Archive for the ‘Tyler’s Family’ category

Marquette’s Molbys and Modern Maccabees

March 24, 2014
The Modern Maccabees picnic in not-so-modern times.

The Modern Maccabees picnic in not-so-modern times.

This photograph was found among my grandmother’s belongings when she passed away in 1992. My grandmother, Grace Elizabeth Molby White, was the daughter of John Molby (originally spelled Mulvey) and Lily Ann Buschell. We believe this may be the only photo that exists Lily Molby (we have one other poorer quality photo of John), and we aren’t even positive it is them. My mom remembers my grandmother showing her the photo when she was a girl and pointing out her mother in it. We believe the large man in the middle is John Molby and the woman beside him is his wife Lily. We also believe the young man, who has the man with the older seated mustached man between him and the alleged John Molby, is John and Lily’s son George. No one else in the photo’s identity is known.

This is not a family photo but rather a group photo for the Modern Maccabees. If you look closely you’ll see George Molby and some of the others are holding flags that say Modern Maccabees on them. Lily’s obituary also notes that she was a member of the Lady Maccabees. Who were the Maccabees? They were a fraternal organization founded in Ontario, Canada in 1878 and named for the biblical Maccabees. Originally known as the Knights of the Maccabees, in times other branches were formed–the Lady Maccabees and the Modern Maccabees in 1892. The organization was most popular within the state of Michigan. Their major efforts were to provide a form of low-cost insurance.

I believe this photo was probably taken sometime between 1906 and 1915 because George Molby was born in 1886 and he has to be at least age twenty here and the clothing clearly dates to the World War I era or earlier. Furthermore, the group was renamed in 1915 to the Women’s Benefits Association. I don’t know where the photo was taken–probably some sort of park in or near Marquette.

If anyone can provide further information about the photo and the people in it, I would love to hear from you so please leave me a comment.

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Goodbye Bonanza

January 29, 2014

It’s with great sadness that I heard Bonanza was to close this past Sunday, January 26th. A lot of people clearly shared my sadness since the restaurant was so busy on Saturday that it had to close a day early because the staff feared they’d run out of food.

Mitch Lazaren, Ed Gudewicz, and all the Bonanza staff did a fine job for 37 years and Marquette just won’t be the same without being able to go there on a Saturday night to fill up on salad, steak, and chili.

In the restaurant and staff’s honor, I am reposting the chapter in My Marquette about Bonanza:

Grandpa and Grandma were regulars at Bonanza, which ensured that Chad and John got extra suckers with their little wrangler meals. They all overstuffed their stomachs with steak, chili con carne, salad, french fries, and ice cream.

— Superior Heritage

When Bonanza opened in 1977, it was one of those new restaurants, springing up along U.S. 41 leading out of town and actually in Marquette Township, but today, it is a mainstay as one of Marquette’s longest operating restaurants.

After 37 years, Marquette says goodbye to its favorite family restaurant.

After 37 years, Marquette says goodbye to its favorite family restaurant.

Soon after it opened, my mom and grandma went there for lunch. At that time, Grandma thought Grandpa wouldn’t like it because it wasn’t a “sit down and be waited on” kind of restaurant. Boy, was she wrong!

Grandpa loved Bonanza. Soon my grandparents were going there for supper at least twice a week. They became good friends with Mitch Lazaren, the owner, and all the Bonanza staff. My grandpa made some frames for different maps and posters for the restaurant, and for Christmas one year, my grandparents were given Bonanza jackets with their names embroidered on them.

For years, my grandparents, parents, brother and I could regularly be found at Bonanza on Saturday nights. It was my favorite restaurant as much as Grandpa’s. The Chili Con Carne alone was enough to keep me going back.

How special was Bonanza to my grandparents? So special that during winter blizzards, my mom had to argue on the phone with Grandpa to get him to stay home rather than go there for supper. So special that in 1983, my grandparents celebrated their forty-ninth wedding anniversary there.

Other steakhouses have come and gone in Marquette, but Bonanza has outlived all its competition. The service remains impeccable, the food fantastic, and the atmosphere friendly, if a bit overwhelmed by hungry people crowding around the salad bar—but that’s the sign of a truly good restaurant.

