A Valentine’s Day love story: my grandmother elopes (a re-post)

Sepia Saturday 457. From the archives: Three years ago I wrote this blog about my maternal grandparents’ marriage — and it is still my most visited post. So here it is again for readers who may have missed it. 

Valentine’s Day this year brought to mind one of my favorite family love stories — how my maternal grandmother eloped during the Roaring Twenties to marry my maternal grandfather. Pieced together like an heirloom quilt from precious scraps of information, this tale begins in the early 1900s in Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y.

Tony Liz Mom 3 weeks vignette img095_2
My maternal grandparents Tony and Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence in 1926 with their first child — my mother Peggy, age 3 weeks, who was born about two years after they married. Scan by Molly Charboneau

My grandmother Elizabeth Christina Stoutner, born on 20 Nov. 1905, was a third generation German-American — descended from ancestors who arrived in the 1850s. They appear in census reports as machinist, brick manufacturer, milliner, railroad employee and glove workers.

Born on 2 May 1902, my grandfather Antonio W. “Tony” Laurence (his surname anglicized from Di Lorenzo) was an Italian-American whose mother was born here and whose father arrived from Italy in 1896. His family members populate the census as junk dealer, garage owner, shoe shiners and glove factory workers.

The boy next door

Growing up, Tony and Lizbeth (as he called her) lived next door to each other on Wells Street in Gloversville1— she in a house built from brick manufactured by her grandfather and he in a wood frame house just around the corner from his father’s Peter Laurence Filling Station on East Fulton St.

Sometime in the early 1920s, my tall, artistic, stylish and high strung grandmother Lizbeth fell for my grandfather Tony, the warm, handsome, solid boy next door — a skilled mechanic, craftsman and troubleshooter who was anchored in a large, lively extended family. And he fell for her.

But the road ahead was rocky because Lizbeth’s mother was “very against their marriage,” according to the daughter of one of my grandmother’s oldest friends.

I have to wonder why: Was my great grandmother Celia (Mimm) Stoutner influenced by the anti-Italian sentiment then sweeping the country? Or was she just intent on running her oldest daughter’s life? Whatever the reason, her opposition spurred my strong-willed grandmother to action.

Secret meetings

My great grandmother must have told Lizbeth to stop seeing Tony, and she pretended to agree. But all the while my grandmother was carrying on a subterfuge that fooled her family — including her younger siblings, my mom’s Uncle Andy and Aunt Margaret. Years later, Margaret shared this story:

Elizabeth was working at the school [a one-room country schoolhouse on Bemis Rd. about 3 miles east of Gloversville] and we all thought she had stopped seeing Tony. She would leave in the morning and walk all that way to the school, then in the evening walk all that way back. Well, we found out later that she would actually leave the house and walk a few blocks to meet Tony, who drove her to the school. At the end of the day, he would pick her up, drive her back and drop her a few blocks away so she could walk up to our house alone.

Exactly when my grandmother’s family discovered these secret meetings I can’t say for sure. But after high school, my grandparents were separated geographically when they both went away to study — Lizbeth to teachers college in Oneonta, Otsego, N.Y., and Tony to learn automotive mechanics in Detroit, Wayne, Mich.

I’ll bet my great grandmother Celia thought distance would put an end to my grandparents’ courtship — but if so, she didn’t know her daughter very well. Sure, my grandmother Lizbeth put on a great show while she was still underage and needed permission to marry — but I think she was just biding her time, waiting to turn 18 so she could finally follow her heart.

Young love endures

How they planned it I don’t know, and my mother was never told. But after she came of age, my grandmother Lizbeth joined my grandfather Tony in Detroit, where they were married by Father J.J. Hunt, a Catholic priest, on 9 Jan. 1924 — just 50 days after her eighteenth birthday.

My grandmother had boldly embraced her future, and she clearly did not want her family coming after her. The 1924 Return of Marriages in the County of Wayne, Michigan2shows that, while my grandfather admitted that he was from New York, my grandmother said she was from Michigan.

