Category Archives: Laurence [Di Lorenzo]

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.

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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.

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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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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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Fourth Blogiversary: Dedicated to my parents Peg and Norm

Sepia Saturday 416: Today is the Fourth Blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy, which I am dedicating to my late parents Norman J. and Peg (Laurence) Charboneau.

Reviewing the last four years of Molly’s Canopy, I can hardly believe what an incredible family history journey it’s been — filled with new research, ancestral discoveries, friends, cousins, and blogging experiences (like the A to Z Challenge and Sepia Saturday).

And I owe a debt of gratitude to my parents for accompanying me on my fledgling steps down this road.

Mom and Dad: The start of it all

My genealogy journey began in 1950 with my first road trip with Mom and Dad. That’s me in the cat overalls with my parents Peg (Laurence) and Norm Charboneau. Back row, from left, my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence, paternal grandfather W. Ray Charboneau and maternal grandfather Tony W. Laurence. At the far left, with just her elbow showing, is my paternal grandmother Mary (Owen) Charboneau. Photo by Rita Mary Laurence

Because in truth, my genealogy journey began long ago — with my first road trip with Mom and Dad, when I was six months old,  to move in with my maternal grandparents.

My early childhood in our shared farmhouse near Albany, New York, chronicled in Whispering Chimneys: My childhood home, planted seeds that grew into an abiding interest in my family’s history.

And decades later, when I was ready to start looking back, so were my recently-retired Mom and Dad.

They were happy to join me on family history road trips to their upstate New York hometowns — where they showed me around, introduced me to relatives, helped with oral history interviews, and shared the joy of discovering unknown family stories and documents.

They also enthusiastically embraced my subsequent genealogical finds about our common ancestors — whose stories have unfolded on Molly’s Canopy these last four years. So I regret that my parents are not around to read the stories their love and support engendered.

Dad, Mom and me in the 1990s on a Cape Cod family vacation. When I was ready to look back at our family history, so were my recently-retired parents — and they enthusiastically accompanied me on my fledgling steps down this road. Photo by Jeffrey A. Charboneau

Wish they were here

My dad — who was a blogger before mepassed in 2012 before Molly’s Canopy was launched. But our shared discovery that we had a  Union Army ancestor, Arthur T. Bull, was what led me to start this blog in 2014 during the U.S. Civil War Sesquicentennial. And Dad has appeared or been quoted in many blog posts since then.

Sadly, my mom passed last month — a loss I am still mourning. But I have also written about Mom and her family in numerous posts, which I read aloud to her over the last couple of years. And my most popular post continues to be A Valentine’s Day love story: My grandmother elopes about her parents’ clandestine marriage — which includes a story Mom prompted her Aunt Margaret to tell me.

Creating a legacy

So today, I am thinking of my parents as I head into year five of Molly’s Canopy — remembering what fun we had exploring our common heritage, recalling all the stories they told me about each of their extended families, and grateful for the many photos they lovingly preserved and passed on.

There is still plenty of ancestral history to explore on each side of my family. And although Mom and Dad are no longer physically present, they are definitely along for the ride in spirit — as memories of their enthusiasm, good humor and curiosity inspire me to continue researching and writing about our family’s history, and creating a legacy that would make them both proud.

Up next: A Spring Break for Molly’s Canopy. May will be a busy month, so I am taking a much-needed blogging break to refresh and recharge. Please stop back when regular blogging resumes in June — and in the meantime, visit my fellow Sepia Saturday bloggers here.

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Bouillabaisse: Another ancestral clue

Sepia Saturday 400: First post of the New Year!

The winter holiday season brings to mind memories of time spent with family and the importance of paying attention to those small family history clues that emerge in the most unlikely ways this time of year.

Buouillabaisse. Not until this year did I realized that this French seafood stew might also be linked to my mom’s Italian heritage. Her recipe calls for oysters, but I often substitute mussels as shown here. By: Blue moon in her eyes

Whether sitting before a fireplace or gathered around a dinner table, many of us feel nostalgia for winter-season family traditions — and taking the time to examine them can enrich our family story.

An ethnic blend

Recipe for Peg (Laurence) Charboneau’s Bouillabaisse

Ingredients: 1 package frozen shrimp (shelled and cleaned), 1/2 cup salad oil, 1 large onion (thinly sliced), 1 clove garlic (finely cut), a large 1-pound can of peeled tomatoes, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, 3 strips lemon peel, 2 bay leaves, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper (coarsely ground), 8 whole cloves, 1.5 teaspoons salt, 3 cups fish broth, 2 pounds fish filets (fresh or frozen), 12 oysters, 1 can Maine lobster (6 oz.), 1/4 sherry, 1 fresh lemon (thinly sliced).

