Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tough Times Shape Tough People in Depression-Era Michigan and Canada

With thoughts of the Dust Bowl family stories going around in my head, my thoughts have turned to another classic Depression saga - that of my great-grandfather, Homer R. Shafer, and his wife, Mary Ethel.

Homer was apparently a very astute businessman...or at least he considered himself one. He and Mary Ethel were married in 1903 and 2 years later my grandmother, Helen Viola Pauline Shafer was born. By the time Homer and Mary had been married for 20 years or so, they had four children and were living in a huge old Victorian mansion, pictured below, that they rented on the well-to-do island of Grosse Ile, south of Detroit, in middle of the Detroit River. Helen and her siblings told many stories about the horse-riding they did, the farm animals they had, and the generally wonderful times they enjoyed in their years on Grosse Ile.

In fact, I remember stories told of how the house was full of old furniture and other possessions when they first moved in. The kids had a great time exploring and, as they got settled, they started finding crisp dollar bills hidden in odd places. The prior owners had apparently hidden them, then forgotten where they put them.

Homer was a real estate agent and fancied himself a real estate developer, too. He purchased a large plot of land in Windsor, Ontario, and subdivided it into many lots, intending to create a large development. Things didn't go as planned, however, and the Depression intervened. Unable to pay the property taxes, Homer eventually lost all of the property except for the one house that had been built on it. He and Mary moved there from Grosse Ile, and lived there for most of the rest of their lives. The picture below is of Helen and her husband Ted, taken in front of her parents' home (the Windsor, Ontario, house) in 1934.

The Grosse Ile house burned down in the 1940's.

The Windsor, Ontario, house was still there in 2002 (photo above), when I visited it with my mother and her 2 sisters on a family history trip through Canada and Michigan. It now sits completely surrounded by tiny little homes that look like they were built in the 1940's. The house is still well cared for and the attractive yard is full of big trees and well groomed gardens.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tough Times Helped Shaped Tough People in Depression-era Oklahoma

With the economy still struggling these days, my thoughts have turned to how some of our ancestors dealt with tough times, especially with the great Depression of the 1930's.

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

The Fruit Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree.....

...even after 7 generations!

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!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Religious Freedom: So Often A One Way Street

In reading through an account of the original group of settlers that came to Pella, Iowa, under the leadership of H. P. Scholte in 1847, I was struck by the description of the people who were admitted into membership of this group. (Keep in mind that many of these people were leaving Holland because of religious persecution.)

"No profane, immoral or intemperate person, nor any avowed atheist, skeptic or Roman Catholic could become a member of the colony...." [Italics added.]

It continually amazes me how religious freedom so often seems to be thought of as "MY" right to worship how I want to AND to force "you" to believe the same way "I" do. Somehow I don't think that the framers of the Constitution would agree with that way of looking at it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Family Roots in Prairie Soil

After spending several days at the North American Prairie Conference, I started to journal early yesterday morning about everything I'd learned, sort of a way to encapsulate all of the varied information I'd been hearing. Suddenly I had one of those "aha!" moments - although not necessarily a pleasant one: I realized that my immigrant ancestors had been among those who broke Iowa's prairie for agriculture.

So yesterday, instead of coming home right after the conference, I took a side trip to Pella, Iowa, to learn a little bit more about this nexus of time, place and individuals in my family history. Here is what I learned....

Koonraad DeJong was the next to youngest child in a large family in Holland. He was born in 1802 and, because of the death of his fiancee when he was young, didn't marry until he was 38.

According to a family history written in 1934, Koonraad was "fiery" with an idealistic temperament, advanced views and a keen mind. He was "firm in his convictions," a large, heavily built man with a magnetic personality and a fearless and outspoken manner.

He was reportedly educated for the ministry but wasn't ordained "because he was out of sympathy with the reactionary element of the Dutch Reformed Church". (A little research leads me to understand that the king was liberalizing the state church in Holland, which those of a more Calvinistic bent deplored.) Koonraad became a lay minister and reformer, leading eventually to his imprisonment for holding secret religious meetings. He was ransomed after 6 weeks, but after that he became set upon emigrating to America.

