Tag Archives: Antonio W. Laurence

1938: A magnanimous Matron of Honor

For Sepia Saturday 383, here is a prequel to Bridesmaids revisisted prompted by a family photo — the story of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s trip down the aisle as Matron of Honor for her younger sister Margaret.

My grandmother stands tall as Matron of Honor (1938). From right: The groom Ralph J. Rothbell, the bride Margaret Catherine Stoutner, the maid of honor Liz (Stoutner) Laurence and the best man, possibly the groom’s brother Spencer Rothbell. Scan of a family photo by Molly Charboneau

On Monday, 6 June 1938 my great-grandmother Celia (Mimm) Stoutner of Gloversville, N.Y., had the pleasure of announcing the upcoming wedding of her youngest daughter Margaret, to Ralph J. Rothbell from nearby Amsterdam.

News of the planned nuptials — made public at a bridge party Celia hosted — made it onto page three of the Gloversville and Johnstown Leader-Republican newspaper the next day.

My great-grandmother was undoubtedly thrilled that she would finally be Mother of the Bride — but I have to wonder what my grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence made of it all.

Headstrong oldest child

My maternal grandmother Liz, born in 1905, was the oldest child of Celia and Andrew P. “Pete” Stoutner, who were both first-generation German-Americans. Her younger brother Andy was born in 1909 and younger sister Margaret came along in 1914.

At age 18, over Celia’s objections, my headstrong grandmother Liz eloped to marry the boy next door — my Italian-American grandfather Antonio W. Laurence.

In A Valentine’s Day love story: My grandmother elopes I described the events leading up to my grandparents’ fateful 1924 trip to Detroit, Michigan, where they united in a marriage that lasted a lifetime.

Healing past rifts

Wedding announcement for Andrew J. Stoutner and Anna Grimm from page 12 of the Gloversville and Johnstown, N.Y., Morning Herald (2 July 1934). Source: Old Fulton New York Postcards

Celia did not get to be Mother of the Bride at that ceremony — but she was the proud Mother of the Groom when her son Andy married Anna Grimm in Gloversville on 30 June 1934.

Small wedding parties were common during the Great Depression and Anna chose her own Matron of Honor — so although my grandmother Liz surely attended Uncle Andy’s ceremony, she was not in the bridal party.

By the time Aunt Margaret’s wedding was announced in 1938, my grandmother had been married for 14 years and had two daughters — my mom Peg (born in 1926) and my Aunt Rita (born in 1929).

Engagement announcement for Margaret Stoutner and Ralph J. Rothbell, from page three of the Gloversville and Johnstown, N.Y., Leader-Republican (7 June 1938). Source: Old Fulton New York Postcards

The success of Liz and Tony’s marriage and the passage of time appear to have healed past rifts over her elopement.

My grandmother magnanimously agreed to be Margaret’s Matron of Honor and finally got to walk down the aisle before friends and family — including her once-disapproving mother — in this valued supporting role.

Holding a large bouquet, Liz stood tall beside her sister Margaret in a photo of the wedding party — and Celia probably felt a mother’s pride to have all of her children married and moving on with their lives.

Up next: My grandmother Liz, at age 1, sports a different kind of white dress. Please stop back.

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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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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Gramps: Machinist and woodworker – #atozchallenge

G is for Gramps: Machinist and woodworker. Seventh 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 grandfather Antonio W. Laurence was a jack of all trades. Known as Tony to his peers,  he was Gramps to me and lived  with us on the farm when I was little.

Gramps was born in Gloversville, N.Y.  He was the son of Italian immigrant Peter Di Lorenzo (who anglicized his name to Laurence) and Mary “Mamie” Curcio, a first-generation Italian American who we called Little Grandma.

When Gramps, 48,  decided to move to Altamont — about an hour away by car — Little Grandma was beside herself.

“She cried and hugged him and carried on like he was never coming back,” Dad told me. Yet my grandparents were ready for a bold, new step.

Gramps and me in Gloversville, N.Y., shortly before we moved to Whispering Chimneys. Scan: Molly Charboneau

Their daughters  (my mom and Aunt Rita) were grown, and they were new grandparents. So off to Altamont they went with my mom, dad and me.

Gramps’s shop in the barn

My mom and grandmother were in charge of the house at Whispering Chimneys — but the barn was Gramps’s domain. And he wasted no time setting up shop there.

Gramps was a skilled machinist who had studied auto mechanics in Detroit. He was also a veteran of my great grandfather Peter’s garage and auto parts business. So it wasn’t long before Gramps had his own business going at the farm.

You name it, he’d make it and sell it. He chopped cabs off of old trucks and turned the beds into horse trailers to sell to local farmers. He made folding wooden log holders for fireplaces. At one point he even covered the side of the barn with hand crafted birdhouses.

Becoming handy

The barn at Whispering Chimneys. Gramps used the barn at the left for his shop, adding windows and filling it with tools and equipment for his home-based business. That’s probably his pickup truck parked outside. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Gramps’s shop was a fabulous place for a young girl to become handy — and once I was old enough, I loved hanging out there.

The atmosphere was so different from inside our house — and fostered my lifelong love of hardware stores.

His long workbench was covered with tools. And when I got my hands dirty I’d race to dip them into the pungent, squishy hand cleaner Gramps kept in a tin — then wash them off with pebbly pumice soap. A far cry from the olive oil soap my grandmother preferred.

Gramps also had a gigantic tool-and-die machine for cutting and shaving metal to size — so there was always a shallow pan of oil filled with curly, silver metal shavings. And one time he cut a small round disk, drilled a hole in it and hammered in my name so I could wear it as a pendant.

Household ingenuity

Gramps also applied his ingenuity to household repairs and improvements to keep the family safe. One of his innovations was a bell cord across the driveway — like the ones in filling stations — so a bell would ring in the house to alert us when a car drove up.

Best of all, Gramps built us children a fabulous swing set from scratch, joining heavy pipes together and cementing the feet into the ground so it couldn’t tip over. You could swing and swing and that set would never budge — giving us a safe birds-eye view of the surrounding countryside.

Up next: Hollyhocks and botanical delights. Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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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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A Valentine’s Day love story: My grandmother elopes

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 Gloversville — 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, Michigan shows 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!

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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