Everything’s Relative May 2007

Everything’s Relative May 2007

The lighter side of family history.

The Heat Is On

My grandmother, born to a family of prominent shipbuilders, loved to share stories of meeting famous people. One dates to December 1922,when her parents, Mr. and Mrs. William D. Sewall, hosted a dinner at their Bath, Maine, home. The guest list included Vice President and Mrs. Coolidge, who planned to spend the night. It’s well-known Coolidge was a quiet man. He never cared for social gatherings and was no different this evening. Grandmother said other guests’ attempts to draw him out were in vain — Mrs. Coolidge answered every time.

Upon waking the next morning, Mr. Coolidge rang the maid. When she entered his room, he commanded, “Two more sticks for the fire! “The maid was dumbstruck, but not because this usually quiet man had shouted orders at her. She stared at the fireplace in horror — it was the home’s one fireplace never before used. “My mother took pride in the clean, yellow brick lining,” my grandmother explained. “She couldn’t bear to see it charred with soot.” Besides, the steam boiler provided plenty of warmth.

The maid reluctantly obeyed, and the fire blazed. But as soon as the Coolidges left, the yellow brick was scrubbed. True to his nickname, “Silent Cal” spoke few words at my grandmother’s home — but those he uttered made quite a statement.

Susie Yakowitz
Egan, Minn.

Hats Off

In 2002, I wrote the Catholic church in Manderfeld, Belgium, asking if the priest could recommend someone with Internet access and English fluency who’d help with my Bohn genealogy. The priest gave my letter to Joseph, a retired English teacher. Joseph helped me by sending pictures and ownership documents for my ancestors’ house. He never wanted money for anything, so I’d send him souvenirs. Once, on the way home from Door County, Wis., I stopped in a place called Belgium and bought him a baseball cap emblazoned with the town name. Joseph died June 28, 2005. We’d never met in person.

When I went to Germany and Belgium in September 2006, I visited his home. Joseph’s widow, who didn’t speak English (their daughter translated) showed me her scrapbooks, pausing at a picture of Joseph’s casket at the bottom of the grave. On top of the casket, all by itself, was the baseball cap I’d sent. I could have cried, knowing Joseph and his family thought so much of our e-mail relationship.

H. Myron Bohn Jr.
Footville, Wis.

December Winners: It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s … We Give Up!

We hate to break it to you, but some of your ancestors are strange. Out-of the-ordinary, if you prefer. That’s the only conclusion we can draw from some of the weird-heirloom photos you sent. Three submitters won Memories for My Grandchild by Annie Decker and Nicole Stephenson (Chronicle Books) — see the curious objects for yourself:

This purse made from an armadillo — that’s right, areal one, head, claws and all has been in Catherine McLaren’s family for more than 50 years. “The eyes are green gemstones. There’s even a mirror on the in side of the flap,” says the Eugene, Ore., resident. “It would probably scare the average person.”

It’s not a torture device — it’s an invention of Fred Wittmann, a worker at the Oneita Knitting Mill in Utica, NY: “He spent evenings in our cellar creating what he called folders,” says daughter Phyllis Wittmann Draper, of Utica. “They were attachments on sewing machines to create special effects, such as trimming along the neckline of a garment.”

Barbara Martin, of Lancaster, Calif, says her mother employed this thingamabob for making braided rugs in the 1950s. “She used this machine to pink the edges of scrap material before braiding. Today we’d use handheld pinking shears but they don’t work as well as this gadget.”

From the May 2007 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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