Koonraad and his wife Wilhelmina, with their 3 young children, joined in a large group of Dutch settlers under the leadership of Dominie Henry Peter Scholte, many of whom were emigrating because of their desire to worship freely in the manner they deemed appropriate. They left Schoonhoven, Holland, on April 7, 1847, sailing from Rotterdam to the U.S. on the Nagasaki, one of four ships used to transport the group of about 800 settlers.

During the oceanic voyage, all 4 ships hit a huge storm. None of the ships were lost, but apparently a few lives were. Koonraad and Wilhelmina's one year old daughter Tryntje died on the voyage; their son Pieter was born on the same voyage. Gerrit, their second son and my ancestor, was 4, and made the voyage safely. According to the ship's manifest, Koonraad and Wilhelmina and their children traveled steerage. "Religious work and political controversy," listed by the author of the aforementioned family record as Koenraad's work in Holland, evidently didn't pay enough for more commodious quarters.

The Nagasaki landed in Baltimore on June 10, 1847. It took several weeks for all 4 ships to reach Baltimore. Once Scholte's entire group had all gathered in Baltimore, they traveled by rail to Columbia, Pennsylvania and then by canal boats on to Pittsburg. From Pittsburg they traveled on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to either Keokuk, Iowa (family archive) or St. Louis (accounts of Scholte's group's travel in other records). Again they regrouped, then traveled over the unbroken prairies by covered wagon to the site they called Pella, meaning "city of refuge."

Once they reached Pella, Koonraad and Wilhelmina had 6 more children.

The family history states that, around 1858, Koonraad and his younger brother Adrian purchased a farm together near Pella. They supposedly built homes for their families side by side, but the farm was lost "several years" later. I didn't have time to search the land records to find out exactly where this was, so there's more research to do at a later time.

Koonraad died suddenly at age 63 years, 10 months. He is buried in the rich prairie soil of Iowa.

I was able to locate the cemetery where he and Wilhelmina are buried: Graceland Cemetery, north of Pella. It's not a very big cemetery, so I was successful (at least partially) in locating their graves. Unfortunately but not unusually, there has been vandalism over the years at the cemetery. I did not find Wilhelmina's gravestone, but I did find Koonraad's. It was broken off and leaning against a nearby marker for someone else.

Seeing Koonraad's broken marker and being unable to find Wilhelmina's, I was left feeling a little unsettled, but I'm still very glad that I found their final resting place. Maybe we can get a group together and put up a set of new markers for them someday.

Several years after Koonraad's death, several of his children, including son Gerrit, joined the group settling Orange City, Iowa. So there's another Iowa community to explore for the next chapter in the story.

Did Koonraad actually break out any prairie? I have no idea. He was old for a settler - 45 when he first arrived in Pella - but his occupation was listed as farmer and he had a large family to provide for, so I have to assume that he did. Maybe that's why I feel so drawn to the idea of prairie restoration. The sins of the fathers...?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Brazil - 1942, by Margaret Essebaggers Dopirak

This autobiographical story comes from Margaret Essebaggers Dopirak and describes her family's nerve-wracking trip back from India (where her father was a missionary) to the United States after World War II had broken out. The photo above is of her family with her mother's brother and his wife, after their safe arrival back in the U.S. (Back row: Homer Shafer; Second row: Jannette Shafer, Ted Essebaggers; Third row: Helen Shafer Essebaggers with Teddy Essebaggers on her lap; Front row: Margie Essebaggers, Dorothea Essebaggers.)

The Brazil - 1942

"Daddy, who dug the hole for the ocean?" I asked, as I sat perched on the ship's railing securely encircled by my father's arms. We were looking out over the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean on board the troopship Brazil. I was 5 years old and had lived in India all of my young life. The largest body of water I had ever seen was a talaab - a hand-dug lake which caught the rain water during the monsoons and served as the water supply for the local villagers. My father chuckled and explained that God, not people, made the ocean - and that our ship would take us on a long journey across it to our homeland of America.

Only a month before, my mother, sister Dorothea, brother Teddy and I had been vacationing in the hills of Kodai, South India. I wasn't aware of it then, but there was a World War going on. The Japanese were threatening to invade India as the British retreated. It was not a very safe place to be. Mother had received a telegram from my father which urgently instructed her to pack up our belongings and travel the 1100 miles back to Raipur, the mission station on the plains.

