Tag Archives: Rita Mary Laurence

Grandparents and Aunt Rita #AtoZChallenge

G is for Grandparents and Aunt Rita. Seventh of twenty-six posts in the April 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Endwell: My Elementary Years”— where my genealogy journey germinated. Wish me luck!

Before my brothers were born, my early childhood family team was my parents, maternal grandparents (Tony and Liz Laurence, who we called Boom and Gramps) and my mom’s younger sister Aunt Rita. We shared a large farmhouse with my grandparents in Altamont, N.Y. — and Aunt Rita lived nearby in Albany.

Maternal grandparents and Aunt Rita

But families grow and change. So along came my brothers, then dad got a transfer to the Binghamton area from his GE job in Schenectady — and before you knew it we were arriving in Endwell and my grandparents and aunt became episodic visitors.

Christmas 1958: A visit from my mom’s parents Boom and Gramps and her sister Aunt Rita. The baby doll notwithstanding, I also got a new bike that year (parked behind me) which gave me freedom of travel around the neighborhood with my many neighborhood friends. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

The holiday schedule

During my elementary years, my parents worked out an equitable holiday schedule. My maternal grandparents came to our house for Christmas — and as shown above, my Aunt Rita joined them before her eventual move to San Diego, California. For Thanksgiving and Easter, we piled into the car for the three-hour drive back to my grandparents’ house at the farm.

In the summer, my brothers and I would travel on our own by train (and later bus) to visit Boom and Gramps. I went by myself at first — boarding the Delaware and Hudson Railroad in Johnson City, N.Y. and debarking at the Altamont train station, where my grandmother met me.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/7327243@N05/5462930480
Landmarked Altamont, N.Y. train station, now used as a library (2011). I traveled on my own to visit my mom’s parents, boarding the Delaware and Hudson Railroad in Johnson City, N.Y. and debarking at the Altamont train station, where my grandmother met me. Photo: Doug Kerr, Altamont, N.Y.

Later my mom sent my younger brother Mark with me — and I spent much of the trip distracting him, especially when the train went through a dark, frightening tunnel en route.

A spirit of independence

When train service ended, my mom put us on the bus. Usually, I went by myself for a week (my grandmother was in charge of me) and my brothers traveled together for a separate visit (overseen by Gramps).

“I would never send you alone today,” my mom told me years later. “But back then, things were safer.” And I’m glad they were — because those lone trips to visit my maternal grandparents fostered a spirit of independence during my elementary years.

Visiting Grandpa Charboneau

My dad’s father, William Ray Charboneau, was another story. Grandpa Charboneau was was older than my mom’s parents — and a widower [my paternal grandmother Mary “Molly” (Owen) Charboneau had died when was 4]. So it was on our  family to drive north of Utica, N.Y. to visit him and my dad’s brothers, who lived nearby.

My dad’s father, Grandpa Charboneau (1958). Grandpa C was a widower and older than my mom’s parents, so it was on our family to drive north of Utica, N.Y. to visit him and my dad’s brothers, who lived nearby. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

Grandpa Charboneau lived in a small house in Holland Patent, N.Y. (such a cool name, I thought) with a stream out back and an elementary school across the street. Around the corner, my dad’s oldest brother Uncle Owen and Aunt Gig ran a grocery/convenience store, which they lived above with Gig’s mother “Ma Mere.”

Grandpa Charboneau’s house as it looks today (2015). Visiting my dad’s father wasn’t as much fun as visiting my mom’s parents at the farm. Much better was stopping by my Uncle Owen’s grocery/convenience store near Grandpa C’s house. Photo: Molly Charboneau

Visiting Grandpa Charboneau’s house wasn’t as much fun as visiting the farm — but my brothers and I made due with fishing for pollywogs in the creek out back or hitting the playground at the school across the street.

Much better was stopping at Uncle Owen’s store and climbing up the stairs to the cozy apartment above — an experience that so impressed my brother Mark that he went on to a career in the supermarket industry, including a brief stint as a small grocery proprietor.

So although we kids had no nearby relatives during my elementary years, my parents did a good job of keeping us connected to extended family — an effort I appreciate as I continue researching my ancestral heritage.

Up next: H is for Howdy Doody and Hooper School. Please stop back.

© 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1906: My fashionable grandmother at age one

Sepia Saturday 384: Piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.

For as far back as I can remember, my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence was a clothes horse. She followed fashion trends and kept up with the latest in age-appropriate clothing, footwear and accessories.

Me with my stylish grandmother (1950). Even for casual times, like holding me as a baby out on the porch, my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence was always fashionably dressed and accessorized. Photo by Norman J. Charboneau

A 1950 photo from the day that she and I first met in Gloversville, N.Y., shows her stylishly attired with every hair in place.

Not that she spent inordinate sums on her outfits.

Known in our family as Boom from my childhood rendering of Grandma as “Booma,” my grandmother was a serious sales shopper keen to find quality at reduced prices.

To this end, she frequented garment industry company stores once common in her home town and in the Albany Capital District, where she lived when I was growing up.

Fashionable from a young age

My grandmother at age one in winter hat, coat and bows (1906). Scan by Molly Charboneau

I wondered how far back her fashion sense went — then I discovered two photos of Boom taken in 1906 when she was about one year old.

Clearly, her German-American parents started her on a fashion-forward footing at a young age.

In the first photo, my grandmother’s shiny black hair peeks out from beneath a snug little winter hat.

She is posed for the studio photographer in a light, double-breasted fur coat with a Bishop sleeve. Atop her head and at her neck are full, fashionable bows.

A dress with staying power

In the second picture, my grandmother looks very smart in a crisp, white ankle-length dress and patent leather shoes — accessorized with a chain and pendant, a baby ring and a little bracelet.

My grandmother at age one in eyelet dress, patent leather shoes and accessories (1906). Scan by Molly Charboneau

Her dark hair, gathered up at the top, shines even more brightly in this photo.

The dress features an eyelet hem, eyelet detail and gathered sleeves with eyelet cuffs. Vertical stitching adds interest at the yoke, which falls from a lacy neckline.

As I studied the photo, something about the dress seemed familiar — so I took a look in the closet where I store family heirloom garments.

How wonderful to discover this dress among several recently given to me by my younger sister Amy — saved and passed down through four generations.

A textile legacy

My grandmother’s little eyelet dress at 111 yeas old (2017). Photo by Molly Charboneau

My maternal grandmother Liz was big on family and heritage. She set up “baby boxes” for her daughters (my mom Peg and my Aunt Rita).

Then — starting with their baby shoes — she filled each box with important artifacts and documents from their childhoods.

Boom also maintained a huge collection of family photos, passed on by her parents and my grandfather’s family — which she carefully labeled for future generations.

So is it any wonder that she would save her baby dress from that handsome photo?

The cherished outfit was probably tucked away and passed down by her mother — my great grandmother Celia (Mimm) Stoutner. Although ivory with age, my grandmother’s little dress has held together for 111 years.

Could this be the quality garment that started my grandmother Liz on a lifetime of carefully dressing for every occasion? If so, what a wonderful textile legacy.

Up next: My fashionable maternal grandmother at age five. 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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