Wednesday, September 17, 2014
The older I get, the more I've come to the conclusion that the people around us influence us deeply, for better and for worse. Do we have family members who encourage us to develop our talents, or do we have family members who pick us apart and shoot us down? Do we seek out people who challenge us and enrich our lives, or do we seek out people who drag us down into the depths of couch potatohood and "reality TV"?
Where is the line between a "taker" and a "helper"?
"Behind every great man is a great woman supporting him." But will the man become great if he doesn't find that woman to support him? How much of his greatness occurs because of the habits he learned as a child, because of the self confidence that came from being loved and supported? How much of his greatness comes from the support and encouragement of his wife? How much of his greatness comes because he is secure in the knowledge that he has a family and a wife who will all act as a safety net if he fails? Our society has tended to provide this sort of support and encouragement to men more than women. Women have been more traditionally routed into the realm of supporter. What does it take for them to become "great"?
I have no answers to these questions, but more and more I've come to believe that those who support us help to determine whether or not we can be successful (whatever that means) in life. In other words, what we do individually depends in great part on what our clan of family and friends helps us to do.
No man - or woman - is an island.
That's where family history comes in, for me. Our families and friends can help bolster us...or they can drag us down. Even our communities can support us, or they can drain us of promise. Our success is almost always, in greater or lesser part, due to help and encouragement we receive along the way.
One such story I'm learning about is on Greg's side, back several generations. The family myth tells of George Washington Abbott, who left his wife and 2 younger children to move down to southern Kansas, where he left the 2 older boys that he'd brought with him in the care of a farm family when he moved even further on. He returned to borrow a pair of horses from the oldest boy and was never seen again. Evidently he remarried, because several years later his widow drove up to return the horses. The oldest son told her to keep them - she needed them more than he did.
This story was told for years at family get-togethers, usually with a chuckle and a shake of the head - "that old rapscallion"! There seemed to be a sense that George Washington Abbott, good ol' G.W., hadn't, perhaps, acted in the best way, but there were probably reasons for what he did, if only we could find them out.
Of course, John William, his oldest son, wouldn't talk about his father at all. That made G.W.'s mystique even greater, in a perverse sort of way.
Well, over the years, I've managed to piece together a more complete picture of George Washington Abbott. I'm guessing he was a charming man, charming in the way of weak men - takers - who pull others into their schemes and use them up, then move on when their usefulness is done.
G.W. was the youngest son of an older husband and wife. When he reached young adulthood, his parents sold the current farm to him for $1 and the promise that he'd take care of them for the rest of their lives. Within a couple years, he'd sold the farm, presumably pocketing the money himself. He married young, produced several children in quick succession, then moved across the river to a bigger town, leaving his wife and young family so that he could "marry" another woman. Presumably the new "wife" took care of his needs better.
His father sued him to get the farm back. His first wife sued him for divorce. George W. took the 2 oldest children, both boys, and moved with his new wife down to southern Missouri, where the four of them show up on the 1870 census.
The second marriage obviously didn't satisfy G.W.'s needs either. Several years later, his second wife sued for divorce, citing cruelty and abandonment. G. W. married again. (He HAD to be charming! He certainly didn't have anything else to recommend him.) There is no record of what happened to the 2 boys from his first marriage during this time.....
That they survived is obvious, since Greg is descended from the older one, John William. But, as mentioned above, John William wouldn't talk about his father at all.
I did find a clue, of sorts, recently, about what happened. Alfred Smith, a Civil War veteran about the same age as George Washington Abbott, had moved with his wife Carrie to southwest Missouri in 1870. When Alfred died many years later, in 1912, his obituary mentioned his "foster son, J.W. Abbott".
Alfred Smith and his wife Carrie lost a baby boy, Luther, shortly after moving to Missouri in 1870. Almost 20 years later, J.W. named his oldest son Luther - after his foster family's lost baby boy?
Did John William and his brother Allen Henry ever live with the Smiths? I have no idea, but this would appear to be the "farm family" where Abbott family legend says the boys were left. The Smiths never did have any sons to help them with the farm, so perhaps the Abbott boys were "hired hands" as they got older, and John became particularly close to the family.
It is obvious that the families were close in some way. It would seem that Alfred and Carrie may well have become substitutes for the parents that John William had lost through what amounted to kidnapping and later abandonment by his father. The Smiths had only 2 daughters that reached adulthood, Mertie and Anna, both of them born when John William would have been in his late teens. Anna Smith and Claude Smith Abbott, John William's second son, married siblings, Luther Daniel and Lula Daniel, respectively.
