Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Photo of the Day: Polydactyl Jake

Both my cats are polydactyl, but Jake's extra toes are more pronounced than Lucy's. This is an old photo but I still really like the composition. I wanted my company to use Jake's image to demonstrate the definition of "polydactyl" in the new edition of the American Heritage Dictionary. For a couple of weeks I was doing everything I could to get him to "pose" for me showing off his big toes. I took a lot of photos, but alas, none were quite good enough for my friend M.A or the AHD!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Top Hat and Tails

I mentioned earlier in this blog that my grandfather, Carl Ericke, left us the gift of his voice on a tape recorder. In his eighties, at his leisure, my grandfather would turn on the device and travel back in time to when he was a younger man. He only recited a few stories; maybe the technology was too difficult for him or he had trouble concentrating after his stroke. Hearing his voice brings me back to the days when he lived nearby and would celebrate holidays with us, come over for Sunday and birthday dinners, or treat us to lunch at his favorite restaurant.

Here's another excerpt from my grandfather's oral stories, which he titled Top Hat and Tails.

Carl Ericke is on the far left.
I don’t know that I care to go ahead with this one because it doesn’t put me in a very good light. All I can say is it reflects the growing up of a young man in his immature age. So try to excuse it at the start, and I don’t know what you’re going to get here, but I’ve thought so much about it that I thought I would record it. It had to do with my growing up and the influence that fraternity life has upon a young man. 

At that time [1910-1920], the fraternities all had several formal events during the year and the fraternity wasn’t any good if it didn’t put on a formal dance every year. The girls in their sororities did likewise and it became almost a negative reflection on you if you didn’t attend these things. They were a lot of fun. I thought I’d give you some of the inner thoughts of a young man at that adolescent age. It all comes about in this way. 

Carl is in the front row, second from left, the blonde in the light suit.
All the fraternities and sororities had several formal events but the big event was the formal dance. And in those days, it wasn’t where you could go in and rent a suit, that kind of thing. I was just working for Firth Sterling Steel Company at a very modest salary, I don’t know, maybe $80-90/month. And to get a suit out of that, and a silk hat, makes it seem all the more ridiculous. But, I did save up my money and I bought a suit and tails, the silk hat, gloves, cane, and what have you. Now that’s hard to believe of a young kid that wasn’t dry behind the ears. But that’s the thing I’m going to tell you about anyway, and you’re going to laugh, I hope you do, instead of looking at me with scorn.

So I saved up my money, got a suit and tails, and so forth, and was ready to go to all these events. Well there weren’t that many, hardly enough to make it worthwhile to buy the suit, but it was one of those things you had to have at that age and so I did it. I can still see myself with a cloth in my hand, coming home from a party and wiping the silk hat to be sure it was all in good shape for the next time I went out. Well that suit brought about a lot of peculiar things.

Carl is in the second row, third from left, the blonde in a light suit.

One thing that stands out in my memory is the fact that I had a lot of invitations that were hardly intended for me, except for the fact that I had a suit! One of them was a daughter of a friend of my mother’s, Mrs. Herbert. She played in a card club that my mother belonged to; they played bridge every other week or so. And one of the women in the club was Mrs. Herbert, she was the widow of the owner of the Schmidt brewery company, and I have to laugh because there’s going to be some more breweries entering into this picture.

She had a couple daughters and one of them was invited out to a formal dance and I guess I was the only one they knew who had evening clothes. At first I turned it down, but my mother insisted that I go since Mrs. Herbert had been so nice to her; she finally influenced me to agree to go along. And we had quite an affair because the girl furnished the transportation and bought her own corsage. And I had a very boring evening. But anyway, we got over that hump and my mother was happy I agreed to do it.

Anyway, another instance is when I worked with two brothers, the Hallagans, who lived in Ottawa, Illinois. And as a result of owning this suit, why George, who had always been very good to me, sold me on coming down to Ottawa, Illinois to the dance they were having for the town there and he insisted I bring my clothes along because he had arranged for me to dance the opening for this affair they were having. They fixed it up that if I would come down there and put on the introduction dance, my partner would be the daughter of the governor of Illinois, who was Jeanette. So I went. [A little sleuthing on shows that Jeanette was one of ten children, and the youngest daughter of Governor Edward F. Dunne, and his wife, Elizabeth.]

My grandpa's "fancy dancing" event made the newspaper.
I just wanted to add, mentioning Ottawa. That is the historic location of Starved Rock where the Indians and everybody jumped off the edge of the rock. I think that's right (chuckle). I had some doubts, but we had a few drinks, where you get your courage up a little bit you know, and the music started, and the two of us had the whole ballroom floor to ourselves. I never was so embarrassed to put on a show like that because I wasn’t a specialty dancer or anything of that nature, but I did it. And it didn’t develop into anything because she didn’t appeal to me very much, but she was just as nervous as I was, so that’s that. We got a lot of applause and my friend Hallagan was very happy because it made him look important to have arranged all this. 

