Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Johnstown Flood of 1889

The Johnstown, Pennsylvania Flood, known as the Great Flood of 1889 occurred on May 31, 1889 – the result of the catastrophic failure of the South Fork Dam 14 miles upstream of Johnstown, combined with many days of heavy rainfall. Over 2,000 people were killed in the flood, making it the largest U.S. disaster in the century.

My great-grandparents, Adolph and Nannie Voegtly, lived in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania at the time of the flood, approximately 90 miles from Johnstown.

Here's a copy of a Western Union Telegraph sent on June 5, 1889, to my great-great-grandmother from Mrs. Jolly Reid in Barre, PA. The text reads "To Mrs. Hays, Waynesburg, PA, All well and safe from Johnstown flood. Telegraph how you are. Mrs. Jolly Reid."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Life in Botswana: Friends

More excerpts from my parent's journal, Life in Botswana.

Making new friends has been one of the best parts of being here. Being part of an expatriate group from all over the world is new to both of us. Familiarity comes quickly because you have much in common being strangers in a strange place. Unfortunately, friendship with Batswana other than through Ed's work contacts is difficult. As in any small town in the States, the social structure is set, and newcomers whether white or black are not needed or desired. We have been to private dinners with Batswana and have had them here; we have been to parties, New Year's Eve for example, where the crowd is mostly black and we've joined and attended Botswana Society functions where the membership is mixed. For the most part, however, our social life is with other Americans (several blacks among them) and a few others.

Nancy's best friend and walking partner has been a Canadian, named Judith. She is in her forties, married, a feminist, and a liberal. She and her husband Doug moved in across the street about the time Nancy arrived here. Nancy and Judith learned their way around together and depend on each other for moral support and share their ups and downs. Sadly, Judith leaves this December. Ed and her husband both work at the Ministry and are also friends so the four of us have done many things together. After Judith leaves Nancy will walk with a couple of women whose husbands work for the Embassy, one of whom, a thirty-year-old, is a favorite of hers.

Ed's best friend Jim arrived on the same plane with Ed, starting his contract the same day. Jim didn't renew and has recently begun a two-year contract in Malawi. Jim is a marketing specialist, forty-eight, divorced, good golfer and has a terrific sense of humor. Nancy is also very fond of him and he is dearly missed. We shared many experiences with Jim, good and bad, as he was going through an emotional period where he needed a "family' and we were it.

Not to go on at too great length, we will mention two other couples still here that we see often. Ray and Andie are from D.C. but had lived in Wilton. Ray worked with Ed in Fairfield International. His wife, Andie, is giving Nancy painting lessons. Chris and Mandy are friends from the yacht club. They are from England, have three children (in England), are liberal and in their late forties, early fifties. Mandy is a former dancer/actress, an avid reader, a gourmet cook, and likes sailing about as much as Nancy. Chris is quiet, intellectual, a great sailor and an architect. He is Ed's Vice Commodore. [My father became Commodore of the Gaborone Yacht Club while he was in Botswana. Are you surprised there's a yacht club in a land-locked country? If anyone could find a place to own and sail a boat, it was my father.]

Though Darien is a transient community, it can't compare with Gaborone's expatriate one. The people we became closest to had contracts running two to four years, the longer term mostly Embassy people. The US has drastically cut funding to Botswana, probably because of their secure (compared to any other southern African nation) economy, and the American community has declined drastically in consequence. We have made many, many trips to the airport and shed not a few tears in the last few months.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summer's Here...

And the living is easy! Summer in New England is short and sweet.

Except for the four years we lived in Ohio, my family spent most of our time in Darien, Connecticut. Darien is on the southwestern coast of the state and has two beaches: Weed Beach and Pear Tree Point. We used to visit both beaches, but Weed Beach was closer and a short distance to Noroton Yacht Club, so we most often went there.

I fondly remember a few days during my summer breaks from college when I didn't have to work: I would fall out of bed, put on my suit, drive the 3 minutes to Weed and crash out on the sand. I would spend all morning there, almost in seclusion, like it was my own private beach. By 11 a.m., families and nannies would start arriving, and by noon, it would begin to feel crowded, so I would pack up to leave. Time to start my day.

Here are some photos of my brothers and me having fun at the beach when we were little. A sure sign that summer had arrived.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Photo of the Day - Dandelion

My good friend and neighbor Laura is an accomplished photographer. She's also a 3rd grade school teacher, gardener, cook, wife, mother, and much more. Her most recent photographic series is plants and flowers – some are even from my garden! Anyway, her photos are so beautiful I thought I would share one of them with you here and also provide you with a link to her website in case you want to order some prints or cards of your own. I'll never forget that soon after my mother died, Laura stopped by with a shopping bag of handmade cards that I could use for thank you notes. I was proud to send them and I know my mom would have loved the idea too. Thank you Laura.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Life in Botswana: Animals & Activities

More excerpts from my parent's journal, Life in Botswana.

