16 June 2013

Papa's Papa and his Papa

In the last few months, since my mother's death, we have been sorting through the flotsam and jetsam left in her house. Every now and then we discover something notable, usually because we can't believe anyone would have saved it for so long. Last week, we discovered a piece of family history, a real treasure, just in time for Father's Day.

My father's mother, Bernadette, hand-wrote a brief autobiography on the back of a photocopied article by John Risser. Neither the print source or date of the published article are visible on the copy. The article tells the story of John Augustus Sutter, and bears the title: Gold Found in California. His story has been told and retold over the years; you can find one version of Wikipedia.

This article begins, “John Augustus Sutter, who, for a while, was one of the richest men in the world, was not born to wealth.” And continues with the saga of how John Sutter discovered gold in California and died in Washington, D.C., with nothing but his reputation.

Above the photo of John A. Sutter "as a young man," Bernadette has written, “He looks just like my father.” The story she has written on the reverse side, begins with her family of origin, all the way back to John Augustus Sutter's brother, who never came close to being the richest man anywhere. I have preserved her handwritten story in a Word document, without changing her spellings and lack of punctuation--not an easy task for and English teacher.

An abridged version of the story appears below. Suffice to say it's filled with my grandmother's wit and knack for storytelling. Her story and the details of the article itself fill in some of the family names and dates, so useful in filling out the family tree. It also fills in the gaps of her life, the childhood that often was unhappy and accounts for the strong willed, often cantankerous grandmother I knew. My maternal great-grandparents died before I was born, and I don't recall ever hearing anything about my great grandfather.

This, in part, is Bernadette's story:
This is my great grand fathers brother. [John Augustus Sutter]

My grand fathers name was George Sutter and he was born in Switzerland and when he came to the U.S.A. settled in Mexico Missouri.

He made hand made cigars for a living.

All the Sutters had a son named John. After there grand father. My grand parents George and Caroline are buried in Mexico Missouri. Her maiden name was Brown. I have a picture of there tomb stone its five ft high.

My father had a brother Charles and three sisters Elizabeth and Katie and Caroline my father was the youngest. He was two ½ years old when his mother died and three ½ when his father killed his self went out to the Cemetary leaving five little orphans.

He was a Mason and lodge brothers the children in there homes. Captain John Sutter was my grand fathers great Uncle.

A family named Ed Hilderbrandt raised my father on there cattle farm. And Pa Pa was raised as Edward Hilderbrant they never adopted him.

When he was sixteen he ran away came up to St. Louis to look for his brother Charlie and three sisters. Lupton the undertaker raised Charlie and he had been Mayor of Mexico and owned a General store and undertaking Parlor. His first name was Clayton. And there family still own Luptons on Delmar.

Charlie was married when Pa Pa found him and so Lizzie and Caroline. Katie never married and was the only aunt I knew never met Caroline or Lizzie.

I worked one summer for my Uncle Charlie and lived with him and his wife Kate.

Thats how I found out so much about what happen. His Mother was 28 when she died and his father 20. Charlie was eight and Lizzie 10 Caroline 6 Kate 4. So Charlie told Pa Pa they had an Uncle Otto in Chicago and he went up there and Otto and his wife Mary took him in. But he visited the others often and one June he met mama at a Garden party. And they started writing. She was daperate girl trying to get away from her domineering father and so she gave him her address.

She would have given Jack the ripper her address.
...And so Christmas came and there windows were so dirty and mama said John will you wash the windows for me. And so he got some rags and newspapers and coal oil and he wiped the windows down on the outside with a rag dip in coal oil to cut the grime and soot off and then wash them with water and vinegar in it dryed them and shined them with newspapers. Mama said it was a work of art. So clean and clear they were.

And so she said John you have found your calling you were born to be a window cleaner.

Thus was born the St. Louis House and Window Cleaners.

...He got so many Jobs word of mouth he had to hire a crew. And so he hired green horns from other countries. Had a Swede and couple Germans Pa Pa spoke fluent German. His brother Charlie owned the Sutter Shade Co. and he threw Pa Pa a lot of work and Vice Versa.

