The theme for Week 13 of Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Week’s is Music. I know I myself absolutely love music – all kinds from pop music, classic rock, alternative, classical, Broadway tunes, and due to my son being in a volunteer band while learning to play the trumpet in school, I’m evening expanding into jazz.
But when I think of my relatives and music, both of my grandmother’s come to mind and below you will read about these special ladies and their love of music.
Alberta Lou Fleming
My maternal grandmother, Alberta Lou Fleming, loved music. She was one of those people who loved to dance and listen to the big band music of the 1940’s. When chatting with my Aunt she was able to tell me how when she was growing up, every Sunday they (Alberta, and her children) would go over to their grandma’s (Mildred Laura Dunbar) for dinner and they would put on the big band music and sing their heart’s out and dance. That must have been something to see in her living room.
I know my Grandma’s (Alberta) favorite song was “In the Mood”. I can’t say that I blame her, when I hear songs from that era, it is one of the ones that really gets my toes tapping as well. I can imagine it would be hard to not get up and dance.
Terry Mildred Fleming
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree when it came to a love of music. My Aunt, who would have been 72 years old today (April 2), loved music as well. Her younger sister told me that her favorite was music by the Beetles. Here is a photo of my Aunt Teri (she changed the spelling over the years) from her High School Yearbook – she was always so fashionable and I love this photo.
Though I was unable to confirm it, I thought I remembered my mother telling me how she had bought my aunt a life size doll to dance with. I asked my other aunt (my mom and aunt Teri’s younger sister) and my own sister, but neither remember. Initially I wasn’t going to add it, but it seems to me I wouldn’t have ever thought to make something like this up, but I like what my aunt also said, it totally sounded like something my mom would have done. So if she didn’t, I’m sure she must have thought about it.
Anna Maria Morgart
My Grandma Blair (as I know her) loved to hum. It didn’t matter what she was doing, she hummed. When she did dishes. When she crocheted. She could be sitting in a chair and daydreaming and she would hum. Even when I called her on the phone and there was that slight lull in the coversation.
She would also listen to her radio to church music and the like as well. But when I think of her I think of her humming. And there are times now that I am older when I am doing something and I don’t have music on, I hum too. (Just to add, today, April 2, would have been my Grandma’s 107th birthday).
To me nothing brings back memories better than music. Often a song will come on the radio and it’s as if I am going through all the emotions of the that moment as if it just happened. No other sense is as powerful for me. So when I hear “In the Mood” I think of my Grandma Metzger (aka Alberta Lou Fleming) and how she made me laugh with her fabulous sense of humor that I wish I had, or when I find myself humming in a room by myself, I smile as I know wonderful people before me did the same.
As a human being, we all lose members of our family. But when you lose a parent it’s comparable to losing a limb. This week’s theme is Loss for Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestor’s in 52 Weeks, and I’m going to discuss one of the biggest losses of my life, my mom, Cynthia Anne Fairhurst, and you will get some of her insights as I have used her scrapbooking pages from her own blog to aid in my telling about her life.
Cynthia Anne Fairhurst
My mom was born on 22 December 1947 at 2:31am in Akron, Ohio, the oldest child of Harold Fairhurst and Alberta Lou Fleming.
It wasn’t long before others came along. My Aunt Terry was born in April 1949. Here is a photo of the family of four that following summer.
In July 1950 my Uncle Eddie was added to the mix and then my Aunt Debbie 4 years later.
My mom’s early years had her living in the North Hill area of Akron. By the time she was in second grade her family had moved to Cuyahoga Falls.
Third grade had her going to Grant Elementary School (which is now a community center in Cuyahoga Falls as they consolidated schools when I was in 5th grade and closed 3 elementary schools down).
Below is a photo of her from 4th grade when she attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School.
Cindy was always very close to her grandmother, Mildred Laura Fleming, spending a lot of time at her house. Below is a memory she had of Christmastime.
My mom and her siblings love to go and hang out at the Gorge, one of the Summit County Metro Parks where you can hike, fish, and ice skate (there are 3 different hiking paths that are a part of the annual hiking spree at this location alone). My mom, who wasn’t an overly nostalgic person (I have gotten all my pack rat sentimentality from my grandmother), still had a pair of her ice skates hanging in the room underneath the steps in our home. Most of her fondest memories of growing up were of her and her siblings playing at the Gorge. Below are some pictures I’ve taken over the years when I participate in the Fall Hiking Spree, but two (the black and white ones) I found on a Facebook Post (I think). The other I did re-find and is a photo by John McMillan.
