Happy Birthday Carol!

Seventy nine years ago, two Amos boys were toddling around Lansing, very likely exasperating their poor, young mother. Meanwhile, across the lake in the Chicago suburb of Blue Island, a baby girl had just been born. Her name was Carol Ruth and the life she was about to begin couldn’t have been more different than that of those little Amos characters.

Carol was born August 23, 1933 to George and Ruth Larson. She was their first child and you can bet she came home to a house well prepared for a newborn baby. Three years later her sister, Judith, was born.

George and Ruth Larson Family circa 1938

Carol’s father, George, was a quiet, gentle, family man. He was ten years older than Ruth and long before they married, had securely established himself as a bookkeeper for a Chicago meatpacking company.

After her daughters were born, Ruth devoted herself to motherhood and keeping house in the bungalow home she and George owned. She filled it with nice furniture and did wash on Monday and ironing on Tuesday.

George Larson Family in church

On Sundays, the family went to church.

When the girls were old enough, they attended Timothy Lutheran School. They got together with relatives, many of whom lived in the Chicago area and were also church-going Lutherans.

George and Ruth Larson, at left, with their daughters Carol and Judith, visiting family in Imlay City, Michigan.

Interestingly, in summers the family would take a trip away from Chicago, all the way to Imlay City, Michigan to visit their Larson relatives. Some of them lived on a farm and others in a small town nearby. George and Ruth found this simple life pleasing—so much so, they decided to take it up for themselves. Many decades later, Ruth, who is my grandmother, told me in a taped interview how it all came about.

“Grandpa (George) wasn’t feeling too well,” said Ruth. “He was having problems with his stomach and the doctor told him he shouldn’t be working in an office. He should be moving around more and get out of the city.

“Besides doing all the bookwork, he used to go around and pick up all the checks from these different companies that slaughtered with us. One of them was Oscar Meyer and Co.”

Anyway, in 1946, one of those visits to the Michigan relatives changed all that. According to Ruth, this change came “quite in a hurry.”

“They (the relatives) got the Flint Journal all the time and we looked in there and this grocery store in Henderson was listed,” Ruth said. “We drove out there and looked at it while we were there on vacation. I think that was over the Labor Day weekend. Grandpa decided he wanted that store.”

George Larson Family 1946

Let’s take a minute and look at this family portrait. It really sets the scene so very well. Here are the Larsons in 1946—this very proper Chicago family about to embark on an adventure that would completely change their lives.

And here is the store that prompted their adventure…

Larson's Grocery in Henderson, MI

So, in October 1946, the Larson family left their big city life and moved to the small town of Henderson, Michigan … very small, as in less than 250 people. George traded keeping books for someone else to keeping them for himself and his very own store. The family went from living in their architecturally-vogue-for-the-times bungalow to an apartment above the store.

And Carol was 13.

Anyone who’s ever been 13 and a girl (or parent of one), knows this is not the most reasonable time of life. I wonder what it was like for Carol to leave all her friends behind and move to an unknown place?

Well, thank goodness for Coyla Jean McCargar, who we all know as Jeanie.

If you remember from this previous post, the Larsons shipped their furniture in advance (including a baby grand piano, according to Ruth). Really, if Henderson were like any other small town, it was surely abuzz with curiosity—including 12 year-old Jeanie, who was waiting on the storefront steps when Carol arrived.

Amongst Henderson friends: Carol, back, middle; Jeanie, back, right; and Judith, front, right.

Jeanie opened up a new world for Carol. She introduced her to friends, they rode the bus together to school in nearby Owosso and, most importantly, it was through Jeanie that Carol met Duane at Benny’s Drive-In.

Ruth, Carol, George Larson, 1951

In 1951, Carol graduated from Owosso High School. Look at Ruth’s dress in this picture—surely she didn’t find something so exquisite in Henderson or Owosso!

