Saturday, December 31, 2011

Let's Go Skating

The madness that surrounds the month of  December definitely took a toll on the blog.  Now that old man winter lurks in the corner and January approaches, I'm reminded of one of my favorite things about growing up in northern Iowa ... ice skating.  Of course, back in the 50's, we were not surrounded by umpteen electrical devices to play with as the kids are nowadays.  We had to use our imagination and find something to do.  In my case, if you hung around the house too long, Mom would find a chore or two so I tended to drift out the back door.

There was an empty lot between our house and the neighbor.  It had a low spot that would tend to fill up with melted snow, which would then freeze into a pond.  Just the right place for a young girl to practice ice skating.  We had an old pair of hockey skates hanging in the cellar and I would put on about 3 pair of socks and stuff the toes with newspaper to make them fit.  I spent hours clunking around that small patch of ice while teaching myself how to skate.  Now that I think back on it, I'm sure my trials on the ice provided the neighbors with several hours of entertainment!

One wonderful Christmas, there was a pair of beautiful, white figure skates under the tree.  Lordy, it was fun to actually have a pair of skates that fit.  It's amazing how much easier it is to function on the ice when the skates actually lace up nice and tight.

My hometown of Rockford, Iowa was nestled between two rivers.  Lime Creek (aka Winnebago) was just two blocks down the road, but it never froze smooth.  All of my friends would trudge to town and skate beneath the bridge on the Shell Rock River just north of the dam in the area of the old mill pond.  The water was very deep and still in that area and most winters it froze perfectly smooth.

The father of one of my old school friends owned a service station and he had an old willys jeep.  Every winter he would plow the snow off the river and make a nice rink for us.  Then he would plow a long, curved path so we could play "crack the whip".  You never know real terror unless you've been at the end of the "whip" and went sailing off onto uncharted ice.  Yeeowee...

We always knew we were safe if we stayed on the path Clarence had plowed.  If the ice had held for Clarence and his jeep, we knew it was froze solid and deep.  If you ventured out of bounds, you might hear that terrifying  c-r-a-c-k ...  After a while you learned the different sounds of ice when it was just making a cracking sound because it was so cold ... or the other scary sound when it was weak and giving way.

 The street lights on the bridge above the rink area provided just enough light for us to see in the evenings.  Someone also provided an old oil drum and if we were really lucky, one of the big boys would bring along an old tire to burn to help keep us warm.

Now that I look back on those days, I'm amazed at the hours we spent outside in those cold, northern Iowa winters.  We were not blessed with warm down-filled coats, stocking caps and warm gloves like you see on kids today.  Our coats were usually wool (no warm sweatshirts or fleece underneath) and we wore those butt-ugly wool headscarves. Of course, once your wool mittens became soggy, they were useless.  If you were smart, before you took off your skates, you would warm your boots over the fire before putting them on. I seem to remember someone dropping a boot into the fire by accident. Can't remember how they got home because everybody walked to the river.  No such thing as a parent dropping you off in those days.  If you wanted to go somewhere, you had two feet.

Then, after a long evening of skating, when you were frozen through to the bone, you would tie your skates together and throw them over your shoulder for the eight-block walk home ... usually into a northwest wind.  Thankfully, there was a public toilet in the old library building that was half way home and you could warm up a bit.

So I'm wondering .... when did I become such a whimp?

Thursday, December 1, 2011


I was blessed to have been raised with a big sister. Eileen was almost 4 years older and smoothed my path through childhood in many ways.  Was it all smooth sailing?  If she were here, she would fall on the floor laughing over that remark.  We fought like cats and dogs ... over everything.  There were just the two of us.  We had no other siblings to help smooth things over.

                             Sisters - 1943

We shared a bedroom for 14 years.  Tough!!  We would draw an imaginary line down the center of the room and threaten death if either of us crossed the line. During the evening chore of dinner dishes, we fought and argued to such a degree that Mom finally decided the only way to have peace was to split the chore ... Eileen did dishes one night and I did them the next.  This actually worked out pretty well for me.  Once Sis got old enough to date, she would beg me to switch nights with her.  I would usually get a 2-for-1 deal. (Younger sisters have to survive somehow.)

Nobody wants a whiny, tag-along little sister.  Things got mighty mean at times.  I remember a grape jelly sandwich in my face. Of course, after she did that dastardly deed, we fell on the floor in laughter.  Then there was the incident with vanilla flavoring.  Have you ever smelled that little brown bottle of  flavoring?  Yummy...  She was baking and enticed me to smell it and taste it.  She said, "it tastes just as good as it smells."  Now, I'm about 7 years old and been fooled by this sister way too many times, so I insisted that she taste it first.  She tipped that little brown bottle up to her mouth and made me believe it was dee-licious.  Well, get out of my way ... I take a large gulp.  I leave you to your imagination as to what ensued.  Many years later, she confessed that it took every bit of her willpower to keep a straight face and convince me to do the taste test.

