Today would have been my grandmother’s 93rd birthday so what a better day than today to share the life of Alberta Lou Fleming with you all!
My grandmother was born on 2 October 1929, a preemie, to Mildred Laura Dunbar. The name listed on her birth certificate for her father was Albert Nank, her namesake, as he and my great-grandmother had gotten married just 3 days before on 29 September 1929 (I have since determined her biological father was actually my great-grandmother’s first husband, Paul Geer, whom she filed for divorce in January 1929 and it was finalized on 5 September 1929). The story goes that my great-grandmother was sent home with her little girl and a hot water bottle, and that if she somehow made it through the night to feed her the next day. Lucky for me, she survived. No one alive now seems to know how premature she was as I have asked.
The marriage to Albert Nank was over by 1933 as that is when Mildred got her second divorce and married her third and final husband, Howard Fleming. He was the man who raised my grandmother along with the two boys that he and my great-grandmother had. (Don’t feel sad at all for Albert, he chose not to see my grandmother growing up, and when my grandfather made my grandmother visit him as an adult, he didn’t say a word the entire visit. I think he knew that she was not his daughter but never said anything. And in other documents I’ve found, be it when he joined the military or when he died, it always said “no kids”).
Initially times were tough, Howard, Mildred, and Alberta lived with Mildred’s mother Mazie at her home on Carpenter Street. Howard, a carpenter, would go out every day with his tools doing odd jobs to make a living to support his bride and daughter. Alberta’s childhood was during the time of the Depression, where food was rationed and grease and aluminum foil were saved for the war effort. Eventually Howard Fleming provided a good home as he was hired as a carpenter at BF Goodrich, one of the 3-big rubber companies in Akron, Ohio. In 1936 Alberta’s brother, Herschel was born and in 1943 the youngest son, James, was born.
Alberta and her brothers grew up in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. It is where their kids grew up, where myself and my cousins grew up, and where my own children go to school now. Cuyahoga Falls is a suburb of Akron, Ohio and is the Indian word meaning “crooked”, referring to the river that runs from Lake Erie and the “falls” were notable, as they had a drop off longer than Niagara Falls. While reading up on what Native American nation that coined the word Cuyahoga – it’s a cross between the Mohawk, Wyandot, and Iroquois that all seemed to have left their mark in this area.
Meeting Harold Fairhurst
At the age of 17, Alberta Lou Fleming met Harold Fairhurst. He was 7 years older than she was and had been previously married. On 29 June 1947 they got married, with my great-grandmother, Mildred, signing off on the marriage license and giving her approval.
A few months later on 22 December 1947 my mother, Cynthia Anne Fairhurst, was born. A total of 5 children were born of this marriage. Their life wasn’t easy as Harold was not a very nice man.
While Harold was a golf pro and also worked in construction, Alberta took care of the children by day and bowled in the evenings. She was an excellent bowler, often being invited into leagues where you had to have a very high average to be a part of the group.
Harold and Alberta were divorced on 14 November 1968. Less than a year later she married Bernard Szemplenski on 2 September 1969. This marriage didn’t last very long as according to my uncle he was an “old school man of the house”. She divorced him on 16 March 1973 and married James Edward Metzger on 31 March 1973 (Grandpa Jim often eluded to how he paid for that divorce).
Her Life with Jim
I know Alberta as Grandma Metzger, as she married Jim about a month after I was born. Jim was the complete opposite of Harold Fairhurst, he would talk in a funny voice to get a laugh and was a much happier guy than the grumpy, silent man that I knew Harold to be.
Their (Alberta’s and Jim’s) time together seemed like it was filled with joy, they managed apartments and condominiums together, she worked in the office while he was the handy man for the complexes. It suited them. When I was about 3 or 4 they moved to Florida to do their thing in the Sarasota area.
My family and I visited them when I was 6 over Spring Break from school. I remember going to the Ringling Museum and stopping to see my Aunt and her family as they lived in Tennessee on our way down. We went down with my Great-Grandma Fleming (Mildred Laura Dunbar) and it was a fun time.
My sister and I went and visited my grandparents after she graduated from high school in 1986. We spent 6 weeks in Florida, helped them move, went to Disney and Busch Gardens Tampa and got reacquainted with my Aunt Teri and her youngest son. Strangely enough my Grandpa Fairhurst was living with Aunt Teri at the time, so he was there too. There was a Sunday when everyone came over where they lived at the condo where you walked about 100 steps out the front door and you were at the pool, a 100 steps out the back door and you were at the Gulf of Mexico. This was my favorite of the two places she worked while we were there. It was on Turtle Beach as part of the Siesta Keys and was just a great place.
