Category Archives: Laurence [Di Lorenzo]

1948: Aunt Rita at nineteen

On 31 Oct. 1948, my mom’s younger sister — Rita Mary Laurence –sat down and penned a letter to a family friend, who recently shared a copy with me.

Although it was Halloween night, Aunt Rita must not have greeted the trick-or-treaters because she didn’t  mention any ghouls or goblins in her missive.

Aunt Rita’s college home

Aunt Rita visited us at Whispering Chimneys, our farm in Altamont, N.Y.  (circa 1953). That’s me as a child sitting on my aunt Rita Mary Laurence’s lap. Next to me is my maternal grandmother Elizabeth and in front of her, on the step, is my maternal grandfather Tony. The others are my grandparents’ friends. Scan of a family photo by Molly Charboneau

What she did write provides a window into her life when she was a 19-year-old college student living at 63 Van Schoick Ave. in Albany, New York.

Dear Alicia, What have you been doing for excitement lately???? As you can see from my address, I’ve changed my residence in Albany again. This place is really wonderful — I’m practically one of the family — more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

Training for a medical career

Aunt Rita’s new home was near the college where she was studying to be a blood bank technician. She was clearly excited to be preparing for her professional career.

They’ve really been giving us the business at school this year — I think all the prof’s are going test crazy or at least it seems that way to me.

But truthfully it’s really fun — at the lab we’ve done all kinds of blood tests — we work on each other when we do venipuncture — lose more blood that way — We’ve also fixed, cut , and stained tissue sections for examination…

Wanderlust takes hold

And then came the hint of wanderlust that would send Rita cross-country six years later for a job in San Diego — a move that left my high-strung grandmother beside herself.

Tell your mother to start looking for a job for me — of course I don’t get thru here for 1 1/2 years yet but when I do I don’t want to stay in this next of the woods any longer than necessary — !!!!!!!!!

Alicia’s mother was a childhood friend of my maternal grandmother — Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence — from Gloversville, New York. She had moved miles away to Florida and here was Aunt Rita considering doing the same.

But first — about a month after writing this letter — Rita would stand up as maid of honor at my parents’ November 1948 wedding.

We’ve got everything almost set for Peg’s wedding — I’m to be maid of honor — that should be priceless to say the least — Guess that’s all for now…Write soon — don’t follow my example. Love, Rita.

A precious letter in Rita’s voice

For a few years after college Aunt Rita remained geographically close to our family. She was around for my birth (when she stayed with my mom and dad to help out) and my early childhood, as shown above (when I lived at Whispering Chimneys with my parents and maternal grandparents).

I even remember going with my grandmother to visit Aunt Rita’s basement apartment in Albany when I was little. Used to country living, I was scared by the rickety metal doors on the sidewalk near the corner store — until my grandmother explained they covered stairs to the basement, just like at Dorothy’s farmhouse in Wizard of Oz.

But in 1955, Rita finally made the fateful trip to California, got a job, set up house and never looked back — and my later memories of her are from photos, home movies, family stories, presents at Christmas, and her occasional visits back east.

So the gift of this letter — from a young Aunt Rita in her own voice — is precious indeed.

Up next, one more maid of honor: My maternal grandmother in 1938. Please stop back.

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Bridesmaids revisited #tbt

Lately I have been writing about family reunions and social gatherings — those landmark events that bring together relatives, in-laws and family friends in celebration of life’s special occasions.

So I was delighted when my sister Amy sent me a photo recently of my dad and me at my youngest sister’s wedding 30 years ago — just in time for #throwbackthursday. Dad was the father of the bride and I was maid of honor.

Father of the bride and maid of honor (1987). My dad Norm Charboneau and I share a relaxed moment at my youngest sister’s wedding 30 years ago. Photo by Norma Tagliaferro

Dad, 63,  was still working but preparing for retirement. On the table in front of him, as always, was his trusty camera — evidence of his lifelong passion for photography.

At 37, I was not yet bitten by the genealogy bug — but  I was becoming nostalgic.  On my left wrist I wore a vintage wind-up dress watch my mom gave me — a gift to her from Dad. And my antique necklace resembled the one my mom’s sister, Rita Mary Laurence, wore as maid of honor at my parents’ 1948 wedding.

Meeting extended family

A new family connection took root that day when I met some of my Welsh-Irish collateral relatives for the first time — my dad’s cousin Jane (Owen) Dukovic, her husband Jim and their son John.