As late as the 1950's, from their home base of Wichita, Kansas, Luther Abbott and his wife were still visiting Mertie Smith and Anna & Luther Daniel, who all lived together in California by then.
So it would seem that John William Abbott, whose original family had abandoned him, was able to find a family that allowed him to reach adulthood and then to successfully raise a family of his own.
Thank goodness for the power of friends and the family that chooses us.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Oldest brother of my husband's father, when Claude was born, the family still used horses for labor on the farm. Women still wore floor length dresses. This picture, taken when he was almost 4 1/2 years old, feels like it's definitely out of another time and place.
Since Claude was over a decade older than my father-in-law, there aren't many stories of his childhood floating around any more. By the time Bill was old enough to really get to know him at all, Claude had left home to join the military.
Only one small story, of an incident in his high school years, has survived. As I related in "Tough Times Helped Shape Tough People in Depression-Era Oklahoma," Claude had gone to a meeting one night in a near-by town, driving the family's only car. When he returned, he forgot to drain the radiator. The water froze in the radiator, the car engine was ruined, and the car remained unused and unusable in the barn for the rest of the Depression. I can barely imagine how upset his parents were....
That story almost seems like an anomaly, since most of the other things I know about Claude point to a highly responsible person - but, then, it was from his high school years!
The photo below is Claude's senior picture from Shamrock High School. He was the vice president of his graduating class...of 19 students.
In 1935, about a year after he graduated from Shamrock High School, Claude joined the U.S. Army Air Corps at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, where he served in the 1st Balloon Squadron for 3 years as a truck driver and mechanic. During this time he met, and became best friends with, a young sailor named Tom Graham.
As his obligated time began to wind up, Claude fell in love with and married Virginia Ruth Jones. The marriage occurred in May, 1938...but Claude and Virginia kept the marriage a secret from his superiors in the military. He wasn't planning to re-enlist.
Plans changed, though, and when Claude did try to re-enlist 6 weeks later, he tried to do so as a married man, which required written permission. His commanding officer, Maj. Ira R. Koenig, of 1st Balloon Squadron, supported his application, listing 20 points related to why Claude should be allowed to re-enlist. Among the points made were Claude's "excellent" service, "excellent" character, his "excellent" probable future value to the service, his "exceptionally good" ability to handle his own finances, the "excellent" standing in the community of the applicant's wife, and his "apparently far above the average" sense of responsibility (as it would apply to a family). Claude's military pay was listed as $30/month. Virginia Ruth was said to be making $90/month as a public school teacher and she had no dependents.
A brief reason was given for the clandestine marriage, "Private Abbott did not contemplate re-enlisting and made this fact known to the undersigned [Maj. Koenig]. He was expecting connections with the Cameron College Athletic organization which did not materialize." (Cameron University is in Lawton, Oklahoma. Presumably this is an athletic organization of the precursor to that school.)
Major Koenig sent the request up the chain of command. The commander of the School Troops Division, Lt. Col. D. B. Howard, approved the petition and passed it on again.
However, the Commandant of the Flight Artillery School did not agree. Based on the fact that Claude's monthly pay was less than $50/month and that he had married without permission, his request was denied. "The fact that the wife is working and receiving compensation should be considered, but experience has shown that such compensation can not be counted on as continuous and permanent." It was expected that Virginia Ruth would be getting pregnant and would not be able to continue working as a school teacher, since in those days teachers were not allowed to continue working once their pregnancy began to "show."
After being unable to re-enlist, Claude worked for several years in the Lawton, Oklahoma, area at the Stephens brothers' Texaco filling station and at Ozmun Wholesale grocery. Lawton, Oklahoma, was the area where he and Virginia Ruth had met and married, and her parents lived very nearby in Cache.
There's another brief story I like about Claude and his young wife from this time in their lives. Vergie, Claude's mother, had been very deaf since she was relatively young [18 or 19 years old? or in the Flu Epidemic of 1918? There is debate on the subject.]. At any rate, Vergie caught the flu and the resulting infection caused her eardrums to perforate and her hearing to become quite poor. For Mother's Day in 1941, Claude and Virginia Ruth gave Vergie a hearing aid and, for the first time in over 20 years, she could hear reasonably well again. This hearing aid had a huge battery pack that Vergie had to strap to her leg, while the receiver was on her chest. For most of the rest of her life, it was common to see Vergie answer the phone "upside down," with the mouthpiece at her mouth and the speaker aimed downwards at her chest. Although she eventually tried to transition to more modern types of hearing aids, she always came back to the type with the chest receiver, as these seemed to work best for her.
