Monday, November 28, 2011

Carl William Ericke, aka Uncle Bill

My uncle, Carl William Ericke, was named after his father, Carl Oscar, though everyone called him Bill. He was the youngest child of Carl and Sarah (Voegtly) Ericke, born on November 29, 1933, in Cleveland, Ohio. He was born when my mother, Nancy, was almost three years old.

Bill graduated from Redford High School, in Detroit, in 1952. He was very social and a popular classmate, as evidenced by his multiple high school yearbook photos. In his senior year in high school, Bill was chairman of the senior prom committee, vice-president of the student council and 301 club, on the inter-club dance council, and on the varsity football team. 

In 1953, Bill was a groomsman in my parent's wedding. I think the photos of Uncle Bill and his parents are very sweet and wanted to share them here since I'm not sure his children have ever seen them. They're in color and were developed for a 3D slideviewer so they are a little blurry. 

After graduation, Bill enrolled at Michigan State University. While in college, he joined the Army National Guard, and using the benefits of the GI bill, continued his studies at MSU, graduating in 1956. Since my mother, Nancy, graduated from University of Michigan in 1952, there was a bit of rivalry between the two of them during the football season. Uncle Bill would always call my mother after the MSU/Michigan game and either rub it in, or congratulate her. It was a touching moment they shared all their lives.

Before Uncle Bill married, I would remember him spending Christmas with my family in Darien, arriving on the front steps loaded down with presents. Mom reminded me when I was much older that Bill had always been extremely generous to us during those years he was single, as we were his only niece and nephews at the time. 

Beside their shared name of Carl, my grandfather and uncle have another thing in common: they both had careers at Carpenter [Steel] Technology. Grandpa Ericke started with Carpenter in 1934, eventually becoming the Detroit sales manager. Bill began working at Carpenter in 1959 and was a marketing manager when he left Carpenter in 1972. Bill moved to Reading, Pennsylvania to take this job and it's here he made his home for the next 46 years, until his death in 2005.
In the mid-1960's, Bill met his future wife, Stephanie Voytas, at Weller's, a dance club in Reading. Stephanie was a night nurse at the time, and only went out on weekend nights if she wasn't working, so it's fate that they met in the brief window of time their paths crossed. Bill asked Stephanie to dance, which she politely accepted, and the rest is history. The first song they danced to was Strangers in the Night, made famous in 1966 by Frank Sinatra.

Strangers in the night exchanging glances
Wond’ring in the night 
What were the chances we’d be sharing love 
Before the night was through

Something in your eyes was so inviting
Something in your smile was so exciting
Something in my heart told me I must have you

Strangers in the night, two lonely people
We were strangers in the night
Up to the moment when we said our first hello 

Little did we know
Love was just a glance away
A warm embracing dance away

And ever since that night we’ve been together
Lovers at first sight, in love forever
It turned out so right for strangers in the night

Love was just a glance away
A warm embracing dance away

Ever since that night we’ve been together
Lovers at first sight, in love forever
It turned out so right for strangers in the night

© EMI Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group

Stephanie and Bill Ericke eloped in 1965, but then had a big church wedding a few years later, which my family attended. I even remember what I wore, right down to the blue and white hat. It was the fanciest party I had ever been to, at six years old. The newlyweds bought a house in Muhlenberg Park in 1968 and the family has lived there ever since. They raised three children: Steve, Mary, and Susan.

After he left Carpenter, Bill worked at many different companies, settling in at Bowers Marine, a large boating center where he excelled in sales. Bill worked there until his retirement in 2000, while Stephanie continued to work nights as a nurse until her retirement in 2007.

The Erickes spent summer vacations at North Wildwood, New Jersey, and on the way home would sometimes stop to visit Grandpa Ericke and my family in Connecticut. I'll never forget one summer when the Erickes came to visit and we went clamdigging. The next morning, my father insisted on making clam fritters (essentially pancakes with raw clams tossed in the batter, served with maple syrup). As we were sitting down to eat, the Erickes wisely decided to leave at that exact moment rather than partake in this rather disgusting breakfast choice. My father was very upset, but the rest of my family was envious that the Erickes got out when they did. I can just imagine their conversation in the car! 

