Friday, March 13, 2009

Elizabeth Dewar Spalding Fender Duncan

For this post I will pay tribute to my maternal grandmother. I wrote about her husband (John Foster DUNCAN) in my blog already and for she being "the" person of my life I have not yet written about her. There is so much emotion attached to her and this month would be the perfect time to bring you into the world of a woman that was not famous, she never had a lot and her retirement sucked, it was stolen by a stroke.

b. March 21, 1909, District of St. Mary, Dundee Scotland

m. January 4, 1934 to John Foster Duncan, Clarksburg, West Virginia

d. March 3, 1984, Rochester, New York

b. March 5, 1984, Webster Union Cemetery, Webster, New York.

Elizabeth Dewar Spalding Fender Duncan was a woman that came to the United States from Scotland as a teenager. Her father and older brother came to the US first in steerage and during that journey her father decided that her mother, herself and my great aunt Edna would travel first class when they moved across the pond. My grandmother came to the US aboard the Adriatic leaving Liverpool England on December 27, 1924 and arriving in New York on January 9, 1925.

My Grandmother; My Mother; Me

Until the day she died her Scottish accent was clear as a bell. She rolled the "r" in my name, Sharon. I still to this day hear the way she said it yet I can not duplicate it. This woman had an uncanny knack of looking into my eyes and seeing my soul. She saw all of my childhood fears and made me safe; she was the woman that made it all better. We lived together for the first five years of my life and then my parents, sister and myself moved to Rochester, New York and she stayed in Akron, Ohio. I don't recall it ever being easy for me that she was there and I was here though we went there many times during the year, every holiday and a week or two in the summer and she would come here to New York for her vacations.

She worked in a dental lab in Akron. She took the bus there every day and she never drove, she never had her license. She lived on West Exchange Street just down the street from Clix? (Clicks, Cliks), it was a very large five and dime sort of place. She smoked a lot, Tarryton cigarettes, and she knit. I knit now. She was fantastic with a sewing machine and I remember she made a lot of her clothing just for the pure enjoyment of doing so. She had a singer machine that set into a sewing table the size of a card table and that was always put up in the corner of her bedroom but it would come down on our visits so a mattress could be put there for my sister and I. We LOVED bunking in with her and on the weekend, one of us got to sleep with her, it was such a treat.

My Grandmother; Her brother George; Her sister Edna

She was a fabulous multi-tasker.. she would sit in her chair, catch the evening news, talk to us, knit and smoke -- all with me in her lap. She was very tolerant of my need for her attention and my adoration of her, lol. She liked her occasional "wee ticky" of scotch when my mother was there to enjoy some too. She drank her coffee black. She would pour a bit into the saucer to cool it and then poured it back into the cup until the liquid cooled enough. I remember the shape of her hands and fingers and I remember holding her hands and pressing my fingertip against the filed edge of her nail. Every morning she had a soft boiled egg and toast with unsalted butter for breakfast. I remember what the egg cups looked like that held her eggs. When we were visiting I would sit and watch her eat her breakfast; I was her company as she got ready to go to work. She always had a box of sugared donuts for us on arrival and chocolate milk.

She was very particular about her likes and dislikes. She loved shalimar perfume. She liked her linens "Crisp" as mentioned in this blog before and had the laundry sent out and delivered back just so. Linens were just something that had to be done right. Lawrence Welk, she never missed that show even if my sister and I wrinkled our noses a lot. Lawrence Welk was no Partridge family or Davey Jones! She had a lot of plants along a very large bay window in the dining room. I remember that apartment.. I would love to have it today, it was a great apartment. She always had the comics there for us from the Akron Beacon Journal and silly putty to stick to it to take up the image. Oh! And she would have me stand and sing for her and the delight in her eyes as I would belt out my current favorite song or something I was singing in the school choir. She liked to be entertained by my sister and I. She had expectations of giving it a try but was very gentle with us when we sucked at what we did. Smile. And the famous Barbie fashion shows. She would buy us clothing for our Barbie's and my sister and I would stage a fashion show and it was like our own personal Academy Awards show.

She lived alone for a great many years. My grandfather and she seperated when my mother was in her teens. They never divorced and I will never know if she found someone to spend her time with, those things were never known or spoken of back then and that is something I simply do not need or want to know. My bet would be no. She was extremely independent and never seemed to suffer for being alone and I think for the most part it suited her just fine. I remember worrying about her being alone and I would cry all the way back to New York just certain she was in pain and suffering for not having us with her or anyone. I have to say that now that I am approaching 50 and I am living alone and have been divorced for about 10 years now, I do not mind being alone, my sister is the same so maybe my Grandmother knew more than we did! She seemed happy, content and she loved my mother, my sister and I to pieces. Later in life after she retired, my grandfather asked if he could move in, she had two bedrooms so she took him as a roommate. For his choices of leaving her, he made restitition by becoming her caregiver after her stroke. He wiped his slate clean in my book and I think my mother's too.
She had a temper... I have one too. Hers was not a horrible temper but a stubbornness that would say very clearly she would not do anything she didn't want to and she would speak her mind. She was very intelligent and I remember she would put my biological father in his place with a set of her jaw that he did not argue with. Too, she was compassionate. I was not his favored child and he was cruel to me on many occasions and she tried to assure me that it was not me but him. She was my life raft. I would have given anything to live with her.

