I’m watching Continuum on Netflix. It’s a Canadian-produced SF series about revolutionaries and a female cop from 2077 transported to the 21st century’ second decade. The hour-long plots have me pondering where I’d go if I owned a time machine.
Those familiar with my posts on Writing Wranglers & Warriors know I occasionally write about the challenges faced by my ancestors during the first several decades of the 20th century. As ideas ricochet inside my head, I’ve concluded I’d aim my time machine for 1920 and a landing in a small town in Northeast Ohio – Rittman. That’s the year my Great-Grandfather David Elmer Kurtz, his wife Icie Bell and their daughter Helen passed away.
In 1920 1,803 people called Rittman home including the Kurtz family who lived in a house at the end of Fourth Street on the outskirts. Over the years Icie Belle birthed thirteen children including my grandmother, Mildred. By 1920, some of those siblings were married and living on their own. Some were just toddlers.
On Wednesday, June 23, twelve-year-old Mid was visiting an older sister — Maude — in Michigan when their mother collapsed on the back steps. Her eyes on an approaching thunderstorm, Icie Belle had just gathered up a brood of baby chicks. Maybe one of the youngsters still at home rushed up the street to older sister Ethel’s house and shrieked for help. Ethel was probably at the house looking after her one-year-old toddler, Russell. If I could step back in time to that horrible day and loiter near the houses, I could get a close-up look at what actually transpired. Would I do it if a time machine actually existed? I’m a retired newspaper reporter bursting with curiosity. Think of the family history I could write.
Back then families held funerals in their homes. I assume that’s the case for Icie-Belle; some time spent in June and July 1920 could verify it. If I didn’t lose my nerve, I’d pay my respects to David Elmer and rest of the family. I’d claim to be a distant Hockensmith relative who knew Icie Belle’s mother Sarah. Some of you are no doubt thinking: why in the world would Mike want to intrude on their grief, even if he’s Icie Belle’s yet-unborn great-grandson? I dearly love my Grandmother Mid, gone from this world for the past twenty years. If given the chance, I’d like to sit beside her, take her hand and say, “Things are dark now and will get even darker, but I predict a wonderful man will come to love and adore you. Children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will shower you with love. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” And I’d add, “If one of those grandchildren – a boy – gets too close to your stove and is about to touch a still-hot burner, slap his hand away. He’ll be thankful you did.” Hopefully she’ll smile, even giggle.
I’m not sure David Elmer, known as Elmer, would have been present. He might have been in a sanatorium. In late June 1920 bacterial tuberculosis, or consumption, had ravaged my great-grandfather’s lungs. He’d die on July 5, less than two weeks after his wife’s heart-attack death. In the early 1900s TB killed one in seven people. Many TB patients sought treatment in Arizona sanatoriums where therapy included fresh air, sleep, wholesome food and exercise, but the Kurtz family wasn’t awash in cash. Elmer worked on a rich man’s farm.
As a kid, I knew many of Grandma Mid’s brothers and sisters. To me, they were old people, nice, wrinkly and old fashioned. It’s only been in recent years that I’ve had a chance to explore old photo albums and see the photos of them as young, vibrant men and women. Those old photos contain voices that echo, “Come see me, Mike. I’d just love to chitchat.”
Yea, I know it’s a period of back-to-back funerals, of young relatives like Mid shuttled off to live with older aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters. But I don’t think I could resist the lure of sharing a conversation with loved ones at the dawn of the Roaring Twenties, especially folks who died long before I took my first breath.
Would I find a newspaper in Ethel’s house down the street? Maybe a McClure’s or a Saturday Evening Post? Perhaps a magazine on baking? Ethel’s husband Raymond Snyder and his father owned a bakery in the Realty Building in downtown Rittman. Raymond died in 1962 when I was just ten, so I don’t remember much about talks on politics; I was too busy playing with toys that had belonged to their kids, Russell and Harold, toy trucks and a bean-bag game. I admit it… it would be fascinating to talk adult-to-adult with Uncle Raymond about post-World War I politics and his life as a baker.
So I ask… would you go back in time to another era and visit with your ancestors – if given the opportunity?