Thursday, September 27, 2012

The "bare" walls


I was writing a blog entry about an Easter celebration and it reminded me of another holiday meal. My parents bought a house in 1964. Like anyone moving into an existing house, we had work to do first. The house had previously been converted into a duplex so we started turning it back into a single-family house. This included removing all of the wallpaper. It could be fun if the paper was steamed just so we could strip a section from floor to ceiling in one shot. The house was old enough that even the ceilings were covered in wallpaper. That was really fun when we got a strip going.

After we had the new stove installed and a china cabinet built into the wall between the kitchen and dining room, we moved in. The upstairs walls were finished shortly after we moved in but the downstairs walls were still bare. The bare walls were old fashioned plaster and lath and looked like they would stand for a couple of hundred years. After our first Sunday dinner in the dining room under the crystal chandelier, my brother Ralph climbed a step ladder and wrote the menu for our dinner on the wall between the living room and dining room.  That was the beginning of a tradition that would continue for over 2 years. Everyone that came through our doors would autograph the walls. My sister Zoe was a talented artist and she decided that we needed something to perk up the living room d├ęcor. Using a step ladder she sketched a harbor scene. I think she modeled it on a picture from Maine.

Not to be outdone by Zoe, my brother Ralph did his magnificent drawling on the ceiling! His master piece was suggestive of the works of Salvador Dali, Picasso, Grant Wood and Grandma Moses. A cubist, surreal and primitive work in pencil on plaster, it featured melted watches and teacups on a bare landscape populated only by cubist nudes wielding pitchforks. It is signed “Ralph Raphael Rawlings” and is the only piece known to be produced by this artist.

We enjoyed our autographed walls and I was actually sad when my father announced that he had hired someone to put up new wallpaper. I just wonder if all of those autographs are still hidden under wallpaper and there is the chance that they could see daylight again if the wallpaper were removed. I don’t know when I will be in Wellsville again, but visiting that house is now on my bucket list. Especially since I remember those walls so well and don’t seem to have any pictures of them!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Grandma could not date when she was 21


What I know of my maternal grandmother's childhood I have had to glean from genealogical research. She was born in Brooklyn, New York. By 1909 her family had moved to Chester, West Virginia. From the few stories I managed to get about my maternal grandmother’s childhood I know that she took piano lessons and learned things like embroidery. She never learned to cook. It seemed so strange with a woman born in 1889. Her family spoke German at home and they carried Roman Catholic missals to Mass on Sunday that were in German and Latin.

When she was about 18, she and her sister Genevieve had pictures taken that almost looked like what were called “glamour shots” a few years ago. There is also a strip of pictures of her in various attitudes and manners of dress. Her family had moved from Brooklyn to Chester, West Virginia and I wonder if there was a shortage of marriage-aged men. She was (in 1919) 30 by then and her parents may have been a little desperate.  Fortunately her parents did send her to a secretarial school, so she did have skills with which to obtain a job. She still lived at home with her parents of course.

In Chester, WV there was an amusement park called Rock Springs Park.  I never got a chance to visit there even though the park was still open when I was a child. When my grandmother was 21, the Park had dances and my grandmother lived close enough to be able to hear the music. She was not permitted to attend them. With her parents being so strict I wondered how she ever did get married.


I asked my Aunt Katharyn (daughter of Katharyn) if she knew. It turns out that my grandfather did not marry for quite some time too. His father passed away when Joseph was 21. He remained with his mother and sisters to help support them. His mother passed away in 1922 and his youngest sister Beatrice had married in 1923. Catherine and Eva were both employed so they decided it was time to get their brother married.  They were friends with Katharyn and decided to fix their friend and their brother up together. It apparently worked since Katharyn and Joseph married in 1924 when Katharyn was 35 and Joseph was 32. My mother was born in 1925. Joseph Jr. followed in 1929 and my Aunt Katharyn was born in 1933. My mother and Uncle Joe have both passed. Katharyn is healthy and very active. She and her husband Bill square dance and ballroom dance. (Love ya, Aunt Kay!)

Friday, September 14, 2012

I learned everything I needed to know from Captain Kangaroo


I grew up in front of the television. Even though my face is not visible in the picture, I assure you it is me. I recognize the drool (LOL!). I actually have memories of being in front of the TV in that jump-chair. Captain Kangaroo debuted in October 1955 and I had made my debut 14 months earlier. I was so fortunate that my mother learned I would be quiet if I was parked in front of the tube. I so remember every gag they used on Captain Kangaroo. The theme music did not stop until Captain Kangaroo hung up his keys. He would often play with it by lifting the keys and feigning the movement to hang them again. It was always good for a laugh. I can’t remember what the Captain had to say to Mr. Moose to start the ping-pong balls dropping, but I laughed each time.