Through all the growing pains we shared, she was a wonderful, caring sister. At the end of the day, when two little girls crawled into that old iron bed together, she always held my hand until we fell asleep.  She walked me to school and directly to my classroom on my first day of kindergarten, trying to soothe my fears.  If spooky noises were heard in the dark, she was always at my side to keep the Boogyman away...although sometimes those noises were caused by the big sister trying to scare the bejeezus out of me.

Birthdays were not a big deal in our house as we were growing up.  There were no presents or special events planned.  But, I remember Eileen baking a birthday cake for me the year I turned ten years old.  It was my first ever birthday cake.

One of our favorite games during the long northern Iowa winter months was playing "stagecoach".  We would gather all our dolls onto the bed.  Then we would attach leather belts to the end of the old iron bed frame and pretend they were reins.  We would grab the reins and get to bouncing that old bed back and forth pretending we were riding in a stagecoach and Indians were trying to catch us.  I still don't know how mother put up with all the screaming and laughing as we tried to outrace the natives.

Eileen was the marble champion of the entire neighborhood.  She had a bag of marbles that was the envy of every kid in town.  After a couple of summers, nobody would play with her because she would win all their marbles and walk away. She also could whistle through her teeth.  She spent hours trying to teach me, but I never could master it.  Years later when she became the mother of  five, she would walk to her back door and whistle.  The kids could hear her for blocks around and head home.

We were as different as night and day.  She had dark, wavy hair, brown eyes and would turn brown as a nut in the summer.  Me?  Stick-straight, blonde hair, blue eyes, freckles and I fried in the sun. I enjoyed sports, riding bikes and skating for hours.  She became tired and usually dropped out of our games early.  Later, of course, we came to realize it was her weak heart that caused her to tire so quickly.   Our fashion sense was totally different.  As an adult, I leaned toward jeans and Birkenstocks.  She loved strappy, feminine sandals and dressy pants and blouses.

For many years during our twenties and thirties, we drifted apart.  We lived in different states and were busy raising children.  Oh, we called each other occasionally, sent Christmas and birthday cards, pictures of our growing kids, etc.  Both of us went through the good and bad in life.  We tried to meet at Mom's each summer, but that seldom worked out as family activities prevented our schedules to mesh.

And then, miraculously, our children were grown and we had more free hours in the day.  We started to call once or twice a week and a couple of times grabbed a plane and went to visit.  We developed a deep, caring love for each other.  We laughed and cried over our shared memories of childhood.  It was not unusual for me to pick up the phone and hear, "Sis, do you remember ........"  Then we would take a walk down memory lane together, sometimes for hours.

She celebrated her 60th birthday in 1998 and I flew to San Jose to spend a few days with her.  On a whim, we decided to have our picture taken together.  Little did we know how short our days together would be.

My dear sister died in February 2010 and my world fell apart.  How many times do I reach for the phone to call and share a laugh or a tear?  How many times does some little thing trigger a faint memory and I need to ask her if she remembers?   Nobody knows me like she did.  She was my rock, my Big Sister, my other half.  She was the Keeper of My Memories.

I miss you every day, dear schwester, may you rest in peace.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Flood Creek Hermit

Several years ago, my mother and I were walking through St. Mary's Cemetery in Roseville, Iowa.  I needed some tombstone pictures. She was keeping me company and telling stories about family members. Many of my family are buried there. We were just casually strolling here and there in this small country cemetery. It was a lovely day.  As we walked along, I noticed a small tombstone by the side of the driveway.  It read:  Pete Nohs, died Feb. 17, 1903.  It was such a small tombstone, it almost made you think it belonged to a child.

My genealogy antenna went a bit haywire when I noticed the name Nohs.  I was researching the Noss line. Coincidence?  When I questioned Mom, she drew a blank and tended to calm me down with the thought that it probably wasn't a relative. Something about the poor little tombstone touched me and I took a photo of it ... just in case.  Ya just never know ...

The next day, I spent the afternoon at the local library looking through old newspapers.  I decided to see what I could find on Peter Nohs who died in 1903.  I found his obit:

"Old Peter Nosh, the Flood Creek hermit, who has been sick for sometime past, died Tuesday morning, from a complication of troubles.  Contrary to the generally accepted opinion, he was not an old bachelor, but had a wife and daughter both of whom died in the old country before he came over 34 years ago.  The funeral service will be held tomorrow."
   Rockford Register, Rockford, Iowa - Thursday, 19 February 1903

Again the old antenna immediately began to quiver (if you are a genealogist, you know exactly what I'm talking about).  Peter Nosh? Nohs?  Noss? Could this be possible?  My great-grandfather, Carl Noss, and family did not arrive in Iowa until 1886.  If Peter had lived in Iowa for 34 years by 1903, that means he came over earlier.  Could this be a relative and the reason my Carl decided to settle in Floyd County?

