And You Thought OUR Roads Were Bad: 1918 Christmas Roadtrip

Chasing family tales is what gets all genealogists hooked, and when we get help from previously unknown circles, it feels like Christmas.  To receive such collaboration AT Christmastime is just too wonderful for words. I want to thank cousin, Linda Bell, for her  holiday energy and sharing.  Family lore has become another GREAT family story. 

Minor Home, Orlando, FloridaEvery once in a while as I was growing up, Minor family reunions would include some reminiscing, and tantalizing bits of information would drift about. Like…Robert and May Laura Minor, my great-grandparents,  had a home in Florida. Sometime. Somewhere. For some reason. Years passed. THEN came an email exchange between genea-cousins, which connected my memories and photos with her memories and documents, and whoosh!! we have a Christmas STORY!

IMAGINE…..  

The Minor Farm on Ceylon Lane, Greene County, PennsylvaniaIt is December 23, in southwestern Pennsylvania, 1918.  Two years have passed since President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Aid Road Act, the first comprehensive commitment to the establishment of a nationwide highway system.  America has entered the age of the automobile, BUT would-be travelers have no AAA to call, no Kayak.com to click, no system of vacation organization whatever.  America has 2.5 million miles of public roads,  but only 11% are paved.  Let’s go on a Christmas roadtrip!  To Florida! By auto! SAY WHAT?

‘TWAS TWO DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS . . . . 

And Robert and May, Donald (16), Helen (24) and Alonzo Bell,  were headed out, off the farm! Onward to Florida! But first to cross the Monongahela River! As told by Helen Minor Bell, my great-grandaunt, the trek proved to be eventful.

Minor Automobile with Helen at the wheel

On Dec. 23rd 1918, Father, mother, brother, my husband and myself left the farm for Florida by auto.  On reaching Carmichaels, we learned we could not cross the river at Crucible as the river was so high, but they were still crossing at Masontown so went back to Masontown and crossed that was we did not strike a good road until we almost to Uniontown.  

The first day we only got as far as Flintstone Md. A very small hotel and no conveniences whatever.  Sec. day ate dinner at HamiltonHotel, Hagerstown, Md, stayed that night at Berkley Hotel Martinsburg, W. Va.  Christmas Dinner Edinburgh Hotel at Edinburgh Va. and stayed at Beverly Hotel at Staunton Va.  Here we saw Pres. Wilson’s birth-place, also the Staunton Military Academy.  There, next day after Xmas had dinner at Natural Bridge Hotel, Natural B Va.  Here the natural bridge was one of the wonders of the world.  

The drive this after noon from Natural Bridge to Lynchburg was the most dangerous and very risky trip in any afternoon.  Part of the way we followed a road just wide enough for the car along an old canal, finally we came to a place which seemed to us we were driving up to some ones barn yard, we thought this as far as the road went, but asked the woman and she said you’re on the right road go straight ahead.  We drove on up around the barn among the cows and up a steep hill which looked like nothing more than a rocky trail this we kept up all afternoon crossing one ridge after another of the Blue Ridge Mts.  Just one steady pull and only wide enough for the car, down below hundreds of feet was the James river and not more than a foot away from the edge at any time.  When we had crossed several ridges we came to a creek which we had to ford and right in the middle of it the car stopped and we were there for at least 3/4 of an hr before we got the car started, then when the car started we were wedged in between two rocks and could not go forward or backwards.  

This wonderful account ends abruptly, but it is enough to get my heart racing.   I have wandered among the Blue Ridge back roads, which even today are not much more than a car and half wide.  I can easily imagine the cliff-hugging view.  I suppose once they got through that creek they figured they could do anything, and managed on, day after day, until they crossed the state line into Florida.

Which they did reach.  So wonderful was the destination, that Robert purchased a home. In Orlando. And yet another family story begins.

Minor Orlando HomeMinor Home, Orlando, FloridaMake sure you check out this google map of the 1918 Christmas Roadtrip.

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Christmas Cards 1910

Printed by S L Company in Saxony, Germany, 1910

Printed by S L Company in Saxony, Germany, 1910

Note the publisher's trademark in the lower left-hand corner

Note the publisher’s trademark in the lower left-hand corner

My grandfather’s postcard collection dates from 1906-1910, a wonderful glimpse into the life of small, turn-of-the-century boy.  But Donald C. Minor’s cards also offer the simple pleasure of Christmas artwork, which I never tire of admiring.

Two red-breasted songsters perch on a sprig of holly, which is decorated with a sprig of mistletoe and a golden horseshoe.  This brightly colored card is meant to bring the recipient great cheer, that is for certain.  Published by the New York-based Samuel Langdorf and Company*, number 841 was one of several designs the company printed in Saxony, Germany in 1910.

Donald C. Minor received this card from Ralph on December 20, 1910.

