Friday, January 20, 2006

Mercy and Richard (Part 2)

The Allamuchy Store was a trading center and post office for two wealthy families in New Jersey, the Rutherfords and the Stuyvesants. Their huge estates (on over 5000 acres) had a bevy of servants - coachmen, stable men, horse and dog caretakers, maids, cooks, livery men, gardeners, etc. The estates were used for farms and "deer parks". Around the periphery, in the famous New Jersey "mucklands" where the dirt is particularly black and rich, lived a number of enterprising Polish families who brought food to the little store to be sold and traded for their own supplies. The village of Allamuchy thus was a hub for much activity. The Whitfields had little money but plenty of energy, especially my grandmother. She wrote "Those were the days when I made seven loaves of bread at a time. It was also before the days of washing machines. I made clothes for the children. Sometimes I was called on to substitute for teachers when they were ill. I went to see neighbors when they were sick. As I look back on those early days, my role was varied to say the least. I was thankful for my college training in Domestic Science which helped me face many of the emergencies. Good health gave me strength for daily tasks. "
This photo shows the five children durng those hard years.
My grandfather, Richard, continued to have poor health (diabetes), however, and Mercy carried the lion's share of the workload, with help from the children as they grew older. By 1923, grandfather was quite ill again, and the family was forced to sell the store. Uncle Nathan bailed them out by buying them a home, and the older children began working to help support the family. When the depression came, my grandparents had their full share of hardships, but over time life got better for them. They continued to live in Hackettstown, New Jersey. When Richard was 75 years old, in 1947, he died quietly in his sleep, "after a normal and happy day working in the garden". Mercy continued to live on until she was 96 years old. Here is a family photo taken in 1947, just before my grandfather's death. It was a gathering of all their children and grandchildren at our home in Califon, New Jersey. I'm the little girl in the front row right, with a knit cap and tweed coat. Our grandfather is standing in center of the back row, wearing a long coat and a hat. An uncharacteristically surprising detail I noticed today is that my mother (left rear) has a white flower tucked behind her ear!
I remember very little about my grandfather Richard. I remember that he was tall, formal, and foreboding, and that I was scared to be around him. As I grew older, I learned that he had been a very strict and punitive parent to my mother and her siblings, a harsh disciplinarian. At the same time, his children obviously loved him, but there were many stories of times when his disapproval and punishment came down especially hard on one of his children. My older cousins remember him warmly and thought he was "mild and congenial".

My grandmother, Mercy, by contrast, was a jolly old pal. I knew her well, and she lived until I was in my early 20's. She came and stayed at our home frequently, and we always celebrated her birthday every year, on December 26th, with a huge family celebration - sandwich loaves, turkey tetrazini, and birthday cake - and all the aunts and uncles and cousins gathered together. It was really special. Here she is about to cut into one of the notorious sandwich loaves. It's a wonder the whole family didn't keel over from heart attacks! Here, again, was the whole family celebrating Grandma's b'day in 1954. She was in the center of the couch. I'm on the left with a dog in my lap and a dutch-boy haircut.

Grandma Mercy was a great knitter, baker, scrabble player, embroiderer, listener. Reliably, she made snickerdoodles or peanut cookies whenever she visited. She lost quite a bit of her hearing as she aged, but continued to play the piano and sing along, even though she was completely off-key. We laughed, but also found it endearing that she was so unselfconsious. She loved all of her grandchildren and great grandchildren and took a great interest in what everyone was doing. In 1952, on her way to her grandson John's college graduation from Davidson in North Carolina, she had a terrible car accident and nearly died, but she pulled through. She and her driver ran off the road near Charlottesville, Va, and she was in the hospital there 6 weeks. Her jugular vein was cut (a policeman held it together until she got to the hospital), her leg was crushed, she had many facial injuries. The side of her neck that was cut and stitched actually took away the "aged neck" look on that side. Her youngest son, my Uncle Dick told her it looked so good it was too bad she did not get both sides cut, which did not amuse her. She had to wear a patch over one eye for the rest of her life, and walk with a cane, but her spirits were never dampened. Thanks to my cousin John Whitfield for providing more details about this part of Grandma's and Grandpa's history. To be continued!


Dotty Stripes said...

Sigrid, this is so fabulous! What a treasure you've created for your family.
Photos are great. Fun to enlarge them and especially check out the design on the sandwich loaf, and the flower in your mother's hair!

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will be way up..