A couple of days later, I returned home and immediately headed for the Omaha Public Library as they had a complete collection of Iowa census records (this was pre-Ancestry days).  There was Peter Nuss in the 1880 census for Floyd County, Ulster Township.

Later I found a land record that contained Peter's signature.  This solved the mystery of the assorted Nohs/Nuss/Noss spellings.

If you look closely, you will notice he signed his name with the typical German double S, which to the eye of a non-German appears as an "hs".... thus Nohs.  

From there I followed Peter's story through census records, land records, probate records, passenger lists and German church records.  I was like a dog with a bone.

The final reward is that old Peter Nohs, the Flood Creek hermit does belong to me.  He's my 2nd great uncle.   Now when I wander through that peaceful country cemetery, I always stop and talk to Peter.  I just want him to know that he has family and we remember him.

This is Peter's story:

He was born 13 April 1818 in the small country village of Bettingen in Saarland, Germany.  His older brother, Johan, is my great-great grandfather. He was married to Theresia Hermann on 1 June 1841.  They had a baby girl who died at birth later that year.  In 1844 they were blessed with a son they named Peter.  I can almost feel Peter's pride at the birth of this son. Sadly no other children were born to Peter and Theresia.  In March of 1868, tragedy struck the family with the death of their only child and then Theresia died two years leter in December of 1870. Peter must have been devastated to lose his entire family.

In the spring of 1872, a Bettingen farmer by the name of Peter Merfeld and his family decided to emigrate to Iowa and Peter joined them on the voyage. They sailed on the "Silesia" and landed in New York on 11 April 1872.  They traveled across country and settled in Floyd County where Merfeld's brothers had settled a few years previously.  

Another old newspaper article extracted from Rockford Register, dated 20 Oct 1898 gives another glimpse into the life of Peter:

  "Peter Noss, the old hermit of Flood Creek, has been sick for some time and is a hard case for the authorities to handle.  He insists on being left alone in his little hut and does not want anyone to go there to care for him, neither will he be cared for anywhere else.  The township trustees keep such supervision of him as possible and will see that he does not suffer for want of food.  The chances are that someday he will be found dead in his little home."

If you are a fellow genealogist, you have certain stories or family members that touch you deeply.  Poor old Peter Noss, the hermit of Flood Creek is one of mine.  Somehow I feel he never got over the loss of his little family.  I'm hoping he found some peace in a small house in northern Iowa.  I know I feel a connection to the old hermit when I lay my hand on the top of his tombstone in that peaceful country cemetery.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Road to California

The 1930's were tough years for America. Times were hard and jobs were scarce, especially for young Iowa farm boys.  Mom's oldest brother, Joseph "Toby" Noss, was 17 years old in the summer of 1933 when he made his first trip to California.  He accompanied his older sister, Gert, and her finance, Don Lines. He served as chaperone and helped Don with the driving.  They drove an old Model T Ford Coupe.

When they arrived in Sacramento they stayed with their mother's sister, Mary Albrecht Smith in Sacramento near 14th Avenue and 44th Street.

At the end of the summer, Toby decided to head back to Iowa. Aunt Mary made him some sandwiches, sewed $5.00 in his pocket for emergencies and off he went.  He hitched a ride on a produce truck to Reno and helped the driver unload his produce in payment.  Then he walked three miles to Sparks, Nevada and hopped a train where he rode the walkway on top of the cars.  At one point, he fell asleep and almost rolled off the roof, but managed to crawl back to the walkway.  When he arrived in Ogden, Utah, he heard a rumor about someone being killed in the train yard; so he didn't wait around, but grabbed the next train going east and rode all the way to Mason City, Iowa and never had to use the $5.00 that was still sewn in his pocket. All he spent was 35 cents for a meal in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

In 1936, he went back to California to stay. He went to work for Aunt Mary as a truck driver.  Later he was a dispatcher and driver.  He soon married and started a family.  The young Iowa boy had found a home in the West.

Aunt Mary had no children of her own, but she helped several of her nieces and nephews by giving them a bed and jobs until they could get on their feet and off on their own.  Toby was the oldest son in a family of 11 children. Over the next few years, two brothers and a sister joined him in California.