It was this trip to Florida that I really got to know my Grandma and her wonderful sense of humor which included an extremely quick wit. I wish I had her comebacks because she was the absolute best. I forget what was going on when but out of the blue she exclaimed “Shit! Fire! and save matches!” and I had never heard that expression before but I giggled so much from it.
It was this same trip that I learned how abusive my Grandfather, Harold Fairhurst, was to her and her kids. It was something that my mom eluded too but I didn’t really know how bad it seemed to be.
In 1988 Alberta was diagnosed with throat cancer. I remember the year from when I was driving up with my sister to visit her at University Hospital in Cleveland. Her and Grandpa Jim had moved up to Ohio the year before and began managing apartments in Bedford (a suburb of Cleveland). The radiation treatments and chemotherapy got rid of the cancer, but they destroyed her salivary glands, and she had a difficult time eating after that. My sister just commented the other day about how Grandma could make an amazing sandwich and she was unable to do so after cancer.
But the big C didn’t get my Grandma down for long. She still had her Christmas Eve party each year and normally had a celebration on the 4th of July for her oldest son’s birthday. I enjoyed the get togethers as it was the one time of the year when the whole family would get together and I’d get to see my cousins.
Her 65th Birthday
I’m going to guess it is her 65th birthday that Grandpa Jim had a surprise party for her. Below are some photos from the special day. From left to right is James Metzger, then a photo of me (my back is turned), my cousin Tommy Weekley (his back is also turned), and my other grandma, Anna Maria Morgart, then a photo of Alberta Lou Fleming heading up a line of well-wishers, and the large photo at the bottom is me again (still my back is turned), Alberta Lou Metzger, Cynthia Anne Fairhurst (my mom, she is profiled), and then on the far right you can see the face of my cousin, Jaclyn Dawn Fairhurst (with the white baseball cap on).
Eventually my grandparents moved to Columbus in the mid-1990’s and finally settled at a trailer park in Groveport. There were a few family get togethers the weekend before or after Christmas, but never the same as Bedford (not everyone had the time to drive a few hours to and fro).
Her Last Few Years
After Jim passed away in 2001 her children moved Alberta back up to Cuyahoga Falls for her to live near them. She still had her own apartment but for the last 3 months of her life she lived with my aunt as she had both dementia and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). My aunt said they “played Scrabble every day and the last day she went in to feed her on her feeding tube and she said, ‘You ready to eat, and she (Alberta) said no but if it makes you feel better go ahead’ and she died a few hours later”. If memory serves my cousin Tracy and my mom (Cynthia) where with her when she passed. She died on 24 July 2006.
At the very last minute this morning I had the idea to contact my aunt, uncles, and cousins about their favorite memories of Alberta, and here are the responses I got in order of receiving them back.
My cousin Amanda said… “Well one of my favorite things to do at Grandma Metzger’s was to play with her seashells and shark’s teeth. I used to love going over there on my Dad’s birthday to watch fireworks in her side yard when she lived in Bedford. Staying with her when I had chicken pox… Watching “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” when she would cook, and every time I see a cardinal, I am reminded of her. I also miss her fish kisses”.
My cousin Stacy wrote… “My favorite memory was when I was pregnant with my daughter and Jim was very unsupportive and told me that I should get an abortion and Grandma looked at him and said “If i did that every time I was pregnant at not the right time in life there wouldn’t be anyone in this room”. Subject was done after that. Also, I will never forget the tinsel tree at Christmas. Her hugs were hugs you felt into your soul. Her smile was infectious. I did not get a lot of time with my family on dad’s side but when I did, she showed me so much love. My mom and I were just talking about her and how when Eddie and I were little she would ride the bus over to help mom get Eddie out of bed and helped with me, put Eddie back to nap and she would get on the bus and go to work. My mom said she was a great mother-in-law and loved her very much”.