Jane is a daughter of Arthur T. Owen, a brother of my paternal grandmother Mary (Owen) Charboneau. I didn’t know it then, but Jane is also the family historian for the Owen-Dempsey branch of the family.

Several years later, when I began doing genealogy research in earnest, Jane’s knowledge, photos and carefully-crafted family trees proved invaluable. And that family connection has continued to grow — as evidenced by the great turnout at a recent reunion of  Dempsey and Owen descendents.

Aunt Rita as maid of honor

The bride and her maid of honor (1948). My aunt Rita Mary Laurence, right, adjusts my mom Peg’s veil before her November 1948 wedding in Gloversville, N.Y. Scan of a family photo by Molly Charboneau

My Aunt Rita was maid of honor for my mother — her only sibling — wearing an aqua gown with matching jewelry. She was 19 and training for a career as a blood bank technician. My mom, Peg, was 22 and working as a music educator.

On 31 Oct. 1948 — shortly before my parents’ wedding — Rita wrote with her usual wry humor about the upcoming nuptials in a letter to a family friend, who was kind enough to send me a copy.

We’ve got everything almost set for Peg’s wedding — I’m to be maid of honor — this should be priceless to say the least.

The happy couple are center stage at a wedding. But supporting cast is also important — at major events, in a family’s history and in life — as captured in this pair of #throwbackthursday photos and the stories behind them.

Up next: Having introduced Aunt Rita’s letter, let’s hear what else she had to say about her life at the time. Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Under the pines: Family reunions – #atozchallenge

Under the pines: Family reunions. Twenty-first of twenty-six posts in the April 2017 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Whispering Chimneys: My Altamont childhood” — where my genealogy journey began. Wish me luck — I’m in the home stretch!

If I had to pick a spot at Whispering Chimneys where my genealogy journey began, it would have to be under the pines.

That was the only shady location large enough to accommodate a picnic table and benches. So under the pines is where my parents and grandparents entertained relatives in the summer — and where I first met many of my extended family members.

Day to day, there might be a car parked under the pines to keep it cool. And sometimes I sat under there to read. But this spot really livened up when family came calling — mainly my maternal grandparents’ siblings and their families from Mom’s Gloversville, N.Y., home town.

My mom’s family from Gloversville

My grandmother’s younger brother — Uncle Andy Stoutner — would be there with his wife and two daughters. And her younger sister — Aunt Margaret (Stoutner) Rothbell, a widow — would attend with her daughter.

A family picnic under the pines at Whispering Chimneys. I got to know my maternal extended family at these summertime family reunions. Photo: Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence

Gramps would invite his only brother — Uncle Joe Laurence — and his wife and two daughters. And before she moved to California in 1956, Mom’s younger sister — Aunt Rita Laurence — would join us, too.

On the farm, we had no relatives living close by — except maybe Aunt Rita who had an apartment for a while in Albany. So it was through these summer reunions that I got to know some of my mom’s family and hear about the old days when they all lived in Gloversville together.

North Country visits to my paternal relatives

My dad’s Charboneau family — his parents, four brothers and their families — lived further away in New York’s North Country. So we usually went to visit them on car trips — making a flurry of stops at Holland Patent, Sequoit, Boonville or at the Adirondack lakeside camps they all repaired to in the summer.

In this way — either under the pines at the farm or on summer road trips — the idea of a larger family began to take root during my childhood. Who knew that three decades would pass before this early awareness would finally grow into a pursuit of my family history?

Yet most genealogists will tell you that’s often the way the process works — that the time for memory and reflection usually arrives at midlife after the tasks of younger years are completed.

That’s the way it was for me — and I’m grateful that when I finally decided to look back and begin researching my family, my childhood memories from under the pines were still there to draw on.

Up next – Vaccination: A doctor’s office drama. Please stop back!

 © 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Liz: My modern grandmother- #atozchallenge

Liz: My modern grandmother. Twelfth of twenty-six posts in the April 2017 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Whispering Chimneys: My Altamont childhood” — where my genealogy journey began. Wish me luck!

My maternal grandmother — Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence — lived at Whispering Chimneys with us when I was little. Gramps called her Lisbeth and her friends called her Liz.

But I came up with her family nickname — Boom — when I mispronounced Grandma as Booma. The shortened version stuck and seemed to capture her assertive no-nonsense personality.