On October 14, 1942, with the U.S. fully committed in WW II, Claude re-enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Shortly thereafter, he became an aircraft mechanic after completing training at the Enid Army Flying School.
A sign of VERY different times: On March 16, 1943, Claude received written permission to spend one night (5 p.m. to 6 a.m. the following morning) in a local hotel with his wife of almost 5 years, Virginia Ruth. I'm not sure I would have believed it if I hadn't seen the paperwork to prove it!
According to a small newspaper clipping from the Lawton Constitution, dated October 28, 1945, Claude received his wings and the rank of flight officer after completing 6 months of training as a B-29 engineer at Hondo, Texas. The photo below is from this general time frame.
To the left, the snapshot shows Claude and Virginia Ruth in Sacramento, California, in 1947. I don't know why they were there, but presumably it had something to do with Claude's career, as he is in uniform. It's one of the few photos that I have of the two of them together.
Eventually Claude completed a career with the Air Force, retiring in 1962 as a Master Sergeant. During his years with the Army Air Corps/Air Force, he served in Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, and West Germany. Virginia Ruth worked as a school teacher, but they were unable to ever have children of their own.
Virginia Ruth wrote poems to "her Claude" occasionally. One was in his wallet when he died. I have few photos of the 2 of them together, though. I suspect that Virginia Ruth kept most of those after Claude died. She lived many more years and our family was not notified right away when she passed on, so I have no idea where those photos have gone. I do really wish that I had one.
After his retirement, Claude joined Graham, Inc., a pest control company owned by his old best friend, Tom Graham, in Oklahoma City. He served as a corporate officer, being assistant vice-president when he died of esophageal cancer in 1978.
Since Claude H. and Virginia Ruth (Jones) Abbott left no children of their own, I wanted to share what I know of their story with others. Their names bring a smile to the faces of those who knew them - and I can't think of a much warmer legacy than that.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
The family was still in Ripley County, Indiana, when the 1850 census was taken and George was 12. By then his older sisters had married and moved out of the house.
By 1857, however, the John Abbott family had moved to Tazewell County, Illinois, and on October 30, 1857, John deeded 40 A. of land to son George W., in exchange for $1 and the promise to care for his parents "during the full term of their natural lives." George would have been about 19 or 20 at the time.
On March 17, 1859, George married Martha A. Barr. In January, 1860, their son Edward was born.
On February 11, 1860, George and Martha sold the 40 acre tract he'd been given by his father for $700. This obviously upset his father. In June, 1860, John Abbott sued George and the man who'd bought the land to get the land returned to him. The case dragged on for about a year, but the land was eventually returned to John Abbott.
Also in June of 1860, about the same time that John pressed the suit against his son George, the 1860 census puts Ellender, George's mother, living with George and Martha and their son Edward. (This is the only mention of Edward, so presumably he died as a young child.)
On July 18, 1861, George and Martha's second son was born, John William Abbott.
In August, 1862, Allen Henry Abbott, their third son, was born.
There is reasonable evidence that another child was probably born around June or July of 1864.
However, in September, 1864, George Washington Abbott married Lucinda A. Dancy in Peoria, Illinois, right across the river from Pekin. In January, 1866, Martha sued for divorce from George, stating abandonment of her and their 3 small children. Further testimony in the case stated that George was "...living in...Peoria in open state of adultery with some woman...." There was an attempt to give Martha legal custody of the children, but the clause was struck out and no further mention of the children was made in the divorce documents.
Four years later, on July 18, 1870, Martha Abbott was living as a domestic servant with two children, Charles (6) and Minnie (2), in the home of Charles Walker and his family in Pekin.
Meanwhile, on August 3, 1870, George Washington Abbott was living in southern Missouri, with his wife Lucinda and his sons, William (7) and Allen (6). He was working at a sawmill. His rights to vote had been denied.
Interestingly, there is a second marriage record for George and Lucinda, witnessed by William Rounsville, Police Magistrate, in Peoria, Illinois - dated May 13, 1873. Presumably the first marriage was determined to be null and void, since George was still married to Martha at that time.
Despite being married twice, things didn't go too well for George and Lucinda's union either. In June 1879, Lucinda petitioned for divorce from George in Jasper County, Missouri.