It was a horrendously hot and humid time of year to travel - May being the hottest month of the year, with daily temperatures climbing into the 100's. My mother didn't take well to the tropical climate and suffered from the heat, sweating profusely. Dorothea was nine and, being the oldest, was assigned to look after me. This enabled our mother to devote her attention to one year old Teddy, who had just learned to walk and consequently bore close watching. Travel by train was tedious, sooty, and somewhat dangerous - the open windows inviting hot little heads to lean out into the wind rushing by. The trip took longer than the usual three days. Instead of traveling along the coastline of the Bay of Bengal, where two air attacks had recently occurred, our train was rerouted via Nagpur, an inland rail junction. This brought us safely into Raipur from the west, but added a day to our already long and tiresome journey. What a hapy feeling it was to see our father waving to us on the station platform as the train screeched and hissed to a stop!

My parents had been given a choice by the Mission Board to either stay in India or to take their chances making a trans-Atlantic voyage to the United States while a war was going on. They decided to take their chances. They had been in India for seven years - since 1935 - and their furlough was due. A furlough, which was earned after seven years of foreign service, was equivalent to an eighteen month vacation.

The ship we were able to secure passage on was one which had just brought American soldiers to India, and which would now return to the United States and take passengers to New York. Under the blisteringly hot Indian sun, the ship with its one thousand passengers - or refugees, if you will - set sail in late May. The Brazil was a military troopship, but at one time had been one of the most luxurious passenger liners to leave a United States port. It had been converted into a troopship by stripping it of all its frills and luxury, gutting the cabins and retrofitting them with military-style furnishings. [Note: The picture below shows the SS Brazil in her days as a luxury liner, before she was converted to military service.]

Our accommodations on the Brazil were adequate, but not comfortable, and far from luxurious. Our family shared a cabin with another family who were strangers to us. Four tiers of canvas bunks lined two walls, a wash basin jutted out from the wall near the entry door. On the other side of the sink was a tiny toilet room. A single light bulb hung in the middle of the room. There was no porthole. It was dark most of the time. At night, when the ship was in total darkness for security purposes, we used our flashlights to find the way to our bunks.

My mother was seasick much of the time, and when she wasn't, she had laundry to wash out in the little basin. Clotheslines were strung the length of the cabin, wet clothes and diapers draped over them, adding moisture to the already humid, dark air we breathed. It wasn't a pleasant place to be, and I didn't spend any more time in the cabin than I had to, and that only for sleeping.

There were some other kids around my age to play with, but most of the children were older. The deck at the bow of the ship was our playground. Deck chairs stacked in piles, chains & huge ropes wrapped around iron pinnings, and hatchdoors jutting up from the deck provided places for us to hide. We sat in the shade under the lifeboats, which were suspended close to the railings, to get out of the sweltering sun. The rolling of the ship didn't deter us from playing jacks and looking at picture books. We played Hide and Go Seek, Red Rover, and Capture the Flag. For me, the ocean voyage was an adventure, and we children were, for the most part, oblivious to the dangers that wartime presented.

I had a sense of what war was, but only from things I had overheard the grownups talking about. I knew it was a bad thing, and that we should be afraid if airplanes flew overhead. On one occasion, two or three airplanes flew quite close to the ship - close enough so we could see the pilots waving to us. "Hey, look, those are our boys!" People on the ship cheered and waved back, and I knew those airplanes were nothing to be afraid of. It was all very exciting, and everyone seemed happy and relaxed for a while following that event.

Every night, after the evening meal, I accompanied my family up onto the deck to congregate with the other passengers for a hymn sing and prayer service. "Nearer My God to Thee" was one of my favorites, and whenever I hear it or sing it today, it brings back memories of those nights on board ship. The service always ended with the fervent singing of "The Star Spangled Banner." Not fully appreciating the meaning or significance of the song at that time, I recall associating it with the star-studded night sky.