“Hello Donal. How are you? What do you want Santa to bring you? I want a gun but mama says i can not have it so I will haft (sic) to take what ever I get. Your friend, Ralph”

There are other postcards from Ralph and his younger brother, Blair, in my grandfather’s postcard collection.  Using the search engine of Ancestry.com I entered Ralph as living in South Connellsville, PA in 1910 with a sibling, Blair.  The return included a interesting match: Ralph Younkin, 10, son of Milton R and May Waychoff Younkin, living with Blair, 8, and grandmother, Jennie Waychoff, in Connellsville, Fayette County, Pennsylvania.  I have researched the Minor family fairly well, and the Younkin surname is unfamiliar.  However, recently collected cousin memories suggest that Donald’s parents were friends with the Waychoff family; perhaps May Stephenson Minor and May Waychoff Younkin were exchanging Christmas cards, too!

Interesting how a fascination with Christmas postcards intertwines with a family history.  Merry Christmas, indeed!

*The winged orb on the back of the card is identified by the Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City as the trademark for Samuel Langford and Company, publishers from 1906-1918.  Accessed on December 16, 2011.

Aunt Alice’s Festive Table

The year was 1934, and though a great depression set boundaries on aspirations and dreams, folks still found occasion to bring out the good dishes and light the candelabras.

Marilyn pauses Aunt Alice Stansbury was celebrating, as was her niece, Katie Bradford.  Little Marilyn was coming! The toddler, Katie’s only grandchild, arrived midday at Alice’s home in Coshocton, Ohio.  After the long car ride from Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, the adults lingered in the back yard, soaking up the spring sun.  Marilyn busied herself in the grass, sharing her pickings with her Grammy Bradford, Grandmother Minor, Aunt Alice, and Coshocton friend, Earnest Bachert.  Young Uncle Carlos Bradford hung back, laughing at the scene.

Eventually, the party moved indoors, where Aunt Alice could keep tabs on the simmering pots and roasting meats.  Donald and Kerma Bradford Minor coaxed their little botanist to wash up, preparing to take her place as honored guest at Aunt Alice’s festive table.

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The Value of a Smile

Kerma Pauline Bradford Minor, born in Coshocton, Ohio on June 25, 1905.  A graduate of Denison College, Kerma married Denison alumnae, Donald Minor of Greene County, Pennsylvania.  They raised five children on his family's farm before moving to nearby Waynesburg.  Kerma continued to live and teach in Waynesburg after Donald's death in 1964, until she moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1986.  Kerma died last night in her sleep, October 14, 2013, at the age of 108.  May her peace be eternal.

Kerma Pauline Bradford Minor was born in Coshocton, Ohio on June 25, 1905. A graduate of Denison College, Kerma married Denison alumnus, Donald Minor of Greene County, Pennsylvania. They raised five children on his family’s farm before moving to nearby Waynesburg. Kerma continued to live and teach in Waynesburg after Donald’s death in 1964.  She moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1986. Kerma died last night in her sleep, October 14, 2013, at the age of 108. May her peace be eternal.

Where is the Story?

Her palms hovered just inches from her ears, fingers-spread.  As if a metronome, my mother’s hands rocked back and forth as she spat, “You are JUST like your father!”  I never needed a decoder to understand that this phrase conveyed a mother’s disappointment; her eldest child, and only daughter, carried on the mannerisms and point of view of a barely tolerated ex-husband.  My parents’ divorce was amicable as formal separations go.  Since all the children were fairly grown up, no custody duels were overtly fought.  But the covert competition for our allegiance and love was ceaseless throughout my adult life.

You cope, when your parents are divorced.  You just cope, raising your own children as best you can, fending off the birth family battles with as much panache and courage as you dare, navigating the second marriages and blended family get-togethers without losing your mind.  And finally you start feeling a bit old, mortal, and you set out to reclaim your childhood, your birth family, your ancestors.  Or that is what you do when you get bitten by the genealogy bug.

I wandered the shoals of family memory, curious about how and why !?! my parents ever got together.  There was a college romance.  At RPI in Richmond.  Norman transferred to VPI (Virginia Tech) and they got married.  In Greene County, Pennsylvania. Then they lived in Blacksburg.  Norman got a job with General Electric, and they moved to Boston, where Lyn finished her degree at Tufts. GE transferred the couple to Roanoke.

I had to DIG for this stuff, people.

Finally, late in life, my father admitted that he would always love the girl he married.  Which plants the question: was Norman ever Lyn’s beloved? I would never hear the profession from her lips.

What was once lost has now been found

The letters

My father mailed a letter from Virginia Tech Station, Blacksburg, Virginia, to my mother’s dorm at 819 Franklin, Richmond 20, Virginia, every day from January 28, 1953 until May 28, 1953.

And my mother saved. them. all. *

The love letters chronicle the spring of their engagement; the Barnes Junction rendevous, unreasonable professors, wedding dates, and rambling musings of twenty-somethings. Sometimes the story is not left in the ink of a letter.  It is inferred by the mere presence of that artifact.  The words speak of my parents’ love for each other, once upon a time.  The preservation of this seven inch stack says my mother always loved the boy she married.

It matters to me that my parents married because they wanted to, because they were in love, and optimistic, and happy to be together.  It matters to me that I was welcomed with delight.  Perhaps, after all, my mother was a teeny bit glad that I turned out to be just like my father.

 

*Norman S. Strickland, Blacksburg, Virginia, 1953, Letters to Marilyn Minor; Marilyn Minor Strickland Collection, archived with the author.