Loving Cup IMG_0290_2
The treasured  souvenir of my maternal grandparents’ marriage: A tiny loving cup showing the Post Office in Detroit, Wayne, Michigan — the city where they were married in 1924. Photo by Molly Charboneau

Returning to Gloversville as a couple, my maternal grandparents Elizabeth and Tony remained married for life — confounding the nay sayers and eventually winning Celia over. And they left tangible evidence that their young love endured.

On my bookshelf sits a tiny, silver plated loving cup from the Detroit Post Office — the only souvenir from their wedding — treasured and re-silvered by my grandmother and passed down from my mom to me.

After my grandfather died at age 80, inside his wallet we found my grandmother’s pristine calling card with her maiden name embossed in gold, on which she had penned her address on Elm St., Oneonta, N.Y. — where he may have gone to fetch her for their clandestine drive to Detroit all those years ago.

May we all have love like theirs in our lives — and many Happy Valentines Days in our future!

Up next: A bewildering Blakeslee saga unfolds. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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A fond farewell to Miss George

Sepia Saturday 451: Tenth and last post in a series about my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George — one of those friends, acquaintances and neighbors (FANs) who can make such a difference in a person’s life.

On my way out of town after my high school reunion this fall, I paid a parting visit to Vestal Hills Memorial Park — placing flowers on the markers of my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George, her parents and her brother. Which brings me back to where I began writing about her life.

Helen Gerorge’s marker in Vestal Hills Memorial Park, Vestal, N.Y. (2018) I placed flowers as a parting gift to one of my favorite teachers — my fourth grade teacher Miss George. Photo by Molly Charboneau

Forgotten memories

When I started this series on Miss George I had no idea it would continue for ten weeks!

Miss Helen George at 22: Senior photo from the 1939 yearbook of Cortland Teachers College (now SUNY Cortland). Scan by Molly Charboneau

But the more I researched her life, the more details I found — which is not surprising considering how engaged she was in Hooper School, where she taught, and in the history of its surrounding community, Endwell, N.Y.

As I wrote, forgotten memories poured out — and I found I enjoyed having Miss George around throughout this fall semester and into the holiday season.

So I am wistful as this series on Miss George draws to a close. She was such a key figure in my fourth grade life from 1959-60 — and her positive influence has stayed with me through the years.

A serendipitous connection

Yet I am also pleased that my research unearthed an unexpected, lasting connection to her.

As discussed in previous posts, Miss George was enthusiastic about history and preservation — much like the genealogy and family history community I have become part of in my adult life.

In 1960, when I had her for fourth grade, Miss George led a discussion at the Broome County Historical Society about Washingtonian Hall — a historic home on Endwell’s River Road.

http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn90066578/1960-01-20/ed-1/seq-2/#date1=01%2F01%2F1725&city=&date2=12%2F31%2F2016&searchType=advanced&SearchType=prox5&sequence=0&lccn=sn90066578&index=15&words=George+Helen&proxdistance=5&county=&to_year=2016&rows=20&ortext=&from_year=1725&proxtext=Helen+George&phrasetext=&andtext=&dateFilterType=range&page=1
Miss George holds a seminar on Endwell , N.Y., history at the Broome County Historical Society (1960). Source: nyshistoricnewspapers.org

In recent years, I have consulted the same society about my family’s history — and her history, too — even visiting their Binghamton, N.Y., repository this fall while in Endwell for my reunion.

When I discovered the Jan. 20, 1960, Endicott Daily Bulletin notice (at left) about Miss George’s seminar, I smiled at the connection.

How serendipitous that we each found our way to the Broome County Historical Society to pursue our passion! And how wonderful that I will be reminded of her whenever I research there in the future.

A fond farewell

Inspiring teachers like Miss George play such an important part in our lives — one we may not fully recognize until we are grown. Remembering and honoring them is the least we can do in appreciation of their invaluable role.