In 1944 it was decided that the rest of the family would leave Iowa for California. This included Toby's parents, Bill and Tillie Noss, sisters Gladys and Mary, along with brothers, Jim, Jack and Kenny.  Grandpa Bill had a wee problem with alcohol and never seemed to be able to provide much for the family.  If they moved west, it would be possible for Toby, as the oldest son, to help.

Again, Aunt Mary came to the rescue and helped finance the move.  Toby purchased an old moving van in Minnesota for $1100.00 and the family proceeded to load their goods ... including an old Plymouth!  Reminds me of Ma and Pa Joad and the family in The Grapes of Wrath.  

The morning of departure, they stopped at our house for breakfast.  I was only two years old, so have no memory of the momentous occasion.  My mother, Julia, would be the only member of the family staying in Iowa.  By that time, she was married with two small daughters.  She fed them all and waved goodbye.  Mom was devastated as she watched her entire family drive away not knowing when she would see any of them again.

Toby and Jim took turns driving.  Jim was barely 16 years old and probably didn't even have a driver's license.  Aunt Gladys told me how the younger kids would get out and walk when the truck was slowly crawling up a mountain.  It gave them a chance to stretch their legs and enjoy a bit of fresh air.

After several years, Toby and his younger brother, Jim, joined forces and formed Noss Brothers Trucking Company.  As always Toby continued to help younger members of his extended family by providing a bed or a job to get them started on the right foot as Aunt Mary had done for him back in the 1930's.

Toby & Mary Noss - 1996

Today, Uncle Toby is nearing his 96th birthday and lives on 5 acres in Elk Grove, near Sacramento, California.  For many years, he and his beloved wife, Mary, hosted the annual Noss family reunion at their home until her death in 2001. Toby loves to be surrounded by his family and friends.

He's been a California resident for about 75 years, but if you dig out your pocketknife and scrape away a bit of his tough old hide, underneath you will find an Iowa farm boy born and bred.  His values are unchanged ... frugality, family and hard work.

Now, again, we find America in tough times.  Perhaps we should all take a page from Toby's rule book and see if we can get on down the road.

(Thanks to Toby's daughter, Terry Noss Walker, for helping me with this story about her dad.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mother's Tree

If you have read any of the previous posts, you know that I love family history.  I'll admit to being a genealogy junkie.  I can lose an entire day by just sitting down at the computer with my morning coffee and saying to myself, "I wonder if there's anything new on Ancestry."   Pooof .... it's dinnertime!  The dog is whining, the dust bunnies have multiplied, I've forgotten to eat (not a bad thing) and I'm still in my jammies.  Holy crap, batman!

But what you don't know is that I have another passion and that is stitching.  Stitching of any kind ... knitting, quilting, cross stitch, crocheting.  You name it.  If it involves a stitch, I'm game.  My mother taught me to sew when I was in junior high school.  At that time, my older sister was taking home ec in high school and Mom had traded in her old treadle machine for a new electric model.

Mom was an excellent seamstress when she had time; but since her time was limited, she taught her daughters to sew.  Of course, I didn't realize at the time what a wonderful gift it truly was until I was blessed with a daughter who grew to be 6' tall.  Believe me I used every skill she ever taught in lengthening skirts, dresses, pants.  I even made her wedding dress as she was not only long-legged, but also had a long torso. I became a bit suicidal at that point and haven't done much sewing since.

Another gift my mother chose to pass on was how to crochet and embroider. Something to do on a cold winter night or a rainy afternoon.  I must have been fairly young because I don't remember doing either while in high school. After I left home, I taught myself to quilt and knit.  Do you remember those little green Coats & Clark books you bought at the dime store?  That's where I learned to knit. Wonder what ever happened to mine?

To get back to the main theme of today's blog, I decided to combine my love of genealogy with my love of old samplers and stitching.  I found a wonderful pattern called "Mother's Tree" by Lavender & Lace.  This was exactly what I needed to sew an heirloom gift for my only granddaughter.  The pattern records all women in a direct line.

Several years of genealogy research were completed before I even began the stitching.  In the end, I was unable to find the birth date for Anna Maria Conter Mueller.  German church records were not available for her village in that time frame, which I estimated to be around 1750.  I had hoped to perhaps find a death date that might give me a clue; but with the name Anna Mueller, I might as well have been looking for John Smith.  I began to stitch from the bottom up, hoping to find the missing data before I reached the space for her information, but no such luck. I decided it was best to finish it while I was able to do so.  Sometimes life gets in the way and I would have hated to see it end up unfinished and stuffed  in a drawer.

