Friday, August 04, 2006

Notes for Cousin Louise

Bea’s cousin Louise wrote a family history entitled, “Grandpa Was A Plumber.” Bea did not like the title and told Louise she should change it. Louise liked her title and kept it.

Among Bea’s papers, I find these notes about her mother’s family, written for Louise in 1994:

“My father’s father, James ‘Hunter’ White, was the son of Mary Stevenson, cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson. (My cousin, BCG, visited Stevenson’s birthplace in Edinburgh.) Mary married (first name?) White, and they had a large family, including James Hunter and John, and at least two daughters. The Whites were descended from Orangemen who came from a town or hamlet called Bally James Duff in County Caven, Northern Ireland, not too far from Belfast, the area where conflict is now acute. The Whites were descended from a henchman of Cromwell who had been given a castle in Bally James Duff as a reward for fealty and as a part of the subjugation of Northern Ireland. The Whites, of course, were Protestant, as were all Orangemen. The story goes that one of our ancestors had to run several miles in his nightshirt in the middle of the night to take part in some pitched battle relating to Orangemen’s Day.

Cousin Beatrice remembers our grandfather well although he was killed in an automobile accident when she was six. He was going to visit brother John in the hospital. His “Tin Lizzie” went out of control while negotiating a sharp turn onto a bridge.

Beatrice remembers Grandpa White as a martinet at the dinner table, saying “Tut! Tut!” to any misbehavior of the grandchildren. However, he was not always stern and showed Helen and Beatrice how to hide their crusts under a dinner plate and gave them peppermint candies. His plumbing establishment was on the first floor at 218 Clay Street, Paterson, with an office in front and plumbing supplies in the rear. Suspended by ropes from the ceiling were two circular metal rings on which people – children – could perform gymnastics. At the front of the office were display windows in one of which stood a handsome white toilet. One day Beatrice, with delight, spied the toilet, climbed into the window, and was about to sit down when Aunt Esther, Grandpa’s accountant/secretary, dashed over and grabbed her.

More about Grandma White: She was born Mary Chadwick in Middleton, a suburb of Manchester, England. Her parents brought her to Pawtucket, RI, where the skills learned in the cotton mills of Manchester were in demand. What Grandma commented on was her regret at having to stay home while younger brother, Harry, could go to school.

Her mother got homesick and returned for a time to England while Grandma's father got a job in Philadelphia where he had a child by his housekeeper.

When Grandma and Great-uncle Harry and their mother returned to America to join their father, the parents worked in the silk mills in Paterson. Our great grandfather’s specialty was preparing the warp, a very meticulous and tedious job.

Grandma White had her first child, Bertha, on a very hot day in August in the home of her mother-in-law. In spite of the occasion, our great grandmother went right on canning peaches over a hot wood stove, making the house even hotter.

Bertha's parents took their 13-year-old daughter out of school and put her to work in a silk mill. She used to go into the bathroom at the factory and pray that God would deliver her. Deliverance came in the person of one “Uncle Manny,” a jovial, prosperous butcher in Irvington-on-Hudson, who declared it a shame to have such a bright, pretty little girl working in a mill when she should have a chance to go to school. Fortunately, the family took his advice. Bertha finished high school in three years, taking a commercial course to qualify as a secretary. She was lucky enough to get a good job in Manhattan, working for Guy Benson, a cotton broker. When she married Harry Chinnock, she turned her job over to him and he advanced to salesman. He did well during World War I and, on Mr. Benson’s death, took over the business.

Bertha had four sisters and two brothers. Beatrice remembers Henry White as her favorite uncle, even if he occasionally teased her when she was small. She remembers family gatherings in which Bertha played the piano and Henry and Jim sang excerpts form Handel’s Messiah. Beatrice liked Henry better than Jim and knew that his life, like his track record, was much better than Jim’s. Henry had rock-bottom integrity and good family feeling. He was a good son. As a child, Beatrice was proud of the way her Uncle Henry starred at all the Canoe Club activities on Green Pond.

Grandma White was always proud to have been born in England. While she stated that she came of ‘humble folk,’ she considered English ancestors and English traditions something special. Church of England was the basis of her religion, and she saw the Episcopal Church as continuing that faith. Devout, she sang in the choir of the Church of the Redeemer in Paterson and attended the same church there all her life. She kept up with the doings of the British Royal family as would a loyal subject. When Beatrice happened to see Queen Mary driving out of Buckingham Palace at close enough range to observe lipstick, she was almost sorry later to have reported this fact to Grandma because, in Grandma’s scale of values, lipstick did not fit the image.

It must have been hard to have her husband die in his 50s because relatives on the other side of Beatrice’s family, who also came to Green Pond, said that when Grandpa took too long a time to come to their summer cottage, she would take off to be with him. She had one suitor in later years who proposed marriage, but Grandma refused him. She was pretty and feminine to the end of her life. As to a lasting influence? Grandma’s cheery, fun-loving, almost childlike pleasure in life, in people, in a good time, was reassuring to a child. A favorite grandparent, remembered with affection!”

In "Grandpa Was A Plumber," Cousin Louise reports that she researched the Robert Louis Stevenson connection and concluded the families were not related. I don't think Bea believed her. She liked the idea of being related to Stevenson too much.

1 Comments:

Blogger royalrichfamous said...

nice to see someone caring about their old parents. you nowadays mostly tend to hear about how shabbily people treat their old parents.

4:42 AM  

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