Boom and me in Gloversville, N.Y., shortly before we moved to Whispering Chimneys. My maternal grandmother Liz was always fashionably dressed and accessorized, with every hair in place. Scan: Molly Charboneau

She was young as grandmothers went — only 45 when I was born — and always kept up with the latest fashions, footwear and accessories. She was modern in other ways, too.

While Grandma Charboneau (my dad’s mother) never learned to drive — Boom loved to get behind the wheel. She wasn’t shy about hitting the gas pedal, either.

Boom even drove cross-country once with my Aunt Rita — Mom’s younger sister. And after we moved to the farm, she wasted no time setting up her business.

Boom’s antique shop

While Gramps got his shop going out in the barn, Boom cleared a building down by the road and opened an antique shop specializing in country and early American antiques and collectibles.

“She absolutely loved that shop,” my mom told me. And I did, too.

I remember the faint smell of powdered ginger when I opened some of the tins — and the old rocking butter churn from the shop that she used as a decoration up by the house.

Whispering Chimneys Antiques, my maternal grandmother’s antiques and collectibles shop at the farm. Scan: Molly Charboneau

Boom named her business Whispering Chimneys Antiques and took full advantage of its location along Route 20 — a major thoroughfare before the New York State Thruway was built.

To stock the shop, Boom and Gramps went to local auctions — and made some fast friends there. They also belonged to the Grange up the road, which helped her network in the local farming community.

Besides all of that, Boom was like a second mother to me. According to my baby book, she was right there alongside my mom for the big events in my young life — like my first word or when I walked for the first time.

A well-matched couple

I didn’t know it then, but my grandmother eloped at 18 to marry my grandfather against her mother’s wishes — which I wrote about in A Valentine’s Day love story: My grandmother elopes.

Strong-willed and determined, Boom applied that same spirit to her antiques business — and at the farm she and Gramps appeared to be a well matched couple.

When she had ideas, Gramps had the practical skills to assist — building this and that as needed, like a sign for the shop or a bank of windows to let light in.

Together they made a good team. And they were a beloved part of my family team for my first seven years.

Up nextMailbox madnessPlease stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Dandelion wine: An ancestral brew – #atozchallenge

D is for Dandelion wine. Fourth of twenty-six posts in the April 2017 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Whispering Chimneys: My Altamont childhood” — where my genealogy journey began. Wish me luck!

Every spring when dandelions pop up their yellow heads, I’m reminded of the Altamont, N.Y., farm where I lived until I was seven with my parents and maternal grandparents — and  eventually two younger brothers.

Later, when we moved to the suburbs, those dandelions would become my dad’s enemy — a signal that he was not taking proper care of his lawn.

But on the farm, dandelions were part of the natural order of things. Their bobbing heads could be enjoyed, picked and smelled — or just mowed down along with the thick, untamed farm grass.

More than that, they were the key ingredient in the homemade dandelion wine that Dad brewed in the unheated room off our kitchen.

Hand harvesting

Dandelions, Aurora, N.Y. (2016). My childhood task of picking flower heads to make dandelion wine turned out to have an ancestral  connection. Photo: Molly Charboneau

“Just pick the yellow flower, nothing else,” Dad would instruct, handing me a little-kid pail.

The he might relax in an Adirondack chair on the farmhouse porch and watch the traffic go by on Route 20 — or putter away at some household repair — while I went to work gathering the blossoms.

I remember racing around the yard looking for dandelions as if I was hunting for gold — seeing how quickly I could fill my pail to the brim with the sunny, warm, fragrant flower heads.

Each time I delivered a pail of flowers to Dad — my hands sticky with their tangy sap — he’d pour my harvest into a larger bin until it was filled with enough dandelions to start brewing the wine.

Ancestral brew

For years I recalled this flower-picking ritual as just a fun time on a spring day. But once I started studying my family’s history, up popped an ancestral connection.

The dandelion wine recipe Dad used came from my Italian-American grandfather Tony Laurence — his last name anglicized from Di Lorenzo. He was my mom’s father who with us on the farm.

Gramps inherited the recipe from his Italian ancestors back in Gloversville, N.Y. — and who knows how long the dandelion wine instructions were passed down in our family before they got to him.

So when the wine was ready and Dad let me taste a spoonful of the bitter brew, I had no idea I was also imbibing a bit of my family heritage.

Up next: E is for Elephants, mastodons and local excursions. Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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