From left to right on the top: A photo of where the ice skating pond is in the winter time, next is a photo of the Gorge hiking trail leading to Mary Campbell’s Cave (the others not shown are Highbridge and the Glenns), the pipe is a spot my mother claims to have crossed over countless times and I find this hard to believe as she was extremely afraid of heights, next is a photo of the Cuyahoga River looking towards the Falls (which is to be torn down soon – they claim there is another falls behind this but this is actually part of the dam used by Ohio Edison or FirstEnergy for electricity), next up is just a photo of the river again (I must have thought it looked artsy and wanted to share), then there is the photo I’m not sure where I found it but it was on my phone of kids using one of the heaters in the winter months, and lastly a photo by John McMillan of ice skating. I remember sending this photo to my mom and joked that maybe she was somewhere in it! She actually went on to scrapbook a page using the photo.
After graduating high school in 1966 my mom worked as a nurses aid at Green Cross Hospital (which changed to Cuyahoga Falls General Hospital and is now Western Reserve Hospital). My mom loved working in the hospital and it was her dream to become a nurse.
Getting Married & Having a Family
At the age of 19 she got married to her first husband, Joe Sullivan and had my sister. Things didn’t work out with that relationship, Joe wasn’t the right guy for my mom, being a more fly by the seat of your pants type to her responsible nature. Eventually they divorced and my parents met while she was working as a bartender at Falls Recreation, a bowling alley, and I believe she worked in a bank during the day.
On October 2, 1971 my parents got married, oddly enough on my Grandma’s birthday (my mom’s mom). A year-plus later I came along and her family was complete (you do stop at perfection, right? Okay, I’ll stop before my sister gets mad).
By this point in time Cindy became a “stay at home” mom. But she didn’t believe in pampering us, we walked to and from school, even in the rain (that’s what umbrella’s are for – I tell you, I wish I still had an umbrella now like I had when I walked home from school – it was clear with red trim and a red curved handle and the top completely wrapped around you, so your entire top stayed dry, not just your head!). This caused issues with the other parents because they wanted her to help with carpools.
But in the grand scheme of things I can’t complain about my childhood. I had chores to do (dishes, floors, bathrooms – nothing horrible – but ask 18 year old me and I’m sure I would say something completely different). But she let me be a kid, and for that I am eternally grateful. She didn’t make me feel bad for sneaking downstairs to my play room and play with my dolls when many would have thought me “uncool” (though when I was 5 she did hide my Fisher Price People from me, and that hurt).
I have so many times when odd things happened that always looked bad for my mom. For example one night, I was probably in third grade (I think?) and my mom and I were sitting at opposite ends of the couch. She stretched out and ended up kicking me in the mouth. The next day at church people asked me happened, and me being my usual, blunt self stated “my mom kicked me”.
But even before that when I was probably 4, my mom would take my sister and I to the band show at the high school. My favorite was always watching the majorettes, I always thought their costumes were so pretty. Anyhow on this particular hot August day I was to clean my room. When my mom came in to inspect she found a faux rhinestone bracelet on the floor. She got mad and flung it at me and where one of the clasps that was missing a stone cut the skin just below my eye. All of the sudden there was blood everywhere – and that night as I had a small gash when the people around us asked what was wrong with me, I just said “my mom threw a bracelet at me”.
I’m pretty sure there was at least one more instance like this that I am forgetting, I really am surprised that social services was never called to our house.
When I Was Sick
I was a sickly kid. Not in a really super bad way, but I was a kid who every year during the change of seasons, I came down with a cold. Actually, it was more than a cold, it was croup (most people get this once a lifetime, I got it at least 3 times a year – when I was a teen it was more like laryngitis that lingered forever, oddly it went away when my mom quit smoking when I was 19 years old and my dad began smoking outside only).
Anyhow, my mom always took good care of me. When I had to have my tonsils out. When I came down with the chicken pox (she figured it out because we were watching Donny & Marie and I didn’t want any popcorn. I kept itching my side and that’s when she made me pull up the top of my shirt and see I had a spot. My sister had already had chicken pox so it wasn’t a big deal. It was the second half of second grade that I came down with it. Daddy got in trouble because he went out to work in the garage while my mom and sister went to church and I did the one thing I wasn’t suppose to do – I itched a spot on my face and made the scab come off – RIGHT UNDER MY EYE. I was fortunate, only on a bad day can you see the scar (like when I’m super tired). But she didn’t know that (my sister has a spot in the middle of her forehead).