My Buschell and Molby Ancestors

January 8, 2014

Recently, the Marquette Regional History Center published the latest issue of Harlow’s Wooden Man which included a wonderful article about some of the early German families who came to Marquette. This encouraged me to post something about my own Marquette German ancestors, the Buschells. The following is taken from my book My Marquette about a bit of my family history:

My grandmother Grace Elizabeth Molby White’s family settled in South Marquette, and they were among Marquette’s earliest residents. My great-great grandparents John and Elizabeth Buschell were married in Marquette in 1858. Neither John nor Elizabeth are listed on the first Marquette census of 1850 and no relatives appear to have been in Marquette with them.

John was born in 1820 in Saxony, then one of the many little kingdoms and principalities that made up greater Germany, while Elizabeth was born in Massachusetts of Irish parents. No information has been found about their parents or families. John and Elizabeth were to become my inspiration for Fritz and Molly Bergmann in Iron Pioneers. Since John was clearly German, I decided to make Fritz part of the group of German immigrants who arrived in Marquette that first year of 1849 and be among those who came down with typhoid and for whom, Peter White, perhaps Marquette’s most famous pioneer, cared, bathing them in the makeshift hospital. These Germans later started to walk to Milwaukee in December to prevent the rest of the village from having to starve until word was sent after them that the supply ship had finally arrived.

In the novel, Fritz is frequently ill, never having quite recovered from the typhoid. Since I know so little about John Buschell, I used my imagination to fill in the holes. I can find no death record for John. I only know he and Elizabeth had their last child, Thomas Buschell, in 1876 and then on the 1880 census, Elizabeth is remarried to a Jeremiah O’Leary. Perhaps John’s death was not reported and I can find no listing for him in a cemetery. In any case, I assume since Elizabeth remarried and since divorce was not common in those days, especially among Catholics, that John died, and since Fritz therefore would also die young, the typhoid and a lingering weakness as a result was a good way to explain his untimely death.

When I first became interested in genealogy and tried to find information about my Grandma Grace Molby White’s family, I heard stories that we were supposedly related to Mrs. O’Leary, whose cow started the great Chicago Fire. I assume this story comes from Elizabeth’s second husband being an O’Leary. I have not been able to locate much information about Jeremiah O’Leary other than that he was Irish and came to Marquette through Canada—his naturalization and immigration records exist in the Marquette County records. I have not been able to locate any relatives for him, but in Elizabeth’s obituary, it does state that she lived in Chicago for some time, so it is possible that Jeremiah had relatives in Chicago whom they went to visit, but for now a blood connection has not been confirmed between Jeremiah or the Mrs.O’Leary who had the infamous cow.

In Iron Pioneers, I also had Molly remarry, but I deviated from the family history, feeling I had already attested to the presence of Irish immigrants in Marquette, so I married her instead to an Italian, the brutish saloonkeeper, Joseph Montoni. I felt I wanted the novels to represent the wide number of immigrants who came to Upper Michigan, and the Italian population was significant, although that Montoni beats his wife and dies in a saloon brawl would not make his nation proud.

I also wanted motivation for Molly’s character to transform over the course of the novel from an outspoken, sharp-tongued young woman to a rather saintly one by the end, and an abusive husband served this purpose because her marriage thereby taught her about survival, love, forgiveness, and how to strengthen her faith in God. I was inspired to depict Molly as becoming kind and faith-filled by Elizabeth Buschell O’Leary’s obituary in The Mining Journal in 1897 which said, “Among her neighbors and friends Mrs. O’Leary will long be remembered for her many acts of kindness.”

