Friday, September 27, 2013

A Moving History

Granny's parents
Imagine a simpler world.  One in which there are no computers - or even televisions.  You get your local news from your neighbors and anything beyond that from the radio.  Your home has no refrigerator. It may or may not have electricity.  Most babies are born in the home.  Women have only had the right to vote for a couple of years.  Prohibition is in full swing.  It is the early 1920's. 

Almost 90 years ago my grandmother, Marie Wechsler, was born, in December 1923.  Her parents were Alta Carl Singer, Sr (born in 1891) and Ona Mae Ball Singer (born in 1884).  They both died in the early 60's before I was born so I never knew them but they had a large family.  Of their 10 children my Granny was #6. 

The world in 1923 was a happening place:
  • The first baseball game was played at Yankee Stadium
  • Women began to wear one piece swim suits
  • The world's first domestic refrigerator was sold in Sweden
  • Time Magazine published its first issue
  • Rin Tin Tin became the first canine movie star
  • King Tut's Tomb was discovered by Howard Carter
  • Houdini freed himself from a straight jacket while suspended upside down 40 feet over NYC
  • The whooping cough vaccine was developed (alas the polio vaccine was not yet around to help my grandmother who contracted polio when she was 9 months old.)
  • Hitler was in the rise in Germany sowing the seeds that would result in my grandmother's future husband going off to World War II with the Coast Guard in 1942 (this future husband having been born about a year and a half earlier across the river in Kentucky).  
  • Calvin Coolidge became the 30th US president after President William Harding died of apoplexy in August.  Coolidge gave the first presidential radio address 10 days before my grandmother's birth. 
  • The fun flapper fashions were sweeping the nation
Of the 13 famous people I found also born in 1923, only 3 are still alive (which is 23%, a quite symmetrically appropriate number).  Here's the list of Granny's more famous contemporaries and the years in which they passed away:

  • Estelle Getty (2008)
  • Jean Stapelton (2013)
  • Anne Baxter(1985)
  • Alan Shepard (1998)
  • Ed McMahon (2009)
  • Norman Mailer (2007)
  • Charlton Heston (2008)
  • Aaron Spelling (2006)
  • James Arness (2011)
  • Peter Lawford (1984)
  • Bob Barker, Henry Kissinger and Bob Dole, and my Granny are still kickin'
The young Lillian Marie Singer, affectionately called "Ree-Ree" or just "Ree," and her future husband, George Wechsler, my grandfather, grew up in the "Tri-state" area where Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia come together around the Ohio River.  Granny was from Chesapeake, Ohio and Grandpa grew up in Cattlesburg, Kentucky.  Granny's dad had a hand in starting the local telephone and electricity companies and bought a big house up on the Ohio River.  When grandpa turned 18 there was a war on and he joined the Coast Guard.  He and Ree married in 1943 and had two baby boomer children, both sons, 14 months apart in 1946 and 1947. They were married for almost 60 years when my grandpa died in 2003.

They have 34 descendants and 2 more on the way:
  • 2 children
  • 9 grandchildren
  • 21 great-grandchildren (and 1 on the way) and,
  • 2 great-great grandchildren (and 1 on the way)
When my grandfather passed away in 2003, we moved Granny from Florida where they had lived for 31 years, home to Ohio to be near her siblings where she has lived for the past 10 years.  In addition to moving into a cute little 2 bedroom home, finding a church home where she taught Bible school, and the all important beauty parlor, Granny got busy attending the local dances with her sisters.  I could hear the swing dance music every time she emailed me about the goings on.  

These 10 Singer siblings started a tradition back in 1977 to have an annual summer family reunion.  In New Orleans that first year there were 23 family members in attendance.  In 2012, when they all gathered in Huntington, West Virginia there were 103.  They all come from the north and south and far east and west coasts now.  They have traveled to 24 cities in 14 states for these reunions since 1977, keeping in touch, having some fun and coming together to celebrate the living and commemorate the dead.  5 of the 10 siblings have passed away and 5 are still living. 
8 of the Singer siblings in Myrtle Beach in 2001

This past week my dad and my brother and I traveled to Ohio to move Granny out of her house and bring her back to Texas.  I'm not sure she was really down with that plan, the decisions were made kind of fast and pretty much for her, but she watched quietly and patiently as we moved through her home like little cyclones packing up her lifetime of treasures and memories into a 17 foot U-Haul.  She's going to stay with my parents while we search for her new home.  If anyone knows of any reasonably priced senior living options, please let us know.  She is, of course, on a small, fixed income.  My granny was a big part of my early childhood years before we moved to Texas when I was in the 7th grade, and I am looking froward to having her closer.  She is going to teach Zoe how to play her organ.  :)

Her 90th birthday is in December, and as chronicled in an earlier blog post, my family likes any excuse to party.  This is gonna be a big one.  

Here are a few fun pictures from the move:
Granny at dinner with her two sons and grandson
Granny caught vacuuming when I told her to sit and rest
Granny with me and my Uncle at a church going away party
Granny and her sister Ona Mae and brother in law Jack at a 121 year old drug store soda fountain for lunch
In my grandpa's rocking chair
Lillian Marie, age 18 (this actually hangs in my guest room)


  1. Denise, this is a beautiful post. I love how you've captured this for your Granny, yourself, and your family. Keeping those stories alive is so important. And I learned so much about the 20s!

    1. Thanks, Colleen! :)

      I don't know why commenting is so difficult on so many blogs. I commented on a post yesterday afternoon that is still "awaiting moderation." I'm not holding my breath.