Years later, living in Detroit, I belonged to the Men’s Club in Rosedale Park and we had a theatrical club and at that time I was crazy about the saber sword. On one occasion they had me do the saber dance. Well the music kept me going, but it was the most awful thing you ever saw. All I did was swing the sword above my head wildly, and well it was just awful, and I’ll never forget it. But fun too, I suppose because we had a lot of these meetings and put on shows and so forth. 

So I donated Mr. Top Hat, and that may still be in existence someplace there, how good it’s doing them I don’t know, but at least it’s out of my hands.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Image of the Day: A Note from the 1800's

A random note found in my great-grandmother,
Nannie Hays, scrapbook.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An Australian Love Letter

My parents, Nancy and Ed Ambrose, were married for 56 years before his death in March, 2009. I found this poem, handwritten on white lined paper inside a plain, white envelope, and sent by my father when he was in Australia a week before their 12th wedding anniversary. I have never known my father to write poetry, so I can't be sure he penned it, but the fact that he thought of her when he was on the other side of the world, and took the time to send this to her, is all that matters.


Fair and gentle, glowing and young,
So were you when we wed.
And casting off on glittering seas,
You were my love,
You were my life.

Patient ever, with child of own,
Toiling each long day.
And calming our ship in troubled waters,
You were my love,
You were my life.

More beautiful, than ever before,
Laughing, yelling, crying.
Nurturing us all, teaching, enfolding,
You are my love, 
You are my life.

Years pass swiftly, but not so fast,
That love cannot expand.
We shall live forever in each other's arms,
You are my love,
You are my life.

May 11, 1965

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Photo of the Day: Em and Whit

I know this blog is a lot about history – I have yet to tell you of my Norwegian ancestors that we have traced back to the 1400's. But I just found an old photo of my niece and nephew that I couldn't resist posting today. Emily is in Africa right now, a semester abroad with an international program, and Whitney is in D.C. in his sophomore year in college. My sister-in-law Amy talks about them frequently in her blog, The Bosom Blog, and if you haven't read it yet, you are really missing something special. It's an amusing, realistic, and positive look at life after her diagnosis of breast cancer. She masters the use of self-deprecating humor in this very frank and funny blog. I think those of you that don't know Amy would still easily relate to her musings about the health care industry, teenagers, and getting older. I encourage you to stop by and take a look.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Life in Botswana: Safari, Skeleton Coast

Another short excerpt from my parent's memoirs, Life in Botswana.

We had long wanted to visit the new country of Namibia, and so in March, 1991, we flew to Windhoek, rented a car, and the next day drove across the northern edge of the Namib Desert, said to be the oldest desert in the world. The Namib is noted for its large sand dunes going down to the Atlantic ocean. 

The gravel road was good and we passed through some small mountains before the Namib. We arrived in Walvis Bay and cleared immigration with South African soldiers. After passing through Walvis Bay, clearing with the troops again, we re-entered Namibia at Swakopmund, a quaint old German town. We stayed at the Strand Hotel. After breakfast we walked through a small street fair and bumped into the two wildlife men, writer and photographer, whom we had met at Selinda camp the year before. They had set up a tent in the Namib, about which the photographer, David Coulson, had just published a book.

We drove back to Walvis Bay to see flamingos and pelicans and other interesting birds. At the docks we saw the four Spanish fishing trawlers which the Namibian government had confiscated because of illegal fishing. Dinner in Hotel Europa - old German hotel and cuisine. In the morning we drove north up the coast for a while before driving back to Windhoek on a good, paved road. Flew back the next day.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Nash and Dodge

My grandpa, Carl Ericke, kept some of his old auto registrations from 1922 and 1926. In 1922, my grandfather was 28 years old. I also found several photos of my grandfather and even his mother proudly posing with his cars. Perhaps he bought these cars new, right off the assembly line; the Dodge would have been bought soon after he returned from WWI and the Nash was registered almost a week before his 32nd birthday on May 16. Perhaps a birthday present to himself?

The first two photos are of my proud grandfather standing and sitting in his very first car, the Dodge Coupe. Founded by two machinist brothers as the Dodge Brothers Company in Detroit, Michigan in 1900 (to supply parts and assemblies for Detroit's growing auto industry), Dodge began making its own complete vehicles in 1914 as the Dodge Brothers Motor Car Company. 

