Oh Happy Day!

November 27, 2010

George and Ruth Larson's wedding, November 27, 1929

George and Ruth Larson, November 27, 1929

On this day, 81 years ago, my grandparents George and Ruth Larson were married.

If you remember, back in February of that same year, Ruth started her job as a switchboard operator at C.A. Burnett Packing Company. Here she met George Larson, a handsome and meticulous bookkeeper for the same company.

My, what a whirlwind courtship theirs must have been! Nine months later, on Thanksgiving Eve of 1929, they were married.

God has blessed this day in, oh, so many ways!

As we celebrate George and Ruth’s anniversary, we also celebrate the many family weddings that followed. All because 81 years ago today, George and Ruth said “I do.”

Oh happy day!

Ruth Hooge engagement 1929

Carl & Sophia Larson, 1895

Carl & Sophia Larson, 1895

How’s this for tricky lighting?

These wedding portraits of George’s parents, Carl and Sophia, are showcased in antique frames with convex glass. Needless to say, they’re impossible to photograph without a reflection (at least with my limited skills). That’s my living room reflecting in the glass, where I’ve proudly displayed them for years.

Carl & Emma Hooge, September 1905

Carl & Emma Hooge, September 1905

Hooge Wedding table display
My Aunt Judy (Ruth’s daughter) displays Carl and Emma Hooge’s wedding portrait together with a table, lamp and chair that are all from the Hooge-Hornburg sides of the family. The beaded jewelry and lace doily are handiwork of my grandmother Ruth.

(George and Ruth’s daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,with their names listed first and their spouse’s second)
Carol & Duane, August 18, 1953

Carol & Duane, July 18, 1953

Judith & Art, August 10, 1957

Judith & Art, August 10, 1957

Diahann and Glen, February 17, 1979

Diahann and Glen, February 17, 1979

Phil & Kim, June 26, 1982

Phil & Kim, June 26, 1982

Rachel & Tom, May 21, 1983

Rachel & Tom, May 21, 1983

Ruth and Scott, June 22, 1991

Ruth and Scott, June 22, 1991

Jonathan and Jenny, June 13, 1997

Jonathan and Jenny, June 13, 1997

Bethany & Tom, December 17, 2205

Bethany & Tom, December 17, 2005

Does Bethany’s dress look familiar?
She wore her grandmother Carol’s dress (see Carol and Duane, above.)

Joshua & Katherine, July 28, 2007

Joshua & Katherine, July 28, 2007

Hey, family! Would you like to include your wedding picture? Send me yours and your wedding date. We’d love to share!

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Triggering Special Memories

October 7, 2010

George Larson in Larson's Groceries & Market in Henderson, Michigan
You know how the certain feel of a place takes you back in time? Or a random scent instantly triggers a memory?

There’s an old, general store near us and whenever I walk across its creaky floor I’m reminded of my grandparents’ store in Henderson, MI. And, once, just once somewhere else, I caught a whiff of something that instantly took me back to the bathroom of their apartment above that store, a room with pink tiles and the unique scent of soap combined with my grandmother’s toiletries.

These triggers are special. They’re two of many that bring a flood of memories of the grocery store owned by my grandparents George and Ruth Larson. It was an old-fashioned, family-owned kind of store in an old-fashioned-family-kind-of-village. Only now as an adult, do I realize how much of my childhood is in that store.

Isn’t the above picture cool?

It was taken in 1950 (well before my time), and it shows the store four years after they bought it. That’s my grandfather George, dressed meticulously beneath his grocer’s apron. Yes, he’s wearing a tie. But look, he’s also got his sleeves rolled up—he was finally able to let loose after all those years in a Chicago office.

In a 1990 video interview, my grandmother Ruth describes the store during those early years of their ownership. She says at first it was like “an old, country store.”

“There was just one long counter with stocks behind on shelves. We had one of those things to get things down that were way up high,” says Ruth, as she’s reaching with her arms. “And to slice the cold meats, you had to do it by hand.”

Little by little, George built new island shelves, added a glass meat counter and an ice cream freezer.

“And he built the walk-in cooler. He went up to Midland (MI) and brought the insulation home,” Ruth says matter-of-factly of my grandfather’s ingenuity. “He built all that himself.”

Larson Grocery & Market, Henderson, MI; family and friends

This photo was taken in 1948, two years after they moved to Henderson.

In back (l-r), are family friends Roy Pederson, Ruth, and Frieda Pederson. In the middle are Carol (George and Ruth’s daughter, and my mother) and Nancy Pederson. In front are Coyla (Jeanie) McCargar (my mother’s best friend and later her sister-in-law) and Judith (George and Ruth’s daughter).

Note the architectural details on the false store-front.

Ruth Larson and her daughters Judith and Carol

This is the only photo I have of the apartment above their store. Taken in 1952, there’s Ruth on the left, and her daughters Judith (playing piano) and Carol.

Check out the handsome Navy-dude in the picture on the piano! That’s my dad, and the next year, in August 1953, he and my mom (Carol) were married.

Larson's Grocery & Market, Henderson, MI

Taking down the false front in 1954.