We thought we had lost Teddy overboard one evening. Mother was seasick and remained in the cabin after the evening meal. My father was in charge of us kids. During the prayer service, Teddy toddled off, and by the time my father noticed he wasn't with our family, he was nowhere to be found. Word spread that a child was missing, and everyone dispersed to search the deck. I stayed close to my father as he frantically looked in the nooks and crannies that a baby might crawl in to. I heard someone say, "He might have fallen overboard!" I recall feeling great anxiety that this might have happened, and that meant that I would never see my cute little brother ever again. It was a terrible, sad feeling. But then, a cry went out - "Here he is!" There he was - sitting under one of those suspended lifeboats, about six feet from an open railing - and from sure death, had the seas been rough and caused the ship to roll. Everyone was jubilant over little Teddy's recovery. That night when my father was saying my bedtime prayers with me, I added a "thank you" for finding my little brother.

And so the days and nights passed during our six weeks' voyage. The ship made two stops along the way: first, in Capetown, South Africa, as we left the Indian Ocean and entered the south Atlantic; and second, in Bermuda, where we picked up crew members of boats that had been torpedoed. They had just been through the terrifying experience of staying alive and afloat in the ocean until rescued. Our ship did not have extra life jackets for these newest passengers. They approached my father, as well as others, with offers to buy their life jackets. But my father did not sell them, knowing that we were in submarine-infested waters and that his family might still need life jackets.

There was an air of excitement - but also anxiety - on board as we approached the end of our journey. Excitement, because we would be in New York the following day, and anxiety, because we still might encounter enemy submarines, as had the sailors we picked up. That night and over the next day, I heard strange sounds coming from under the ship. "Daddy, are the submarines under our ship?" I asked him in terror, imagining a huge monster under the ship. "No, honey. As long as we hear those noises, we know our ship is safe." He went on to explain that the noise was our ship firing depth charges, and that it was a way to protect the ship from being torpedoed. I didn't really understand what all those words meant, but I could tell that my father wasn't too worried right then.

Early the next morning my parents awakened us and took us up on the deck, where crowds were already gathered at the railing. People were cheering and waving. I wondered what they were cheering about. We found a place at the railing, and that's when we saw the Statue of Liberty come into view. My father started singing the Doxology, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow...," in a jubilant voice and everyone joined in. As I looked up at my mother and the other people around us, I saw that she and others had tears streaming down their cheeks. I was perplexed and wanted to know why people were crying. "Sometimes we cry because we're happy, Margie dear," Mother said, wiping away a tear with a handkerchief she always carried. "We're happy and thankful that God brought us home safely." I was happy, too.

Author's notes:
1. The resource for many of the details described herein was my father's autobiography: Theodore Essebaggers 1902-1995.
2. Troopships used during World War II included passenger liners, Liberty and Victory ships, and foreign ships taken over by the U.S.A. Beginning in June, 1941, the U.S. took over various flag ships which were in U.S. ports for use as troopships and cargo ships.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Youth and Enthusiasm and Adventure!

While I am posting photographs to go with prior entries, I want to be sure to post this one of Everdene and Garrett DeJong....

This photo was taken to celebrate their wedding on July 1, 1925, which means that it was only about a year later that they set sail towards the end of August, 1926, for their first posting as Dutch Reformed missionaries in the Arabia Mission. (In an earlier post, I copied the text of a letter that Everdene wrote to her friends back in Milwaukee, telling of some their adventures on their trip over to Kuwait, as well as during the first few months they were there.) It is amazing to me how young Everdene and Garry were when they undertook this huge adventure!

The Way It Was about 70 Years Ago....

For several days I've been planning to scan some of the Conway Springs photos into my computer so that I could share them here...and I finally did it this afternoon. (102 degree heat has some positive effects, I guess!)

If you will remember, the last time we looked at the old home of John William and Mollie (Pattison) Abbott in Conway Springs, KS, in this blogpost, it looked pretty decrepit. Here's what it looked like sometime around 1940....

There is enough left now that I can see the original house in the remnants, but how much tidier and prettier it was then! I think that the trees out behind the house are still there - grown many times larger now, of course. Now that I've seen the house in person, I can tell you that it faced east, and that this photo was taken from the southeast.

This is an undated photo of John William and Mollie Abbott, taken in front of the south side of their front porch at Conway Springs....