...His favorite past time was drinking and his favorite sport was drinking and his hobby was drinking get the Picture. He was a Drunk.

He hardly ever came home only long enough to get mama pregnant he had a room in a hotel down town. And it was his office too.

If mama needed money she went to his banker the Barender where he spent a lot of time and money and she would get fifty dollars and tell him put it on Johns Tab. Tell him I was here and if he ever gets in our neighborhood to stop in Wed like to see him....

07 June 2013

Ester Williams

Pulling from a past post on Ester Williams. This wonderful actress and athlete died this week. What happiness she brought to so many. May she rest in peace.

From a conversation I had with my mother in 2006 (my mom died 3 months ago):

Well, the first question might be who the hell is Esther Williams? She's a movie star that swam in all of her films. Glitzy, splashy Hollywood style movies (couldn't resist the pun).

Muzzy (nearly 80) saw a commercial with a young, really young, mom cooing to her adorable, chubby baby. "That's Esther Williams' baby. Isn't it cute?"

"Nah, nah, that's not Esther Williams. THE Esther Williams, you mean?"

"YE-E-E-S," she said sarcastically, "Esther Williams. You know Esther Williams?"

"The swimmer."

"Yes. She's wonderful in all her movies."

"That's not Esther Williams. She's like 80."

"What? Oh, stop. That was her right there."

"Mom, she's older than you. That woman was in her twenties."

"Esther Williams is maybe 40 at the most."


Then, she used my full name, middle name and all! "Yes, she's young. That's her baby."

"Her daughter's baby, maybe, or her granddaughter's baby. But Esther is OLD. Too old for babies."

"She is not. Don't be ridiculous." Now she's angry.

"Ok, I'll go google her." And I left the room knowing that no matter what I found out she wouldn't believe me.

When I returned, I said, "She was a member of the 1940's Olympic Team and her first movie was with Mickey Rooney. And I think he's dead. She's old."

"Now I know you are making things up. He is not dead, he's about 50."

I'm thinking I should just give up about now. Obviously, she wants Esther to be young, eternally, as she is in all the films. But something drives me to pursue this ludicrous venture. "When did you see her movies?"

"I don't know. They're on from time to time."

"No, I mean first see her in the movies." Then, I jump to the chase. "She was born in 1922. You were born in 1927. It be--like you having a baby."

"Well,............................ she's just 40. You're wrong. Not 1922, that must be someone else."

Here we go, I pushed her wheelchair through the house to the computer and showed her the Wikepedia on Esther Williams which was showing a photo of Esther at about 20.

"Yes, that's her. Look, see, she's still young."

"IN THE PHOTO, mom. Not today. Read this--born in 1922."

"Oh. I can't believe that."

So, we go back to the kitchen and she says, "I bet no one knows that."

"Everyone knows she's 80 something. I'll call someone and ask. I bet your sister knows." She scowlls at me as I pick up the phone and dial. "Hi, hey, do you by chance know how old Esther Williams is?"

"I guess she's about 40. Why?"

I am shocked and appauled. Has the world gone mad? Is this a dream? "When did you first see her movies?"

"I guess when I was young."

"How old?"

"When we were in school we used to go watch her in the movies."

"It's 2006. How old is Esther Williams."

Gasp! "She must be in her 80's."

"I am handing the phone to my mother. Tell her how old Esther Williams is."

My mother's face says it all. Esther, we now all agree, is 85.

Why do I feel NO relief, no sense of having won the battle. I feel guilty. I've taken away their false reality. What difference does it make if Esther Williams is 25, 40, or dead? I really did think she was dead actually. So, I guess I'm happy to find out she isn't. We should all be happy she's alive and well and recuperating from an infection for which she was hospitalized in sunny California.

Moral of the story: We are only as old as we feel until someone comes along and throws cold water with an old swimmer in it right in our lap.