Earlier this month I began scanning the Facebook newsfeed and discovered a family photo posted by a cousin, John Snyder, the family genealogist.
He gave fellow cousins a more detailed examination of the children in the really old photo. First the sisters (left to right): Nellie, born in 1894; Hazel, born in 1895, and Ethel, born in 1898. Their brothers are (left to right): Clarence, born in 1901; John, born in 1903, and Wayne, nicknamed Sweenie, born in 1905. These are some of the children of David Elmer and Icie Belle (Edwards) Kurtz. Ultimately, David Elmer and Icie Belle of Wayne County, Ohio, would have thirteen children, including my maternal grandmother, Mildred (Kurtz) Franks.
This photograph is one of the oldest in the family, copied multiple times by me and my numerous Kurtz-related cousins all over the U.S. and the world. My Grandma isn’t in this photo. She was born in 1907. Sweenie looks to be about a year old. That means the photograph was taken sometime in 1906.
David Elmer and Icie Belle were poor. He was a tenant farmer who did whatever he could to make ends meet. Icie Belle took in laundry to wash and iron. Take a moment to study the photo. See how wonderfully the girls and their brothers are dressed? Genealogist John Snyder’s older brother Ron noticed and commented: “John, I look at this photo knowing how poor our grandmother’s (Ethel) parents were that she had to leave the sixth grade to work cleaning gaslight chimneys and fireplaces and do the laundry. Yet how beautifully the children were dressed for this photo. I wonder if these were the photographer’s clothes. We were blessed to be raised by ancestors who had to work hard for their food and homes.”
Back in in the mid and late 1960s, I often spent Saturdays and Sundays at the Fourth Street house in Rittman, Ohio, owned by Grandpa Frog and Grandma Mid. On weekend drives in Wayne County, Grandma would sometimes point out the rural farmhouse where she lived as a child. Later, the family moved from that farmhouse to a small house on the end of Fourth Street in Rittman. I could sit on grandma’s front-porch swing and see that old house. In the summer of 1920, Icie Belle died on the back steps of that house, a heart attack victim. Grandma was twelve years old.
A few days after John posted the 1906 photograph of some of the Kurtz siblings, a fraternal cousin – Candy – posted a class photo from the late 1930s that showed my dad as a kid not much older than ten or eleven. I’m including the photo with this post. Dad’s the light-haired boy two kids to the left of the teacher.
Dad and his cousin Gloria (mother of cousins Candy and Pat) were the children of twin sisters, Natalie (Iuppenlatz) Staton and Hortense (Iuppenlatz) Gruver, of Sharon Center, Ohio. That’s a small crossroads town in Medina County, just next-door to Wayne County. Candy thinks she has located her mother in the photo of Sharon Center’s schoolchildren circa mid to late 1930s. She writes: “I think my mom is in the second row up in a striped dress. And I think the child next to her in the dark dress looks like Lara Jean Brown, who lived next door as an adult – the same smile.”
I’ve other photos of Grandma Mid and my Dad I’m including with this post. One in particular shows Grandma and other brothers and sisters born after 1907. This photo was probably taken around the time of World War I. Grandma is kneeling while her younger brothers and sisters in front of her sit on a blanket.
There’s another photo I really, really like – Grandma in her late teens or early twenties with her best friend Pearl. Can you tell which girl is my Grandma? She’s the one on the left, reaching up to hold Pearl’s fingers. I love their outfits – men’s hats, baggy pants and a college-style sweater for Pearl and coat for Mid. Notice the Model Ford in the background? I’d say this photo was snapped in the late 1920s, probably before the Great Depression; Grandma Mid graduated from Rittman High in 1925.
My memories of Grandma Mid encompass my toddler years, the elementary school era, my time in junior/high school, and my adulthood period, including college. Through it all I remember her fabulous Mennonite-style cooking and the great deserts – her chocolate drop cookies and the coca cream candies. There were two apple trees in the backyard. One eventually rotted and had to be cut down. For years the other supplied apples for the best applesauce between here and Pluto. When I did a sleepover, I’d sleep on a studio couch/bed in a corner of her bedroom. On summer nights, she’d keep the bedroom windows open and at first light I could hear songbirds making their delightful singsong chirps. I couldn’t wait to get up and go exploring in the eerie gully behind Fourth Street houses.
Of course, I grew up, and when I made visits to the Fourth Street house with Mom, I’d sleep downstairs on the back-room sofa. I was there one stormy night when lightning struck a lightning rod on the roof, sending sparks cascading past the window above the sofa. Upstairs, a bolt emerged from an outlet and sparked across the hallway and exited out another outlet. The strike fried the refrigerator, freezer and outlets in the upstairs bathroom. It was quite a shocking weekend, second only to the time Grandpa Frog had to chase down a bat that managed to escape from the attic.
Grandma Mid passed away in 1995, her body brittle, her mind weary, and her sweet soul ready for the angels to escort her to Heaven. Dad left us in late January 2015, but he left behind plenty of memories for his loved ones to treasure. Here’s three photos of him before the responsibilities of life chased away his childhood dreams. The earliest one shows Dad perched on Grandpa Louis Iuppenlatz’s 1920s car. My Great-Grandpa has a cigar nestled in his hand as he admires his new grandson. It’s 1927, two years after my Grandma Mid graduated from high school.
The next dad photo I like shows him at age six or seven in his dance outfit, top hat settled on his head. I expect he’d just participated in a dance recital at the urging of his mother, my Grandma Nan. She did like that sort of thing. The year would’ve been 1933 or 1934, the heyday of Fred Astaire. Did Grandma Nan fantasize about her son dancing in a big Hollywood production?
The first photo I ever saw of Dad as a kid captured him standing beside his bike. He looks to be fourteen or fifteen, a handsome fellow who would soon attract girls from all over Northeast Ohio. He’s not in a winter coat, so I imagine the bike is an April birthday present.
It’s funny how you find yourself reminiscing more and more as you grow into your sixties and realize you’re getting older. So many of the people you love are no longer in your life.
Instead of having living grandparents and aunts and uncles, you’re now the uncle for young boys and girls. New loved ones come into your life, but they can never substitute for those who have gone on to Heaven. I’m so glad for those old photographs.
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Mike Staton is the author of a published fantasy trilogy and is currently working on a Civil War novel. Check out his books on the websites of Amazon and Barnes & Noble.