The last we know of George, there was a daughter born to him and Laura C. C. (nee Dickson) Abbott in Jasper County, Missouri, on October 28, 1884. Laura was listed as 24 years old, born in Arkansas, and with 2 prior children. George's occupation was listed as "engineer."
Where and when did George die? We have no idea. Did his marriage to Laura last longer than his marriages to Martha and Lucinda. We don't know that either. Nor have we been able to chase down Charles or Minnie Abbott, or George and Laura's daughter.
It's a sad story. It's not surprising that major parts of it were omitted when telling youngsters about their ancestors. What was George like? Presumably he must have been charming - his parents gave him their farm, and he convinced 3 women to marry him. Living up to his responsibilities appears to have been a problem for him, though. We'll keep searching - who knows what we'll find to further flesh out this all-too-human ancestor.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
The myth that seems central to his father's family is the story of George Washington Abbott. As I understand this family tale....
"George Washington Abbott married Martha around 1860 and had 4 children in Pekin, Illinois. At some point he packed up the two eldest, John William (Greg's ancestor) and Allen Henry, and left his wife and 2 younger children behind in Pekin. He traveled south and west, eventually leaving his two boys with a farm family in southeast Kansas and disappearing.
"He came back a few years later to borrow a team of horses. He let his boys know that he had remarried in Arkansas, then he disappeared again. A couple years later, his widow came by to return the borrowed horses, but John William figured that she needed them more than he did, so he let her keep them."
John William was, understandably, not too fond of talking about his father, so this is all that had been pieced together by the family in the 1970's. John William had passed away many years before, so it wasn't possible to ask him for further details.
This myth took some serious work to penetrate and we don't have all the details yet, but like so many family tales, it turned out to be mostly true...as far as it went. A lot of the messiest details were omitted in constructing the myth, but they add context and reason and understanding, if not pride. There's a bit of bigamy, apparent shiftlessness, and at least 2 divorces involved. I guess every family has at least one black sheep. I'll continue filling in the story in increments, as it's rather long and complicated. Who knows? Maybe someone will read this and help me fill in the details that we don't know yet....
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
I have gleaned a few vignettes from talking with family members who either remember the Depression themselves, or who remember the stories their parents told about the Depression.
Photo: The Luther Abbott family in front of their Oklahoma farmhouse, approximately 1937.
On the Abbott side, we have classic "dust bowl" stories. Bill Abbott tells of how he and his father, Luther A. Abbott, were hoeing peanuts in their northwest field near Shamrock, Oklahoma, when two of his mother's brothers drove by in their cars with their families, on their way to California. Alby Woody and Walter Woody stopped in with the family to spend the night and say goodbye, then they all got back in their cars and drove west. Walter had owned a grocery store in Tulsa; Bill doesn't remember what Alby did for a living. Both felt that they needed to move to California for the opportunities there; later another brother, Oscar Woody, joined them.
Luther himself had (in modern parlance) been downsized. He had worked for Long-Bell Lumberyards for many years, first in Quapaw, Oklahoma, next as a bookkeeper in Cushing, Oklahoma, and then as a general manager in Shamrock, Oklahoma. Each new position had been a promotion, but the tough economic conditions and the switch from wooden oil rigs to steel oil rigs eventually caused Shamrock's lumberyard and many of Long-Bell's other Oklahoma operations to be closed down. While Long-Bell had offered Luther a bookkeeper position again in Cushing, he figured that it was just a matter of time until that lumberyard closed, too, so he opted not to move his family away from Shamrock.
Instead Luther rented a farm just outside of town and bought the "farmhouse" that went with it. He figured that on a farm he could at least always feed his family. The house was very small and pretty primitive (sometimes referred to as "a converted chicken coop"). Bill's older sister Virginia remembers their mother, Vergie, standing in the middle of the room that was to be hers and L. A.'s bedroom, looking around, and saying sadly, "Oh, Luther! How could you?"
The original house was two rooms and a lean-to. As they got ready to move into the house, Virginia remembers that they discovered the lean-to was full of bedbugs. She remembers her mother down on hands and knees with hot water and disinfectant, scrubbing every surface as hard as she could to get rid of those awful insects. They ended up tearing down the lean-to and building on 2 new rooms, then later adding 2 more.
The house was heated by a single gas stove and lit by natural gas lighting in all the rooms. There was a well, but the water wasn't fit to drink, so the family hauled drinking water from a spring 3 miles away. (They kept a barrel on a wagon reserved for that purpose.)