John and Elizabeth Buschell had several children, two of whom particularly have lived on in family stories, notably their son Frank and their daughter Lily, the inspiration for Karl and Kathy Bergmann in Iron Pioneers. Frank Buschell, like Karl, was a logger and he did end up in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Rather than marrying a Finnish wife who died in childbirth, the real Frank Buschell’s wife, Mary, gave birth to several children, most notably for my fiction, Valma Buschell, the inspiration for Thelma Bergmann. Valma was my grandmother’s cousin and like Thelma, she came to live in Marquette. She was a wonderful pianist but she also suffered from epilepsy, which I changed in the novel to multiple sclerosis. I am sure she was much brighter than I depict Thelma as being, but one other aspect of her story is true. As far as I knew, she never married, but one day while looking through the Marquette County marriage records, I stumbled upon a listing for her in the marriage index. Surprised, I went to find the actual marriage record, only to find there was none. The clerk at the courthouse explained to me that the license must have been applied for, but that the couple had never married and therefore, had not returned the document. What happened to Valma’s prospective marriage, I don’t know, but she never did marry. In writing fiction, however, I could always make up stories to fill in the blanks as I did here, having Thelma Bergmann elope with Vincent Smiley to Mackinac Island, only to find out he was a bigamist and her marriage not legal.

Valma never adopted children, but I decided in The Queen City that Thelma would adopt Jessie Hopewell. I was inspired by this plot twist after visiting the historical Honolulu House in Marshall, Michigan. In the house was a photo of a girl who had been adopted by the female owner of the house—only the owners had been white, and the girl was black. Interracial adoptions in the early nineteenth century must not have been common, so again, I thought it would make a great story. Only, Marshall, Michigan was more likely to have black residents—it being near the route of the Underground Railroad that aided escaped slaves. Upper Michigan has very few black residents, and I had given little treatment to the large Finnish population in Upper Michigan, so I decided to make the adopted child Finnish and her adoption explainable since Thelma was herself half-Finnish although her mother had died before she really knew her. It also allowed me, in the person of Jesse’s father, to tell the fascinating true story of how many American Finns had left during the Great Depression to go to Karelia, in Russia.

One last interesting piece about the Buschell Family is that Buschell Lake, just south of Marquette, is named for them. No one seems to know exactly how the lake came to be named for the family—I would assume it was named for John or for Frank and that one of them owned property on it although I have been unable to find property record to confirm this.

As for Frank’s sister, Lily Buschell, she married John Molby, who came to Marquette in 1882. John and Lily would be my grandmother’s parents. Like her counterpart, Kathy, in the novel, Lily would end up going near deaf from the measles. I don’t know when this happened, but I decided to place it during World War I for dramatic purposes. Also, as in the novel, my great-grandparents’ sons went off to fight in World War I. My grandmother, Grace Molby White, said she remembered as a child going down to the train station to see her brothers leave for the war. Both Daniel and William would fight in the war, William going to Camp Custer in September 1917 for training and Daniel to Camp Gordon, Georgia in June 1918. After my grandmother died, we found among her belongings a handkerchief that had “Paris 1918” stitched on it which she had preserved—doubtless the gift of one of her brothers. She would have only been thirteen the year the war ended, although I chose to make her counterpart, Beth McCarey, five years younger so she would be all the more confused in trying to make sense out of the war.

My grandmother said very little about her family whenever anyone asked her questions. She told me her father was from New York, but other records say he was from Canada, and one family story said the Molby family left Ireland because they were rebels. I have found no direct connection to Ireland, but because Great-Grandpa Molby’s past was such a mystery—after nearly twenty years of searching, I still haven’t found out where he was born or who his parents were—I decided to make up information and depict Patrick McCarey as a rebel who did have to flee Ireland. This decision also allowed for the dramatic scenes in The Queen City when he is old and senile, and while hallucinating, he runs from the house, believing British soldiers are after him. John Molby was himself a bit senile and ended up running down the street in his nightclothes at the end of his life, and my grandparents would have to chase after him to bring him home when he was living with them, although what he was thinking during this time remains a mystery. I also made Patrick an atheist in the novel because John Molby apparently did not go to church or at least was not Catholic, while his wife attended St. Peter’s Cathedral and made sure all the children were baptized there. John Molby’s funeral was held at the First Presbyterian Church, although he was not a member there, and he was buried in the Protestant Park Cemetery while his wife and several children are buried in the Catholic Holy Cross Cemetery.