Uncle Bill was a very private person who didn't share very much, according to his family. He was like my mother in that respect, so maybe it was genetic. Bill Ericke is greatly missed by his family and friends and on this November 29 we wish him a happy birthday.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Nostalgic November

My mother Nancy on the left, with her brother Bill, and father Carl.
Maybe they are watching a Thanksgiving or Christmas Parade? 
I love this time of year partly because of all the opportunities for celebration. Beginning with Halloween, quickly followed by my birthday, Thanksgiving, and what seems like a sprint to Christmas and New Years, it is an extended period of time to make merry with friends and loved ones. For me, it's also an opportunity to use up my accrued vacation days which, good or bad, gives me much free time to ruminate on my life. I have to confess, though, that I'm having difficulty keeping the memories of past holidays from coming to the forefront. I'm a firm believer that change can be good, but also acknowledge that change is sometimes thrust upon us, and that it may take longer to find your new path. Be patient, I keep reminding myself. A week ago some of my good friends and co-workers lost their jobs, and I found myself affirming how much I believe in fate. Over the years I've seen how fate usually has a way of working out favorably – aside from death, of course. How could death ever be a welcome act of fate?

Looks like Thanksgiving Dinner with our neighbors on Miles Road.

Last November, the memory of my mother's death was still quite raw, so my solution was to ignore my birthday and the upcoming holidays. I spent as little time with family as possible and planned to work through the holidays. I figured it would be best for me to pretend there wasn't a Thanksgiving, or Christmas, rather than feel depressed, and then guilty, about wanting to have a good time, or possibly, gasp, even enjoying myself. I was fine with other people celebrating the holiday and being happy, I just didn't want to be there with them. Luckily, my brother who lives closest to me went on vacation with his family so it made skipping Christmas a breeze. I have to thank them for leaving, as well as for inviting me to go with them to the Caribbean. Though I was stuck in New England under blizzard conditions for several days, with two houses, two dogs, two cats, and a rabbit to care for, I was happy with my decision. What is my goal for this year? I am acknowledging the holidays and plan to participate in some small way. A small step, but in the right direction.

Lately I have been volunteering my time more than usual, to try and direct, or maybe distract, my thoughts in a more positive direction during these family-focused months. My favorite endeavor is with In2Books, an organization I've been involved with for over four years. It's a e-mentoring literacy pen pal program connected with Title 1 schools. At the start of every school year, you are matched with a student somewhere in the States (you know each other only by first names). Your student picks a book for the both of you to read, and then you write letters back and forth discussing the book. Most of the letters are very sweet, funny, and always poignant, and by the end of the year, they are very much improved. Last year I introduced this program to my company and recruited over 40 people to be pen pals. This year I've been able to get more corporate interest and exposure by adding In2Books to our Volunteer Match program. I'm incredibly thankful to have found this organization and to be involved on a one-on-one basis with a student, albeit virtual. I hope I make as big an impact on their lives as they do on mine.

A couple of weeks ago I volunteered for Junior Achievement for JA Day, a one-day assignment to teach a second grade class at a Title 1 Catholic school in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Despite the fact I've been working for an educational publisher for over 20 years and have knowledge of lesson plans, learning objectives, and core curriculum, I never imagined actually using this information in a classroom. My only interest in teaching has always been the two months vacation in the summer! Luckily, JA makes this activity easy to accomplish with their detailed teacher instruction and a multitude of activities to keep the kids engaged. I was partnered with a woman from my office who was equally as nervous and excited as I was. We couldn't have asked for a better class – the kids were amazing, bright, excited, thoughtful, disciplined, and happy we were there – as was the teacher. We were done by noon, which was plenty long enough for me. However I am looking forward to teaching again soon, and hope to find the time in the Spring to join JA Day again. Maybe first grade this time?

The other volunteer activity I've been doing actually merges my interest in genealogy with my background in photography. I am a volunteer photographer for (Find A Grave), a worldwide database of burial graves. Yes, that's right, a graves registration website.  I have always had an interest in cemeteries – growing up in Connecticut gave me ample access to small 17th century cemeteries where I could practice my grave rubbing skills. Within a week of signing up as a volunteer photographer, I had over two dozen assignments to find and photograph headstones in nearby cemeteries. After hours of strolling, squinting, and squatting to read the ancient engravings, my eyes grew tired and started playing tricks on me. Fisher wasn't a name on my list, but when I came across this stone I took a second glance. Was I seeing this correctly? Philander Fisher? Was that his name or his reputation?