 What did I actually learn from the Captain? I could recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the age of 3. By the time I started kindergarten I knew all of my colors and could count to 10. The alphabet was a snap!  I also learned “The Magic Words” please and thank you. I did think the TV was interactive and so I thought my shouting “Grandfather” actually woke up the Captain’s old clock. I used to watch Romper Room too, but that teacher lady never saw me through her stupid magic mirror. For that reason I refuse to give her credit for teaching me the alphabet.

For Christmas 1956 I received a Captain Kangaroo hat and keys. Even though the music stopped when the keys were hung up, the hat had to be hung up first. So it was that the Captain’s hat and key were packaged as toys and I wanted them! I wore them every day that I remembered where I had left them the day before. (I was a little slower in learning to put things away as the Captain tried valiantly to teach me.) I absorbed as much as I could from my television leader with the large pockets. When I got home from school on my first day of kindergarten, I announced to my family that I was a genius and had no need to finish kindergarten. To my surprise my mother put me in the station wagon that delivered me to McDonald Elementary School the next morning. (My sister Zoe never let me forget my announcement. I swear she would tell total strangers just to embarrass me.)


My family was deeply in love with television. I was permitted to stay up late on Friday nights to watch “The Twilight Zone” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and my brother would spend Saturday nights watching the monster movie shows.  I desperately wanted a color television by the mid-1960s. The first time I ever watched anything in color was “Johnny Quest” and it was at my godmother’s home on a very badly tuned set. Everything seemed to be in purple and green. I still thought it was the most magical thing I had seen.

The day that cable television was installed in our home, my father went to Western Auto and bought a color television, which was so he could watch “Bonanza” in color.  The cable television of 1966 was very different from what we have now.  We lived in the Ohio River Valley, so the only stations that could be received by a fixed-position antenna were Steubenville and Wheeling and when the weather was good, we might be lucky enough to get Pittsburgh. With our cable connection our world expanded to include Youngstown and Cleveland! Now I even had National Educational Television!  I am just sorry that it was too soon for Sesame Street.  That was my son’s domain or as he pronounced it “Sesester Street”.

What my son also had that I did not were 200 channel cable television and video tapes. He had his favorite TV shows which he did watch very faithfully and video tapes that he would watch until he and I, could recite them line-by-line. He could read by the time he went to school. He didn’t realize it, but I sure did. The picture of him with the TV was taken when we were on vacation. There weren’t any vacations from television.


My son is now a father and his children will never know a world without game systems, cell phones, tablets, home computers and the Internet. My granddaughter has taught me most of what I know about using my iPhone.

Every generation has an invention or program that they feel they can “own”. I suppose my mother’s may have been the radio programs and Works Project Administration and her mother’s may have been the Tennessee Valley Authority and the rural electrification program. I feel like I am a part of the space race generation. With the leaps and bounds that technology has taken since the beginning of the 20th century, I can’t even imagine what my grandchildren will feel is the major contribution of their generation or what their children may invent.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sister Rose Augustine



Sister Rose is my grand-aunt Genevieve Muessig. I never met her, but I wish I had. My grandmother’s family was devoutly Catholic. So I supposed it was not a surprise that one daughter would enter the convent. My grandmother Katharyn and her sister Genevieve were only 2 years apart in age. I imagine they were close since they were the only girls in the family until Josephine was born in 1897. Katharyn and Genevieve made their First Communion together around 1902. I think their Communion dresses look a lot like bridal gowns.


I look at pictures of Genevieve with her round eyeglasses and she appears to be very introspective and a little sad. I wonder what she was thinking. I wanted to uncover the story behind the pictures I had seen of her. I managed to find the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Dominic where Sister Rose had spent her last years. I was fortunate that the nun I corresponded with knew my grand-aunt. Sister Margaret Clines sent me a bio with the bonus of her own memories of “Rosie”.

I had imagined that being a nun was a lot of praying and scrubbing floors. I don’t know where that comes from since I was educated by the Sisters of Saint Ursula in grades 1 through 7. I discovered that Sister Rose had a career as an art teacher. In her bio she is remembered as “a very talented artist and used her skill as an expression of her great love of nature and the outdoors”. I wish I had known her during this time.

1926 Sister Rose and
Katharyn (my grandmother)

According to the documentation I received, Genevieve Elisabeth Muessig entered the convent in 1914 at the age of 22. She received her Holy Habit later that same year. After 2 years of training, Sister Rose Augustine was assigned to a parish in Brooklyn. She worked as an educator in several New York parishes over the next 55 years. She retired to the Queen of the Rosary Motherhouse in Amityville, NY and was living there when she suffered a stroke. She was a resident of their infirmary until her passing in 1979. “Rosie” is buried on the grounds of the Motherhouse which is very fitting for a woman that dedicated her life to God and the Sisters of St. Dominic.

1948 My sister Barb with 
Sister Rose Augustine