The next and last photo of this group was taken on February 19, 1939, the occasion of theirJohn William and Mollie's 50th wedding anniversary. Again, the photo was taken on the south side of the front porch. From left to right, the people in the photograph are Ray Abbott (son), Marie Abbott Bertram (daughter), Mary "Mollie" Pattison Abbott (wife and mother), John William Abbott (husband and father), Luther Abbott (son), and Roy Abbott (son). Their fourth son, Claude S. Abbott, was unable to make it to their anniversary celebration.

Here is the text from the write-up of their anniversary celebration in the paper (although I do not know which paper this was clipped from)....


On February 21, 1889, John William Abbott and Mollie Pattison were married in Medoc, Missouri.

The fiftieth anniversary of this marriage was celebrated with a family reunion at their home in Conway Springs, Feb. #19.

A remarkable feature of this union is that Mr. and Mrs. Abbott have had five children of their own, 14 grandchildren and one great grandchild, all of whom are living.

Twenty-two were present at this reunion which incluled [sic] three sons, one daughter, eight grandchildren, three daughters-in-law, two neices [sic], one nephew, three great neices [sic] and one great nephew.

Those present were Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Abbott, Conway Springs; Mr. and Mrs. Luther A. Abott [sic] and children, Virginia, William and Betty of Shamrock, Okla.; Mr. and Mrs. Roy Abbott and son, Garth, Delaware, Okla.; Mr. and Mrs. Ray Abbott and children, Darlene and Doreece of Pawhuska, Okla.; Mrs. Marie Bertram and children, Verdis and Mary of Wichita, Kansas; Mr. and Mrs. James Pattison and children, Virginia and Carroll, Mrs. Elda Taylor, Dora Dean and Lilia Jean Meade, all of Joplin, Missouri.

One son, Claude S. Abbott and family of Kansas City, Mo., and two grandsons and families, Claude H. Abbott of Lawton, Okla., and Arville Abbott of Shamrock, Okla., and another grandson, Wendell Abott [sic], attending college in Norman, Okla., were unable to attend."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Thought-provoking Quote #2

"It is amazing that a photograph is forever but is really a kind of proof that nothing is longer than a split second in time." The Accidental by Ali Smith.

Thought-provoking Quote #1

"And what is it they'd ask you, what do you think they'd want to know, if they were here tonight, all those women and men and women and men and women and men that it took simply to culminate in the making of you, the birth of you, that day,...?" The Accidental, by Ali Smith.

This quote also makes me wonder what I truly want to know about those who came before me...and what those who come after me will truly want to know about me and about those in my family that I personally know.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Journey in Her Own Words

In 1926, Everdene and Garry DeJong traveled from the U.S. to Kuwait to take up their new positions as missionaries for the Dutch Reformed Church. I recently found this letter written from Kuwait to friends in the U.S., 6 1/2 months after their departure. The letter was typed on thin (onionskin?) paper, with handwritten corrections and a few handwritten notes. It tells of their adventures while travelling, as well as some of their impressions upon reaching their new home....

Kuwait, Persian Gulf,
March the fifth, 1927
3: A.M. Arabic
8:30 A.M. English
In Mil. 11:30 P.M.

Dear Christies;

We surely were glad to get the letter Annette wrote on January the sixteenth, on this week's boat. I was wondering what in the world had happened to you all. Here we've been here four months and not a word from the merry crowd at 717 47th. I [sic] was a relief to hear at last. But what [sic] the matter with the other two members of the triumvirate? I surely hope your basket ball experiences have not rendered you incapable of penning a few words to us out here so far away from civilization. At least I'm sending our address with this letter again and emphasizing it so you'll never forget it again. It is Kuwait, Persian Gulf, Via Bombay. Memorize it. It's a good place. [Note: This address is also handwritten along both the right and left margins of the first page, as well as along the left margin of the third/last page.

We've been hoping that every mail boat would bring us a letter from you folks, and here at last it comes. Of course it is unnecessary to say that we were glad to get that letter and hope you will be following it with others.

Annette suggested I tell you "all about it". There are several reasons why I cannot do just that. The first is that we have neither enough paper or typewriting ribbons. The second is that your eyes would be wearied before you got one half way through. But I'll make a beginning and I hope you'll forgive my use of the typewriter. My handwriting has degenerated even since we left the Milwaukee docks at the end of August.

Our address is Kuwait, Persian Gulf, Via Bombay.