A little research shows that it was a common name in the 18th and 19th centuries; one example being poet Edward Young's character Philander in his 1742 book Night Thoughts. Maybe Philander Fisher was named after this famous character?
By Nature's law, what may be, may be now;
There's no prerogative in human hours.
In human hearts what bolder thought can rise,
Than man's presumption on to-morrow's dawn?
Where is to-morrow? In another world.
For numbers this is certain; the reverse
Is sure to none; and yet on this perhaps,
This peradventure, infamous for lies,
As on a rock of adamant we build
Our mountain hopes, spin out eternal schemes
As we the Fatal Sisters could out-spin,
And big with life's futurities, expire.
Not ev'n Philander had bespoke his shroud,
Nor had he cause; a warning was deny'd:
How many fall as sudden, not as safe!
As sudden, though for years admonish'd home.
Of human ills the last extreme beware;
Beware, Lorenzo, a slow-sudden death.
How dreadful that deliberate surprise!
Be wise to-day; 'tis madness to defer;
Next day the fatal precedent will plead;
Thus on, till wisdom is push'd out of life.
Procrastination is the thief of time;
Year after year it steals, till all are fled,
And to the mercies of a moment leaves
The vast concerns of an eternal scene.
If not so frequent, would not this be strange?
That 'tis so frequent, this is stranger still.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Happy Birthday To You, Grandma Sally Lou

My grandmother, Sarah Louise Voegtly Ericke was born on November 19, 1900, daughter of Nannie Hays Voegtly and Adolph Voegtly. Among the papers my family has saved all these years was a letter written by Estelle J. Bayne to my great-grandmother, Nannie, on the birth of her first child. The letter is now 111 years old and still in very good shape. Am I the only one that finds that amazing? I think of this often, especially since it was my birthday a few weeks ago and my birthday cards went right into the recycling bin (sorry everyone!). I guess I would not be considered very good at recording my own history, despite my interest in the field of genealogy.

Waynesburg, Pa.
Nov. 21st, 1900.

Dear Nan,
Helen came past this morning to tell me of your daughter. I am so glad you are getting along so nicely. I can just see you and Aud looking at it. I suspect it is the only baby girl in Pittsburg or any other place.

Ma just went into a neighbors to bring our youngster home, she is a case never satisfied unless she has company or is allowed to go some place. Babe is thinking of taking her to Charleroi next week, she has two days vacation and Saturday you see. Edna is very anxious to go.

I asked her to day if she remembered you, she said she didn't but I told her you had a little baby girl she said she wished we had one. I have been cleaning house. I have all the down stairs and one room up done. I am going to finish this week if nothing prevents. I suppose you have your girl yet, does she still have so much trouble? Poor soul.

I have an engagement at eight o'clock so I must cut this short as it is nearly that time now. Hoping this finds you getting along fine also the baby. I am yours as ever.
Estelle J. Bayne.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Photo of the Day: The Vigeland Fountain


Around the completion of Vigeland Park in 1949, Eddie and Frida Ambrose
brought their son, Marty, to Oslo for a little sightseeing. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Marion Christine Ambrose Benedict

Marion Benedict was the middle child and only daughter of Edwin and Frida Ambrose. She was born on November 10, 1930 in Syracuse, NY, just two years after my father. This is my favorite photo of Marion – a glamour shot that makes her look like a Norwegian movie star from the 1950's.

When I was older and realized my Aunt Marion's birthday was the day after mine, I immediately felt a special connection with her. Though we lived miles and years apart, we'd always find a little time to talk during the month of November, especially the last few years. When my parents would call me on my birthday, my parting words to them would be "don't forget to call Marion tomorrow." I doubt they needed this reminder, but it made me feel good to think about her almost sharing a birthday with me. After my mother died, Marion was a great source of comfort to me, and I dearly miss our talks.

