Thursday, October 31, 2013

Treasure Chest Thursday: Dad's War Souvenirs, Part One

My father, Robert Wallin, fought in the army infantry in World War II, fighting his way—on foot—from Normandy to Germany.  Like many of his fellow soldiers, he brought home a duffel bag of mementoes which, sixty years later and long after his death, are family treasures.

Part One: Protection

 I don’t know how many times this helmet saved my father’s life—probably more times than he could count.  He was shot at, hit by shell fragments, and thrown to the ground by the concussive power of large artillery.  The helmet is very heavy, but I bet it was worth its weight in gold to a foot soldier.  My husband, an army veteran, smiled when he saw Dad’s helmet.  “Your father was a second lieutenant,” he said.  How did he know?  He told me that when he was in the army in the 1970s, soldiers had a nickname for second lieutenants—they called them “butter bars” because of the single yellow stripe on their helmets.

The green silk piece of camouflage cloth, Dad once told me, was to wrap around his helmet in those instances when getting one’s head in the line of fire was unavoidable, I suppose in order to get a better view.  That little piece of cloth might have saved his life a time or two.

The third item was for a different kind of protection—“Insecticide Powder for Body Crawling Insects.”  I wonder how often Dad had to make use of that?  The directions on the back say to pay particular attention to the seams of one’s clothes.  “Repeat applications at one or two week intervals, depending on the abundance of lice.”  Dad also carried a bottle of little white iodine pills to drop into his canteen of water, in those instances when he had to fill up his canteen with local water that might have some kind of ‘bugs’ in it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Warren Alwood: A Good Man

This is a photo of my husband’s great-grandfather Warren Alwood—a good man.  He is the relative on my husband's side whom I most wish I could have met.  I love to tell the stories of the “black sheep”—oh, mercy, I really do!—but the fine and faithful citizens also need their stories told, don’t you think?

Warren Charles Alwood (1862-1935) was the youngest in his family.  His father died of typhoid fever in 1865, many miles from home, while serving in the Union Army during the Civil War.  Warren was only two, and his mother never remarried—perhaps setting an example for Warren’s later life of faithfulness in love, even after death.

Warren married Adeline (Addie) Mark in 1891 when he was 28 and she was 25—first marriage for both.  They had five children, but raised six:  Franklin, Irvin, Wayne, Hazel, Floy Dell, and Beulah.  (More about them another day.)  That puzzled me until I did some digging…  It turns out Addie had a son out of wedlock in 1886—Franklin, who was disabled with spinal problems.  But Warren raised Frankie as his own until he died in 1900 at age 13 of typhoid fever. 

The family started out in northeastern Indiana, then went to Ohio where Addie was born, but eventually settled in Clare County, Michigan, on a farm near Brown’s Corners.  Warren built a house of fieldstone which was still standing in 2002.  Six years after their last child was born, Addie died from uterine cancer at 46; Warren was a widower at 51.  His obituary later said of him, “Mr. Alwood continued to maintain a home for his family until they were all able to depend upon themselves.”

But Warren had a lot of life in him yet.  He was head of the local school board, was active in the United Brethren Church, and was a much-loved father and grandfather.  A few stories about him survive, thanks to his grandson Dale Garver:

Once when Warren came to visit his daughter Hazel Garver and her children, he had cheese and crackers during the drive over.  It had rained, and dirt had splashed on his snack.  When he got to his daughter’s house, he said his “cheese and crackers got all muddy.”  The boys soon turned this into “Jesus Christ, God Almighty!” and teased him about it the rest of the day.

Grandsons Charles, Wayne, Forest and Lester—Hazel’s four oldest boys—liked to play tricks on their grandfather.  When he came over with his Whippet, a small two-door car, and it was time to leave, they’d line up and grab the rear bumper.  The car didn’t have enough power to pull all of them, and it would stall.  Warren would get out, hollering at them, and run them off…  If there weren’t four of them, they’d still grab the bumper, but instead of stalling the car, they’d ski down the road behind it.  Unless they let go in time, they would hit the sandy spot in the road about halfway to the corner and tumble head over heels.

