Thursday, November 21, 2013

Stories from Mom: My thoughts

Well, you've been reading stories by my Mom, Virginia W. Kelly. I hope that you enjoyed them. Of course we in the family think she's wonderful and know that we're so very lucky to have her stories. But we're even luckier to have her!

As I posted each section and read it once more, I noticed details that I'd previously missed, and I'd like to share my thoughts about them with you now.


Mom, Easter, 1942.

Part 1
Spittoon: Mom says that she remembers her grandfather Williams using a spittoon. Does anyone use those anymore? I don't know, but one rarely sees them now except in old movies! It's little details of daily life like this that tickle my fancy.
Kidney failure: Grandfather Williams died of kidney failure. I wonder if he could have been helped by dialysis? So many modern medical advances save us all the time and extend life or outright save it. We are lucky to be living now... or are we? Did we give up anything for it?
The awful uncles: How interesting to read about the awful uncles working jointly to make Mom's young life a torture. I think it hit her so hard because they were much older and simply having a good time but meanwhile they were not protecting her. Uncle Tuck, Mom's admitted favorite, was one of the three. Funny how things work out.
People kept chickens and used them for eggs, meat, feathers and killed them, all at home! I live in Dan Diego, California, and quite recently here the city ordinances about keeping chicken at home changed to allow modest and small urban chicken keeping at home. No roosters! Everyone kept chickens back then and when prosperity and modernization came everyone got rid of smelly, messy chickens and went to the store to buy what they needed.
Distemper and the hunting dog: If a dog got distemper or rabies they had to be shot. Everyone then kept a gun and most still do in those parts. Shooting a sick or lame animal was the most merciful solution.
Sister Evelyn dies of diphtheria: Diphtheria is another disease of yesteryear. Had to ask Mom what diphtheria was. She also mentioned that all the kids had it, at least in her family and that she remembers having it too.
Aunt Edna dies of tuberculosis: Mom loved her Aunt Edna. Edna was a young almost woman when Mom was a little girl and it's a wonder that Mom didn't contract TB too. As Mom mentioned, Edna gave her lovely paper dolls that Mom still has. Nice.

Part 2
Christmas and oranges, crowd of adults and kids. What? They gave out oranges? Why? Well, because scurvy which comes from a lack of vitamin C and often happened during winter time, was a problem then. Do you ever see very old people with severely bowed legs? That might have been scurvy.
Lived with grandparents when little: Mom writes that they lived with her Whetstone grandparents when she was little and then moved to a rented house when she was about six years old. That was very common then in Western Maryland and is still done. When Mom and Dad got married they just kept it a secret until they could move out and into an apartment which was quite a trick because it was during WWII when housing was scarce.
No inside plumbing: Even I remember a couple of outhouses and back yard water pumps in Frostburg and that was probably in the 1950s. Now it's hard to imaging awakening in the middle of the night to make a cold trip to a frozen outhouse!
Street name changes: Loo Street to College Avenue. Yeah, they did that then. You ever have a problem with street names, or even town names, changing? Can make us crazy!
Congregational Church:  Also called the Welsh Congregational Church. Still going strong after all these years, and now in a new brick building. Nice to see this sort of continuity.
Paved over cobblestones: I noted that when Mom was a kid they were then paving over the cobblestone streets. Interesting because her grandfather Whetstone was a stonemason who helped lay those cobblestone street in Frostburg!
Mr. Byer's horse drawn home delivery meat wagon and free samples: Seriously envious! What wouldn't you give to have some good old fashioned home delivery of fresh meats? And I can't even begin to describe the deliciousness of good old Frostburg "baloney", also called Engle's Balogna! It's legendary.

Part 3
Mom loves to read and always did: Mom loves to read, her mother loved to read and I like to read. Going back through the generations, the Whetstone line were all readers and we have testament to that from the 1860s due to a letter written by Mom's 3rd great grandmother, Sarah Wooten Waggoner Yeast Durst (1818-1870). That was a time when women in Western Maryland were not usually literate. Even our literacy has a pedigree;)
Playing games in the middle of the road: I do remember when it was safe in Frostburg to play or ride a sled in the streets. You wouldn't want to do that now!!
Being poor and sharing skates: One of the things I like best about Mom's stories is the flavor of neighborliness and friendship that runs through them. I do know that not all of Mom's extended family feel this way because I've emailed a cousin who was a kid with Mom and remembers it differently as not the best of times. I guess it just depends on your family and how they handled hard times. Mom often says, we were real poor but we didn't even know it because everyone had the same and everyone shared what they had no matter how little it was. I guess shared joy and pain is just easier to bear.

Part 4
Mushrooms. Seriously, it's a wonder that Mom didn't die! But Uncle Tuck knew what he was doing and many of Mom's male relatives were superb woodsmen.
Scavenging for food. People did and still do scavenge the woods for rare food stuffs and delicacies in Western Maryland. Black walnuts from wild trees are still around but much more rare than even 20 years ago due to a blight, but people know were they are and take them. Wild greens in the spring are very tasty too. Wild berries are small but wonderfully delicious as Mom writes about in Part 8, and Mom even has a small patch in her yard now.

