Just Me

Just Me
Look,I'm just sayin'

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Out of northwest

 Yesterday I wrote of Grandmas' kitchen. It was well received and so I thought I would write a follow up to that memory. What follows is a bit of Grandmas' story and how she came to be in that kitchen I so fondly remember. A kitchen filled with love, but one I have discovered also contained much sorrow. As a child I was totally unaware. It is only through years of research that the story has begun to emerge. These things were not talked about back in the day. Mom kept secrets and so did the aunts and uncles. Today everything is exposed, or so it seems to me, to either gain advantage or elicit sympathy. Few suffer in silence anymore. Of course if they are, I wouldn't hear about it. I never had the chance to talk with Grandma on an adult level and so I know little of her story first hand. I doubt she would have told me much, that wasn't her way. I do know, for a fact. she arrived at Ellis Island in 1899 aboard the Teutonic, a ship of the White Star line. The same company that twelve years later would have their newest ship, The Titanic, sink. She was sent to America to care for her sick aunt. That is why she came to America. It was not her seeking a dream but an obligation to the family.
 After she arrived she was met by her uncle Albert and taken to Champlain, New York. There she cared for her sick aunt until her passing. The aunt, not my grandmother, otherwise this story would be rather brief. Following her aunts death she was sent to a culinary school to learn a trade. It was reward of sorts. She became a pastry chief and gained employment with a wealthy family. As near as I can tell the school provided this as service to their students. However it came about Grandma was employed by the Gardiner family of Long Island, specifically East Hampton. Initially working at what was then called the brown house. It was here that she was first introduced to her future husband, my grandfather Horace. His brother was employed there and he would come to see his brother and, as the story goes, to get food and money from him. Grandma had a different impression of him, no doubt an opinion formed by Horace himself. He wasn't exactly what he portrayed himself to be. To put it gently, turns out he was a bit of a cad ! But more about him later on. Suffice to say they were married the eleventh of October in 1909. Their first child , my Aunt Edith, was born in 1910. They moved into their home at Northwest that same year. The details are mostly supposition on my part but there is no one left to dispute me, unless a cousin knows more. But it is certain that they lived at Northwest. Another daughter was born the following year.
 It was at this time that Grandma went to work on Gardiners' Island. I know this from an amusing anecdote that my Mom tells me. Grandma was working in the manor house on Gardiners' Island and had her two girls with her. There was no daycare back in those days you know. Now Aunt Edith, the eldest one, was still using a pacifier. She was leaning on the windowsill of an open window. About that time a buffalo came wandering up to the house. Yes, it's true, Mr. Tommy Gardiner kept buffalo. Anyway the buffalo startled Aunt Edith and she dropped that pacifier. Story goes she never got another ! Now rumor has it that Grandma was actually staying on the island, as it wasn't all marital bliss back at northwest harbor where she lived. And Gardiners' island wasn't a place to trespass on and so made an ideal " restraining " order if you know what I mean. Realize this is all rumor and innuendo. Whatever the case actually was Grandma eventually went back to living at home and working at the brown house in East Hampton village. She would walk, with her two children, three miles to go to work. Grandfather Horace would go " missing " for a few days at a time, off visiting John Barleycorn, as I was told.
 The exact how or why of it I don't know. At some point Mr. Tommy Gardiner sold Grandma a house and property up in Freetown. Now Freetown was an area of East Hampton initially provided to the town by the Gardiner family. As the name implies it was an area for the Native Americans to settle after their lands had all been purchased out to Montauk. East Hampton was never a home to slaves but there was a population of African-Americans that also settled in that area of town. Let's just say, Freetown, wasn't a place to be proud to live in. The low rent district to put it mildly. But her house sat on a piece of land that was between two highways. The Three mile harbor road on one side and Springs Fireplace road on the other. It was the first house you came to after the road split. Directly across, on the Springs Fireplace Road side, was Sherrills cow lot. The house and lot was deeded solely to her, a stipulation Mr. Gardiner insisted upon. Grandma signed the papers and moved out of Northwest. She would tell you that she didn't live in Freetown just close by. Grandma was to have eight more children while living in that house. It was the only home she ever owned and was there well into her eighties. A fall, a broken hip, and neglect at the hospital would put her in a nursing home " up island."
 All this is just the preface to life lived. My grandmothers life. Whenever I think of her I think of that kitchen and the life she lived. It was in stark contrast to the way it started out. She was born in Sweden into a well to do family. She lived in a grand house. Then she was dispatched to America. She married, had ten children and passed away in a nursing home. Her home in America was a repurposed " way " station that had been moved to the property. The additions had been tacked on over the years. Ten children and three bedrooms ! Grandmas' bedroom was downstairs. It was only wide enough to fit the bed and a dresser. That was it, wall to wall. Two bedrooms upstairs, one for boys , one for girls. A coal stove for cooking and heating. She never drove a car in her life. I can only imagine the dreams she must have had for a different life but they were not to be.
 I could write a book about her and never tell the whole story. So much is lost to time. I'll always keep Grandma and her kitchen in my heart. What a remarkable woman she was. A real pioneer type ! Now, looking back as an adult I can see a hint of sadness in those eyes of hers. I also see the smile that was always on her face. I still feel the warmth of her love, for it was love that truly heated that home. A singular love, unmatched over time. Remarkable.