As I bid Miss George a fond farewell on Molly’s Canopy, I hope I’ve done justice to her life — and to the impact of her creativity, enthusiasm and love of history on generations of Endwell’s schoolchildren, including me.

In tribute to Miss George, here are the other posts in this series:

Up next: Molly’s Canopy is taking a brief New Year’s break for a couple of weeks. Happy New Year and please stop in mid-January 2019 when blogging resumes. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here. 

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Miss George’s later years

Sepia Saturday 450: Ninth in a series about my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George — one of those friends, acquaintances and neighbors (FANs) who can make such a difference in a person’s life.

Miss George taught fourth grade at Hooper School in Endwell, N.Y., for another fifteen years after I moved on to fifth grade. When she retired in 1975, I was 25 years old and living in New York City.

By then I was caught up in the tumultuous social upheaval of the 1960s — and Miss George’s world of running ovals, cursive handwriting, neat homework and good deportment seemed like a distant memory.

Only now, from the perspective of age, am I able to evaluate her impact on my life and consider her later years.

A Master’s degree

From her obituary, I learned that Miss George received a Maters’s degree from Albany State College.

She may have been encouraged in this by Hooper School Principal Don Pierce — at whose urging my mother also completed her Master’s in Music Education from Ithaca College.

A Pennsylvania move

Miss George left her Binghamton, N.Y., hometown after retiring at age 58 and moved south to Vandling, Penna. — near Forest City. This move is not surprising, since her parents predeceased her, and her younger brother Thomas — her only sibling — had relocated to New York City.

http://forestcityareahistoricalsociety.org/photo-gallery.html
Delaware St., Forest City, Penna. Beautiful countryside, a rich coal-country history, proximity to her Binghamton, N.Y., hometown and a long-time friendship likely prompted my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George to move to Vandling, Penna. — near Forest City — in retirement. Photo: Forest City Historical Society

Miss George may have chosen the Vandling-Forest City area because her longtime friend, and later caregiver, Angeline Carer lived there. Or maybe they made a plan, as friends sometimes do, to move to the same place in retirement.

Either way, who wouldn’t want to retire there? Under the slogan “Welcome to the most beautiful place in Pennsylvania,” the Forest City Historical Society quotes lumberman William Pentecost’s 1864 description of the area:

Cut in the dark woods where never a shimmer of golden sun shines through the trees and the surface was covered with vegetation in wild luxuriance. There were monster hemlock trees, some of them of beautiful symmetry lifting their magnificent proportions to an altitude of nearly one hundred feet. Others were bent toward each other having their long limbs locked across the narrow road as if embracing each other and whispering secrets.

A lasting friendship

Wondering how they became friends, I discovered that Miss George and Miss Cerar both taught at Hooper School. They seem to have been kindred spirits — each directing their pupils in performances and volunteering after hours.

According to the Endicott Daily Bulletin, in 1955 Miss Cerar directed her first grade class in an operetta titled “The Lemonade Stand.” In 1956 she was awarded tenure and a few years later joined local parents on the PTA’s hospitality committee.

Miss George and Miss Cerar attend a bridal shower (1960). Source: George F. Johnson Memorial Library/nyshistoricnewspapers.org

Miss Carer was eventually promoted to teaching third grade — which likely meant meetings with my fourth-grade-teacher Miss George about students who were moving up.

By 1960 — when I had Miss George for fourth grade — she and Miss Cerar had become friends.

And a March 1960 Endicott Daily Bulletin story listed them as guests at al bridal shower for the Endwell Junior High School nurse-teacher.

A cat person

The last item of interest in Miss George’s obituary is a request for memorial donations to go to Project PAW in Binghamton, N.Y. — a volunteer-run rescue and adoption group for cats.  So it seems that Miss George was a cat person — which does not surprise me.

Many teachers in my Endwell hometown had cats as pets — and one teacher in my neighborhood even competed, showing her pedigree felines and winning awards.