Another memory of when I wasn’t feeling too good my mom always called me pumpkin, not sure why, but thinking of it now brings a smile to my face.
When My Grandfather Fairhurst Moved In
When I was in fifth grade my Grandfather Fairhurst moved in with us. His third wife (the one he married after my grandmother) decided she wasn’t going to put up the abuse anymore and divorced him. He returned to Ohio and somehow ended up at our house, living in the basement.
As I’ve said before in a previous post, my grandfather was not a nice man. I didn’t mind it when he first moved in because I wasn’t aware of how my life and my mom’s was about to change. After about 6 weeks I acted like my grandfather wasn’t even in my presence (which I think freaked my mom out a little). He sat across the table from me and I’d act like he wasn’t there. He took over the television (which for an 11 year old is a big deal after school in the winter time), we think he is part of the reason my first dog disappeared, and didn’t have too many nice things to say about anything.
While all this happened, my mom slowly began to change. She became a shell of herself, and just began sitting at the table while she smoked cigarettes (several packs a day) and played solitaire. Her dad sat on the opposite side of the table doing the same thing.
Finally Harold met someone and got married again, Connie was her name. They didn’t stay married for long, my dad always figured that she must have thought he was loaded or something. Was she in for a surprise. But his stint at our house had taken it’s toll on my mom. She slept all the time and began complaining of headaches and she was just a mess. All the suppressed memories and horror of her childhood caught up with her when her dad moved in. And like my dad will say to this day, it never hit him how long my grandfather had lived with us.
After a while my mom was encouraged to get some professional help. In the span of 5-8 years, my mom saw 2 therapists. The first encouraged her to do the one thing she had always wanted, she went back to school and became a nurse.
Cindy Becomes a Nurse
In the Fall of 1988 my mom enrolled in a year-long program to become a licensed practical nurse at the W. Howard Nichol School of Practical Nursing. Never had I seen my mother work so hard (well, except for cleaning). Every night she made flash cards to learn her anatomy, studied with some of the other students in the mornings at Arby’s and came up with clever ways to remember who did what (no disrespect to people with mental issues – but the one that I always remembered was “Dingy Dorothea” as a way to remember Dorothea Dix who advocated on behalf of the mentally ill, it may have not been the most positive way to remember her, but here it is 31 years later and I still know this fact).
Cindy didn’t miss a day of school and she came in 2nd in her class (and that made her so mad). I remember attending her graduation in September 1989. On October 25 she made her way to Columbus with her other classmates and took the State Boards. She passed!
She initially got a job on 3rd shift working at a nursing home but it didn’t take her long to realize that was not her calling. A few months later she got a job working for allergists near Akron Children’s Hospital and this was the job she loved. She ended up learning how to make the allergy vaccines and giving a majority of the shots.
Her Real Calling
While my mom worked as a nurse, I finished high school, went to college (twice) and then finally found someone to marry. But this is when I gave my mom I believe to this day was the one thing she truly loved being more than anything else, “Gramma”.
I have always said to my kids that I wish I had their Gramma as my mom. She did things with them that she never thought of doing with me – swimming in the backyard pool (you know the ones, the blow up wading pools), took them to fairs (they were unsafe when I was little) and pretty much got them everything their hearts desired along with a hefty dose of her love.
As you can tell from this post, I’ve filled it with my mom’s own thoughts from her scrapbooking pages. She loved to scrapbook. I took her to a crop at my aunt’s in I think 2011 and she was hooked. I recommended she do what I did when I began a few months before, pick an event where you have a handful of photos and go. She did and never looked back. Here is one of my favorite photos she did – a picture of her as a child and as she looked when she did the page.
Sunday April 1 was Easter Sunday and it was a wonderful day. We had dinner at my parents house, we played a board game and I showed both parents the many photos I took from my family’s trip to Washington D.C. over Spring Break (we missed the cherry blossoms by a few days). I honestly can’t remember a better holiday.
Then the day after Easter 2018 our world was blown apart. While my kids were at her home after school my mom suddenly got very sick and an ambulance was called to take her to the hospital. She ended up being there for about a week and had to be hooked up to a respiratory tube to breath. It took them a while to figure out that she had Influenza B that attacked her lungs. She was already struggling with atrial fibrillation and having difficulty breathing but this was a lot. I still have the message she left me on my phone, telling me she was going home that Saturday. They wanted her to go into an assisted living place so she could undergo physical therapy of walking up and down the steps again but she refused and did it at home.
