Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sentimental Sunday: The Sad Demise of a Family Tradition

Birthdays were always special times in our home when I was a child. One of the most unique parts of the day was that each child (and even the adults!) always had a dime hidden in his or her slice of the birthday cake when it was cut. My grandmother baked the cakes for us, and I was always amazed at how she was able to make those dimes magically appear in just the right slice. (I didn't figure out that little trick until I was much older.)

I was also amazed when I found out that none of my friends had dimes hidden in their birthday cakes. How could that be? I thought that everyone got dimes in their cakes. A dime was a great deal of money for a kid in the 1950s. My brother and I could go to the little grocery store next door to our apartment building and buy sticks of peppermint, or maybe some gum, or any number of other goodies with that little dime.

My grandmother was Lorena Grace Sanford Wallace Werkhoven. Her mother, however, was Elizabeth Dorothy Zeigler Sanford, "Miss Libbie," as I always thought of her. Her ancestry was German, and according to family tradition, she was an outstanding cook. She passed those abilities along to each of her daughters, including my grandmother - who, unfortunately, did not pass them along to either my mother or to me!

I specifically remember calling my grandmother after I first got married to ask her a question about cooking a particular dish. I was always an avid reader and had determined that I could read a cookbook and therefore, I'd be able to cook. No problem. Boy, was I wrong! Things were going particularly bad with this meal, so I called her in desperation. Her answer? "I did not raise you to have to do that." "Well, thanks, Grandmother," I replied. "Your little girl can't cook, and I'm in a big mess!" (And what exactly did she mean by that, anyway? I failed to ask her that question for fear she might actually tell me.)

The "not-being-able-to-cook" eventually turned into "not-being-able-to-cook-very-well." And the idea of baking a birthday cake? Forget it. It was "store-bought" for me with all of my children. I remember when my oldest was truly old enough for me to consider putting that thin dime in his birthday cake. I actually took that "store-bought" cake and tried to get one in there. What a mess that was...and I never tried it again.

Consequently, my children missed out on that wonderful tradition. I regret that, but I did tell them about it over the years. I guess that counts for something. Luckily, I had all boys and didn't feel quite so bad about not passing along any cooking skills. My second husband is the best cook in the world, and he managed to do that quite nicely, thank goodness.

When I began my fervent research into my family's history years ago, I began to wonder about that special tradition that had sadly ended with my line. I wondered as to its origin, and I did find a source that confirmed that it was a prevalent practice in Europe over the centuries. The Germans, in particular, often placed a coin in a cake during special celebrations.¹

I truly wish that I had been able to pass down that tradition to my children. However, writing about it now is my way of keeping the tradition alive, so I'm passing it along - to them and to you.

¹Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. Festivals of Western Europe. (The H.W. Wilson Company, New York, 1958), 55.
@2014 Copyright by Carla Love Maitland 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Census Sunday - Oh The Surprises You Might Find!

As a family history researcher, I've known for many years that I should never embark on the journey of discovery unless I was prepared for what I would find. For the most part, I've been intrigued, interested, and sometimes even a little surprised. However, I had not experienced that, "Oh, I wish I hadn't known that" until recently. Actually, it's been almost two years now, and I'm still trying to process what I learned.

When the 1940 census came out, I remember excitedly going through the members of my family whom I knew to be alive at that time. I didn't find my Mother (Evelyn Frances Wallace Love) until about a year after the census had been out there - and in some ways, I wish that I hadn't. When I finally found her, she was living with her mother and her step-father in rented rooms in a house that was owned by none other than her future mother-in-law! Mother was 21 years old at the time that census was taken on 18 May 1940. She had turned 21 the previous January. Her last name was listed as Walker, not Wallace, and everyone else's name was different in the transcriptions, too. No wonder it had taken me a while to find that little group!

As most researchers know, the 1940 census had different aspects to it than previous ones. One difference was that it indicated the person in the household who gave out all of the information. Another was that two people from the page were 'chosen' to be listed at the bottom with much more information available for them.

One of the people chosen to be given the full treatment at the bottom was my Mother, and the person in that house who gave out the information was my step-grandfather. Oh, lordy, did he ever give away the big family secret!

As you might know if you read the blog post I wrote about my Mother back in March of 2012 (see link under her name), I always believed that my Mother dropped out of school in the 9th grade to go to work to help the family out financially. It was the Great Depression, after all. I was very proud that she had done that because I knew how much she loved to read and to learn new things. It must have been very hard for her to make that sacrifice.

Imagine my surprise as I excitedly perused the line next to my Mother's name to read the information under the column headed, "Age at First Marriage." Someone had written out the number fifteen. WHAT?  I remember reading that number and the heading over and over, thinking that there had to be a mistake somewhere. But no, it was still there and it certainly didn't change. I finally got myself to look at the next column headed, "Number of Children Ever Born." Thank goodness a big fat zero was listed there.

Trying to contain my total shock and, I'll admit, complete devastation and disappointment, I remember thinking that at least I didn't have to go looking for a sibling or siblings somewhere! All I had to do, of course, was to find out who the heck she had married, where and exactly when.  And even more importantly, I'd like to know why! It honestly wasn't until much later that I looked closely at that second column which had in parentheses, "Do Not Include Stillbirths."

I have no idea why my Mother got married at age fifteen. Was she pregnant and lost the child? Or did she (as I suspect) think that she and her boyfriend of so many years should just go ahead and get married and start their own life. Mother was always so mature in looks in those old 1930s photographs. I think the teenagers of that era were impressed and influenced by the movies and aspired to be like the big-screen actors and actresses of the day. My Mother smoked, and she once told me that it was because all of the glamorous movie stars of her teenage years did.