The Dodge reputation for quality was so widespread that 13,000 dealers asked to become Dodge agents before anyone saw the new car. The Dodge brothers decided to produce a high-quality car that would sell for about $800 and thus not compete directly with the cheaper Model T. In 1915, Dodge offered a two-passenger roadster which sold for $785 and the plant went into full production. Dodge's greatest contribution of this time span, however, was the industry's first all-steel coupe body introduced in June, 1922. The Dodge brothers both died in 1920, leaving the company to their widows and children, but the brand was eventually sold to Chrysler Corporation in 1928.

The next few photos are of my grandfather's 1926 Nash Coupe, a slightly bigger and well-appointed automobile than the Dodge. I believe this was the car he drove from Cleveland to Pitssburgh on weekends to visit his girlfriend and then fiancé, my grandmother, Sally Louise Ericke. How proud he must have been to show up at her doorstep with this shiny new car. My great-grandmother, Emma Winterberg Ericke, is also seen posing with the car in the last two photos.

Nash Motors was founded in 1916 by former General Motors president Charles W. Nash, who acquired the Thomas B. Jeffery Company, based in Wisconsin.  Nash's slogan from the late 1920s and 1930s was Give The Customer More Than He Has Paid For. Nash enjoyed decades of success by marketing mid-priced cars for middle class buyers. Similar to the Dodge, the Nash was such a success among consumers that for a few years all the cars that could be produced were sold before they left the factory floor. The price for a new Nash Coupe in 1926 cost around $1,500. Today you can buy a restored Nash Coupe for ten times that amount.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Dear Nancy

I found an autograph album my mother, Nancy Ambrose, received on her ninth birthday in 1940. It's silly, and made me smile, so I thought I would share some of the pages with you. I also found this photo from her birthday party and I just love the expression on my mom's face (she's the one with the big bow in her hair and wide-eyed with excitement). She was lifelong friends with some of the girls in this photo, and whose signatures are below. I find that remarkable.

My album is a garden spot
Where all my friends may sow,
Where thorns and thistles flourish not,
But flowers alone may grow.
With smiles for sunshine, tears for showers,
I'll water, watch and guard these flowers.

Source: Album Verses, J. S. Ogilvie (editor), 1884.

Nancy Ericke, 6B, Sec. 12
Happy Birthday, Feb. 17, 1940, Julie P.

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I kissed a potato
and thought it was you.
Sincerely, Diane C.

Nancy for now,
Nancy for ever,
Ericke for now,
but not for ever.
Your pal Barbara Riggs
(Yours till the sea wears rubber pants to keep its buttom dry.)

When you grow up
and have two twins
don't come to me
for safety pins
Martha D.

Police Police
do your dudy
here come Nancy
the American Beauty
Love Alberta Donnelly
P.S. I like you

If you get married and have
a baby thats cross
For goodens sakes don't feed
it applesauce.
Your Pal Betty Jane Heyniger

clown! clown!
turn up side down
your the cutest girl in my town
Margaret Vose

I thought I thought in vain
 at last I thought I would write my name
Betty Ann

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Life in Botswana: Safari, February 1991

Another excerpt from my parent's journal, Life in Botswana.

This year we traveled a lot, more than we've ever done before and certainly more than we will do in future. We may never have a chance to see Africa again and wanted to make the most of this opportunity.

Bob, Jess, and Nico came out for a month. The first two weeks we were together in Botswana – Gaborone and Chobe National Park, up North, and then to Victoria Falls and Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe.

In Chobe we went on an afternoon game drive in an open-top Land Cruiser and soon encountered elephant on both sides. After driving a bit further we stopped and watched hundreds of elephant pass on both sides of us. Some came straight at us and then, surprised, trumpeted, and passed to the side. There were many babies, one evidently newly born. One baby lost its mother and went shrieking back and forth until it found Mom. Nico was agog. We saw also, in the distance, 500 to 1000 buffalo, in clouds of dust.

Victoria Falls was beautiful as ever, even with less water. We stayed in a lodge in the Zambezi National Park, with the long front lawn going down to the Zambezi River. Sitting on the porch we watched warthogs drinking from the bird bath, a troop of baboon skittering across the lawn, and two small antelope dashing across.

We left the young ones at Hwange with the car, and took trains to Bulawayo and then to Gaborone, about a 500 mile trip that we had long wanted to do, and it was quite an experience. We had a sleeping compartment, but both trains stopped at every whistle stop both nights. In Bulawayo, with a six-hour layover, we walked to the Museum of Natural History, and thought it was wonderful – one of the best we've seen. Bob and Jess met up with Jess's brother, Rob, and they traveled around Zimbabwe and had good experiences before driving back to Gaborone.