We adopted a long-haired black and white female cat (so much like Toby, Sarah's cat, that you would have trouble telling them apart) who had two former owners before we got her one year ago. We soon discovered why – she bites and scratches us when she doesn't get her way. She had lived among many dogs and small children and our low-key life style combined with kindness (even when she has just "gotten" us) seems to be altering her behavior. We renamed her Winnie (for Mandela, of course). She is an excellent mouser which was why we got her and she has depleted the enormous supply of gerbil-like mice that frequent our back yard. Unfortunately she also loves to eat the many various lizards, the good guys in the battle against insects. 
Nancy's favorite garden wild life is the rain frog which appears after a rain from about six inches below the dirt. They are the size and shape of a tennis ball with tiny sticks for legs. Other neighborhood denizens are the million or so dogs which are only apparent by their barking between dusk and dawn; dogs which are never allowed in houses but are ostensibly for guarding property. Each house around us has at least two, monsters all.

Nancy is taking advantage of this time to be primarily a lady of leisure but as usual she hardly has time to sit down. One reason, besides her gardening, is the extra time that normal chores require, such as shopping, banking, paying bills and going to the post office. Nancy's definition of eternity is being on line for any reason whatsoever at the post office. Often two or three lines are required to mail a package. Attempting to mail a paperback in a book-type envelope was thwarted (after over an hour's transaction) when the "official" announced that a hole would have to be cut in the envelope to assure there was indeed printed matter inside, but that unfortunately there were no scissors in the post office, the cutting must be done at home. Bills must be paid in person to assure receipts so these lines are also long, and I guess banking is much the same in any country. 

Food shopping when we first arrived was more difficult than it is currently but it's still time-consuming. Say you wish to make Beef Stroganof. First you try the nearest butcher. He has filet (the only edible beef here except hamburger) but it's frozen – no good for today. After you finally find the meat elsewhere you purchase the noodles and everything at the grocery nearest you but they don't have sour cream and don't know when they'll get it. Nor does any other store in town. You change your menu. Fruit and vegetables are good and varied but only available Wednesday through Friday. Ninety-five percent or more of the goods we buy come from South Africa, much to our dismay. Meat and mushrooms are local but most food is dependent on the whim of the supplier as to what arrives in the trucks on Wednesday and Friday.

For fun Nancy has been spending a lot of time reading (how wonderful to have the time to!). Except for the choice selections of novels sent by Sarah and Amy, she has concentrated her reading on prose and fiction of sub-Saharan Africa, primarily Botswana and South Africa. There is still much to learn. She still manages to walk every weekday morning, from seven-thirty to eight-thirty. 

Nancy very recently has added a new hobby, watercolor painting. She has only had a few lessons but is excited about it and, if nothing else, she will be able to appreciate watercolor painting far more knowing how it's supposed to be done. 

Nancy is involved in the American International Women's Club, at least to the extent of belonging to the Botswana Studies group and also being in charge of marketing their booklet (both a service and a moneymaker), Welcome to Botswana. Through a friend she was briefly involved with a proposed senior center, an idea which fell through as a result of poor planning and red tape. However, Nancy was able to get to meet and talk to many citizens of Remotswa, the town where the center was to be (as an experiment and the first such in Botswana) and even worked in the fields for half a day with an elderly couple at their lands.

Nancy and Ed have both taken trips organized by the embassy, to Jwaneng for example, one of the diamond mine (no samples, darn it). Many are during the day while Ed's working, so Nancy has visited more local points of interest, primarily handicraft centers. [I'll write about these in a separate post later since the Gaborone area was/is bursting with talented artisans that I want to share with you!]

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Nannie Hays Voegtly

My maternal great grandparents are Adolph and Nannie Voegtly from Allegheny, Pennsylvania. A decade ago, my father started researching his side of the family back to the 1400's, so I'm working my way back on my mother's side. Through Ancestry.com, have finally reached back to the early 1700's with this family. I know I sound like I'm getting a kickback from that website since I've plugged it so many times, but I assure you I'm not. Because that website been in existence for so long, many other people have already done extensive research and if you're lucky enough to be related to any of them, you can then build on what work they've already done. This is the case with my maternal grandmother's family, the Voegtlys, as well as my paternal grandparents, the Stangelands.

My great-grandmother Nannie was born in Pennsylvania in 1878 as Nancy Mitchell Hays. In 1897 Nannie married Adolph N. Voegtly. In 1900 she had her first child, my grandmother, Sarah Louise Voegtly. Three years later she had a son, John.

In 1892, at age 14, Nanny went door-to-door selling Dr. Chase's Third, Last and Complete Receipt Book and Household Physician. In the paperwork I just found, I discovered this contract, which allowed Miss Hays to be an agent to sell this book. It was the go-to book for information in that day and age, with advice from recipes to treating diseases.