When they first moved out to the farm, they still had a car, a 1920's vintage, 4 door Chevy. Unfortunately, son Claude drove it to a meeting one night and forgot to drain the radiator when he got home. The radiator water froze and broke the radiator; the car became a fixture in the barn until, eventually, they sold it. There was no money to repair it. For the rest of their time on the farm, they relied on horses and a wagon for transportation.
Bill was a young boy in those days (about 5 when they moved to the farm), and he doesn't remember his family as particularly poor. They were just like everybody else in town...and better off than some. His mother got to keep and sell the cream from their milk cows, using the money for whatever special household expenses she (and most surely the kids) had. Both Bill and Virginia tell of Vergie walking the half mile from their house into town, approximately twice a week, lugging the full, 5 gallon cream can so that she could sell the precious cream. (When you realize that Vergie was very small, only about 4' 10" tall, this becomes an even more incredible feat.)
The family may not have had many possessions during the Depression, but they always ate. They raised "HyGear" (a hybrid sorghum similar to milo) and maize as crops to feed their livestock and peanuts and cotton for cash crops. They had 2 horses for riding (one of whom also doubled as a work horse), 2 mules for plowing, about 5 or 6 milk cows, generally a few pigs for meat, and chickens for meat and eggs. They also had a huge garden every year, raising all sorts of vegetables, as well as watermelon and other treats.
Cotton and peanuts were two of the few crops that did quite well during this time, but they were doing very well for a lot of people. Consequently, FDR's government had limited the acreage of each that any one farmer could plant and sell. The reasoning was to keep the market from getting glutted by too much of either product, causing the prices to bottom out. Government agents would literally come out to the farm to measure and make sure you hadn't planted too much land in cotton or peanuts. If you had, you had to plow under the excess. Luther did not understand the rationale behind the restrictions that kept him from planting more land in these cash crops, and he chafed at not being allowed to plant them. He resented FDR and the Democrats for the rest of his life.
Luther and his family lived on that farm, in that "converted chicken coop," for about 11 years from 1931 to 1942, until they left Oklahoma and moved to the Wichita area during World War II. At that point, Boeing needed workers, so Luther went on ahead and got a job, leaving Vergie with her two youngest, Bill and Betty, to sell off their equipment and close up the farm. About six months after Luther moved to Wichita, Vergie, Bill and Betty were able to join him. Wichita was overcrowded with workers, though, and undersupplied with housing, so for the first year and a half, the Luther Abbott family lived with Luther's parents in Conway Springs, southwest of Wichita. The Depression was over, the kids were almost grown up, and life moved on to a new phase. They had survived the Depression with the family intact - the tough times had tested them, but they had survived.
Friday, August 13, 2010
A while back I was having a discussion with a couple friends about the traits that our families valued. We all made our lists and then shared them with each other. One thing that surprised me very much was how different our lists were. My family values intelligence very highly; almost above almost all else (except religiosity, for most of them). We tend to believe things very passionately and then to argue for those beliefs almost to the point of alienation...and, unfortunately, sometimes beyond. Their families valued kindness and generosity and togetherness highly - traits that hadn't even crossed my mind to list as I thought about the concepts held in deep regard by my family.
Truthfully, the fact that I hadn't thought about those traits in connection with my family bothered me. My family can be very kind and generous and enjoy getting together a great deal, but those aren't values that are held up as primary or that distinguish us from others.
When I visited Pella and read descriptions of my gg-grandfather Gerrit and my ggg-grandfather Koonraad, written by one of their nephews in 1934, I realized that the traits I had listed are, indeed, traits that are valued in our family now and that have been valued in our family for many generations:
Koonraad was described as a man with a magnetic personality and a fearless and outspoken manner, a "militant" champion of all good causes who always had a large following. When young, he was involved primarily in "religious work and political controversy." Furthermore, he was apparently "fiery" and of an idealistic temperament, with advanced views and a keen mind, firm in his convictions.
His son Gerrit was described as kind and gentle, quiet and unassuming, with a keen sense of humor, BUT there was an "underlying firmness and argumentative make-up typical of DeJongh stock." He was also said to have a very keen mind, and "when aroused [he] was a skillful antagonist in controversy over religious and political topics."
Later, Gerrit's wife's family was described as "a very cultured and keen-minded old family of the Netherlands."
Obviously, being of a "keen mind" was highly regarded, and being wrapped up in religious and political arguments goes back many, many generations. I find it highly interesting...and rather ironic, but those traits could still be used to describe many members of our family today. There's a lot to be said for looking at a person's family!