Preparation: Cook shrimp according to directions on package. To make fish broth, save cooking water from shrimp, add liquid from oysters, add water to make 3 cups. Heat oil in saucepan, and sauté onion and garlic until tender. Stir in tomatoes, lemon juice, lemon peel, bay leaves, pepper, cloves, salt, fish broth and simmer about 30 minutes. Cut fish filets in 2-inch pieces and add to soup mixture. Simmer 8 minutes. Drop in oysters and simmer 3 min, or until edges curl. Add and blend in lobster, shrimp and sherry.

Serve: Garnish with sliced lemon and serve hot with crusty French bread and green salad.

In my case, the tradition was my mother serving bouillabaisse on Christmas Eve.

I’m not sure when she began to annually prepare the lucious seafood stew — but I think it was during the 1960s when we lived in the suburbs near Binghamton, N.Y.

My mom Peg (Laurence) Charboneau was a basic meat-and-potatoes cook.

Despite her German-Italian heritage, her closest brush with ethnic dinner cuisine was making spaghetti and meatballs — though pretty much everyone on our block ate that too, regardless of cultural background.

As Catholics, we did not eat meat on Friday — which often meant an easy-to-prepare fish sticks dinner that we children loved!

Christmas Eve was also a meatless day — and one year my mom decided to make bouillabaisse and serve our family dinner on the good china.

The meal was a hit —  but consuming the fascinating fish stew with it’s surprise ingredients seemed more connected to my dad Norm Charboneau’s French heritage than my mom’s.

Or so I thought until recently.

An Italian tradition

While holiday food shopping this year, I stopped at an in-store popup where the staff was serving little samples of fish stew.

“Pretty good,” I thought and took the recipe card. Imagine my surprise when I read that eating fish stew on meatless days was an Italian tradition!

I immediately recalled my mom’s bouillabaisse dinners and realized she may have been reprising a tradition passed on by her Italian-American extended family when she was growing up.

Where my mom got the recipe I don’t know, but one year I asked her for a copy — which I hand wrote on a blank staff pad that Mom, a school music educator, used to compose music.

I have prepared my mom’s recipe many times since — never imagining an Italian heritage connection until now. Her recipe is reproduced here for you to enjoy with family and loved ones.

May the heady seafood aromas remind you of those subtle but precious ancestral clues that may come wafting up during the holiday season and in the New Year.

Stop back for another new post 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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1948: Liz (Stoutner) Laurence as mother of the bride

Sepia Saturday 394: Eleventh and last in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.

Mother of the Bride (1948). My maternal grandmother Liz (Stoutner) Laurence (c.) was eye-catching as Mother of the Bride at my parents’ wedding. With her are  (l.) my dad’s brother and Best Man William Francis Charboneau (Uncle Frannie) and (r.) my maternal grandfather Tony W. Laurence, the Father of the Bride. Scan by Molly Charboneau

In November 1948, my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence, 43, appeared at my parents’ wedding as Mother of the Bride in a dress to die for.

Liz never had a bridal gown of her own, since she and my grandfather eloped — so she seems to have compensated by pulling out all the stops for my mom Peg’s wedding with an eye-catching outfit that made her a standout in the wedding party.

My grandmother looked pretty good as a Maid of Honor at her younger sister’s wedding, but Aunt Margaret would have chosen Liz’s dress for that occasion.

This time, the choice was up to Liz — and clearly, she aimed to dazzle from head to toe. She wore a black feathered fascinator hat at a jaunty angle and sported stylish eyeglasses that could be worn today. Subdued accessories — tiny watch, small drop earrings, wedding ring and corsage — meant her dress took center stage.

Stunning in copper and black

Parents of the bride and groom at my Mom and Dad’s wedding (1948). From left: William Ray and Mary (Owen) Charboneau; Norm Charboneau and Peg (Laurence) Charboneau; Liz (Stoutner) and Tony W. Laurence. Scan by Molly Charboneau

And what a dress! Shiny copper-colored stripes alternated with black matte at a bias angle on the sleeves and skirt and horizontally across the torso — so whenever Liz moved, the dress would pick up the light.

Normally, my grandmother wore flats when out with my grandfather since she was several inches taller — but she went ahead and wore strapped heels for this special occasion, which nicely complemented her dress. Long black gloves completed her stunning look.

Not to take away from anyone else in the wedding party. Everyone looked wonderful befitting their own personal styles — and it was my parents’ special day after all. But even among family, my maternal grandmother displayed a certain unique style that was all her own.

A shimmering dream

You may wonder how I know that my grandmother’s dress was copper and black, since the photos are black and white.

The explanation is simple — I actually saw the dress hanging in an attic closet during a visit to her house when I was in my twenties.

I may have asked her about it or recalled the dress from seeing my folks’ wedding photos — but what stays with me is the beautiful iridescence of the copper and the garment’s clean, tailored lines.

Years later, when my family closed out my maternal grandparents’ house after they both passed, I checked in the closet for the dress — but it was gone.

Yet its image still lingers like a shimmering dream — a beloved reminder of my maternal grandmother Liz who set a high bar for family style and lived by it all her life.

Up next: A family holiday get together. Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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