As time went on my mom continued to have issues with her breathing. She began going to see one of the doctors she worked for wondering if some of her issues could have been handled in a different way as one of her doctors for years had chalked it up to her being overweight and needing to lose a few pounds. But she was barely eating and I think that played havoc with her body as that can make you not lose weight sometimes too.
Monday, May 28, 2018
I know her body was still weakened after having the Influenza B and on Monday, May 28 in the morning, my mom died. It happened quick. One minute she was talking on the phone to her above friend/doctor, she had chatted with one of her co-workers about how she was feeling on Facebook Messenger that morning, sent my dad to Wal-Mart to pick up some things. Then reminded him he needed to water the flowers, he came in and saw her struggling and called 9-1-1.
My mom knew she wasn’t feeling well all weekend. She had told me a couple of times on the phone that she may go to the hospital for a breathing treatment. So when my dad called me and told me they were headed to the hospital I poorly assumed that this was the case. I took my time getting ready, it was going to be a while before they were going to let me see her.
Little did I know when I got a second phone call a half hour later from my sister what was really happening. I live the closest to the hospital they took her too, the one I told you about before where she worked as a nurses aid after high school, Western Reserve Hospital, aka Green Cross Hospital.
My husband and I weren’t in the ER waiting room long when the doctor came out and said they had done everything they could. I never cried so much at once. Never had my chest felt so heavy. And for days.
The paramedics began working on my mom as soon as they got to the house. A neighbor claims they were punching her chest pretty good as they left the house and got into the ambulance with her trying to re-start her heart. My dad said that they did get it going briefly in the ambulance and once again in the hospital. But as I am the family historian and when I made a genealogy appointment at the health department and I got a copy of her death certificate it was called before I ever got to the hospital. My dad kept having them work on her, but after 45 minutes he finally said stop. They already had.
A Mix of Feelings
I don’t think you can ever be prepared to lose a parent. I was not expecting to lose my mom that day. If you notice I stress the date. That is what I do. She died on Memorial Day. I can’t have every Memorial Day ruined now because it happened to land on the observed day of Memorial Day (it’s bad enough it was the day before my husband’s birthday – yeah, she really screwed him, and she really liked my husband).
Telling my kids was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. Especially my daughter, as my mom had made her the center of her world. She could do no wrong, and she pretty much knew it. My son on the other hand you have to be careful even now. He went the other way with things, getting mad at her for never going to the hospital and having that breathing treatment.
My dad, he was really mad for a very long time. I think he was a bit like my son, wondering why didn’t she do the breathing treatment, why didn’t she tell us she was as sick as she was.
But in the end, her quality of life was going downhill and maybe it’s good it happened fast, that she didn’t have to suffer anymore than she did.
But on Monday, May 28 you couldn’t tell me all this. I was the one who was told the least (well, outside of my children that is). I was the baby of the family, and in many ways my mom still saw me as such. When she had doctor’s appointments she told me what was going on but in layman’s terms so I understood it all (I can’t stand the sight of bags of blood so I knew a medical career was never for me). She also knew I got anxious when my parents had to get procedures. I was the internal worrier even if I didn’t let the world see it.
My mom and I had a very complex relationship. But until the end she was my mom. For me we were never friends or buddies like many mom’s and daughter’s do. She was the mom and I was the child. She was critical of me even the day before she died. My last phone conversation was her hanging up on me because I was in the middle of fixing a taco salad for dinner and wouldn’t rush off to turn on the Cleveland Indians baseball game. Later that night she messaged me how it ended and that was our last interaction.
Cynthia Anne Fairhurst was a woman who only saw black and white, right or wrong. It was a world with no grays. So I often disappointed her because she couldn’t understand why I did things (for myself or with my kids even). My dad could, and most of their arguments stemmed around why my sister and I did things that my mom thought was just not the way to do it (yeah, examples of this are escaping me at the moment).
I remember after I graduated from college in 1996 (the first time, the 2nd time was when I went for 1 entire year and got my history degree, that was 1999). Our family had planned a vacation to Williamsburg (family being me, my mom and my dad). My dad ended up having jury duty so he didn’t go. He thought being a fireman would get him out of it, he was wrong, but stating he had vacation plans would have (insert person slapping their forehead emoji here). So my mom and I went on the trip together.