One day when Warren came home with his Whippet, he pulled into the small barn where he parked it.  The building had doors front and back so he didn’t have to back out.  This particular time he failed to stop and hollered, “Whoa!” as he crashed through the back doors of the barn.

This photograph shows Warren with some of his sisters and neighbors.  The startling caption is “Fat People of Brown’s Corners.”  Warren looks like a rooster in a henhouse here—I suppose he was the most eligible middle-aged bachelor in the area.

But Warren never remarried.  After 22 years as a widower, he died at age 72 from heart trouble, probably a complication of the diabetes which runs in the family...  Gone, but not forgotten.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

James Francis Collier: A Self Made Man

While doing some research for a client, I came across an amazing story of a “self made man” named James Francis Collier. He is shown here front left, with his wife and children.

James was born in 1863 in Pennsylvania—the son of Irish immigrants Martin Collier and Catherine Kealy and the oldest of ten children.  Martin and Catherine settled in Schuykill County, and then Northumberland County, Pennsylvania—coal mining country.  James’ father Martin was a coal miner, as his father was before him.  In fact, the name “Collier” means coal miner.  It was hard and dirty work.  Martin died at age 49.

In the 1880 census, James (16) and his younger brother (only 12!) are “breaker boys” in the coal mines.  I had to look that up… Wikipedia says that breaker boys sorted coal by hand, without gloves.  It was a job for the young and the old.  Boys as young as eight would work ten hours a day, six days a week, sorting the coal by size and removing impurities.  They often lost fingers, hands, or worse in the conveyor belts.  Asthma and black lung were common. 

By the 1900 census, James was married to Lizzie McDowell, a daughter of Irish immigrants.  James has come a long way in 20 years; he is an insurance agent.  By the 1920 census he is a “superintendent-insurance company.”  The 1940 census tells us that James’ formal education stopped at the sixth grade—consistent with he and his brother being “breaker boys” by 1880.  James was truly a self-made man.

His 1945 obituary tells us just how far he had come.  It is entitled “James F. Collier, Civic Leader, Dies After Long Illness” and it says, in part:

“Mr. Collier was one of the best known insurance men in the city.  He was superintendent of the Prudential Life Insurance Company here until his retirement 11 years ago.  Since then he has devoted his time to civic activities and was a member of the Rotary Club, the Elks, the Eagles, the Young Men’s Republican Club, the Young Men’s Democratic Club, and the Wheel Club.  A member of the Church of the Annunciation, Mr. Collier was active in parish affairs and was a member of the Holy Name Society.  He was a member, also, of Williamsport Council 966, Knights of Columbus; was a fourth degree knight and served two terms as grand knight.  He was a member of the Chamber of Commerce, serving as its president; was a director of the First National Bank, and a director of the Williamsport Hotels Company.  He was a past president of the County Automobile club.  In municipal affairs, Mr. Collier was a leader in city planning.  He served long periods as president of both the City Planning commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals.  He was a past president of the Pennsylvania State Association of Planning Commissioners.” 

All this with a sixth grade education!

It also says this in his obituary:  “Mr. Collier started to work when he was eight years old, picking slate in the anthracite breakers.”  That tells us that James never forgot his humble roots, and rather than hiding his past or being embarrassed, he told his story.  I am guessing that this self made man was a huge inspiration to others.  I’m glad I had the chance to tell his story.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Wallin Siblings: Blazing a Path

“We grew up together in the same Nebraska town…. buried in wheat and corn… burning summers when the world lies green and billowy beneath a brilliant sky… blustery winters with little snow, when the whole country is stripped bare and gray as sheet-iron.  We agreed that no one who had not grown up in a little prairie town could know anything about it.”  Willa CatherMy Antonia

I recently wrote about my great-grandfather Frederick (F.I.) Wallin and his wife Christina, my Swedish “gateway ancestors” on the Wallin branch of the family tree.  Here is the family in Nebraska around 1903.  In the back are Aurora, Ray, Isador, Ithel, and Inez; my grandfather Sture Nels is standing in the middle; and great-grandpa Frederick, young Leonard, and great-grandma Christina are seated in front.  Such fine Swedish names!