We did have a wonderful trip. We hope you received the cards we dropped you along the way as well as the letter we wrote from the Andania. The Atlantic gave us a rather severe rocking but none of us suffered from "mal de mer" so we were happy. After ten days we finally saw the "stern and rock bound coasts" of England. They were beautiful. The entire southern part of England is perfectly beautiful, the little plots of ground of all kinds of shapes and sizes, surrounded by high hedges, the wooded hills and sheep dotted vallies [sic], the quaint double chimneyed and red roofed buildings. London surely lacks the bustle and high buildings of our modern American cities, but it is full of historically interesting things. We flew over to Amsterdam. Our first experience in the airplane. It was really thrilling too, we can tell you. The engines roared terrifically, and every little while we entered an air pocket and suddenly fell several feet, made on the average about 100 miles an hour, and kept an average altitude of 1500 feet. The Netherlands was very picturesque as it lay down below us, the long arms of water reaching into the land, the tall poplar trees, the red tile-roofed building the windmills [sic], the cattle and the canals. It was a treat to see it. We were disappointed that we saw so few typically Dutch costumes. It was all English and American clothes. Amsterdam is a very modern city. We stopped at the Hague, saw the wonderful Peace Palace, and went on South.

We spent many hours in the Art Galleries in the Netherlands and in Brussels. We were sorry we did not have more time there.

And then came Paris. What a wonderful city it is, - Paris of the broad Boulevards, Paris of the Place de la Concorde, Paris of the Arc de Triomple [sic], Paris of the wonderful Cathedrals. We didn't spend any time shopping, but the women surely wore their clothes with style. Of course there were many exceptions. Took a trip out to the war zones. Acres upon acres of soil cannot be cultivated, town upon town has not yet been rebuilt. Whole forests of trees stand naked stripped of all the leaves and of most of their branches. Beautiful cathedrals ruined.

We sailed from Marseilles on the Champollion. Had a lovely trip on the Mediterranean, passing between Sicily and the toe of Italy (that toe looked rather formidable with its high rocks) and passing by Crete to Alexandria. The Mediterranean surely made us think of Caesar and Hannibal and Paul. Made us want to study history again. At Alexandria we saw our first desert and our first desert camels, and the Nile. It's a truly Oriental city but like almost all the rest of the Port cities has adopted a great deal of Western civilization, cars and hotels and broad

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streets. Of course the market streets are anything but broad, and anything but clean.

From Beirut we went up into the Lebanons to spent a few days where it was cooler. We hope to go again some day. It's a wonderful place. And then we went down into Palestine too. That trip into Palestine, the twelve days we spent there were the best of the entire trip. Jerusalem looked anything but golden, with it's [sic] dirty streets and dirty people. The many rival churches built over the "sacred spots" were anything but inspirational with four churches bitterly fighting for the supremacy in each one. But the Mount of Olives was there, the Garden of Gethsemane was there, the Beautiful Gate was there, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, Dead Sea, the Jordan Nazareth [sic], Cana, Bethany, the the [sic] Sea of Galilee and Capernaum. We do appreciate the privilege we have had in walking over that country and of being there. It's a little country, but a wonderful one. We do appreciate the Bible more now, and the manhood of the Master also. We [sic] walked over the mountainous roads, suffered from the heat and cold even as we do, was hungry. We appreciate especially the many references to water that we find in the Book for water is an extremely rare and precious thing in Palestine.

From Beirut we took our three day cross-desert trip to Baghdad, via Cadillac. The desert truly is an awful and awesome thing. It's tremendous. We are happy that we did not have to make it by camel back. Baghdad, the city of the Caliphs and the Arabian Nites has become rather modern too. They even sell evening clothes.

Thence on to Busra by train and on to Kuwait by motor, having been on our way just two months. We were very happy too, to get settled in our new Arab house. It is far from what we would call real class at home, but it is very comfortable. The roof is made of matting and mud. When we were first here is [sic] rained through one nite [sic] and all our furniture was covered with salt water. We rinsed everything off in sweet water which has to be brought over a hundred miles from Busra by boat, and dried things in the sun. We hope the springs of our chairs are none the worse but-- At least they look alrite [sic] and they are still comfortable. We have more mud on the roof so we hope it will not rain through again.