This still makes me laugh because I love history and my mother doesn’t. Williamsburg was fun, for some reason she only ever remembers George Wythe’s House (he was a lawyer and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, last odd fact, if you do relative finder using your FamilySearch.org account, I’m supposedly related to George Wythe on my mom’s side of the family, she would have been so excited!). She also thought it weird when I got emotional at Yorktown – I could have been walking where George (Washington) walked! How does she not see that as thrilling (and must not have noticed me doing the same thing 7 years before when my parents and I visited Washington, D.C. and we went to Mount Vernon). I can’t even remember what she was lecturing me about but we didn’t even make it to Jamestown because I was done. I remember her telling me the exit is there but I didn’t care – I was going home. And that is what I did.
I still have yet to see Jamestown.
But I do have a lot of funny memories of that trip. Somehow every time we tried to get to our hotel (the now defunct George Washington Inn) we ended up at Camp Peary (here I thought it was an Army base but it’s apparently a training place for the CIA – that’s even funnier). It was always our turn around point. Here my husband figured it out on our honeymoon seven years later, there are 2 highways side by side and we always got on the wrong one to get to the hotel. Oddly enough he couldn’t find Camp Peary so the one day I drove and found it in minutes. I’m talented that way.
But my mom and I did have some really good times. In 2000-2001 we signed up for the National City Bank Broadway Series in Cleveland where once a month we went and saw touring Broadway shows. That year they had some really good ones – Tony & Tina’s Wedding, Fame, Cabaret, The Scarlet Pimpernel (so funny!), Swing!, and my mom’s favorite, Fiddler on the Roof. She enjoyed hearing “If I Were a Rich Man” the way Theodore Bikel sang it. When I emailed who I thought was Theodore Bikel’s agent to see if such a recording existed (it does not) I ended up chatting via email with Theodore Bikel himself!
Another love of my mother’s was watching the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, so back in 2002 when they came to Cleveland the first time I took her. And we had front row seats (I thought we were going to be row 2). She was so happy, she always commented to everyone that if the girls hadn’t shaved she would have known it as she was so close she could count the hair on their legs (sadly no photos, we didn’t have phones with camera’s quite yet, or if the world did they weren’t common yet).
We also watched a lot of baseball and football together. She was the die-hard Cleveland fan where my heart took me to other places. I love the New York Football Giants (because Bud Carson cut Matt Bahr before the 1990 season and then Raul Allegre got injured and Matt joined the team, I’m sure it helps the Giants won the Super Bowl that year but 30 years later I’m still a fan) and the New York Yankees (I thought I was a fan of both teams but in 1997 during the Divisional Playoffs my mom and I went to game 5 with my cousin and her husband, I claimed I didn’t care who won with my Omar Vizquel jersey and my Yankees baseball cap, but when Sandy Alomar hit that home run off of Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the 9th and the Yankees lost, I wasn’t happy Cleveland won, I was devastated the Yankees lost, and that’s how I discovered I was a Yankees fan). Anyhow – we went years watching games together. And though Cleveland went to a couple of World Series but never won, I am happy she watched my Yankees with me to see them. She was happy. And though she preferred the Indians I know she was like me and enjoyed watching those Joe Torre led Yankees teams of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. When Derek retired I remember her posting a story on my Facebook page stating “can you believe we watched his entire career?” It was wonderful.
Granted, I’ve cried a river writing this blog over the past 3 or 4 days. Normally tears I shed for my mom are often unexpected. In the middle of the grocery store when I see something I know she would love and I pick up my phone to tell her only to remember she is no longer here. When I see something happen with my sports teams that I know she would be excited about (for example Mariano Rivera making it into the Hall of Fame unanimously – she liked Mo and Derek Jeter a few years later though he missed unanimously by 1). When the kids do something awesome and go to share it.
I miss my mom. At times I feel like I was still nothing but a disappointment but more and more it’s just the fun memories I remember. Everyone tells you this but it’s the truth, tell your parents you love them. Hug them (I know it’s difficult presently because of Covid, so glad my mom wasn’t around for this). You never know when that last time might be.
Thank you for going through this journey, I surprised I found so many items on my mom’s blog to use. I rather enjoyed having her words intermingle with my own to tell her story.