According to my other family members, the older Molby generations never talked about the family. Part of the reason I’m sure is because of the tragedies they experienced. My grandmother was one of ten children, yet none of her eight brothers lived beyond their early fifties. My mother never knew any of her Molby uncles as a result and my grandmother almost never talked about them. Only after we found her brother’s obituaries among my grandmother’s belongings after she died did we know my grandmother’s brother Charles was accidentally electrocuted at his job in his early twenties, leaving behind a wife and daughter with whom the rest of the family lost contact. Other brothers died of heart attacks, or what today sounds like an aneurism, and one brother died of alcoholism. I imagine all these early deaths were painful for my grandmother, who by age thirty-six, only had her sister Mary still alive, and Mary would die in 1958 at only sixty-two of cancer. My grandmother was convinced she would die young like the rest of her family, but surprisingly, she lived until 1992, passing away at the ripe old age of eighty-seven.

In writing The Marquette Trilogy, I found it necessary to reduce Beth McCarey’s siblings down to three brothers—eight brothers and a sister would have been too many for a reader. I had one brother die in World War I, one die in the Barnes-Hecker mining disaster for its historical significance, and the third brother, Michael, become a priest. None of my grandmother’s brothers became priests, but I had my reasons for Michael to become a priest in the novels as I’ll explain later when I discuss St. Michael’s Parish.

MolbyHome-2

My Great-Grandparents Molby’s home on Division St. still stands today.

My Great-Grandpa and Grandma Molby lived at 609 Division Street in Marquette—their house is still standing today although it was sold out of the family in the 1930s when John, then a widower, went to live with his adult children. In the novels, I had the Bergmann and McCarey families live within only a block or so of St. Peter’s Cathedral because of the importance of Catholicism in their lives, and especially, partially to explain how the nearby cathedral’s influence would have inspired Michael’s desire to become a priest—along with the influence of his saintly grandmother, Molly, whose obituary as given in The Queen City closely resembles that of her real-life basis, Elizabeth Buschell O’Leary.

Today, the Molby name still exists in Marquette in the descendants of my grandmother’s brothers. The Buschell name is not found in Marquette, but Frank Buschell’s descendants populate the Keweenaw Peninsula, carrying on his name.

Note, I am always happy to hear from long lost relatives. I would love photos of any of the Molbys or Buschells or any other information people might be able to provide about the families.

Ives Lake: Memories from My Childhood

July 24, 2012

The following post is taken from my book My Marquette and is preceded by a short history of Ives Lake and the Longyear family:

1970s photo of the caretaker house and red guest house at Ives Lake

1970s photo of the caretaker house and red guest house at Ives Lake

From 1971-1976, my grandfather, Lester White, was the caretaker at Ives Lake. He and my grandmother would go up to the lake in the spring and stay through the summer, only coming home occasionally on a weekend. I can vividly remember riding in the car with my mom and brother when we would drive up to Ives Lake to visit my grandparents. We would sing “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” and any other songs my mother cared to teach us along the way. We would come to the gate where the gatekeeper would let us in because he knew us as part of my grandpa’s family.

My memories of Ives Lake are fragmented since I was only five when those years ended, but I can recall my cousins playing baseball on the large lawn, having big family picnics with all the cousins, great-aunts, and great-uncles there, swimming in the lake and my cousins collecting clams, and going fishing with my dad—I caught my first fish at Ives Lake. I remember my grandparents’ dog, Tramp, swimming in the river, and I remember going in the barn with my grandpa to see the barn swallows.

1970s photo of the Stone House

1970s photo of the Stone House

I distinctly remember my fifth birthday party was held here. I remember it mainly because I got a record player, an orange box that folded and locked up like a case. With the record player came several records made by the Peter Pan record company, including a book and record of “Little Red Riding Hood.” My cousin, Kenny White, who was born on July 4th, also had his birthday party here one year.

The clearest memory I have is of walking with my grandpa and Great-Aunt Vi behind the barn to the chicken coop, and my brother and I pretending to be Peter Pan as I described in Superior Heritage. While I don’t remember it myself, my cousins, Leanne and Jaylyn White, who are several years older than me, remember Grandpa feeding Chucky the Woodchuck, whom I also depicted in my novel.

