Sunday, February 21, 2021

A Day With Aunt Kitty

"Mam took me to Cleveland to see Aunt Kitty," is how Mom began.

I decided some time ago to impose a deadline on myself of a blog post every Saturday. This week I was too busy working around the upheaval, noise, and carpenters underfoot, and also picking bits of paint off the wood floor with a veil clip to think about blog posts.

But in the insanity of hauling everything out of our crowded office and working around the disorganized piles in the living room for two weeks, I found a pink paper of notes I had jotted down on one of my last visits with my mom when she was still coherent.

It's a story that's always intrigued me, so I'll share it, hoping siblings and cousins have more details.

My grandparents, Adam and Anna Miller, lived in Holmes County, Ohio. They were Amish and had two children at this point--Ervin and Sara, my mom. Mom was born in 1920, so this took place probably in 1922 or '23. My mom always called her mom "Mam," while we knew her as Mommi.

Aunt Kitty, as nearly as I can figure out, was an Englisch woman who had married Mommi's uncle Amos. He apparently left the Amish, because Kitty certainly wasn't Amish.

So Anna, my grandma, took her two little children to Cleveland to visit Kitty. Kitty wanted to take them around town, but she was embarrassed to take these Amish people, so she dressed Anna in a long fancy dress with a big hat, and she dressed Ervin and Sara in overalls. [Yes. Overalls. Or so the story was told to me.]

Also, she took out Sara's braids and had her hair hanging loose.

"Aunt Kitty had a few girls," my mom said. "She took us over the town. She took us to see the ships on the lake. There were boys and girls along in the car. I'm not sure if they were hers, or who."

At some point, they rode on a train and went to the zoo, and someone gave Ervin and Sara "suckers." [Lollipops] The wind whipped Sara's loose hair around the sticky sucker, she recalled. At the zoo, the monkeys stuck out their tongues toward the sucker.

And just that abruptly, my notes are finished.

There are so many things I'd love to know. Mommi was certainly a pragmatic woman, but it still surprises me that she was ok with wearing Kitty's dress around town. Some years later, when they lived in Indiana, my mom put cuffs on the sleeves of her new dress for a trip to Ohio, and Mommi told her the cuffs come off or she doesn't go to Ohio. Was it that Amish perspective of it's not about the deed itself but about who might find out?

I also wonder what it was like for Kitty to marry into a family with so much tragedy. Her husband, Amos's, mother had died when he was young, and his dad remarried. This woman had twin babies, Sarah and Mary, then she died. He married a third time, to a woman who was truly a wicked stepmother and abused Sarah especially horribly. Mary was "farmed out," Mom told me, and died young. The stepmother also died before Sarah was an adult, and her dad married a fourth time.

When Sarah was 15, she had a baby named Harvey but never revealed who the father was. When Harvey was six, Sarah married David Schlabach, who was so harsh with Harvey that Sarah gave him to another family to raise. Then she went on to have 15 more children, all of them tough, resilient people who, according to Mom, stuck together through incredibly hard growing-up years and were known for their humor and storytelling. The third child of the 15 was Anna, my grandma and the one who went to see Aunt Kitty.

After David died, Sarah came to live with my mom's family. They called her "Mommi Schlabach." She seemed to have lost touch with Harvey, or "Harf," as they called him, because at one point he came for a visit to reconnect with his birth mother. He was an old man himself, my mom said, and Mommi Schlabach didn't seem to "bekimmah" herself much with him, which means she didn't seem that concerned/invested.

I can hardly imagine the trauma involved in a motherless 15-year-old getting pregnant and never revealing the father. I'm pretty sure that if the father had been a boyfriend, they would have gotten married and all would have been well. Judging from all the firstborn babies in the family record books born about six months after the wedding, that wasn't all that uncommon.

But she didn't marry the father, and she never told. And as an old woman, she wasn't enthusiastic about her firstborn coming back into her life.

I have a very interesting heritage, a mix of delightful and utterly, unspeakably heartbreaking.

My great-aunt Katie is on the left and her sister Susan in the middle.
My grandma was between them in age.
On the right is "Uncle Dave's wife."

I believe Sadie, Mary, Lizzie, and Lovina were all my great-aunts.
I'd love to know the story behind this photo. Why aren't the girls wearing their "kappa," 
like in the previous picture? And who are those fancy young instrument-playing men?

Here's a story of the time Mommi and her sisters jumped off the train. This was in Oregon, and maybe ten years before the train ride to Cleveland.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dorcas. I really enjoy your posts. Susan Hochstedler is 1st cousin to my husband, Warren Bontrager. We live in Colorado, not far from where Susan and Warren's great-grandparents homesteaded (but did not prove-up). What is a veil clip? How is it used to pick bits of paint off the floor?