Unlike the Peterson branch of the family, the Wallins all lived to adulthood to marry and, in most cases, have families of their own...

Isidor Hilmer (1879-1977) was called “Ike.”  He and his sister Inez were born when the family was still in Chautauqua County, New York, before they went west to Nebraska.  Ike was married twice and had five children with first wife, Selma Nyberg.  It is said he lived long enough to see six generations.  He died in Idaho at age 98.

Inez Christine (1884-1960) was married three times, the first time at age 16.  Her second husband, John Wade, was a steam railroad bridge builder.  Inez had two daughters, and she died in Los Angeles at age 76.

Frederick Iranus (1886-1944) was called “Ray.”  He was a carpenter.  He married twice—first to Esther Dahlberg, with whom he had four children, and then to Dorothy Farnum Kaiser, a widow who was his housekeeper after his first wife died.  Dorothy lived only four more years, leaving Ray a widower for the second time at age 54.  He died four years later.

Ithel Georgianna (1888-1944) was married to Ellis Passmore when she was 20 and he was 33, and they had three children.  Ellis was a civil engineer for the Burlington Railroad and later the CB&Q.  After Ithel (pronounced “ee-thel”) died at age 56, Ellis moved to California.

Aurora Linnea (1890-1976) was a schoolteacher, both before her marriage (in Nebraska) and afterwards (in California).  She and her husband Elmer Levene had no children, but Aurora’s mother Christina lived with them after her father Frederick died.

Sture Nels (1892-1979) was the only one to move east—to Illinois—which he did after the Great Depression and the droughts of the 1930s took their toll on the Great Plains farmers.  Sture was in a near-fatal car accident in Iowa in September 1940, while making final arrangements for the move.  Sture and his wife Sara had five children, four of whom lived to adulthood.

Leonard Carl (1898-1977) and his brother Sture both served in World War I.  Leonard and wife Helen Carmichael had two children.  Leonard ran a general store in the hotel that his father built around 1920.  Later he later moved to California to take a job with Boeing Aircraft, where he died at age 78.

So the first generation to come were Nebraska farmers; and the second generation moved beyond the Nebraska prairie to other places and things; and the third generation went to college, if they were willing to work hard; and my generation grew up believing that we could achieve anything we wanted—in no small part, I now know, because of the path blazed by those who came before.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Wilhelm Zietzke: A Not-Quite-Ordinary Life

Some people are just “characters.”  Wilhelm Zietzke (1830-1913) falls into that category.  (I’ve written about Wilhelm’s son Emiel in another post—he was a character, also!)

According to his death certificate, Wilhelm was born in “Misslowitz, Deutsch Poland” in 1830.  Myslowitz is the German name of this town, but “MysÅ‚owice” is the Polish name, and it’s now a part of Poland; this is one of those areas that has been part of a number of different countries over the years.  He gives his birthplace as “Poland” in 1885 and “Germany” in 1910; his son gives his father’s birthplace as “Poland” in 1920 and as “Prussia” in 1930.  Suffice it to say that, from what I can see online, Hitler was not kind to Myslowitz...   But Wilhelm left for America in 1861. 

The Museum of the Rockies provided me with a biographical sketch of Wilhelm published in 1885.  This told me that he went first to Cincinnati, Ohio; then to St. Joseph, Missouri; then onwards to the Wild West frontier  town of Helena, Montana Territory by 1865.  He was a prospector and then a carpenter there.  By 1868 he had relocated to Bozeman, Montana.  His first job there was building a log house for General Willson, and the biography concludes by saying that he is a successful building contractor. 