Carol Larson

Ruth once told me that she and George would have sent Carol to college, however Carol said she would only go for the socializing. Maybe, by that time, the only studying Carol was interested in was Duane.

(As a child, I was always fascinated by her high school dictionary. The inside covers were completely filled with “Duane Amos,” and “Mrs. Duane Amos” and “Carol Amos,” all written in her distinct backhanded handwriting.)

Carol and bridesmaids

Carol Larson and her bridesmaids: l-r, Judith Larson, Carol, Coyla Jean (Jeanie) Amos, and JoAnn Aldrich. July 18th, 1953

On July 18, 1953, while Duane was on leave from the Navy, Carol happily became Mrs. Duane Amos (or Carol Amos, as we women would so independently identify ourselves today:-).

Duane and Carol with their parents: l-r, George and Ruth Larson, Carol and Duane, Gladys Amos, Harriet and Roland Amos. July 18, 1953

Being the early 1950s, America was involved in the Korean War and Duane still had another year left of his Navy deployment. Carol continued living with her parents in the apartment above the store and did office work for an Owosso business.

This picture is one of our favorites. It’s of Carol in her parent’s kitchen above the store. While she certainly didn’t dress this way all the time, it’s actually quite reflective of who she was as a person—very creative; a talented seamstress; an excellent cook; a perfectionist, yes, but one who could also let loose and enjoy life.

In 1956, Duane and Carol had their first child, and from there they just kept going and going. In all: Terri, Diahann, David, Cheryl, Jon, Rebecca and Joel. (Remember baby Jon? He was born with a congenital heart defect and died when he was only two months old).

In 1968, Duane and Carol started building their dream house out in the country. It was a project they would continue for the next 20 years. And during that time all those kids brought home animals, friends and, of course, chaos.

What about those tendencies of perfectionism?

Well, if giving in to one’s children’s pleas for a pony and hauling it home in a new car is indicative of setting aside inherent traits, Carol did just that. Yet, in all her involvement in her kids’ activities—school events, music lessons, 4-H, you name it—she still was there to offer a proper guidance.

L-R; Cheryl, Carol, Joel David, Terri, Rebecca (in front), Duane and Diahann, 1977

When the first of her kids grew up and left home, and the youngest of her kids started school, Carol decided to get out and get a job. She enjoyed working in retail for several Owosso stores and was delighted to learn her creativity applied well to the marketing world. But then again, that was Carol. Everything she did, she made sure she did it well…very well.

Remember how close those Amos wives were? How they bonded the family together through the fun times and the sometimes not-so-fun? All through the 90s, the couples, who by that time grown from three to four, enjoyed traveling and doing great activities together.

And they took care of each other.

Here’s that distinct handwriting of Carol’s in a note she had written to them all. By then, Jeanie was suffering from breast cancer, and two years later, Carol was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Those were some of the not-so-fun times.

In 1997, Jeanie died from her cancer. On August 3, 1999, Carol died from hers.

Carol said she knew Jeanie would be waiting on heaven’s steps for her.

I’m sure she was.

Finding Culture Within the Family

Last week, we studied the Amos side of our family tree and once again we learned of our German roots. This week, let’s look at Beatrice Holmes, the grandmother from Topeka who took care of Duane and Bruce. We know so very little of her and her family. But perhaps, just by her English surname, we can imagine a bit of cultured decorum that counterbalances the stodgy stubbornness so often associated with our Kraut-iness (although, surely we have none of that).

So, let’s take a look at Beatrice and her family.

From our family records, we know Beatrice was born in 1880 in Swan, Indiana, to (Eugene) Milton and Mary Alice (Cramer) Holmes. Her father Milton drilled wells for a living and was originally from Ohio. We don’t know much more about his family.

Thanks to Ancestry.com however, we know quite a bit about Beatrice’s mother’s family. The Cramers were from Swan, Indiana—in fact they settled the town. That means we have another founding for which we can claim credit (so what if it’s only an unincorporated community within the township of Swan).