One time, Grandpa took my brother and me into the Stone House where one of the rooms had a table with numerous rocks on it that the geologists must have been studying. Grandpa told us we could each have one of the rocks. I still have mine today, a curious two shaded brown rock like none I have ever seen since. Someday I will find a geologist who will tell me what it is.

My family has hundreds of photographs of summers spent at Ives Lake including fishing parties, picnics, and Grandpa and me on the riding lawn mower. The child’s mind is highly impressionable so perhaps that is why I remember this beautiful magical place so well.

My rock from the Stone House. I still have it but have never found out what kind of rock it is.

The visits to Ives Lake ended on a sad note when my mother received a phone call that her grandmother, Barbara McCombie White, had died. I remember I was coloring in a color-by-number book when the call arrived. I didn’t understand, but I remember my mother crying and her telling me to go back to my coloring while she got ready to go. We had to drive up to Ives Lake where my grandpa was—he had no phone there—so my mom could tell him his mother had died. The two events may not have been related, but my great-grandmother’s death seemed like the end of the Ives Lake summers to me. It was also the end of an era in another way—my great-grandmother would be the only person I would know who was born in the nineteenth century, 1885, to be exact, and being at Ives Lake was equally like being in another era.

Tyler with Grandpa on the riding lawnmower at Ives Lake about 1975.

 

Marquette and Istanbul: Love of Your Hometown

March 24, 2012

I just returned from a wonderful vacation in Turkey, which I’ve long wanted to visit for its many historical and ancient sites, including biblical Ephesus, ancient Troy, and Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, seat of the Byzantine Empire. My journey made me appreciate Turkey in more ways than I can list here, including the people’s pride in being a democracy and their love of the founder of the Republic, Ataturk, as well as the friendliness, politeness, and goodwill of the Turkish people; almost everyone I spoke to had been to the United States or had a relative living here. I realized just how small the world is and how we are far more alike than different to our neighbors in this world.

One pleasant surprise I had while in Turkey was to discover the book Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. I had heard his name but never investigated his books, so to discover he had written a book about Istanbul that includes the city’s history and his memories of growing up in it in the 1950s-1970s made me feel what a small world it is. Considering I have written a similar book about Marquette, I felt I had discovered a kindred spirit. I read the entire book on the plane flying home. In addition to the text, Pamuk includes many black and white photos of Istanbul, which I can’t reproduce here, but I am including a few photos of Istanbul that I took myself on my vacation.

What I enjoyed about Istanbul: Memories and the City was not only the history and memories that Pamuk describes, but when I say he is like a kindred spirit, it’s because many of the things he says about living in Istanbul are very similar to things I’ve said about living in Marquette and my relationship to my hometown. Here are a few passages from his book:

“I’ve never left Istanbul—never left the houses, streets, and neighborhoods of my childhood.”

Similarly, I feel like the Marquette of my childhood is constantly with me—I am continually finding myself remembering being in the Marquette Mall or eating at the Bavarian Inn or attending nursery school at the Presbyterian Church.

“Istanbul’s fate is my fate: I am attached to this city because it has made me who I am.”

Similarly, the history of Marquette flows through my veins and that of seven generations of my ancestors. To understand me, you have to understand my family background, the beauty and history I grew up surrounded by in my hometown.

“I was beginning to understand that I loved Istanbul for its ruins, its huzun, for the glories once possessed and later lost.”

Pamuk talks a lot about the city’s huzun, a word meaning melancholy. He writes of growing up in the 1950s surrounded by a family in mourning for the glories of the Ottoman empire that vanished with the coming of the Republic of Turkey in the 1920s. While I don’t doubt Pamuk realizes the Republic was preferable to being ruled by a Sultan, he has an appreciation for the glories of the past. His grandmother and elderly relatives have turned their homes into what feel like museums. Similarly, I grew up surrounded by grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles who told me of Marquette’s past and stories of their parents and grandparents. I felt a certain melancholy in longing to know the Marquette of the past prior to my lifetime and the glories of the past that no longer existed, such as the Superior Hotel, or the glories I saw disappearing such as St. John the Baptist Church being torn down.