The floor is of cement, very uneven, --in fact one almost has to walk uphill in places. We have them covered with a brilliant red and green matting. The walls are plastered badly, but one fortunate thing about them is that we may drive nails into them to hang our pictures on. We do not have to worry about scratching our highly polished floor either. What's the use of polished floor and delicately tinted walls anyhow. We just as healthy [sic] as we've ever been.

The rooms are built along two sides of a sand courtyard, with a salt water well in the middle of it. The ground is too salty to permit of plants or flowers growing. The other two sides of the courtyard are surrounded by high stone and mud walls. The picture I am enclosing was taken at our front gate. The little doorway in which my husband ! is standing is the needles' eye referred to in the New Testament. How do you like Garry's new moustache? Isn't he classy? [The photo was not with the letter any more.]

Kuwait, a city of tawny mud walls, of sand streets, overarched by a dazzling blue sky is situated on an arm of the Persian Gulf. The Gulf and the mountains on the other side are beautiful - always changing color. The sunsets are perfect. Those two things we appreciate very much because there is so little color here. There are very few trees in Kuwait, only a few more than a dozen. The desert is treeless, the walls of the city, and the sand are very monotonous. So we fill our homes with all the color we can find. That why [sic] we have a brilliant red and green matting. Kuwait is a typically Oriental town. There are so few that are untouched by Western ideas, and K. is even beginning to be touched. There are a few Fords in the city, and they sing Singer machine and Chiclets. But for the rest, the men are dressed in their tan bishts and the women go around in their black abbas. It's an Arab city. Many of the folks are friendly to the Mission but many of them would not deign to look at an unbeliever. Sometimes their curiosity gets the best of their religious principle for they will turn to look at us after we are passed, wondering what kind of people we are anyway, especially we women that we will go around unveiled.

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We've had all kinds of first experiences. We've had our first ride on camel back. Really it is an awful thing to be lifted by the ungainly beast ten feet into the air. He pretty nearly throws one off in four directions before he gets you to the top of his long legs. And it is no more safe when the beast goes humping and bumping along. We were in constant fear of being thrown off. Of course we smiled down at the people below, but I know my smile was of the frozen variety. [Next sentence is handwritten in.] The camel groaned when he lifted Garry. Do you blame him?

We've eaten our first grasshoppers too. According to directions we pulled off the wings, and the legs and the heads by the roots and the rest, --oh how it crunched between our teeth. The Arabs consider them a great delicacy. Try them some day. Let LeRoy catch some of these big fat grasshoppers, throw them alive into boiling salt water, and then eat them. We hope not to have to indulge too often.

We've had our first donkey picnic out in the desert too. It was great spot [sic]. I rode Habbee bitee, meaning "the dear little one," and Garry rode Shaytaan, "the devil". We got along famously.

We've eaten other Arab food too, - it's indiscribable [sic] in it [sic] flavor of rosewater. I'm beginning to like their bitter coffee fortunately. It is frightfully strong and bitter though.

Yesterday we had another Arab feast out in the desert. Our host was a man who like Hortense had only two teeth. He made a good host for all that even if both of his teeth pointed north. There were immense platters of rice in the middle of round mats spread on the floor. On the top of the heaps of rice were whole roasted chickens and in the chickens were whole boiled eggs. Then around the platter were dishes and dishes of different kinds of stews, different kinds of dates, preserved tomatoes, etc, etc. They served huge bowls of goat buttermilk with pieces of butter floating in it. Everyone who liked buttermilk drank out of all the bowls. What matter if the butter bumped into their noses? Things tasted very good, although I would not care to have the Arab type of food for a regular diet.

Yes, this missionary work in Arabia is a tremendous job. It's as big and as hard a job as there is anywhere in the world. In other mission fields they are beginning to accept Christ. Here it is different. There are only a few converts to show for the lives and years of work here. But they will come some day.

We can do nothing until we know the language. It surely is a difficult language, but fascinating. Over thirty ways of forming the plural, and fifteen different Conjugations beside the regular ones. "Josie" means "my husband," "Rummel" is the Arabic word for sand. Good Dutch isn't it. When we were entertained by the Sheikh, at his catle we got him to say good morning in Dutch and he did it beautifully.