The word “power” brings so many different ideas into ones head. Merriam-Webster defines power as:
ability to act or produce an effect
possession of control, authority, or influence over others
powers – an order of angels
the number of times as indicated by an exponent that a number occurs as a factor in a product (oh my gosh, I’d completely forgotten about this)
a source or means of supplying energy
magnification (again – totally didn’t think of this)
the probabilty of rejecting the null hypotheseis in a statistical test when a particular alternative hypothesis happens to be true.
And that is it’s meaning as a noun (it can be a verb and an adjective too).
Though it was the source of supplying energy that popped into my head initially but I don’t really know how quickly my ancestors got electricity into their homes to make their lives easier. And despite being the history buff I don’t think I ever took the time to learn when this became the “norm”.
And since I have not yet found a mathematician in my family – exerting one’s authority over others will be how I approach the theme for week 8 in Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.
The person who comes to mind when I think of someone exerting power over others is my maternal grandfather, Harold Fairhurst.
Harold was born on 11 April 1922 in Amsterdam, Ohio in Jefferson County to James Fairhurst and his wife, the former Phoebe Boone.
Unlike my most my relatives who have me stuck in Pennsylvania, James and Phoebe came to the United States from Leigh, Lancashire, England in late 1913 (James) and early 1915 (Phoebe). In 1920 James had become a naturalized citizen taking the Oath of Allegiance on 14 May 1920.
While James worked as a Coal Miner, Phoebe ran a boarding house. However, by 1930 the Fairhurst’s and their 6 children (Elsie, Wilfred, Edwin, Doris, Harold and Evelyn) moved from Jefferson County to Akron, Ohio where James began working for the rubber companies and then for some of the WPA projects.
From stories I’ve heard life was not easy for the boys. Phoebe pitted brother against brother and most resolutions came with their fists. Phoebe also expected all her children to hand over their paychecks to her to help support the family. From my own experiences with my grandfather, I can easily see his not liking this, and it explains why he was married at the age of 21 in 1943.
Unlike his brothers, my grandfather did not work for the rubber companies, he was a construction worker and became a Mason. He was also a golf pro, but both vocations had him unemployed a few months each year because that is how life is in Northeast Ohio.
As I stated before, Harold got married to his first of 5 wives in 1943. His marriage to Helen Juanita Ferguson did not last, ending in divorce 6 January 1947. Shortly after their divorce was final Harold meets and marries my grandmother, Alberta Lou Fleming on 29 June 1947. They had 5 children, my mother being the oldest.
My grandfather was not a nice man. He was verbally and physically abusive and repeatedly cheated on my grandmother (I was told by my mother that his one girlfriend was Catholic and that is when the older 3 children attended Catholic school).
I don’t really have any happy memories of my grandfather. When I was little he lived about an hour or so away from us (translated – for a little girl it seemed like forever to get there but after Googling the distance between Cuyahoga Falls and Lodi it is apparently only 36 to 45 minutes away – yes, I’m blown away). My grandmother finally divorced my grandfather in 1968 because he was having an affair with the girl next door, who became wife #3. Mary Lynn, was the same age as my mother. I think this was why when she asked me to call her “Grandma Mary” it made me feel uncomfortable. I guess lucky for me we did not visit frequently and soon his wife and three kids moved to Tennessee. The one perk was that these kids were basically my age, so I had playmates. But I was never fond of my grandfather. Ever.
But as I’ve said before, my grandfather was not a nice man. When he was married to my grandmother he would beat her and their children horribly for what I consider dumb reasons (they left a mess in the living room with their toys, basic kids being kids reasons). My grandmother was a terrific bowler, if he didn’t think she bowled good enough he would make her practice over and over and over again when she got home, it didn’t matter that children were sleeping and had school the next day. And if she still didn’t bowl to his expectations, he threw her into the wall.
As time went on my grandfather would break his daughter’s arm. I remember he gave me what is called an Indian Rug Burn on my arm when I was joking with him. He didn’t think it was funny and grabbed my arm, twisting and squeezing it simultaneously. I was in 7th, possibly 8th grade.
I don’t know if my grandfather got his bullying like power from being the youngest boy in his family – constantly being tormented by his older brothers? If he just didn’t live up to the same standards his brothers did to his mother? Rumor has it when Wilfred, the oldest of the 3 Fairhurst boys, but the second to die, leaving just Harold, Phoebe, their mother, told my grandfather that now she had no sons.
Ouch. Who says that to their child?
It just shows how words can hold the same sort of destructive power as fists.
This week’s theme for Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is “In the Kitchen”. The first thing that popped into my head was how the past few Christmases I feel as if I have the ghosts of my mother, her mother, and her mother, all in the room with me helping me bake.