Yes, I can totally see Miss George seated in a cozy chair with her cat on her lap — reading a good book or perusing the local paper to relax after a long day in the classroom.

Please stop back as this series wraps up with a fond farewell to Miss George next week. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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My mother and Miss George

Sepia Saturday 449: Eighth in a series about my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George — one of those friends, acquaintances and neighbors (FANs) who can make such a difference in a person’s life.

Although I long considered my fourth grade year an individual experience, my education was actually a group effort — with my teacher Miss Helen George working in tandem with my mother to move my learning process forward.

The best evidence of this is the teacher-parent comment section of my fourth grade report card.

My fourth grade report card’s teacher-parent comment page (1959-60). I get a kick out of these little notes every time I read them. They reveal Miss George and my mom as a mutual admiration society — one teacher corresponding with another, collaborating and taking pride in a child’s progress.Scan by Molly Charboneau

A mutual admiration society

In the little spaces provided, Miss George outlined my progress in the beautiful flowing cursive she strived to teach us in class — her signature underlined with a flourish.

In reply, my mom Peg (Laurence) Charboneau — herself an elementary music teacher — thanked Miss George and acknowledged her contribution in glowing terms.

I get a kick out of these little notes every time I read them. They reveal Miss George and my mom as a mutual admiration society — one teacher corresponding with another, collaborating and taking pride in a child’s progress.

My deportment problem

My first quarter of fourth grade went pretty well, judging by the report card notes:

“Molly is doing a fine job in fourth grade and I hope that she continues to do as well.” ~~Helen George

“We are pleased with Molly’s report and feel she has shown improvement this year. We appreciate your fine work with her.” Margaret L. Charboneau

The second quarter was another story. I started the year with only a “satisfactory” (as opposed to “excellent”) in deportment. And apparently my rambunctiousness went downhill as the year went on.

My childhood home in Endwell, N.Y., circa 1957. My bedroom is up top with the open window. Prompted by my fourth grade teacher Miss George, my parents stressed neat homework and good deportment. Luckily, I cleaned up my act and was promoted to fifth grade in June 1960. Photo by Norman J. Charboneau

So did my neatness — a point pride to my meticulous teacher. So Miss George sounded the alarm, and my mom stepped up to help.

“Again Molly has done an excellent job! If she always does as well I’m sure she will know a happy, successful future. (–I do wish she would try to make her papers a little neater.)” ~~Helen George

“We will encourage Molly to continue the good work. Also we will stress the neatness and deportment department.” Margaret L. Charboneau

I clean up my act

My parents’ intervention apparently did the trick. I actually got an “excellent” in deportment in the third quarter — and Miss George reported that my papers were neater, too. In appreciation, Mom returned a message of high praise to Miss George.

“Papers neat — excellent work — so there can be nothing but praise for Molly this period.” Helen George

“An excellent teacher can bring out the best in a youngster. Thank you.” Margaret L. Charboneau

Headed for fifth grade

I was back to “satisfactory” in deportment in the fourth quarter — but fortunately didn’t behave badly enough to hinder my educational progress. On June 24, 1960, Miss George proudly promoted me to the fifth grade.

“Molly has had a fine year in fourth grade and I hope that she will continue to do as well in fifth grade.” ~~Helen George

There are no closing comments from Mom. But when I asked her about Miss George decades later, she smiled affectionately at the memory.

“She was just great,” Mom said. “The classical type of person you think of when you hear the word teacher.”

Please stop back as this series continues. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Miss George saves a cemetery

Sepia Saturday 448: Seventh in a series about my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George — one of those friends, acquaintances and neighbors (FANs) who can make such a difference in a person’s life.

In addition to her career in education, my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George was active in civic projects in the Endwell, N.Y., community where she taught.

So in 1960, the same year she directed me and my classmates in her play about Endwell’s early settlers, Miss George was also hard at work on a committee to restore the Hooper-Patterson Cemetery where they were buried.