This week I brought it home from the frame shop. It felt like I had given birth!  It represents many years of my life.  It will hang in my home until my granddaughter is old enough to have her own home.  Since she's edging towards 15, it will be several years but hope to still be around to see it hung on her wall.  If not, she will have all my love and a bit of her family history wrapped up in thousands of stitches.  Perhaps it will be passed on.  I asked the framer to leave a bit of extra material tucked away at the bottom in hopes that maybe a future generation will be able to add a name if so desired.

Oh, did I mention that I never want to see DMC color 934 every again?

The stitching gene passed over my only daughter, but I taught my granddaughter, Reghan, to knit and cross stitch when she came to my house after school.  Of course, she's now a busy teenager with many school and sports activities, and stitching is far down her list.  But, I have faith that she will pick it up again someday just as I did.

Next up will be a sampler for my only grandson based totally on his surname.  Now if  I could just pass on the genealogy gene .....

Monday, September 12, 2011


As we observe the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, we are all reminded of the heroes in our lives.  My biggest hero was my grandfather, George Kornegor.  I loved that man.

I remember a tall, quiet man who didn't make much fuss over little granddaughters, but felt his love in many ways.  He suffered a stroke when I was about six years old and was bedridden much of the time. Many of my memories are of  his pet parakeet resting on his hand or walking up and down his paralyzed arm.  He would gently stroke it's head with his huge fingers and it would chirp to him. To me he was a gentle giant.

Grandma would ask me to come over and sit with Grandpa to keep him company while she went to Eastern Star meetings once a month.  We lived close by ...down a long gravel road, past a huge grove of pine trees that echoed your footsteps when you walked home in the deep dark of night.  But that's another story.

I'd help get the TV tuned to the right station and adjust the rabbit ears (things were pretty snowy in those days) as he loved to watch the old wrestling shows of the 1950's. Of course, Gorgeous George was his favorite. It's the only time I ever heard him swear.  His speech was a bit affected by the stroke, but there was no mistaking .... mumble, mumble, sumbisch!  I almost laughed out loud, but had to turn my head so he wouldn't know I heard.

The only industry in our small farming community was the local brick and tile company.  Grandpa was the superintendent of the plant so was well known and respected.  I was so proud to be his granddaughter.

                                                            George Kornegor ca 1910

My grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1953 and Grandpa died just three years later.

George Kornegor, Sr., was born July 12, 1878 near Collins, Iowa in Jasper County.  He was the oldest child of Rachel and Thomas Kornegor. He grew to young manhood in the Collins community and at the age of eighteen he joined the Methodist Church in Maxwell, Iowa.

On November 15, 1903 he was united in marriage with Isabell Stockman, and they spent their early married life in Nevada, Iowa, where he was employed by the McHose Brick and Tile company. He later served as superintendent of the brick and tile companies at Iowa Falls, Van Meter and Sheffield, before coming to Rockford February 1, 1914.  For 35 years he served as superintendent of the Rockford Brick and Tile Company. He was a member of the Rockford Town Council for fourteen years.

He suffered a heart attack Sunday, September 23 and departed this life October 1, 1956. George was a member of  the Masonic Blue Lodge and Royal Arch Masons and had also served as a member of the town council.

                                                                George Kornegor 1953

My grandmother, Isabell, who had lost her life-long companion, never seemed to recover from her loss.  She died just nine months later.  I like to imagine that, like me, she had also lost her hero.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Wish Book

As a child growing up in the late 40's and early 50's, one of life's exciting moments occurred with the arrival of newest Montgomery Ward catalog.  We usually got one from Sears Roebuck also, but Mom seemed to prefer "Monkey Ward".  We had no home delivery of mail.  Everything was delivered to the post office and we would walk 6 blocks to check the mail every day.  Oh, the excitement when the newest edition arrived!!  My sister and I would argue over who got to look at it first.  Of course, if you were the kid that lugged it home from town, you got first dibs.

The Spring-Summer edition would arrive in mid-winter and we would spend hours looking at all the wonderful warm weather fashions soon to be available.  With the wind howling around the house and snow up to our knees in mid-February, we would curl up close to the heat register and  browse an afternoon away dreaming of warm weather.

The Fall-Winter edition would arrive in mid-summer and again we would page our way through exciting ideas for the new school year.  We would dream about the new, shiny bicycles, roller skates and all the mind boggling toys that were available in the Christmas issue.  It truly was a Wish Book as we knew most everything except the underwear and socks would not be available in our frugal world.

When the newest catalog arrived, I would start to beg my mother to let me have the outdated issue.  What a treasure!  I'd grab my scissors and cut out paper dolls and dresses galore.  My imagination knew no bounds.  Men, women, kids .... entire families came to life. 

The old, outdated catalogs were also used as booster seats at the kitchen table for little kids.  There were no heat registers in the upstairs bedrooms so on cold, winter mornings we would grab our clothes and dash downstairs.  Then Mom would open the oven door and we would sit on an old catalog while we dressed for school.