According to the 1860-1870 census records, Beatrice’s grandfather, Ephraim Cramer, ran a dry goods and grocery store there in town. According to this website on Indiana cemeteries, her great-grandfather, Conrad, was the community’s first settler. On that site, check out his list of children: six from his first wife, Magdalina, before she died at the young age of 32, and 12 from his second wife, Lydia. The Cramers were a town, just of themselves!

But wait a minute, Cramer—is that an English name? It could be, according to this Ancestry.com family fact page. Or, it could be Dutch, German or Irish, depending on its original spelling.

We have more surnames that pop up on Beatrice’s side of the family—names like Broughton, Rickard, Timmerman, Sitts and Haus. All these people, as far back to the mid-1700s, were born here in the United States. We’re like founding fathers within our country!

Interesting, huh? I wonder where we’ve immigrated from and when?

The Treasure of a Family Bible

The Amos Family Bible

Bibles are precious for so many reasons, one being the family history so carefully recorded within their pages. In a previous post, Jerry showed us a picture of a Gulick family Bible. Here, pictured above, we have one from the Amos family. It belonged to Charles and Elizabeth Amos, great-grandparents to the Amos boys.

Let’s take a look at the genealogy of this side of the family. We know a few facts—names and dates from Ancestry.com—but we don’t know many stories. We’ll have to take what we can get, yes?

On July 31,1809, Andrew Amos was born in Hannover, Germany. We don’t have a date for his immigration to the United States, but in 1837 when he was 28 years old, Andrew married Catharine Mottinger in Columbiana County, Ohio. Interestingly, Catharine’s family traces back to the mid 1700s in Pennsylvania, where the name is also listed as Mattinger.

According to the 1840 census, Andrew and Catharine settled in Columbiana County and started their family of seven children—four girls and three boys, one of whom was Charles Wesley Amos.

In the 1850 census, Andrew was a wagon maker and he owned property valued at $800. By 1860, he and Catharine had moved to Noble County, Indiana and he farmed on land valued at $1500. Their son Charles was 18 and listed as a farm laborer.

Charles, of course, is the son we’re interested in.

Amos Family Bible, marriage

Isn’t this beautiful? The artwork, the handwriting—all of it is stunning. On October 24, 1867, Charles married Elizabeth Amelia Jarrett. I wonder if they received this Bible as a wedding gift? I wonder whose handwriting it is, Charles or Elizabeth’s?

Amos Family Bible, births

By 1880, Charles, Elizabeth and their children were living in Swan, Indiana. Here, Charles worked as a carpenter. In fact, the tools my son Jason writes about in his report are Charles’ tools.

In 1880, William Arthur was born. That’s right, our Arthur—the guy who would later become a blacksmith to the Amish and grandfather to the Amos boys.

So there you have it, a record of the Amos family from 1809 to 1880. We look at this family Bible, we admire the beauty of their handwriting, we envision the things Charles created with his tools…and suddenly we have so much more than just names and dates. These treasures personalize those who once owned them and they give us part of the people themselves.

The Amos Boys in Small Town, USA

In 1937, when Bruce was four and Duane was five, they hopped on board a car-hauling semi and headed down to Topeka, Indiana.

“Our Uncle John (Hughes), from the Gulick side, drove a truck that hauled cars,” says Duane. “Not a big truck like you see now. It only could haul three cars. He was making a delivery to Indiana so we rode with him down to our grandparents’. ”

It’s not like the boys hitched a joy ride without their parent’s permission. If you remember, in the mid-1930s Gladys was having trouble making ends meet. Roland wasn’t home and she’d lost her welfare. She needed help caring for her three young children.

So in 1937, when Duane was about to start first grade, Gladys arranged to have him and Bruce live with Roland’s parents in Topeka and one-year-old Jerry to live with her mother and step-father in Lansing.