George Larson in Larson's Grocery & Market, Henderson, MI

Here’s the store in 1958, with the island shelves George built. And look, the tie is gone!

As a child years later in the 60s, I remember running my hand along plastic tracks on the front edge of each shelf where George had carefully inserted product prices. I remember dragging the inserts all the way from one end of the track to the other, bunching them together along the way.

My grandfather, gentle and quiet man that he was, simply said to me, “Please don’t do that.”

George Larson at his desk

"Head man at his desk!" by Ruth Larson

This picture, and the caption my grandmother wrote on the back, says it all.

Here’s my grandfather at his roll-top desk. Perhaps this piece of furniture, more than any other, best represents their store. If you look closely at the very top picture, in the right corner you can see the open doorway into a back room. Here in this room was the “head man’s” desk and here’s where he kept his detailed books.

When my grandparents sold their store, they gave the desk to my mother, who later gave it to my brother.

Here’s another furniture piece from the store. I remember this bookcase sitting along side George’s desk in the back room. I remember my grandmother pulling out glasses, often old jelly jars, and giving us drinks of water. Such a simple thing, but something I always loved.

I now have this bookcase in my home.

Wicker rocking chair from Larson's Grocery and Market

This rocking chair, which I also now have, is one I remember being in the back room. In the video, however, my grandmother says they also used it in the store. Sure enough, if you look closely at the very top picture (maybe even magnify your screen, ctrl +), you can see the chair back against the white wall, underneath the two advertising posters. It had dark cushions then.

“There was a big, square register in the floor,” describes Ruth. “The rocker sat there. In the wintertime, when people would come in and they’d be cold, they’d go and sit in that rocker.”

I wish I’d thought to ask my grandmother if these furniture pieces came with the store. I wonder how many people warmed themselves in this wonderful chair? Or how old the books are that originally were kept in that magnificent desk?

One of the cool things about doing this blog has been a renewed sense of family connection. I’ve exchanged emails, telephone calls and personal visits with beloved relatives, some whom I hadn’t talked to in years simply because we’ve been too busy living life.

(Hey, you know we can all share in this connection if everyone makes comments to the blog…just saying, is all.)

Another cool thing is people are giving me stuff—it’s like I’ve become the vault keeper of our family’s history. A while ago my brother Dave made a deposit into this vault when he mailed me a special gift.

Dave was cleaning out and ran across a letter written by our Great-Aunt Charlotte. Dated January 1983, she wrote it in tribute to George Larson at the time of his death (George, you’ll recall, was my grandmother Ruth’s husband and Charlotte was her sister).

The letter is special for several reasons. First, it offers insight to the man my grandfather was. George was a very quiet soul and I, like most young people, was not perceptive enough to know there was more to him than a gentle, smiling face.

Secondly, which is why I’m including it in our conversation of sisterhood, the letter totally shows the unique bond between Ruth and Charlotte. Even though 12 years and hundreds of miles were between them, the two were very intertwined in each other lives.

Here’s the letter. Note the correction in green—knowing my Aunt Charlotte, that typo must have been major cause for concern but poor health at the time likely prevented her from retyping the whole letter. I also like the formal “page two” heading. Most of all, I like the signature—one many of us knew so well and loved.

So very Aunt Charlotte.

Charlotte's letter, pg. 1
Charlotte's letter, pg.2

Back in the 1980s, when my genealogy junkiness offered a periodic pause from raising four young children, I wrote letters to two of my grandfather’s cousins.

The cousins, Harry Newberg and Edna (Newburg) Peterson, were from the Larson side—their mother was my grandfather George’s father’s sister.

Oh, I know. As soon as we start adding apostrophes and generations it gets a little confusing. For the sake of simplicity, just remember—Harry and Edna were cousins George grew up with in northern Indiana.

By the early 1980s, George was in his 80s and had developed dementia. Harry and Edna, however, were a few years older and sharp as tacks. They responded to me with a lot of information on the Larson side.

Now today, via ancestry.com, I’ve met up with Harry’s grandson, Larry Newburg. According to this family relationship chart, Larry is my third cousin. He also is a genealogy junkie.

So, between Arthur’s letters, Harry and Edna’s letters, and Larry’s super-sleuth genealogical research, we’re able to establish a fairly interesting family story.

Here goes…

Harry and Edna’s mother was Ellen (Elin) Charlotta Larsdotter. George’s father was Carl Gustav Larson. Ellen and Carl were siblings, and were born to family of eight children in Västra Harg, Sweden.

According to U.S. Censuses, Ellen came to Des Moine, Iowa, in 1887, when she was 25-years-old. Here, she joined Victor Newburg (Nyburg), a man she had known from Sweden.

“Dad worked in a tile factory for a year, then sent for mother,” writes Edna of her parents, Victor and Ellen. “They were married in Des Moines in 1889. She worked as a chamber maid in a hotel those days for a year.”

In 1895, together with their two young children, Victor and Ellen moved to Marshall County, Ind., where they farmed near the city of Donaldson.

Meanwhile, Carl and his twin brother Per, came to the United States in 1888. Their first stopping place was Des Moines, IA, before moving on to work elsewhere.