There is a specific cookie that I make that has me think of these lovely ladies in my life. The recipe is for Drop Sugar Cookies, you know the ones that are made with sour cream and are extra moist. And what I have found has made my great-grandmother’s recipe unique is that she added nutmeg. I have also found that the colored sugar that you sprinkle on the cookies helps to make it taste good as well – but the real treat is the red hot. Those red hots make them extra yummy!
Picture if you would, the recipe, do you think I can find it? Of course not, it wasn’t written by my Great Grandma but it was by my mom (I photo copied her recipe card when I started making cookies for my own kids.
The Cookie Sheets
About a year or so before my mom passed away she got me some heavy duty insulated aluminum cookie sheets. These are 2 of the 5 (sometimes 6) cookies sheets that I use when I bake my cookies (primarily because they are my largest pans).
The final step in the cookie baking process is taking the cookies off the cookie sheets and putting them on my cooling racks. The above spatula was my grandmother’s. I remember I took it from her house after she passed away. My mom and I went over to clean up a little bit and I saw it and I took it. I’ve never seen a spatula like this in the store and I know how great they are as my mom use to have 2. I wasn’t taking any chances on anyone else wanting it. And because of this key tool, I am able to get cookies off a cookie sheet spectacularly because of it’s finely beveled edge.
All Together Now
You put all these items together and I feel like there are 4-generations of ladies in my kitchen baking with me every holiday – Mildred Laura Dunbar, Alberta Lou Fleming, Cynthia Anne Fairhurst, and me!
This occurred to me my first Christmas after my mom passed away in 2018. It was a hard holiday and it’s the little things like baking cookies that take a lot of me (my mom and I shared baking responsibilities each year – she’d bake cookies with my daughter and they would do 2 types of cookies [Russian Tea Cakes & Peanut Blossoms] and I made 2 types[cut-out cookies and the drop sugar cookies]).
I miss these three ladies so very much. My great-grandmother, Mildred Laura Dunbar, was the first person I knew well that passed away. When her daughter, Alberta Lou Fleming, my grandmother, passed away in 2006, I was sad. I wish I would have known her better, but she moved to Florida when I was little so I never quite had the connection with her as I did with my other grandma, and even her mom (my great-grandma use to babysit me when I was little and she entertained me with her costume jewelry and clothes and made me scrambled eggs). My mom’s death came unexpectedly in 2018 and even now, almost 3 years later I have days where I’m just sad).
But without these ladies, I could not bake a great batch of cookies.
Was there a cookie you use to bake with a relative, or that you make because it was passed down with your family? Share with me in the comments!
A big difference between my husband and myself is how we relate to our families. He has just started, so maybe I shouldn’t judge him so harshly, but he views his ancestors as names on a screen.
Names on a screen!
Then there is me, I sit there and though they may initially be names on my tree (I will confess my aunts, uncles and distant cousins I do refer to as filler people until I get to know them a little better), I enjoy finding out what I can on them, where they lived, how long, did they marry. I especially try to find out as much as I can on the little ones. You know, the ones who pass away before they ever have a birthday, I fear they may be the easiest for time to forget.
The more I research my ancestors, whether it be government documents, city directories, or newspaper articles, I enjoy getting a sense of who they are.
Harold Fairhurst – My Grandfather
Within the last few weeks Newspapers.com was free for a few days and I so enjoyed learning new things about my relatives. One article that ran in the Akron Beacon Journal on September 17, 1964, referred to when my grandfather, an area golf pro, hit a hole in one. It was interesting as when I had found it my Aunt Debbie had relayed how he had hit one and won a years supply of Pepsi. He had only hit a hole in one once, so this had to be the time.
When I threw my grandfather’s name to find articles about him I was floored when I saw how many hits I received. My mother had always told me he was a golf pro, but I never realized he held course records in my hometown and was a semi-serious contender.
Alberta Lou – My Grandmother
I found out some interesting bowling information on my mom’s mother too! I knew my grandmother was on a bowling league but I never knew she was on a league of women bowlers where you had to bowl a 600 series. My uncle (her son) he gave me the information after I found and shared the following article with him. It was posted once again in the Akron Beacon Journal on March 14, 1971.
