Tuesday, January 27, 2009
For some reason, today I kept thinking of my paternal Great Grandmother, Celina. I have no idea why, or why she kept creeping into my thoughts, but she did.
Celina was born in Charleroi, Belgium, in 1889, of peasant stock. She came to America as a young girl in 1903, but did she come alone? Did she arrive with family members? As a servant girl? I have no idea, for there are no records to indicate either scenario. It seems as if she just appeared in Charleroi, Pennsylvania one day. Did she select Charleroi, Pennsylvania because the name reminded her of home, was it just a matter of coincidence? Or was it a matter that my Great Grandfather lived in the surrounding town?
I have deduced from the smattering of records that I have, that she was naturalized in 1906, probably married my Great Grandfather, Aime, in either 1906 or 1907, since she was married by the time she had her daughter, Ellen, born in 1908, then had William (my Grandfather) in 1909, Aime, Jr. in 1910, Dauphine, born in 1913, Irene born in 1918, and Noah born in 1919. Of all her children, Ellen did not make into adulthood, dying of either dysentery before or during the Flu Epidemic after World War I...accounts differ on that. I think it was before the Flu Epidemic.
But I digress. What kept me thinking was not so much the facts of her life, but who was she? What were her hopes and dreams? What made her smile? What was her laugh like? What did her food taste like? Did she enjoy cooking? What did her voice sound like? What color were her eyes? Her hair? Questions that I ponder, but one whose answers allude me because of the passage of time, and because the memories of my Father and Aunt, her Grand Children, have also faded with time.
I know a few anecdotes of her life. She drank strong black coffee, but with a dollop of vanilla ice cream in it. She always dressed in a plain, simple dress, or for pictures, a dress with prints on it. She had very limited formal education, and spoke English outside of the home with a heavy French accent. Inside the home, she rarely spoke English except with her children, who she insisted speak English, but with her husband, it was rarely English, but French. She took care of my Aunt Dauphine, who never married, because she was considered at that time as being 'slow', but ironically, Dauphine did learn to drive, and owned a car. So much for being 'slow', huh?
The only memory of Celina I have is visiting her house in Pennsylvania in December 1964. Celina kept insisting that my Mother bring her 'mon Grandbabies' so she could see us, so my Mother agreed and drove to Pennsylvania from Ohio with four young boys in tow. Now remember, this was really before all the freeways and highways we have now, so a trip from Ohio to Pennsylvania was no just hop in the car and go feat.
For some strange reason, I can still can recall the pajamas I was wearing when my Mom was getting us ready for bed...pale yellow, red trim, with little red fire trucks. I remember kissing Celina good night, as she sat there, a frail old woman, in her rocking chair, in the living room.
That night, she died peacefully in her sleep...and fleeting memories continue...yet, I still think and ponder.
I posses her milk pitcher and her melted butter pitcher...they are among my most cherished possessions.
And here is the only known formal portrait that I have ever seen of her, date unknown, but I estimate it at around 1916/1917, as Ellen is not pictured.