I was a child that made mistakes. I ended up pregnant and married at the tender age of 16. My boyfriend was going into the Army and we would "just die" without each other and so.. eh well, it happens! My mother was livid and I remember hearing about what would their friends think, what would my step fathers boss think! (She does regret that now, it was the 70's). It was my grandmother that put a stop to the stress and let me know clearly that I and my baby could come live with her, no need to be married, no need to worry of a thing and what I decided was.. my decision. Well, I should have gone to her in hindsight, I married the boy I couldn't live without and learned the true definition of Hell. But that is another story!

I do have regrets when it comes to this woman I loved like I did. When I was in Germany as an Army wife, I got the news that she had a stroke. I had no idea what that was and so thought little of it, I was 17 and just did not know these things. What I found when I returned home broke my heart. Her being sick frightened me and I missed so much opportunity and regret so much. Her stroke was massive and left her fully paralyzed on her left side and never to walk again. Her life became a chair with no knitting, and her independence stripped away from her which I think was the worst. Her eyes were sharp, which is cruel too, to be so sharp of mind and a body that kept her trapped. She was moved here to New York with my Grandfather and he took care of her until she had to be placed in a nursing facility. They lived in an apartment nearby and I would see her but not like I should, me of all people. I was in denial, her illness scared me and I had a crappy life with that boy I just had to marry.

The last time I saw her alive was in the nursing home facility. I had not been to visit her in a long time and she was angry at me, something I feel I deserved. She ignored me that day but I could see in her eyes that she was disappointed yet she loved me and I remember the shame I felt all because I would not face my fears and grow up, act like an adult, and so on. I was in my early 20's.. old enough to figure it out I think. I will never forget it, a nurse came in and she introduced her son-in-law, that boy I just had to marry, and did not introduce me. Awkwardly the nurse looked at me then to my Grandmother but in her stubbornness and pride she talked about his accomplishments and having made her a great grandmother. I was effectively put in my place. She gave me years of leeway and I was the one child who should have picked up the slack, we had a bond like no other in my life. I know she loved me and was teaching me a lesson. Because of this I push my youngest, my daughter, not to lose touch with her father as he had moved to another state and has been struggling with reoccuring cancer. I want her to benefit from my lessons.


I wrote the above on the 5th of March and really found myself just missing her badly and could not get through a paragraph without getting weepy. Then that evening I "officially" started on her family tree as that is straight across the pond for research. I installed the beta Rootsmagic 4 (yippie!) and got busy. I entered her into the program and it hit me.. she was buried on March 5, 1984. Ahhhh, Grandma!

The single best thing my sister ever said to me is "When I look at you, I see so much of her..." Now if ever that wasn't the finest of compliments.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Taste of Oral History

I had the most delightful conversation with my mothers cousin last evening. I have a huge family I have never met. My grandfather moved to Akron, Ohio from Tennessee and then my parents moved to Rochester, New York. I grew up away from the extended families. And so, I sometimes feel detached. I am a relative by blood and name but I don't have all the photo's or anecdotes of memories. It is not to say we were not close with our Akron family, I spent a lot of time with cousins on my Grandmother's side growing up but the Tennessee family I know what I see on my pedigree chart. I have some articles and pictures but I don't have the experience with them. My mother went to Tennessee once as a child and while she did form relationships with them it was long distance. It is not like I didn't know any of them, I knew my grandfathers two sisters, Ruth and Bertha, they lived in Akron too. So talking to Patsy was an absolute joy.

I expected it to be business about the DAR and Colonial Dames 17th Century. I am in the process of getting my mother, my sister, my daughter and myself into the DAR and the Colonial Dames 17th Century has been a little more difficult to make contact. She gave me helpful information as to what line I want to take into the Colonial Dames as I am a colateral descendent of Ann Lee who married Thomas Youwell. Her father was Richard Lee, who signed the Declaration of Independence. And so I will try to make contact with them again once I get the DAR buttoned up.

What I ended up with from this phone call was a few stories and a smile that lasted all night long. Listening to her talk of my great grandparents was such a treat and she told me a couple of very short stories about David Washington Duncan and Carrie Ann Baldwin Duncan. Carrie is the blood line that goes back to the Revolutionary War and Colonial times.

David and Carrie were living in Atlanta, Georgia for a time. He was a postman on the railroad and he would pick up mail and sort it to be delivered. When McKinley was elected President of the United States, Atlanta began to celebrate. A man stepped from his hardware store and started banging two cast iron skillets together as noise makers. David looked over and decided he liked those skillets. The next day he went back to the store and bought them for Carrie. One Patsy gave to my mother to pass down through the family since Patsy didn't have grandchildren.

Carrie Baldwin Duncan wanted to die on the same day as her husbands birthday/death date, March 24. For days she laid on her death bed and she kept asking what day it was. Those with her would respond, Monday or the day of the week and she kept asking the date. One day she asked the date, she was told it was March 24th, she smiled and closed her eyes and died. Patsy said that Carrie loved David Duncan more than anything and that they had been a happy couple. I find it ironic that he worked so many years around the rail road and it was on the rail road that he died. His car was hit by a train when he was crossing when on the way to a meeting. Patsy said it was figured he was pressed for time, he was on his way to a cattleman's meeting, and distracted so didn't hear the whistle. Carrie hated slang of any kind, a darn or shucks around her was as good as swearing in her book. I wish I had known her.

After talking about so many other things, we left the phone call with what she likes to bake for Pam when she comes to visit. Pound cake with almond flavoring and cookies. She said to use a chocolate chip cookie recipe and substitute chopped dried bing cherries for the chips, or add both. They sound so good! I will have to make them sometime soon. Today I don't feel so deprived of family stories and I look forward to talking with her again and hearing more of her stories.