Can you imagine how hard that must have been for her? And can you imagine how a trip in a big truck was for two young boys?

I wonder if Roland went with them?

“No, we went by ourselves,” says Duane, matter-of-factly.

“Were you scared? Were you sad about leaving your mother? Were you nervous about living with your grandparents? Had you ever met them before?”

I’m so curious about the feelings of these young boys, but the only answers I get are, “oh, I don’t remember” or “that was just so long ago.”

Instead I get factual data.

“I went to kindergarten when we lived outside Lansing near our Uncle Ralph,” says Duane. “Then, when we moved to Topeka I went to first and second grade. I remember the grade school and high school were in the same building and we all played soccer together at recess.”

Because there was no kindergarten in Topeka, Bruce didn’t go to school.

“I remember those two apricot trees out back,” says Bruce. “We each had a tree we were supposed to keep clean underneath. We had to pick up the bad apricots.”

“One thing I remember is every Sunday morning before church, we’d go to the gas station and get ice and Grandpa would make ice cream,” says Duane. “Every Sunday morning.”

“Remember cranking that thing, Duane?” asks Bruce. “We’d crank it until it’d start getting thick, then Grandpa would take over. We did that every Sunday.”

At that time, their grandfather was the mayor of Topeka.

“Their house was a big house right across the street from the church,” says Duane. “We thought Grandpa was the most important man in town because we lived in a pretty big house and Grandpa was the mayor.”

Now Duane wonders, with a laugh, if maybe they just passed around the mayoral position amongst the businessmen in town.

“Whoever they could force into the job,” adds Jerry. “Although being the blacksmith, he probably was the most important man in town.”

“Well, Grandpa’s shop was always full of men,” says Duane. “I remember Bruce and I were down to the shop, and if they had a particularly mean or ornery horse Grandpa would always send us home. He knew there would be a lot of cussing going on.”

When I ask how they remember their grandfather’s personality, neither Bruce nor Duane have many recollections.

“He may have been a little gruff,” says Duane. “I remember being at a church dinner and pulling a chair out from behind a girl. I was swiftly evicted.”

“He wasn’t too tall,” says Bruce. “He was like the rest of the Amos’s, maybe 5’8” or 5’9”. He was a husky guy though, probably from all those years of blacksmithing. I’m sure he was pretty strict about things, but I don’t remember him being overly strict with us. ‘Course Duane and I were such angels…”

letter by Dorothy LoughmanLetter from Dorothy Loughman to Jason, 1991, in which she describes her father Wm. Arthur Amos. Stay tuned for more of her letter in the months ahead.

The boys also don’t remember much of their grandmother Beatrice.

“I remember she was small, and she had dark hair and skin,” says Duane.

“That’s where Bruce gets his handsome, good looks,” says Jerry. “We always thought he must have been from the mafia, he’s so dark.”

They’ve always gotta’ get that teasing in.

And of course, there’s the train trip Duane and Bruce took with their grandmother to get their tonsils out. They went all the way to Chicago because Beatrice’s daughter Dorothy was a nurse there.

In 1944, their grandmother Beatrice died of cancer. By that time Duane and Bruce were young teens and had been back in Lansing for many years. They remember Roland going to her funeral but he didn’t take them, perhaps because it was too expensive.

A few years later, after Duane graduated from high school, he once again went down to Topeka. This time he went to learn the blacksmithing trade. By then Arthur had remarried to Hazel, the town’s postmistress, and they lived in the house most of us know from our childhood memories and pictures.

“I went down after high school and lasted six months,” says Duane. “That little town of 500 people—there was just nothing to do. I didn’t have a car. I was so bored.”

“Yep, when I graduated from high school, my grandfather thought I should come down too. He thought I should learn some blacksmithing,” says Bruce. “But Duane told me not to. He said I would be too bored.”

So, apparently the big city Amos Boys were no longer cut for small town living! We’ll hear more of that in the months to come.