A Mohammedan country is a very sad place. But saddest of all the sights I have ever seen is one which we see many times every day, a Mohammedan woman completely veiled, and swathed in a long black abba. To be nothing more than the mere slave and plaything of a man who has usually two or three other wives, to have more children dead that [sic] alive, to be compelled to live behind closed doors all your life (The better class women are never allowed out) --how sad it is only the veiled woman herself knows. But we have many friends among them and some of them are so very charming and sweet in spite of it all. I've so completely fallen in love with two of them. When I mentioned their going to the States for a visit sometime they said, "That would be impossible. We are entombed here."

Garry has some very good friends among the young men. What a keen bright eyed young bunch they are.

How we would love to walk through the streets of Milwaukee again, see all the bright window displays, see the bright colored clothes and the happy faces etc. Oh, yes I know they are not all happy. But at least we'd see faces.

We like Kuwait very much. It becomes a little lonesome on such days as Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter, but we're enjoying our language study and our contacts with the people very much. The Arabs have good stuff in them. But they were born Mohammedans and it's a tremendously hard thing to break the hold that it has on them.

But I'll have to close. Thanks Annette for writing, and Grace and Ruth, please remember that we're dying to hear from you, and remember that a little foolishness now and then is good for [the rest is handwritten] the best of men.

Love to you all, - Everdene

Handwritten notes along the edges of the letter:
On the top of the first page: "Oh, for a dipped cone!"
Along the margins three times, as noted above: "Our address is "Kuwait, Persian Gulf, Via Bombay."
In the lefthand margin of the third (and last) page: "Yes, Annette, - the horses are beauties and so are the Persian Rugs."

In The Beginning

Ten days ago, I made a small, local trek with my father-in-law and his sister to try to locate some markers from their grandparents' lives. We successfully located their grandparents' last house, as well as their grandparents' graves. Despite all of these being fairly close by, I had never seen them.

Since I hadn't started this blog yet, I wrote a post on my other blog, Gaia Garden, entitled "Time Marches Inexorably On." It seems appropriate to link to that post, as it is really the beginning of this particular journey.

Family Tracks and Traces

For many years now, I've been fascinated with family history. At first, like most people, I started with simple names and dates, marriages and children, birth places and final resting places. The facts piled up high and deep, but it felt like something was missing.

I started trying to find photos of these people from our past, so I could put faces with the names. Again I was reasonably successful, but the sense of emptiness was still there.

Then it came to me: facts and figures, dates and geography give a framework, but it is the stories that make people from the past come alive again. So I've started collecting family stories, stories that help illustrate who our ancestors were, what motivated them, why they acted like they did. Ultimately, I guess, I'm looking for both the universal story common to all families and the unique story that makes our family different from all others.

We are each individual, but our family culture starts shaping us the minute we are born. We are each individual, but our shared genetics give us certain shared gifts and challenges. The dominance of nature compared to nurture (or nurture compared to nature) has always been hard to tease out, simply because the two work hand-in-hand...and always have. I hope that these stories will show how our ancestors coped with life's uncertainties and opportunities, given their chance combination of genetics and family culture. Perhaps, along the way, these stories will give us a little understanding and guidance, as well as a sense of connection across space and time.

A few notes...

Typical of genealogical work, I will not intentionally provide full names or dates associated with living individuals. If you feel I've somehow violated this, please comment and let me know. If I have accidentally erred in this way, I will edit to remove such information as soon as possible. It is certainly not my intention to compromise folks in any way.

One of my reasons for beginning this blog is to find "alternate versions of reality." It's common in families to have events remembered in different ways by different people. Please, if you recognize a story but have heard a different version, comment and share your version. Pass along the link to this blog to other family members, too, if you feel they would be interested. To paraphrase an old saying, many heads are much better than one!

If one of my stories prompts memories of another family incident, I'm really hoping you'll share it! That would be the best of all possible worlds.

I am not going to attempt a precise family tree on this blog, but will simply share stories as I find them. I'm not sure yet how I will be organizing these stories; I'm just feeling almost compelled to share what I've found so far. Where I can do so without making things too complicated, I will share my sources. Again, if you want to know more, please just ask. I'm trusting that an organizational scheme will develop as I begin work.

Enough background and introductory stuff! On to the stories!