Kellie, my sister, remembers… “How much fun her Christmas parties were… and a very specific one. I was living with them in Columbus, and I was wearing a particular dress, she says ‘Kellie, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but that dress makes you look fat’. I looked back and said, ‘Grandma, it’s not the dress, I am fat’. She spit out her water and laughed until she cried. I also used to love to hear her sing”. My sister later remembered that our mom (Cynthia Anne Fairhurst) often said she “gave her a son-in-law for her birthday” as today would have been my parents 51st wedding anniversary.
My cousin Tracy responded with… “Christmas time is a favorite … all her orange cats … I did spend a day gathering data and writing a paper for a Women in History class I had and that was cool to learn about too. I wish I knew where it was because I know I kept it. We had to pick someone born in the 20s. and she fell into that range”.
Her youngest son, Stephen wrote… “I have a memory of my mom and I sitting around listening to 1940’s music. Mostly Glenn Miller, but other swing bands also”. Another memory was… “When I was in High School and we were living on Loomis. Mom had just married Jim. Mom and I had plenty of evenings where we would get time to ourselves. Maybe I had just gotten home from working at the bowling alley. We would put on some of her music., mostly Glenn Millers Greatest Hits. Sometimes a compilation of 40’s swing artists. We’d talk about what was going on in life. Mostly about me (parents find out so much that way). Got a lot of history that way. She knew a lot about the depression, WWII, and the way Cuyahoga Falls was back in the day. How much public transportation was used. Not many had cars and very few families had 2. Stories of the collectors coming around during WWII to collect aluminum foil and used grease. How her dad, Howard Fleming, would walk to the Silver Lake area to do woodworking and housebuilding jobs before he got on at the Goodrich. Which is how they spoke of it. The Goodrich like it was its own little entity. Also, when I learned that unlike most of her friends, she liked Bing Crosby and the crooners more than Frank Sinatra and those type of singers. It wasn’t a long period of time that we did this, but the nights are still etched in my mind. They all kind of blur into one long night of sitting around and learning about each other”.
One of my favorite memories was when my sister graduated from high school and my grandparents took everyone out to dinner at my favorite restaurant (though this occasion was my first time going there), the Triple Crown. I had my very first Shirley Temple and everyone was there in my family…. or at least many of us living in the area of Cuyahoga Falls… and it was just a happy occasion. I held onto the red drink mixer thing for all these years (and that I just went to the basement and retrieved it from a plastic bin I think has my hubby a little weirded out).
My cousin Emily commented…. “My love of ginger cats (orange) came from Grandma Metzger and Muffin. I always loved going to her house to see her and Muffin. When I was about 10 years old, we went down to see her and Grandpa in Columbus and she had this tiny ginger kitten that had walked up to her out of the woods. She had taken him in, and I fell in love with him. She knew I wasn’t leaving her house without that kitten, and she was right. Arthur came home with me and growing up with him I always felt like Grandma and Muffin were always there with us because the connection of how Arthur became to be my cat”.
Alberta’s oldest son remembers “when Mom and Dad would start arguing over something stupid like the definition of a word they would go back and forth and back and forth until she said ‘I’ll bet you’ then Dad shut up”.
Her youngest daughter, Debbie, recalls… “I’ll never forget the day I was about I don’t know, seven or eight, and she had to explain to me what a douchebag was because I kept calling Terry a douchebag”. She went on to further comment about how good her mom was at Scrabble “I’ll tell you what, she would have a fit about “Words with Friends” and some of the words they allow, she was all about following the rules when it came to Scrabble, and it was hard to beat her. She would win at Jeopardy every night, we told her she should go on the show, but she never would”.
My cousin Todd remembers…. “My favorite memory of grandma was when she took me in when things were stressed in Florida. But I would fish during the day and in the evening me and her would work on puzzles together. We would talk and build those it was my warmest best memory of her and Florida”.
My cousin Tim added… “Ah, Grandma Metzger, funny that Kim, Patrick, Timmy and I went bowling last night- A small venue (24 lanes- I remember Falls Rec as having 20 but I could be mistaken). I guess we were channeling Grandma. I will say that no Fairhurst or Fleming would claim us if they saw the sorry scores we put up. My memory of Grandma Metzger was that of an unflappable family matriarch. She helped each of us through some good times, some bad times, and some in between times. You would never know which of the three you were in because Grandma was the same – unfiltered and funny, caring and graceful”.
Many could have given me more but it’s so nice to know that Alberta has such a wonderful legacy. We all should be so lucky.
Rest in Peace, Grandma. And know you are loved.