November 30, 2010

There's One in Every Family: The Life of the Party

We used to joke that we could never get a picture of Grandma with her mouth shut. She could talk your ear off, and about the time you snapped the shutter she’d say, “Don’t take my picture now, my hair’s a mess!” And boy, could she laugh. She’d have the whole room in stitches, look innocent for just a moment, then wink and burst out laughing as hard as the rest of us. And she would sing at the drop of a hat--preferably something with a little zest to it, like “Five foot two, eyes of blue, but oh what those five foot could do, has anybody seen my gal?”

Oh yes, Grandma could be the life of the party.

Nora Belle Eberhard was one of 18 children born to John Llewellyn Eberhard and Mary Madina Comfort. A set of twins died shortly after birth, but the other 16 Eberhard kids grew to adulthood. Nora made her appearance on March 16, 1910—just in time for the census taker making the rounds in Rushcreek Township, a rural community in Logan County, Ohio, near Bellfontaine. When she was four or five the family moved to a farm near Galena, Ohio. She recalled being told that she sang the whole way.

Llewellyn Eberhard was a dairy farmer. Growing up on the farm, there were always a lot of chores to be done, and never much money. Nora liked the house chores better than the barn chores, because the cows smelled so bad. She’d be the first to tell you they were just plain poor. She quit school after eighth grade to take a job in the Kilgore factory in Westerville, putting rivets on cap guns. Maybe she got her spunk from this hardscrabble start, but somehow I think she was just born with it.

Nora singing to great-granddaughter Sarah
Nora married a dashing young restaurant worker named Lloyd Ballenger on March 30, 1935, during the height of the Depression. Their first baby, Marilyn Sue, died in infancy—a recollection that still moved Nora to tears decades later. Their three other children grew up, married, and eventually gave them seven grandchildren. To us, Nora was Grandma, a white-haired bundle of energy who always had popsicles in the freezer, candy on the table, and a song to sing.

As we grew older, we found the real fun was egging her on to tell stories and jokes while we sat around the table at the family cottage at Buckeye Lake. Not that she needed much encouragement—a little something to drink and she’d be off and running. And heaven forbid if she got going at a party. She always wanted to stay to the very end.

And she did. She stayed with us until just shy of her 97th birthday, when her party finally came to a close on February 26, 2007. I still think of her, though, laughing and singing and telling a slightly risqué tale now and then. Here’s to you, Grandma, as you toasted us so many times: 
“May you live forever and I never die.”

(Written for the 100th edition Carnival of Genealogy, "There's One in Every Family." All rights reserved by author.)

November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving at the Kids' Table

Growing up, our Thanksgiving dinners were always at Grandma and Grandpa Ballenger’s house. Grandpa cooked two huge turkeys—one in the old basement kitchen and one in the oven upstairs—and the sweet scent of turkey roasting permeated the house. My brother and I loved to sneak down the basement and pick at the crusty top of the turkey down there. Upstairs, the closer it got to Time to Sit Down, the crazier (and noisier) things became. Potatoes, hot and soft, needed to be mashed and the milk and butter whipped in with the electric mixer. Gravy, made from the turkey drippings, required constant adding and stirring and testing—a group effort (“Here, stir this gravy a minute. Mom, I still think it needs more salt.”). The electric knife whirred as it sliced through the turkey. In the midst of it all, Grandma’s voice reigned supreme: “Someone cover that stuffing with foil. Where’s the second bowl for the potatoes? Get your hands off that turkey!”

Finally, it was Time. The eight adults took their seats around the dining room table, which had been elegantly set hours before with the best china. The seven of us grandkids, meanwhile, rushed to jostle over position at the folding tables pushed together in the living room, set with the everyday plates. A momentary silence hushed us all as grace was said. Then—well, I imagine there was polite passing in the dining room, but at the kids’ table bowls were swapped over and under, back and forth, and whatever you could reach was fair game.

For awhile, we were too busy eating to talk. But as the meal wore on, the fun began. Someone would make a sculpture out of mashed potatoes, which naturally had to be topped. Someone would tell a joke, which led to more jokes, which inevitably led to someone snorting milk out his nose. The generally hilarity would be briefly quenched when a parent called, “What are you guys doing in there?” Then the story-telling would resume in whispers, leading someone to lean in to hear better, resulting in a glass being knocked over and spilled (“Be quiet! Take my napkin! It’s on the carpet too!”) A contest to see who could make the most creative thing out of the leftovers on his plate ensued. Eventually, our game would be up when a parent came in and found the table in total disarray. Plates in hand, we filed into the kitchen—where it seemed a food bomb had exploded. The lucky ones escaped to the basement before clean-up.

I’ve had many wonderful Thanksgiving dinners since then, but nothing has matched those teen-age years at the kids’ table for sheer fun. How about you? Was there a kids’ table at the holiday dinners in your past?

November 19, 2010

A day at the OGS Library

Yesterday I visited the Ohio Genealogical Society's new library in Bellville. One of my husband’s cousins had contacted me about a branch of his family that I haven’t researched yet. I thought the OGS library might be a good place to start looking for the family of Jonathan Crites, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The library, which opened in July, is beautiful—spacious, inviting, and designed with patrons in mind. Even on a gray November day, the main room was filled with natural light. Long tables beckoned me to spread my materials out. In its former building, the various OGS collections were crammed into every nook and cranny. Now the stacks are neatly organized for browsing. Vertical cabinets housing family files, ancestor charts, and Bible records are easy to access. Classic wooden card files hold special collections. Computers and microfilm readers fill an entire room. And it’s all about genealogy! (sigh)

I started by checking the unpublished materials, because these can’t be found anywhere else. I copied a pedigree chart that might prove to be a collateral line. Next I looked through the county resources for published marriage and death records for Ashland and Licking counties, and picked up a pretty good lead. There wasn't a Crites family history book. If I had been farther along in my research, I could have checked city and rural directories, maps, yearbooks, or periodicals.

The Ohio Genealogical Society Library is located off I-71 at the Rt. 97 exit, about mid-way between Columbus and Cleveland. Non-members are welcome for a nominal daily fee. It makes a pleasant and productive base for Ohio research.

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A New Look for OGS

November 18, 2010

November 11, 2010

In Honor of Veteran's Day

Recently I’ve been looking into the military service of two of my great-great-great grandfathers, both of whom fought for the Union in the Civil War. Newel King, from Gallia County, served in Company B of the 91st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry. John Steele, a Virginian by birth but transplanted to Meigs County, served in Company K of the 18th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

I don’t believe the two men ever met in their lifetimes. But nearly three decades after the war, Newel’s daughter married John’s son. And here I am today, pouring over the paperwork that gives a glimpse into their lives. From their compiled service records and military pension files, I can get a sense of their hardships, their sacrifices, and their frustrations, both during the war and afterward as they made their cases for compensation. It wasn’t pretty. Although both men survived the war, neither emerged as healthy and productive as before.

I find myself thinking of them as if I knew them. What was it like to be carted off to a field hospital after being stricken with measles? To march through a pelting sleet with frozen feet and hands? To come home at war’s end, only to be stricken with epileptic seizures, like Newel? Or to lack the strength to walk to work, like John? I think of their wives, whose own stories emerge in the widows’ pension applications. I think of their children. There are layer upon layer of stories tucked in these files.

Veteran’s Day takes on a new light when you get up close and personal. To all the veterans out there, and to those from long ago whose stories are waiting to be heard, thank you.


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