Of course, there was always an old, dog-eared edition residing in the outhouse in case you needed something to read ...

Since my parents had survived the Great Depression, spending frivolously was never, ever done ... ever.  This means that since I was the younger of two sisters, I was raised in hand-me-downs.  My wardrobe consisted of whatever Eileen had worn 3 years previously.  Some things I could not wait to grow into and others were less desirable. I distinctly remember a yellow peasant dress with black rickrack trim. Can you say Butt Ugly?   Mom never dressed us alike, but for some reason she bought two of those darn things.  They were probably selling at a greatly reduced price!  Needless to say, I was blessed with wearing those dresses for years.

I remember one summer day, my mother handed me the newest catalog, opened to the dress pages for young girls. It was time to get ready for school. She told me I could have any two I wanted as long as they were not over $2.98 each.  Oh the bliss!  Plaids, stripes, flowers, sashes or no sashes, collars or not ... There must have been 5 or 6 styles on the page that fit my $2.98 budget and I agonized over my purchase  for days!  I had never been given that privilege before. Wow!  Just for me!  Funny how that memory has stayed with me all these years. 

I never went to a shoe store to try on shoes until I was about 14 years old.  All our shoes were ordered from the Wish Book.  Don't know how my mother measured our feet, but the shoes usually fit.  Probably because she ordered them a bit on the big size so they would last all year.  We only got one new pair of shoes a year.  Mom always bought the plain brown oxford.  No frills, no different colors ... plain brown.  No Mary Janes as "the strap will break within a week."  No saddle shoes as "too hard to keep clean".  Plain brown shoes from the catalog.  Sigh ...

How I hated those brown shoes.  Actually, I hated shoes period.  Sis and I ran barefoot all summer so when it was time for school to start and we had to put on socks and squish our feet into shoes, it was pure agony.    I can remember walking out of the school building, sitting down on the steps, taking off my shoes to walk home on a warm September day.

The Wish Book was a large part of my youth. It was a sign the seasons were changing when the new issue arrived.  Sprawled on the living room floor, paging through all the wonders that were available, a little girl with a big imagination, could spend the afternoon.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Sewing Table

One of my most prized possessions is an old sewing table that once belonged to my great-grandmother.  The poor old thing has a long history, but has lovingly been restored and now resides with me.  The table has a drop leaf which extends outward to create work space, but I close the leaf and it becomes a nice end table by my stitching chair.  

My mother remembers it sitting in the corner of  her grandmother's dining room.  It was always open and had a sewing project in progress laying on top. 

 Katherine (Hochstein) Albrecht was born in 1862 in Dane County, Wisconsin.  She was the oldest of seven daughters of John and Susanna (Lenz) Hochstein.  She married Joseph Albrecht at age 16 and 7 children were born in Wisconsin.  The family then moved from Wisconsin to Butler County, Iowa where 4 more children were born.

We believe the table originated in Wisconsin and made the move to Iowa along with the rest of the family in 1892.  Possibly it was a wedding present or perhaps a gift from her husband.

The table only measures 26 inches tall.  Katherine was a tiny woman barely 5' tall, so it was probably just the right size for her use.  Was the table made especially for her?  We don't know at this time.

I'm also a seamstress like Katherine, but my new modern sewing/craft table measures 36 inches tall which is perfect for my 5'6" frame.  When I stand at Katherine's table, I feel her presence and realize how small she was and to think she gave birth and raised 11 children!  Her last child was born just 6 months before her first grandchild.

This picture of Kate was taken about 1906.  She would have been about 44 years old.  Her youngest child was about 4 years old and her oldest son was 28. 

Katherine died in 1943 and the table was given to her daughter, my grandmother, Matilda (Albrecht) Noss.  She was the first of Katherine's children to be born in Iowa in 1893.  Matilda also had 11 children so the old sewing table was put to good use.  Tillie, as she was known, was also an excellent seamstress and had worked  for a department store in Greene, Iowa before her marriage.  In those days, all dresses were not bought off the rack.  A woman could come to the store, choose her pattern and material. Then a seamstress employed by the store would make the dress to her specification.

Shortly after Katherine's death, Tillie, her husband and younger children moved to California.  The old sewing table was packed up and made the long trip over the mountains far away from it's Midwest origins.  When Tillie died in 1984, the table was given to her daughter, Julia, who is my mother.  Mom packed up the old table in California and drove it back over the mountains to Iowa. 