Marion grew up in Syracuse and Detroit, graduating from Redford High School. She married the love of her life, John Stacy Benedict, on October 19, 1952, and they made Detroit their home. They were married for 43 years before his death in 1995, at the age of 63. Stacy and Marion had three children: Stacy, Sherri, and Steve. My brothers and I were fairly close in age to them and earlier this year I posted a Photo of the Day: Cousins, which showed us goofing off for the camera.

Our families didn't get together very often while we were growing up. Maybe it was because my father traveled so much for business that he didn't want to spend much time on the road. I don't know. My family lived on the East Coast for most of these years, so I guess it was a bit of a drive to Michigan, especially with three small children. "Are we there yet?"

The Benedict's had a cottage in Point Pelee, Canada, in the 1960's, and it's there they spent their summer vacations. The Point Pelee National Park is the smallest of Canada's parks, located at the southern tip of Ontario on the north shore of Lake Erie. It's referred to by Canadians as the Carolinian Zone, since the deciduous trees found there are the northern end of a belt that begins at the Carolina coast in the United States. Who knew?

Before their children were born, Marion worked for Chrysler in Detroit. Here's a page from a 1955 Chrysler brochure, just to put the time period in perspective. When the kids were old enough to go to school, Marion went back to work, first for Bendix, and then for WJBK-TV, Channel 2, which was Detroit's longtime CBS affiliate. Marion worked at Channel 2 for a long time and absolutely loved her job as the switchboard operator and receptionist.

One of her sons recently told me that one of her favorite memories working at CBS was when she was working a late afternoon shift during the Summer of '79.  Marion answered the phone to a very recognizable voice – Mickey Rooney – famous for his his film work in Babes in Arms, National Velvet, The Black Stallion, Bill and the Andy Hardy film series, opposite Judy Garland. Rooney was in Detroit for a stage play, Sugar Babies, and he called from the hotel to ask if there were a Mickey Rooney movie marathon being shown on any of the local stations. Marion, realizing it wasn't being shown on her station, pulled out her TV Guide and gave him the information. Mickey replied, "You're a doll, Marion," giving her goosebumps. A movie star, someone she watched growing up, called her "DOLL" and said her name. My cousin said the story still made her giddy 35 years later!

Marion was 80 years old when she died. I know that sounds like a long time to live, but when it's your mother, or your aunt, or your friend, it's still too early. She had been living with pain for several years, and it was a difficult time for her and her family. Marion was also a dutiful daughter, who unconditionally cared for both her parents as they aged, without much help from her two brothers. She was an amazing woman. Marion died on March 17, 2011, one day shy of the two-year anniversary of the death of her older brother, and my dad, Ed.

Marion's other son and I remarked how odd it was that the three siblings (Ed, Marion, and Marty) and my mother, all died within a span of two years. I loved his comment that maybe God didn't want to break up the sets. I do hope they are having their own family reunion now, looking down on all their orphan children, and smiling.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Birthday, Blackout, and Berlin

Every year, my birthday falls on a very important day in history, Nov. 9. Besides my immaculate conception, it is also the day of the Northeast Blackout and the Fall of the Berlin Wall. 

The Blackout of 1965 was historic in that it affected such a wide area: from Ontario, Canada throughout New England, New York, and New Jersey. Over 30 million people were left without electricity for up to 12 hours. We were living in Darien, Connecticut, and my paternal grandparents, Eddie and Frida Ambrose, were babysitting us for several weeks while my mother joined my father on his business trip to India. We were planning on having something truly yummy for dinner (I’m just sure of it) but without an oven or stove we munched on cold sandwiches by candlelight. It wasn’t long before my grandparents slipped into their native Norwegian tongue to talk in private, as they always did. They must have been worried, but my brothers and I thought it was very exciting. Not to mention, there was still cake!

Skip ahead twenty-four years, George H.W. Bush is in office, and I can still remember watching the live coverage of East Germany opening its borders to the West for the first time since the Berlin Wall was built. People were scaling the Wall, celebrating, and toppling chunks of concrete and stone onto the ground. I was living in NYC at the time, getting ready to make the big move to Massachusetts, in awe that another historic event was taking place on my birthday. There's a great short documentary on the Berlin Wall in the public domain if you want to see what life was like back then. It certainly puts our lives today into perspective.