Part 5
School closing:  When I was a kid we listened to first the radio and later the television for school closings, but Mom and her family and friends didn't have that technology until later. So what did they do? Used their best judgment, conferred with friends, and then decided if they could make it. "Best judgment"... does anyone even have that anymore??

Part 6
The old haunts: Gus Harris, the Duchess, the Princess, the movie theatre. Well some of these are gone now. It's rather disturbing when you revisit an old haunt and it's not there anymore, isn't it? Gus Harris and the Duchess are now gone and a part of Frostburg history, but the Princess Restaurant carries on. If you have a moment click on the link for the Princess and you'll see the history there. President Truman and Bess stopped there on a road trip they made in 1953. A plaque marks the cozy booth (with jukebox) where they dined. By the time they finished their meal, most of the town had gathered outside to welcome them, or so I hear. Just noticed on their web site that they now have Wi-Fi!
The movie theatre has opened and closed so many times I've lost count. Mostly it's kept the name Palace Theatre. Now it plays second run movies, hosts local theatre and civic group presentations and whatever else the town needs and wants.
And "some place in Eckhart Flats":  You see, Eckhart Flats was at the very bottom of town and Mom and her friends walked everywhere and they loved walking as she often mentions in her stories. Winter or summer, they all walked to where they wanted to go. Maybe that's why Mom has always had such great legs...?
WWII losses:  Yeah, guys didn't come back from war, and still don't. I remember when we first moved to Cleveland in 1952 and coming back to Frostburg, we visited a woman who had lost her husband in the war. Sad. Mom doesn't remember this so maybe it was one of Dad's friends.
Mr Davis farm in town: What I would give to see that! A cow right in a back yard and a pig too.

Part 7
Taking care of neighbors: This is a constant theme of Mom's stories, taking care of each other. She recognized this quality in those around her and how generously everyone shared what they had as well as their skills. You knew your neighbors and their family and friends. Heck, they were all friends. Those who lived near you, your own relatives, their relatives, and of course the church members: all close as close could be.
FSU expansion: Sometime I'll have to write about Frostburg State University, it's history and its relationship with the town and town folk. While "the College" as locals call it, has not always been the best of neighbors, it has offered employment, education and cultural activities to this small mountain town. Full time residents now number about 5,000 and FSU has at times close to 10,000 students. It wasn't always this way. Back about 1900 the College was tiny and the community around Frostburg and adjacent villages numbered 15,000 residents. The history of the thing traces a path of gobbling up people's homes.
Grandma Chaney's stories of life on the farm: Stories of long age farm life fascinate me. By the time Grandma Chaney was telling Mom her farm life stories that way of life was all but gone.

Part 8
Walking and strawberries: I just love the way Mom can enjoying the small and good things in life that make a sweet memory and then calling on them later. I think this story is one of my favorites for that very reason. This is a treasure for me:
Often now when I get chilled I put myself back to another time and place when that little girl was at peace with the world and ‘oh so warm and happy.’ I can then become as that little girl and once again be ‘oh so warm and happy’.

Part 9
Brady's Creek is no more: I remember Brady's Creek and when I attended FSU, one spring afternoon, I wandered it just as Mom had as a girl. It was small and was one of the prettiest little mountain streams you'd ever want to see. It's gone underground, under the new housing at FSU.

Part 10
Nothing really needs be said about Mom's story of camping on the Potomac River ... for three generations. Peaches are still excellent, big, and super sweet if you get them at the right time, and yes, they were so delicious you'd think at the first bite you could eat the entire bushel yourself. Corn too.
The river still floods but people got smarter over the years and went from tents to stilt cabins, to RVs.
Outhouses are still a feature, if they don't get washed out by spring floods.
And I'm willing to bet that crafty teens and pre-teens are still trying smoking on summer nights.
And yes, we all still love the River!

Now, Mom didn't make a big deal of it and you might have even missed it but let me draw your attention to an index she compiled of all the tombstones in St Michael's Cemetery. Over many months she faithfully walked there, notebook in hand, and made a complete inventory of the tombstones and what information they provided. She typed it up and took it to the printers and had it printed and bound. The she offered it for sale at cost to any genealogist who needed it. This was of course long before the personal computer, the internet, and our dear friend and constant companion, Find A Grave. That's my Mom!

You can read Mom's stories here:
Part 1: Those were the days my friend, we though they'd never end
Part 2: Center Street
Part 3: Summertime on Center Street
Part 4: Mushrooms!
Part 5: Fall and Winter on Center Street
Part 6: Growing up
Part 7: Friends and neighbors, life and death on Center Street
Part 8: Walking and strawberries
Part 9: Brady's Creek.
Part 10: The Potomac River

Mom and Dad in Ireland, 1987.

Mom in Wales.

Mom, recently, on a spring ride in Western Maryland.

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