go losing them at school now. And, Esther, I brought you some calico for you to make a new skirt.  How is Mr. Mooney feeling?  Shame ‘bout his lame leg.”  Franklin glanced up at both daughters around the table as he said her name, guaging the response.  In the kitchen, the baby started mewling.  Franklin continued, “That Mooney boy gets a pension from being hurt in the War.  Don’t do anything stupid to muck it all up, hear? So ya won’t bring shame on my good name, unlike some in this house.”  The baby’s cries were getting louder.

            “I’ll get some more rolls.”  Dinah went into the kitchen.

              In the humid June air, the kitchen was hot and sticky.  The sun was still up, so the kerosene lamp in the middle of the table was unlit.  The one window near the back door was open, but the heat from the stove mixed with the humidity made breathing difficult.  The evening sunrays bathed the half-swaddled squirming crying newborn in the bed.  Ruby wasn’t in the room, and the back door was slightly ajar.  

                        Dinah picked up the baby. With her left hand on the back of the baby’s neck and the right holding her bottom, she walked to the empty outhouse.  No Ruby.  She looked in the barn.  No Ruby.  “Where can that girl have gone?”  Dinah went back to the kitchen and lay the baby, who had gone back to sleep, back down in the middle of the bed, out of the sunlight.  

            “Franklin!  Ruby’s gone!  You and the boys need to go find her.  Girls, go see if she’s with Aunt Mary next door.”  The tension in Dinah’s voice woke the newborn back up.

            Franklin scooped more carrots onto his plate, not bothering to look up.  “I’m not done with dinner, and I’m not going to look for nobody tonight.”  He stopped talking to pull a fishbone from his mouth, and then pierced Dinah with his steel grey eyes: “If Miss Queen Ruby wishes to run away, good riddance.  Damn tramp is dead to me anyway.  And make that bastard stop crying!”  

            All but Franklin and Frankie got up from the table.  Frankie was the mirror image of his father.  He was tall, lanky, could flash a winning thin-lipped smile at will, and a mop of sandy-brown curly hair topped his chiseled face. “Can you pass the water pitcher, Pa?”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Lyman found Ruby, clad in a corset, white cotton poplin skirt, lying down, face up, her long brown hair bobbing around her in the middle of the brook.   Her good shoes were side by side in the grass next to the brook. “It’s not any of my funeral what you’re doing here, but Ma’s worried sick about you.  Get up.”

“I want to die.”

            “Oh, bull.  Get up.”  Stepping on the few large rocks not under water, Lyman made his way out to Ruby, standing over her. Lyman had black eyes like his mother.  There was a softness to them, that belied his words.  Ruby grasped his proffered calloused hand.  She stood up and fell into her brother’s arms and hugged him. They sat down at the edge of the brook, her head on his shoulder.  “I don’t want it. I can’t stand looking at it. I didn’t think this could happen.”  She sobbed into Lymans shoulder.  “What am I going to do now?”

            The sun was going down, and because it was so humid, the mosquitos were out in full force.  Some crickets were chirping in the distance.  The brook gurgled as it rushed over rocks and some trout of frog blooped in and out of the water.  Lightning bugs flickered around Lyman and Ruby as they sat there.  A few crows flew overhead, caw-cawing to each other.  Swatting his neck for the tenth time, Lyman uttered, “Ruby, we have to go back now.”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Ruby stayed in the kitchen for the next few weeks until one day her cousins came over to say good-bye.  They were moving to Williamsburgh, a town about 10 miles away.  Seeing her chance to get away, Ruby packed her best dresses, her ribbons, plaited her hair, and donned her prized Dolly Varden hat, and left in the wagon with them going north.  That was the last time Lenora saw her mother, not that she remembered it.  

            From that day on Dinah became Lenora’s substitute mother.  Every night, Dinah would rock Lenora to sleep softly singing the same song:

            I gave my love a cherry that had no stone

            I gave my love a chicken that had no bone

            I gave my love a story that had no end

            I gave my love a baby with no crying……

            ….. Story to continue next Tuesday…..

The best stories have no ending and no beginning

A few weeks ago, in my quest to get genealogical information on my mother’s side of the family, after four years of not seeing her, I traveled to Florida from New York to visit my mother. She is the only woman who can relay any of the stories, and she alone holds the documents and knowledge of who is who on her side of my heritage. You see, she is an only child. Her parents are deceased, and her father, my grandfather, was also an only child. So, my mother holds the keychain to the doors of half my genetic past. Are you sensing a story here yet?

My mother asked me, “Why are you so interested in genealogy?”

My immediate response, “I want to know their stories. I love stories, and knowing who came before me helps frame where I am in my own story. I want to know Her-story.”

My hope with this blog is to give weekly stories of my ancestors. Mostly my female ancestors- you know the ones whose stories you can’t find on gravestones, in immigration passenger lists, or by researching on Ancestry.com. Sure, I can find facts, but breathing life into those facts is what I’m passionate about. I hope you follow me on my journey, where stories have no beginning or ends……

In this blog I will follow the ancestral lines mostly of my paternal grandmother’s line- the Irwins, McCords and Swinyers, the Watsons and Allens; and my maternal grandmother’s lines- the Feilckes, the Grosinskis, and the Gloedes. The women in these stories defied poverty, war, famine, persecution, and survived long enough to pass on genetic codes and patterns that live in me, and will live on long after my tale ends.

There are so many stories in my head as I write this, I’m not sure where to begin. Do I start with my story first, my mother’s, or a great-great-great grandmother’s? A World War 2 story that takes place in Germany or the United States? A love story? A story of survival? A farming story? What do you think? Where should I start?

Left to right: Ruth, Raphael, and Martha Irwin (my grandmother)

I started my genealogy research over 20 years ago with FamilyTreeMaker. At that time, I gathered stories from both my maternal and paternal grandmothers. Unfortunately, that computer crashed years ago, and the 3 1/2 in disk that held the backup was lost in one of my many moves. Yet, the stories they told remained in me.

And now the women’s voices in my head are getting louder and I have to let them out. My great-great grandmother’s story of love, loss, and survival in a small Adirondack town wants to be heard. Another woman’s voice of war-torn Nazi Germany, of fortune telling and fortune making beckons. A beautiful woman who was lost her children to war and poverty wants to live again. Where does her story begin?

It starts here and simply, I guess. So, the basic facts of me. In 1965, I was the firstborn of three children to Renate (18) and William (23), and entered the world in Tarrytown, New York. My sister was born in 1968, and my brother in 1979. My parents are both only children, so I didn’t grow up with uncles, aunts, or cousins. But, I did have three sets of grandparents, which was pretty cool. My mother’s parents divorced when she was a child, so I thought having three sets of grandparents and no cousins was normal. Divorce was normal. Yes, yes, I’m digressing.

Stories do jump around a lot, don’t they? Kind of like life. One minute you’re eating poached eggs and toast and watching Grape Ape on television before having to go out and mow the lawn, and the next you’re hanging onto a railing in a hospital hallway waiting for the damn contraction to stop so you can get to the delivery room, to the next lying on a daybed, on New Year’s Eve day, typing about dead women’s voices in your head. Life is weird, and no better way to go through life than to tell and read stories. Quite magical, huh?

So, I’m looking for a little guidance and input. What stories are you interested in? My goal is to write another post next Tuesday, January 7.