Eventually Wilhelm gave up carpentering and by 1900 had opened a cigar and confectionery store in Bozeman, and a photo survives.

But Wilhelm was more than a prospector, a carpenter, and a shopkeeper.  He was also very clever.  On the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website ( I found out that he held a number of patents for some very useful things.  Here is the patent drawing for one of them—an early can opener.  He also held patents for an early sash window, a butter churn, and a “combination tool.”  Genius must run in the family; his son held patents as well, and two of his grandsons. 
Wilhelm married Emilie Prebe in 1883, when he was 52 and she was just 23.  If he was married before that time, I don’t know about it—but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that he was!  (In the spirit of “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” see my post on his son Emiel.)  They had three children.  Not a happy marriage, apparently, as evidenced by the fact that in the 1910 census, they had separated.  He had moved to nearby Sheds Bridge, Montana, where he opened a small store.

In his later years, Wilhelm had a ‘peg leg.’  A picture exists of him standing outside of his store, peg leg and all.  Wilhelm’s 1913 obituary quite contradictingly says this about it:  “He had to have his right leg amputated some five or six years ago after a long illness.  He learned to be quite active again, but was more or less of an invalid from the time of his loss of a limb until his death.”  

Many people of his generation were born, grew up, married young, worked a farm, had children, and died…  But then there are those like Wilhelm, who added a few extra twists.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Those Places Thursday: Michigan Farm Life in the Great Depression, Part 3

Excerpts from the childhood of my mother-in-law, Donna Garver Mosey, in her own words:

“Mom did the milking, since Dad didn’t like working with the twelve cows.  We sold the cream but not milk—we didn’t have the cooling required for milk.  The man picked up the cream once a week.  We had real butter at home, and real homemade bread in our school lunches—which we took with us to school every day if we wanted to eat—no cafeteria in one room schools! 

At Christmastime, we would cut our own Christmas tree from the woods.  Mom made sea foam candy, fudge, peanut candy, and other treats.  Gifts were practical—clothes for school, mostly.  We would also get those old pinball kind of games that you would play on the floor—not one apiece, but one to share for all…  

When I was little our family had gone to church, but we quit going when there were too many kids to clothe and transport.  We went until there were five kids (counting brothers and sisters), but then it got too hard to get everyone dressed up enough.  But after that, we kids were still allowed to go—my dad would even drive us there—and my sisters and I went—Fern and Virginia and I, and Betty when she was old enough.   

We girls didn’t have bikes, but the boys did.  We didn’t do any horseback riding—we only had work horses.  Summer vacations, we worked in the garden and helped with the canning—I liked peeling peaches and tomatoes because you could boil them and the skins would drop right off!...  We always had enough to eat—but it was a lot of beans and potatoes.  I still like beans of all kinds—now it’s a healthy thing to eat.  I’m a “vegaholic” and I like fruit of all kinds.  Of course I like meat, too.  Butchering days were interesting on the farm!

My mother always made a good Sunday dinner with all the trimmings—meat, potatoes and gravy, salad, coleslaw, pie…  We girls once said to her, 'You always cook what Dad likes.”  She said, “I had Dad before I had all of you, and I’ll hopefully have Dad after you’re gone—so yes, I cook what he likes.”  I got the same story from our Fabulous Five with what I cooked for their dad while they were growing up.

8 boys, 6 girls.  Donna is in the front row middle, between her two parents.

I remember the day Doris (the oldest of the fourteen of us) left home.  It was the first time I ever saw my mother cry.   She left to be a housekeeper for somebody; then she met Lawrence and got married.  Charles left next.  He worked for a farmer nearby, the next farm over from his future wife Ellen...  I remember when Forest left home.  A farmer came to the house, wanting to hire a farmhand for milking, etc.  Mom and Dad said, “Forest can go.”  Forest later felt that meant that they didn’t like him as well as the other kids—but probably he was just the right age to leave home…  None of the boys ever had trouble finding work; all the Garvers had a good work ethic.”