“…anything we say about the city’s essence, says more about our own lives and our own states of mind. The city has no centre other than ourselves.”

Very true. My view of Marquette is conditioned by my upbringing and history. Others feel differently about it I’m sure, although I tried, in writing about it in my novels, to create some sort of collected consciousness about its history.

“…we cannot help loving our city like family. But we still have to decide what part of the city we love and invent the reasons why.”

I think the reasons become clear when we consider the difficulties of life in Upper Michigan. Economic issues and cold winters are trying and make a person create an argument for himself about why to remain, weighing the pros and cons.

“…if I had come to feel deeply connected to my city, it was because it offered me a deeper wisdom and understanding than any I could acquire in a classroom.”

Yes, I went to Istanbul, but deep down as a writer, I have always felt like Marquette was more than enough for me to write about. Everything I need as a writer I can find here. There are stories, diversity, history, culture, enough to fill many books as my writing has shown, and all those lead to lessons about life. As Dorothy says in The Wizard of Oz, we need not go looking beyond our own backyards for our heart’s desire.

This last passage describes Pamuk beginning to collect information about his city before he even knew he would write someday about it, similar to how everything about Marquette’s history fascinated me and I collected books and articles about it and even old telephone books before I contemplated writing a series of novels about the place.

“I craved books and magazines about Istanbul—any type of printed matter, any programme, any timetable or ticket was valuable information to me and so I began to collect them. A part of me knew I could not keep these things for ever: after I had played with them for a while, I would forget them….in the early days I told myself that eventually it would all form part of a great enterprise….There were times—when every strange memento seemed saturated with the poetic melancholy of lost imperial greatness and its historical residue—that I imagined myself to be the only one who had unlocked the city’s secret….now I had embraced the city as my own—no one had ever seen it as I did now!”

I won’t go so far as to say no one ever saw Marquette the way I have, but one of the nicest compliments I have received about my novels is that they have made people look at the buildings of Marquette in different ways and see all the history that surrounds them. If anything, I hope my books have made people appreciate the past that once existed and still exists among us.

Marquette is world enough for me, but as a genealogy fanatic, I wanted to go to Turkey to explore what remained of the Byzantine Empire. For me, being in Hagia Sophia was especially a highlight. I have traced my family tree back to many Byzantine Emperors including Basil I and Alexios III, who would have worshiped in Hagia Sophia. I also visited the ruins of Troy and Ephesus where doubtless I also had ancestors centuries ago and now lost to time. My family’s past lies throughout the world. As James Michener said, “The world is my home,” and Marquette and Istanbul are not so very different—although in different ways, both are home.

Marquette’s Catholic Cemeteries

March 5, 2012
Sign that today marks the Old Catholic Cemetery

Sign that today marks the Old Catholic Cemetery on Pioneer Road

The following passage is from My Marquette

Across the street from the former Brookridge Estate, on the corner of County Road 553 and Pioneer Road, is a patch of woods where once the Old Catholic Cemetery existed. It became the burial place for Marquette’s Catholics in 1861. Prior to that, Catholics had been buried on the property where the cathedral now stands. The new cemetery would within fifty years become the Old Catholic Cemetery. By the early 1900s, the new Holy Cross Cemetery off Wright Street opened, and between 1912 and 1925, some 165 Catholics’ remains were transferred from the old cemetery to the new one, although not all the bodies were removed.

While I do not know for certain where they rest, my best guess is that my great-great-grandparents, John Buschell, his wife Elizabeth, and maybe her second husband Jeremiah O’Leary are all buried in the Old Catholic Cemetery.

Today, the forest has reclaimed the old cemetery property off Pioneer Road. Gradually, while some of the bodies were left behind, all the gravestones were removed—some for a time in the 1980s I remember being in the front yard of the John Burt Pioneer home when it was still a museum, but eventually all the stones that remained intact were transferred to Holy Cross Cemetery where they lie in the grass, most of them scarcely readable.