The table was now approximately 100 years old and starting to look it's age.  Mom didn't know what to do with the table as it definitely needed some loving care.  She gave the table to my sister, Eileen, who enjoyed restoring furniture. Eileen lived in Wisconsin, so the rickety, well-used table returned to it's original location after all those years.  Eileen took that old table and brought it back to it's original glory.  It was beautiful.

In the late 90's, Eileen decided to make a move to California to be closer to her grandchildren.  She would be living with her son's family and have no room for the grand little table.  She offered it to me as she knew it would be cared for with the love it deserved.

So this precious table now resides in Iowa with me.  I use it to hold embroidery and knitting supplies.  It sits near my stitching chair.  Somehow I think great-grandmother Katherine would like that.  As I slide open the old drawers and reach for another skein of yarn or a spool of thread, I think of all the women before me who used this table to hold their own handwork supplies.  Especially I'm reminded of my dear sister whose hands restored the old table with love. I lost my sister to a devastating stroke last year and this table is a forever link between the two of us.

Someday the table will be passed on to my daughter and it's journey will continue. I only hope she will treasure all the memories it holds within its drawers.  Now if I could only teach her how to sew on a button !!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Outhouse

Anyone who does family history research has a favorite story.  Mine revolves around little Levi Pecht of Mifflin County, Pennsylvania.  This is the newspaper article that caught my interest:

  "Levi Pecht, fifteen month old son of Alonzo Pecht, fell into a privy at the rear of his father's jewelry business on Market Street.  The privy was a new one, being twenty-one feet deep with about a foot of accumulation at the bottom which saved the child.  A young son of Samuel A. Walters was left [sic] down and brought the boy up with only a little scratch.  8/24/93".   Dan McClenahen, "People In The News In Mifflin County, Vol.II (1886-1899)"
You can't read this without seeing the humor, but imagine the terror of that little boy to be doused in a foot of "accumulation"? 

I have a long history with outhouses.  I did not live in a house with indoor plumbing until leaving home at the age of eighteen.  We had running water in the basement which included a sink and shower stall, but that was it.  All water for kitchen duties was carried upstairs in a bucket. 

I grew up walking the long path out the back door, past the pump with the tin drinking cup, around the old garage, past the strawberry patch to the little wooden building in the back.  Actually, my dad built the Cadillac of outhouses.  It was a three-holer!  Two large holes and a smaller one for my sister and I.  Mom always bought real toilet paper though so we never had to use the Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Ward catalogs.  Although they made good reading material.

The terror of the dark kept me holding my breath on that dash down the path during my younger years.  I would beg my older sister to walk with me, but you can imagine how high that was on the list of things she wanted to do.  If Mom insisted that Sis take me to the toilet, then she would tease me the entire way ... stories of the boogyman, animals in the bushes, making scratching noises as I sat inside, etc.  She relished her job as Big Sister, I can tell you.  In the summer there were always spider webs and assorted insects to worry about.  My favorite was to make the trek in the dark, and sit down on a spider web.... still makes me catch my breath.  The bumble bees and wasps liked to visit while you were sitting there.  A job is finished quickly to the tune of a wasp circling the premises. Then, of course, in the wintertime you had to wipe the frost from around the seat before you delicately sat down in -20 degree weather. 

A time-honored tradition in my hometown was the game of tipping toilets which usually occurred the week of Halloween.  If you owned an outhouse, you expected the worst as it was considered fair game. Our outhouse was never a victim as Dad was a champion "tipper" in his day so when he built our super duper model, it was made to withstand outside forces. 

Do you know how many kids can pile in an old 1949 Packard? 

Oh, about 8-9.  We would drive quietly up and down the side streets searching for outhouses that were tucked away in backyards or near an alley.  By the late 50's they were becoming few and far between.  One dark night we found a likely target sitting on a small hill.  We all piled out of the car in a tangle of legs and arms, trying not to giggle and make too much noise.  We decided to roll that bugger down the hill.  How much fun is that!!  We all started to push and heave to no avail.  Then one of the more intelligent members of the group noticed that the clothesline was up against the side of the outhouse and prevented us from fulfilling our dirty deed.  So, we proceeded to lift the wire up and out of the way, gave a huge push, and down the hill it rolled.  Oh my Lord, you have never heard such a racket.  We realized later the owner of the outhouse no longer used it for it's original purpose and had chose to store his storm windows inside.  Holy Crap!! (no pun intended).  Do you know how fast 8 kids can pile into a car and skedaddle?  I think we set a record. That was the end of our "tipping" days.  We never did it again. 

So, I'm having a conversation with my 10-year-old grandson one day and I'm explaining to him that in my day we didn't have cell phones, ipods, and all that fancy stuff.  Heck, we didn't even have an indoor toilet.  His eyes got really big and he says, "You mean you had one of  those blue things in your back yard?"   Well, no, it wasn't a port-a-potty.  Those things are just tin cans.  A wooden outhouse has character ... and sometimes a foot or two of accumulation.

