Dear readers, once again it gives me great pleasure to present my special guest blogger Kathleen Mae Schneider.
..and The Butcher
by Kathleen Mae Schneider
In 1899, George Andrew Brown was a handsome red headed young man of 26 when my grandmother, Almedia Jane Guyer, came into his North York butcher shop to buy dinner. She was 22, slender and delicately featured – and engaged. The two struck up a conver- sation in which he told her his 25-year-old wife Annie had recently died.
Annie had borne him four children in six years. One of her babies died when he was two months old. Annie also passed away from typhoid fever one month after her last baby was born. George was left a widower with three young children to raise.
Allie, as she was called, had many boyfriends as a teenager and young woman. I can see why, without the benefit of makeup, she was considered beautiful and why George was immediately attracted to her. I remember her as an old woman in her seventies, but even then she was still delicate in visage, soft-spoken and gentle, with a shy little laugh.
It must have been a whirlwind courtship because she told her children that she felt so sorry for George that she broke her engagement and married him instead. That was eight months after Annie’s death. To look at their portrait, I’m guessing that more than pity was involved!
Since the marriage came with three children aged 8, 5 and 8 months, Allie had to adapt to motherhood quickly and she obviously had her hands full. One story she told indicated that she had trouble with George’s firstborn, Lester, who would head off to school after breakfast but turn around and come back home after he was sure his father left for work!
At some point early in the marriage Allie also contracted typhoid fever. York now takes for granted a clean and safe water supply, but that
was not so in 1899. Before the advent of a public sewage system, many cities in America at the turn of the century experienced major epidemics of typhoid that killed thousands every year. York history documents a major outbreak in 1899. So it would seem that Annie and my grandmother were a part of that. Allie, already displaying a toughness that became legendary, survived. She gave birth to a son they named Eugene the year after her marriage to George. However, he died when he was only four months old.
In 1902 there was happy news in the Brown family again. Allie delivered a second child, a daughter they named Florence - and this time the baby survived. Here we see George and Allie’s blended family. Myrtle, age 5, Lester, age 8 and Bobby, age 3 now have a new mother and baby sister.
The location of my grandparents’ first home is not documented, but by 1911 we find them living in a modest house along George St. in Violet Hill, a small hamlet just south of York. There they owned and operated a general store. In back, George raised hunting dogs to sell. He also somehow acquired a number of recipes from an old Native American woman for remedies ranging anywhere from dyspepsia to hair loss. He mixed these up, cooked them on the family stove, and bottled them to sell as well.
George and Allie’s first 12 years together were both joyous and sad. Five more children were born after Florence, but only three survived infancy. Earl was born in 1903, a year after Florence. Gordon arrived in 1906 but sadly; he contracted spinal meningitis and died at 18 months of age.
In 1907, Austin was born and was followed two years later by a sister, Ethel. Bertha, born 14 months after Ethel in 1910, died six days later. In between these births as well as in subsequent years my grandmother also had several miscarriages.
Chronicles of births and deaths such as this one were prevalent in turn-of-the-century America. With frequent disease outbreaks and little knowledge about pre- and postnatal care, maternal and infant mortality were common. George and Allie, both with and without midwives, delivered all of their children at home, which was the norm at the time. Birth control was nonexistent and families were typically large because it was important, without social security or Medicare, to have enough surviving children to help with the family work
and also take care of their parents in old age.
My research into my family history often requires me to read the handwritten birth record in the heavy old Brown family Bible and to visit the cemetery where many of my ancestors were laid to rest. I see the smallest tombstones - partially sunken into the ground, the carved lambs on top eroded by time and the elements. I silently mourn those infants and toddlers who must have brought
so much happiness at their conception and birth, but didn’t live long enough to play or grow up with their brothers and sisters.
As a woman and mother of two, I cannot imagine the pain and sorrow, the physical and emotional fatigue that my grandmother must have experienced. By the time she was 33 and married 11 years, she had carried seven pregnancies to term and lost three of her children. She makes me, and many women of our time, look like slackers in the childbirth department! My grandfather must also have had his share of sadness and trauma as his family struggled with the tragedies life had dealt them.
I know it’s conjecture or even fiction, but I imagine Allie standing by an upstairs window, feel-
ing a cooling breeze after a long and hot early September day. She’s pregnant again, two years after losing tiny Bertha. Unfastening and shaking her dark hair so it falls about her shoulders, she looks wistfully at dusk up toward the hill and woods the locals call The Shady Dell.
How beautiful the trees there look to her as they display early autumn colors! How earnestly she prays that this child she carries will survive and be healthy! There’s always room for another son or daughter in her life and her heart, but she and George also desperately need more space in their house for this eighth member of their rapidly growing family.
They had talked about building a new larger home in a location that could also accommodate a new business venture. Perhaps that hill overlooking the valley would be a good place…
In-Dell-ible Memories Introduction