Today, all Catholics are buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Marquette. In the cemetery’s early years, Catholics were strict that only Catholics could be buried there. As a result, my great-grandmother, Lily Buschell Molby, lies in Holy Cross while her husband, John Molby, not being Catholic, is buried in Park Cemetery, which accepted all denominations.

Pioneer Cemetery Gravestones now in Holy Cross Cemetery

By the 1980s, burial laws were less strict. John and Lily’s daughter, my grandmother, Grace Molby White, also married outside the Catholic Church, but she wanted to be buried in the Catholic cemetery, so my grandpa, raised a Baptist, also agreed to be buried there. Today my grandparents rest in Holy Cross Cemetery with my grandma’s family while my grandpa’s family rests in Park Cemetery.

A few years after my grandparents passed away, my parents bought plots near them in Holy Cross Cemetery, including plots for my brother and me. At the time, I wasn’t too crazy about having a grave plot waiting for me when I was only thirty years old, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to plan ahead.

Remembering Grandpa

February 27, 2012

Today would have been my grandpa’s 107th birthday. There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t think of him, so I thought today was a good opportunity to post the section I wrote about him for My Marquette.

Lester Earle White (1905—1987)

Grandpa with his car decorated for a Fourth of July Parade in the 1930s

            My grandpa, Lester Earle White, was the oldest and therefore the “big brother” to the rest. He was named for Miss Lester, the nurse my great-grandmother had in the hospital. He was born premature and about the size of a kitchen knife. Consequently, he suffered with health problems throughout his life. He was a workaholic, but when he got sick, he would be laid up in bed for days.

My grandfather, as the oldest child, helped to support his family. At fourteen, when he graduated from eighth grade, he went to work with his father. In time he would own his own salvage and scrap metal business and was known as Haywire White in the 1930s. However, most of his life he spent as a carpenter building houses, cabinets, furniture, fences, and anything else anyone needed. Many people said he was the best carpenter in Marquette and if nothing else, his work was always sturdy. He retired when he was seventy, but he never really retired. Until a couple of weeks before he died, he was daily in his workshop putting in more than an eight-hour day making tables, lazy susans, benches, mirrors, and anything else he thought he could sell. My brother and I spent many hours in his woodshop with him and to this day I have many of the little houses, wagons, and other toys he made for us.

Like Henry in Superior Heritage, my grandfather died as a result of his flannel shirt catching on fire one morning when he went to light his woodstove so he could start working. Although he was flown to the Milwaukee Burn Center, after two weeks his body could not take the pain and his kidneys failed.

Other than his work, I remember my grandfather most for his kindness. I wanted to be with him every minute I could. I always wanted to sit next to him at the table, and I always had to go with him to help with his craft sales. He never complained about having me around, although he didn’t like me getting dirty or getting crumbs on the floor. He was always giving my brother and me money or treats, as did my grandmother, and often, he would stick dollar bills between paper plates at supper so we would discover them later when we cleared the table.

The scenes in Superior Heritage of Henry Whitman feeding the animals at Ives Lake are all based on my grandfather. He would have chipmunks come into his woodshop, jump into his hand, and take peanuts from him. One time he took care of a pigeon with a broken wing in his shop until it was able to fly again. He always had peanuts to feed to the squirrels and fed all the pigeons even when the neighbors complained. Until late in his life he always had a dog, and after, when I had my dog, Benji, he would tell us we weren’t allowed to visit unless we brought Benji with us.

Grandpa did everything he could for his family, including giving his brothers and brother-in-laws work, and buying the property for his parents where their house on Wilkinson Avenue would be built.

Grandpa and Grandma in Chinatown, Los Angeles in 1948

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my grandpa and my grandma. They were the happiest married couple I ever saw. When my grandpa went to Florida to work for three months, my grandparents wrote to each other almost every single day, and my mother remembers when Grandpa came home, how he jumped out of the truck and ran into the house to see Grandma. I’m sure they are happy together in heaven. I don’t think I will ever stop missing them.