At this time in my research, I am unable to link little Levi Pecht to my husband's line.  But I firmly believe that anyone who can survive a drop of twenty-one feet into a foot of "accumulation" belongs in my family tree.

I'm just sayin' ..........

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I've received several warm welcome messages in the past couple of days.  Thank you all for the wonderful encouragement.  Guess it's time to swallow the butterflies and jump in.

One of my fondest memories growing up in small town Iowa revolves around my Grandma Kornegor.  She lived just about 3 blocks away and I loved to walk down that dirt road to her house and spend the afternoon.  She had a great playroom upstairs filled with old dolls, small china dishes and assorted girly things that her youngest child and only daughter, my Aunt Genevieve,  had played with years before.  Many of the doll furniture pieces had been handmade by my Grandpa.  It was a lovely, quiet room tucked away beneath the eaves where a small girl, with a vivid imagination, could wile away the afternoon. 

She also had a great old piano that I would pound away on.  Of course, I could not play a note, but I would sit on that bench and sing, "That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine" and pretend.  Now I realize why Grandma would also pick that exact time of day to work outside in her garden. 

One of my least favorite things was when she would send me out to the hen house to gather eggs.  Oh, how I hated those darn chickens!!  They would squawk and peck at me when I put my hand up to gather an egg.  Then I would run back to the house, crying and whining that I couldn't get the eggs.  Grandma would sigh and walk out with me, gruffly telling me to quit crying and she would show me how.  She would push those nasty hens off their nest and gather those eggs with no effort whatsoever all the while telling me how easy it was.  I tried to do it many times, but just could never overpower those hens and they knew it!!  They would lay in wait for me.  Finally, Grandma quit asking me to do the eggs.  She knew it was futile. 

She always wore a huge apron over her housedress.  It wrapped completely around and buttoned in the back.  She would use that apron for everything.  It made a perfect basket to carry the eggs back to the house, wipe a tear from a little girl's face, and even a quick dust of a table if company pulled into the yard.
Around the house, she always wore her stockings rolled to the knee with a garter to hold them in place along with the standard oxford shoe with a 2" heel.  I think all grandmas wore those shoes in the 40's.  In her later years, she had an old pair of trousers she wore in the garden.

Grandma always called a bicycle a "wheel".  She would stop by my house and say, "Evelyn, will you take your wheel and run to the store for me?"  Usually it was for a loaf of bread.  She would give me a quarter and since bread was only .20 that would give me a nickle to buy a candybar.  Big money in those days!

Grandma was born Isabel Stockman in March of 1884 in Boone County, Iowa.  She was the third child of William and Kate (Birmingham) Stockman.  She had a 6th grade education as was normal in that time.  I found her on the 1900 census of Boone County. She was 16 years old, listed as a servant, living with a widowed lady. She is listed as "Bell" which gives me the image of a vibrant young lady who enjoyed a bit of fun.  This photo was probably taken about that time.

She married my grandfather, George Kornegor, when she was 19 years old and they raised a family of four sons and a daughter.

In all the time I spent with my grandmother, I don't remember ever asking her about her parents or siblings.  I knew she had a siblings and once in a great while, one of them would visit; but they lived several miles away and people did not travel as they do today.  Now that I'm nuts about family history, I kick myself for not asking her a thousand questions while following her around the house and yard.  I now know her father came from Denmark.  What could she have told me about him?  I would love to have heard the story about why he came to the US when he was only 16 years old.  Her mother's family were all Scottish coal miners who emigrated to Ohio and then on to the coal fields in Boone County.  What glorious stories she might have told me if I had only asked. 

And then there was the day she caught me and my cousin Marge smoking ... but that's for another day.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jumping in

Well, I'm jumping into the world of blogging.  After attending a terrific workshop at the Omaha Public Library by Susan Petersen (, I've decided to give it a whirl.  We shall see how it goes.  I hope to post about my genealogy research and my love of stitching, reading, and family. 

I've just returned from ten days of research in Salt Lake City and have a mound of data to enter into my database.  This year I spent the majority of my days verifying information gleaned from various undocumented sources found on the internet over the past couple of years.

Genealogy has changed so much in the 25 years that I've been digging.  No more cranking through census films by the hour.  Now everything is indexed on the internet and it's just a quick click of a mouse and it's all there in front of you.  You don't even have to leave the house or plug the parking meeting.  Heck, I do most of my searching in my jammies with a cup of coffee at 5:30 in the morning. 

I'm hoping this little journey into blogging with be successful.  Susan assured us that it would be easy peasy.  We shall see.