Orienta Gustin Warner – My Great-Great-Great-Grandmother
I learned some juicy information about my relatives too. Again, visiting my mother’s side of the family, this time it was my great-great-great-grandmother, Orienta Gustin Warner who is mentioned in the following article from the Potter Enterprise that ran on February 11, 1904, along with her daughter, Jeanette Warner (Nettie) my second great-great-aunt.
Real-life stories of your ancestors help to put them into perspective far more than just dates and names on a computer screen. The aforementioned Orienta Gustin Warner lived here in Akron, Ohio for the last 6 years or her life. She passed away at 644 Carpenter Street and I’ve driven past the house, which is less than 5 minutes from my own home.
I’ve used Google to see what all the houses look like (most are still standing, some have been torn down). Once I figure out locations for homes in other areas I plan on doing the same. This is when technology is at it’s best.
Samuel & Mazie Randol
By using the city directories, I saw how my great-great-grandmother let her daughters move in with her when their marriages failed, I saw her and her husband, Samuel, finding a new house to live in while her daughters stayed in their old one with their new husband, and I saw the pattern repeat. So to me, this shows me Mazie was truly a good person, going out of her way for her girls. And taking them back in when they needed help and support (and yes, after a while I got a little judgy as I think Mazie and Samuel might have had 2 years alone before he passed away in 1938).
Speaking of Samuel, my father gave me a box of mementos that belonged to my mother’s side of the family. He had no need for them after my mom passed last year, so about 2 months ago he handed the photos off to me. Inside the box was the book from the funeral home from when Samuel Randol passed away. He was a trucker when he died in Decatur, Illinois. He apparently became ill, went to the hospital, and died within a short period of time. I’ve not ordered up his death certificate yet, I may have difficulty as he is not a blood relative and I think Illinois laws may be a bit more strict than they are here in Ohio. Anyhow, never had I seen so many names in a book of those who visited the funeral home as those who paid their respects to Samuel. I was dumbfounded. To me, it’s further proof that he and Mazie were good people.
To be fair I’ll throw in the black sheep of my dad’s side of the family. In the early months of my going to the library and using Ancestry Library Edition to search about my family, I came across the following death certificate for my second cousin twice removed. His name is Ralph Reed.
Notice his cause of death? Electrocution by Legal Execution. I used a link using my library’s resources which has an academic version of Newspaper Archive on their website. It’s nice as I was able to use it for free from home using my library card number.
Turns out Ralph and his friends decided to rob a company payroll office one day when companies still paid with cash. Problem was they beat the cash there, decided to rob the office workers and Ralph shot the one worker in the back (yes, the headlines were man murdered for $60). They drove off in their getaway car but nearby some telephone repairmen were fixing a wire and watched exactly where they drove off too. Ralph was sentenced to death while the others had life in prison. I don’t think the punishment held for all of them though, as I believe at least 2 may have been released (I’ve not thoroughly researched them yet, I will need to take a day to travel to the Ohio History Center in Columbus to find out more details. In 1948 the accused were tried, sentenced and put to death all within a years time. On May 4, 1949 Ralph was electrocuted. Below is his photo (courtesy of the Ohio Pentitentiary in Columbus, Ohio).
Resources to Use
Maps, probate records, newspaper articles, city directories, all these useful sources can help provide background information on your ancestors. Even if you can’t find stories directly about them, you can see where they lived using old maps, you can find out what the weather was like reading articles about the area, and if they fought in wars, even if it wasn’t their personal account, reading the diaries of others fighting in the same war can give you insight as to what they went through.
So take the time to search through newspapers, you can get a subscription to such sites as the aforementioned Newspapers.com, GenealogyBank.com or visit the free Library of Congress website ChroniclingAmerica.org to see if you can find some information (trust me, sometimes they just pop right out, other times you have to go through lots of names to find what you are looking for).
Check out your library to see if they give you access to resources such as Newspaper Archive that I mentioned previously. Sometimes you can get access to library editions of other searching tools such as MyHeritage or Fold3 as well.
Government records work too – the census gives you where your ancestor is at a specific point in time, probate records can illustrate how their life was at the end and who their relatives are/were, if they are males registrations for wars come in handy as it lets you know next of kin, eye color, height, any interesting marks (such as scars, birthmarks, etc), all of this can give you a better indication of who your ancestors were.
So now I’ve given you more reasons to analyze those documents you’ve found to find out the story behind the story of your ancestors. It’s worth going the extra mile because they become far more memorable when you have a story to tell than if they are just a name on the screen.
Have you found out anything interesting about your family? Share with me in the comments below.