It does makes one wonder whether it was normal for a 14-year old girl to be working at all. And how long did she do this work? I'd like to think that she met her future husband while pounding the pavement shilling these books.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

C.O.E. in Cleveland

My grandfather, Carl O. Ericke, worked in the steel business right after graduating from Lane Technical High School in Chicago. He then enlisted in the National Guard, served in World War I, and eventually returned to the steel business in Chicago. In his oral history he talked about business trips that he made to Cleveland, but the story line quickly morphed into talking about his best friend and soon-to-be wife. My grandfather kept this brochure detailing Quad Hall, where he spent his many weeks as a single man while on business in Cleveland. I believe my grandparents were married in 1930, and my mother was born in Cleveland in 1931, so at some point Carl and Sally Ericke made Cleveland home for awhile before settling in Detroit.  I'll have to do a little more research on that!

 Staying in hotel was very tiresome, so I heard about a very nice man’s house called Quad Hall on Euclid Ave., restaurant on the first floor, just for men only. College students or graduates. They had a double room with only one man in it and someone asked would I like to meet him as a roommate. He seemed like a nice fellow. We asked each other a lot of questions; he was a Harvard graduate, which impressed me a bit, pleasant smile, very nice attitude about everything. It was a good acquaintance for me, and he later became my best man at my wedding. His name was Dutch Snyder. 

We double-dated a few times. Dutch introduced me to a few nice woman, and on my birthday he gave me a thesaurus, and explained the use of it. I use it to this day. I almost felt like I’d been college. He went with me to Pittsburgh, met my girlfriend, and future wife, and she liked him very much. From that time on, I used to drive to Pittsburgh at least every week and when I couldn’t get there, I would telephone her and sometimes these phone calls went as far as a half hour. Nothing was too good for my girl! She seemed to enjoy it. And later we were married and Dutch was my best man.

I was an usher in Dutch's wedding and there’s a picture of all the male members of the wedding party and you can pick me out pretty easily because I’m the only one who isn’t wear spats. That was a little thoughtless of me as I knew about them and even had some but I had never worn them so that made me feel a little guilty. But it’s all of those things, you know, where you can’t know everything. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Photos of the Day – Torch Lake, 1955


I didn't color correct these much as I think they're beautiful the way they are; time has transformed these photos almost into paintings. They were taken by my father, Ed, in 1955 at Torch Lake, Michigan. I never really thought of my dad as an artist, but these photos, and others I've been discovering in my search through our family archives, prove that he had quite the eye. Until now, I mistakenly attributed my artistic sense to be only from my mother.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Life in Botswana: Staff!

Another excerpt from the journal, Life in Botswana. Just to put this post in perspective, my mother abhorred the idea of having a maid, gardener, cook, etc. She never hired anyone to do work for her, either in the house or outside in the garden. She even felt this way when my dad was getting sicker with dementia, when she sorely needed the help. As ex-pats living in Botswana, it was expected for my parents to employ help in order to provide jobs for the local people. Houses came with maids and guards. Though she hated the idea of having someone in her home every day, she put up with it because it was the right thing to do.

Our maid's name is Mary. We "inherited" her from the previous tenant. She is from a small village near the South African border, is in her forties, and she has two daughters and a grandson who do not live here with her. Mary is one of four sisters, no brothers, and she finished sixth form [grade] but her parents couldn't afford to continue her schooling though she is bright and was disappointed to leave school. She speaks and reads English. She lives in the attached room and bath but works only Monday through Friday. She begins work at 7:30 A.M. and is usually finished by noon except on Tuesdays and Fridays when she washes and irons our clothes. [Ironing of clothes is important in Africa since most people don't own dryers. Clothes are hung outdoors and therefore susceptible to mango, tumbu, or putzi fly eggs settling in while they are blowing freely on the line.] When not needed in her village for planting, harvesting, or family function (funerals are frequent here) Mary spends the weekend here but we see each other in passing only. Nancy still looks forward to weekends, enjoying our privacy and, even more, relief from guilt at having someone else do things she is perfectly capable of doing herself.

We also have twenty-four hour security guard service and Ernest, our day guard, has become another member of our menage. The guards work 12 hour shifts – imagine! Ernest has been with us for more than a year now. To counter the incredible boredom we pay him extra to be our "gardener". Nancy despairs of his incredible clumsiness – if he doesn't kill plants by raking or hosing them right out of the ground, he breaks them by stepping on them. He knows nothing whatsoever about gardening but he is a good "waterer" which is vital in this weather, especially when we are away, so we must forgive a lot. We were very fond of our night guard, Toto, who was with us for almost two years but had to leave because his commuting time and cost from his nearby village made it impractical. Their daily pay is about 10 pula (5+ dollars) which is paid by the US government.

One of our fondest memories of Botswana will be the sight of Mary and Ernest (just like Mom and Pop) standing in the driveway, smiling and waving as we left on holiday.