Tuesday, October 18, 2011

An Old Lady Thinking of Her Future

There seems to be a missing element in this letter from Theresa Blaising Stevens that gives the writer the affect of being somewhat absent-minded—unless, of course, she is merely following the script of a letter that had been written to her. In that case, her answers here may provide clues as to what the instigation was in the missing message from her daughter-in-law, Agnes Tully Stevens of Chicago. With the exception of her angst over what will become of her in her old age, by page three of Theresa’s letter from her home in Fort Wayne, Indiana, she seems mostly to have settled down to routine replies about the welfare of her grown grandchildren.

Bill, for instance, refers to Agnes’ second-born son, who by the time of this letter had celebrated his seven-year anniversary with his bride, the former Maxine Esther Novy, and had just welcomed his own third-born—his namesake—a few weeks earlier. Edward refers to Agnes’ fourth child, Bill’s next-younger brother, five years into his own marriage and expecting his third child in a matter of weeks; I’ve already introduced him as our revered “Uncle Ed.” Pat, the lone daughter inserted in this all-boy mix between brothers Bill and Ed, though approaching thirty, herself, had yet to be married and still lived with Agnes, though she evidently provided enough action to concern her mother and, by extension, elicit some sage parental advice from her grandmother.

That’s the simplified overview for the second part of this page from Theresa’s letter to her daughter-in-law. The first half of this page, however, requires more detailed explanation, and delves into Theresa’s own roots. The pathos of her thoughts regarding what would possibly become of her in the near future is compounded by the fact that she had no children of her own. Her one step-son, who evidently cared much for her, was now gone. The one remaining step-child, unfortunately, was not on good terms with her, despite living close enough to be able to make a difference. In concern for her own future, Theresa had to reach farther out in the family circle.

Here’s how she put it. We’ll continue with the last lines of the previous page, to provide continuity, and also leave the overwritten “I” from this page’s initial word as a small “i,” as it seems clearer to continue the previous sentence with “if” as the conditional term for taking her house.

I only wish they were different towards you all, because if anything happens to me, it would make things better for all. I always wanted to have Will and you come and take possession of house if I were sick and if you went home and I was in the hospital, to see that things and doors were locked and window blinds down and all that stuff, and then give the keys to Sylvester Blaising as I don’t want Katie to have them. Of course if it were winter the water would have to be all drained and toilets drained, then I don’t know what you would do, unless Aunt Emma Kelly would take you a few days. If it is summer time then any of you can stay in the house as long as you want to stay, but don’t give her the keys. She would run every-thing and would have every-thing. If I only could sell and dispose of things and sell this house and get a small house of about four rooms near church, there was a small house right next to Sylvester’s, only ½ block from church, and only about seven years old, sold about two months ago, but I did not know it was for sale. Celia said she did not know it until it was sold for ($6.500). I did not like the appearance of outside, there was no porch, and was a south frontage, but had venetian blinds and was insulated. Celia said it was darling inside, only five rooms and basement was just swell. I am glad Bill is getting a home of his own. Is this place near you. I figure it is, when you said it was (5925) but you did not say Eggleston. I only wish Edward could find a place also, so they would not have to pay rent, and have nothing but rent receipts at the end of the year. I also hope that Pat has come to the age where she makes up her mind to save a certain sum every month, so she will have a bank account. What would she do if she were sick or injured and had to go to a hospital. Agnes you could not keep up and pay her bills. She ought to take out a big insurance and sick benefit.

Instead of being able to rely on her step-daughter in town (Katie) for help in her worsening health condition, Theresa appeals first to Agnes, her step-son’s recently bereaved wife, miles away in Chicago, and then to her in-town nephew, Sylvester. To set her own mind at ease, Theresa proposes a plan that also has a fall-back option for Agnes.

So, who is this Sylvester? Let’s take a brief historical tour through Theresa’s own family. Apparently, Theresa was the baby of a large family that emigrated from Alsace-Lorraine at about both the time of her birth and that of her father’s death. The 1870 U.S. Census showed the family, minus the father, settled in New Haven, a small town in Allen County, Indiana.

In the tradition of some religious families of French heritage, Theresa’s several brothers were all baptized with the first given name of “Jean.” In their new homeland, they quickly Americanized that name to “John” which still causes some problems in research. By 1880, the census showed Theresa in the home of one such brother John, probably that of Jean Pierre, as that was the “John” that was married to Amelia, the wife showing in that census record.

That John, however, was not the father of the Sylvester we are seeking. Sylvester’s father was evidently another John—Jean Baptiste—whose second wife, Catherine Peltier, was Sylvester’s mother. The woman mentioned in Theresa’s comment about the smaller house—Celia—was Sylvester’s wife, the former Cecelia C. Parr.

That leaves one more explanation owing about this letter: that of the referral to Aunt Emma Kelly. I’ve already mentioned that Agnes’ husband, Will, was the son of Catherine Kelly of Fort Wayne. Catherine had four siblings: one sister and three brothers. Patrick was next-to-youngest of this bunch, the first in the family born after their arrival in the United States from Ireland in 1869. Patrick, deceased by the time of this letter, had in 1900 married a young widow from Logansport, Indiana, and adopted her infant son Frederick, subsequently adding seven more children (including the not-famous Emmett Kelly I’ve already written about) to their family. As you’ve probably deduced by now, Emma was that young widow.

A chatty letter this page mostly was—with the “catty” exception as Theresa belabored the point about her step-daughter—it demonstrated once again the tightly-knit fabric of this woman’s extended family tapestry.

1 comment:

  1. I found the comment on "draining the plumbing" to be most interesting. It never occurred to me that back in the early days of "indoor" running water that the home heating might not be capable of keeping the pipes from freezing - at least not "automatically". I assume this means that if someone didn't shovel the coal into the furnance - the heat stopped and then the pipes froze.

    I can hear my mother's mom in some of these words - the concern about keeping the blinds down, specifically resonates... odd things people "worried" about...


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