Nonetheless, I may never know the 'why' of it all. I haven't even been able to start the search for the 'who' and the 'where.' I can't explain that. Maybe it's because when I do find out those things, it will make it real, and I don't want it to be. I'm pretty sure I know the name of the 'who,' and I do have a few leads on the 'where.' I'll have to follow through with that search one day.

I guess the biggest disappointment of it all was the fact that Mother never told me about it. My brother passed away in 2008, and for some reason I felt as though she may have told him. They always had a closeness that I didn't share because they both felt the need to 'protect' me. I knew that and it invariably bothered me, but I certainly did understand it. I was the 'baby' after all.

I even found myself calling my former sister-in-law with whom I still have a good relationship. I knew that if my brother knew, he would have told her. She was as shocked as I was, so I guess Mother never told anyone.  I imagine she would have told us if she had known what information was given out about her in the 1940 census. In fact, she would have probably been pretty angry about it! My step-grandfather was as honest as the day is long and probably never thought twice about telling the truth to the census takers.

So Mother, your little secret is out....and your little girl has to follow your trail. Thanks a bunch!

Did I say to be sure you are ready for the surprises you might find?

@2014 Copyright by Carla Love Maitland

Monday, April 21, 2014

Tombstone Tuesday: "Woodmen of the World" (John J. Blackmon)

In July of 2009 my husband and I visited Brown's Church Cemetery in Jackson, Madison Co., TN. We were looking for, found and photographed a number of tombstones and markers for members of my own family who were buried there.

The cemetery itself is so beautiful, and we found ourselves wandering around taking photos of some of the more unusual tombstones. The one pictured here struck us both. We loved the fact that it was "Erected by the Woodmen of the World." Not only did we take the photo of this one for John J. Blackmon, we ended up taking photos of the many other Blackmon tombstones that surrounded it.

Needless to say, I immediately began a Blackmon Family Tree on Ancestry. I just had to find out more about them - right?

John J. Blackmon (3 Sep 1845 - 5 Feb 1902) Born and died in Madison County, TN.

@2014 Copyright by Carla Love Maitland

Friday, April 18, 2014

The 18th of April in '75

"LISTEN, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.        5
He said to his friend, ‘If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,—
One, if by land, and two, if by sea;        10
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

For many years I had my 8th grade American History students memorize those first few lines of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's famous poem, Paul Revere's Ride. Longfellow actually wrote the poem so many years after the event that the line "hardly a man is now alive" was truly accurate at the time of the writing.

What wasn't accurate was much of the information in the poem itself.  Longfellow was completely aware of his inaccuracies, but justified them to himself and others as a poet taking license with reality in order to give more meaning to the event. In truth, two other men made that ride with Revere, who didn't even complete the ride because he was captured during the first leg of his journey. William Dawes and Samuel Prescott were both lost in history due to Longfellow's taking poetic license with the true events that occurred that evening.¹

So why did I have my students memorize that poem? I did it because I've always had students memorize certain things in order to stimulate their brains. A certain bit of memorization is good for everyone, and those words will often stay with a person for many years. I always believed that it was good for students to use memorization in order to learn important pieces of history, such as the "Preamble to the Constitution" and the first three paragraphs of Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address."

But I think I mainly had them memorize it because I personally always loved the poem, with its beauty and its rhythm. The students often sang it or rapped it and made the memorization of it something they enjoyed, which was not often the case in the previously mentioned memorization pieces. It was also a good "teaching tool," as I let them know that as important and famous as the poem was, it wasn't altogether true. Ah, the lessons and discussions that came from those moments!

On this 239th anniversary of that famous date in history, I thought I'd give homage to the poem and the lessons that we should learn from it. If you'd like to know more about what really happened that night, use the link provided in my source to read a fairly good article about the night of the 18th of April in '75.

¹ Ewers, Justin. "Rewriting the Legend of Paul Revere." U.S. News and World Report. (June 27, 2008)
@2014 Copyright by Carla Love Maitland

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Love Cousins

This photo “found its way” to me a few years ago via a cousin. These are my 2nd cousins once removed: Alice Edris Love (16 Dec 1902 - 30 Aug 1968) and her little brother, Albert Lincoln Love (12 Feb 1905 – 27 Aug 1990). The photo was probably taken around 1907 or so. The little boy looks very much like my oldest son did at that age!

@2014 Copyright by Carla Love Maitland

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Special Kind of Love

My Mother, Evelyne Frances Wallace Love, had a very special relationship with her own mother, my grandmother, Lorena Grace Sanford Wallace Werkhoven. For the most part, it was always just the two of them because, as I've mentioned before in this blog, her Father left them when she was a very small girl. Perhaps that’s why they formed such a close tie; one that could not be broken – and never was.

I’m very lucky to still have some mementos that reveal that love – a few of the Valentine cards that my Mother gave to my grandmother over the course of a few years. Since my Mother was born in 1919, most of these were probably sent in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The last two were obviously “store-bought." The first two are my favorites. The heart was cut out and decorated by my Mother (who was a bit of an artist herself), and the second one was created by her, as she cut out the figure of a woman of the times and added her own words.

Mother was lucky to have had her own mother with her for 66 years – the very age I am now. I lost her when I was only 43 years old, and oh, how I wish I had been able to enjoy the same number of years that she had with her mother.

Here is my tribute to a special kind of love: the love between a daughter and her mother.


@2014 Copyright by Carla Love Maitland