Hooper-Patterson Cemetery as viewed from River Road in Endwell, Broome County, N.Y. (2018) Rather than a scary place, this cemetery became a fascinating destination for me and my fourth grade classmates. We would ride there on our bicycles to read the tombstone inscriptions and keep tabs on the restoration project our teacher Miss George was involved in. Photo: Molly Charboneau

My fascination with cemeteries — which I share with many genealogists and family historians — took root during my year in Miss George’s class, where she held forth on the disgrace of a historic cemetery overgrown with weeds and neglected by the town.

A fascinating cemetery

Miss George gave us regular updates on the cemetery restoration efforts — and we wanted to see them for ourselves. Thus the small Hooper-Patterson Cemetery — rather than seeming a scary place haunted by ghosts — became a historically interesting destination that my classmates and I often rode to on our bicycles.

We also wanted to know more about the characters we portrayed in Miss George’s play — and as we read the tombstones we were surprised to discover many graves of children, some of whom had died when they were younger than us. An unforgettably sobering experience for a fourth grader!

Grave makers in Hooper-Patterson Cemetery (2018). Miss George was involved in early restoration of this historic Endwell, N.Y., cemetery, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places. These efforts are continued today by volunteer restorationists. Photo: Molly Charboneau

A few years back, I contacted the Broome County Historical Society to see if they might have copies of Miss George’s plays. They did not — but instead they sent a copy of a small brochure titled “Endwell’s Early Days: A Profile,” which Miss George wrote in 1960.

When the brochure arrived I suddenly remembered having seen it as a child — with its careful sketch of the Hooper-Patterson Cemetery and tombstones, along with transcripts of each stone and a narrative history in the voice of settler Amos Patterson. Rereading it was like being in Miss George’s class all over again! (Click here to see the brochure.)

A collective restoration campaign

Probably because she loomed large in my fourth-grade life, I always thought Miss George was the catalyst of the cemetery restoration.

http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn90066578/1960-05-25/ed-1/seq-5.pdf
Endicott Daily Bulletin article (May 25, 1960). “The restoration committee with assistance by Miss Helen George, a Hooper School teacher, is compiling a brochure which will include the location of each tombstone, and the inscription and history,” the Bulletin reported. Source/full page: nyshistoricnewspapers.org

But according a May 25, 1960, article in Endicott Daily Bulletin, the Endwell Rotary Club (which my dad belonged to) and the Garden Club of Endwell were key players on the restoration committee.

“The project has included the replacing of tombstones, restoration of the cemetery fence, grading, and seeding of the lawn,” the article said. “The Garden Club expects to do some planting.”

The  project was not without its challenges. According to the article, “Inclement weather has hindered the project schedule. The committee last Saturday found two sections of the cemetery fence in the Susquehanna River.” Nevertheless, the restoration moved ahead — as did publication of Miss George’s brochure.

“The restoration committee with assistance by Miss Helen George, a Hooper School teacher, is compiling a brochure which will include the location of each tombstone, and the inscription and history,” the Bulletin reported.

Restoration efforts continue

I pay a nostalgic visit the Hooper-Patterson Cemetery whenever I am in Endwell, usually for my high school reunion — and this year was no exception.

The cemetery overlooking the Susquehanna River still looks good — grass mowed and damaged tombstones propped up. No signs of the weedy neglect Miss George was so worked up about in 1960.

While researching this blog post, I made the happy discovery that the cemetery has inspired a new generation of volunteer restorationists to take up the task of keeping the grounds and stones in shape — after one of them happened upon the graveyard during a walk on River Road.

They’re raising funds, resetting pavers, clearing brush, trimming trees and doing what they can to keep the cemetery looking good — just like Miss George and her committee did when she was around. I’m sure she would be pleased.

Please stop back as this series continues. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here. 

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Growing family trees one leaf (and road trip) at a time