I have decided to accept Amy Johnson Crow's "52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks" challenge. The first prompt in the challenge is "start", so I am choosing to start where all things start...with my Mother. My mother however, is not the woman that gave birth to me. I have chosen instead to write about the woman that gave me my "start", the woman that raised me, my maternal grandmother ~ Dorothy Julia Weber.
My Granny and I, about 1968.
Dorothy was born on the 23rd of April in 1907 in Erie, Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of Ferdinand Carl Weber, also of Erie, and her mother Rosina Sophia Phirman, a German immigrant. She had one sibling, her brother Harold Richard Weber and the two remained very close until his death in 1985.
Dorothy in 1909, Age 2
Dorothy and her brother Hal, probably about 1913.
I can't speak for all Germans, but my German ancestors didn't speak very much about their family life. My Grandmother was a talker, she would talk to complete strangers as if she'd known them her entire life. But even she didn't have a whole lot to say about her childhood. I do recall a few stories...I remember her talking about being in a play in elementary school, in which she had to wear wooden Dutch shoes and sing a song that went "Clup A Lup Lup, Clup A Lup Lup, Dance To and Fro". Too bad video cameras weren't invented back then, I would give anything to see that performance!
And I recall her saying that it was her job to chop firewood with an ax every day as a small child of 8 or 9 years old. If that were happening in these times, my Great Grandmother would surely be doing time for child endangerment..."Here kid, take this ax and go chop wood." Crazy!
I also remember asking her how she became deaf in her left ear. She said that when she was a girl, she made her father mad and he "boxed her ears" causing her to be permanently deaf on the left side. Once again, someone would be in jail for doing that today. And she didn't seem to mind being maimed at all. She would sleep on her "good ear" and always got a good nights sleep. Funny that she never described her parents as abusive, just "very strict". I do know that she loved her parents very much. She said that her mother was a "very hard worker" and she admired her greatly for that.
My Grandma on the right age 14, her Mother center, and her brother Hal, age 13, on the left. Taken about 1921.
Around the age of 14, Dorothy did something that, aside from a thirty year marriage to an abusive alcoholic, and giving birth to nine children, surely had the most impact. She took a few piano lessons from a lady named Edith Balko. She could not continue her lessons for very long because her parents could not afford it.
Dorothy and her fellow piano students the day of her only piano recital at the home of their teacher Edith Balko. 1921.
She's the pretty one in the back row, second from the right. The girl next to her, far right is her paternal 1st cousin Cecelia Jordan, and the odd little fellow in front of Cecelia is Chester DeCoursey, Cecelia's nephew.
About 1925 or so, Dorothy took a job playing piano for the silent movies at the Majestic Theater in Erie. She spoke fondly, and with a bit of melancholy about that job. Her employment there ended when she married my Grandfather Lee Orville Collins on May 28, 1927 in Ripley, New York.
He didn't feel it was appropriate for his wife to be employed outside the home.
The Majestic Theater in Erie, Pennsylvania where Dorothy played
piano for the silent movies during the 1920's.
My Grandparents on their wedding day May 28, 1927.
Photo was taken at the home of my grandfather's
parents in Sherman, New York.
My Grandmother's marriage was not a happy one. In 1928, after only one year of marriage, she lost not one, but two sons. Robert Lee, and Donald Lee Collins. both were born prematurely. Robert Lee lived three days, and Donald Lee only three hours. Every time she spoke of her children, she spoke of them and their short lives. They will never be forgotten, I've made sure of it. After the deaths of her first two sons in the same year, she went on to have seven more children. It was a difficult life. Her husband drank away his small paycheck every week. He was broke before he staggered through the door on payday. Things were so bad that his own sister reported him to the authorities for failing to care for his family. His answer to that was to pack up his family and move to Cleveland, Ohio...far enough away from his meddling sister, and the arm of the law.
In 1959, my grandmother found my grandfather in the backyard of their home. He had died from a massive coronary late the night before on his way home from the bar.
His death was an unfortunate blessing. She now had regular income in the form of a Social Security check, and no longer had to tolerate his abuse.
The first thing she did was purchase a small lap organ on layaway. It looked like a suitcase with an organ inside. For years, that's all she had to play on. Eventually she got a full size piano. I remember it well. She just loved the "blonde" wood! I was lucky enough to grow up with the sounds of the early 1900's filling the house. One of her favorites was a song called "Mickey". If you click that title/link, you can hear it.
That beautiful blonde piano was destroyed when our house burned in 1975. Her son had a piano in his home that they didn't use, and the rest of her children chipped in to purchase it from him. Dorothy was back in business.
As I grew older, I required less of her time. She started going to the Lakewood Senior Citizens center every day. And low and behold, there was a piano there that was being ignored. One day, she sat down and played a tune. That was the start of the very best part of her life. She played there daily, bringing great joy to everyone at the center. and it led to gigs...yes, my grandma, in her 70's, had "gigs"! Aside from the center which she still played at regularly, she played every Saturday at Fazio's House of Beauty. She also had gigs in local establishments like the Pearl Lounge. And she was in very high demand every St. Patrick's Day. She knew all the old Irish drinking songs, and "Danny Boy" was always requested. The day after St. Patty's Day she was already booked for the following year!
Dorothy playing a tune at Fazio's House of Beauty
Dorothy and a friend at the Lakewood Senior Citizens Center
Multiple times she was featured in local newspapers. She received multiple letters from Senators, and was honored by the Mayor of Lakewood. Ohio at a ceremony that meant the world to her.
Dorothy with the Mayor of Lakewood
In 1988, Jeff Washka, a dear friend of hers, threw her a HUGE surprise party for her 82nd birthday. So many people were there! It even made the local news in Cleveland! A true testament the wonderful woman she was. You could search this entire globe and never, EVER find another human with more love in her heart. AS a child, I recall a day that we missed our bus because she saw a little boy walking in front of us with holes in his shoes. Even though we were poor ourselves, she took that little boy into Woolworth's and bought him a pair of brand new sneakers.
THAT is the woman that she was, and the Grandma I will always remember.
On January 22, 1990, on a cold, rainy night, Dorothy lost her battle with cancer. She died in our home, in her bed.
Just as she took care of me, I was honored to take care of her until the end. Even though it's been 28 years since her passing, I still think of her every day...as I promised her I would when we said our goodbyes. And her absence is not one bit less painful. If you take anything from this post, let it be this...Never, ever, leave anything unsaid to your loved ones. And cherish every single second you have with them while you can.