“My father worked on large wheat farms in northern Minnesota and North Dakota,” writes Arthur. “I believe they (Carl and his wife Sophia, who also had immigrated and was working in Des Moines) knew each other from Sweden. How they met and married, I never overheard them to say.”

In 1895 Carl and Sophia married and moved to Grovertown, Ind., just a few miles west of Donaldson.

“The house was there,” writes Arthur. “They had to build a barn.”

And finally, just to keep you on your toes, there’s one more sibling who moved to the area. I don’t have much information on her, but her name was Clara Matilda Larsdotter, and she seems to have gone by Matilda. She immigrated to the U.S. in 1887, married Per Carlson in 1888, and they too settled in the Donaldson area of Indiana.

So here you have it—three siblings who traveled an ocean and half a continent away from the rest of their family. They founded new homes, they farmed the land, and they raised their children. And they did it together, maintaining the stronghold of a close family bond.

“This is shortly after these sisters emigrated from Sweden. They married Adolph Carlson and Anders Victor Newberg,” writes Larry Newburg, who provided this picture in his ancestry.com files.

Larry provided this photo as well, and suggests it may have been taken in Des Moines. Don’t you love his top hat sitting on the vase?

Victor and Ellen Newburg Family, circa 1900

“The photo was taken about 1900, two miles northeast of Donaldson,” writes Larry Newburg on his ancestry.com site. “They started in 1895 with a log cabin on this sight. Nice picture to send back to Sweden—showing fine home, good clothes, and a fine set of horses.”

From l-r: Edna, Ellen, Elmer, Oscar, Victor, and Harry. Yet to be born was Mabel Helen.

Carl & Sophia Larson Family, circa 1900

I wonder if the same photographer did both families?

From l-r: Carl, Clarence, Olga and Sophia, holding George. Yet to be born are Arthur and Esther.

Walpurgis Night

April 30, 2010

So, are you ready for the big celebration tonight? It’s Walpurgis Night and it’s part of our family heritage.

What? You didn’t know this?

Well, neither did I. I just happened to come across it while researching the next Beaded Bells topic—the Swedish side of our family tree.

Apparently, Walpurgis Night (Valborgsmässoafton) is a Swedish welcoming of spring. On the night of April 30, Swedes light bonfires reminiscent of those lit in the paganistic 18th century to ward off evil spirits and witches. Nowadays, the celebration continues on to the next day, which is May 1 and the Scandinavian Labour Day.

So happy Walpurgis Night!

Actually, May is George’s month—George, being Ruth’s husband—and May is the month we move on from our very Germanic roots to our Swedish. We happen to have a lot of information from the Larson side, so hang on to your seats. May is going to be a genealogical joy ride (except that it will in no way be reckless or unlawful:-)

Let’s start by talking about George.

As previously mentioned, George came into Ruth’s life in 1929, when they worked together at the C.A. Burnette Co., in Chicago. George was a bookkeeper and Ruth was a switchboard operator.

At the time, George had been living in Chicago for about ten years. According to a letter I have from my mother Carol (George and Ruth’s daughter), he moved to Chicago shortly after graduating from high school in 1918 and lived with one of his aunts.

Prior to that, he grew up on the family farm just outside Grovertown, Ind., the very place he was born on May 3, 1899, to Carl and Sophia (Lindahl) Larson. He was their third child, out of five—Olga, Clarence, George, Arthur and Esther.

Now George was a quiet man. Even though he was very much a part of my childhood and young adult years, I seldom heard him talk about himself. I do, however, have many letters written to me from his brother, Arthur, and these give good insight to their years on the farm.

According to Arthur, in a letter dated 1983, the family’s 98-acre farm was located a mile east of Grovertown, a community where many of their Larson relatives also lived. They always had lots of cows and horses “to enrich the soil,” writes Arthur, “and a few hogs and pigs to roll in the mud.”

Arthur describes their years on the farm as hard work. In addition to corn, wheat and oats, their father also planted 1-½ to 2 acres of onions to be sold as a cash crop in the fall.

“We had to crawl on our knees and pick out all the weeds,” writes Arthur. “Then Dad also planted another acre of pickles (cucumbers), which was backbreaking to pick. When finished, they had to be sorted large from small so it was quite late, and we had to deliver them to town. That was a cash crop.”

Arthur also writes of fun times like butchering a hog every fall, cutting wood in winter and sleigh rides with the horses.

“No cars or tractors back then,” he writes.

According to Arthur’s letter, Olga, George and he all went to Chicago as young adults because work there was easy to find. In 1925, their parents sold their farm in Grovertown and moved up to Michigan, where they farmed together with Clarence in the Imlay City area.

I remember as a child, my parents always had a big garden and my grandfather, George, loved to help with planting and weeding. Like the old adage says, you can take the farmer away from the farm, but can’t take the farm out of the farmer.

Here’s to Walpurgis Night, here’s to our Farmer George and here’s to any of us soon to plant our own gardens.

Skål!

Carl & Sophia Larson Family, circa 1900

L-R: Carl, Clarence, Olga and Sophia, holding George.

Carl & Sophia Larson Family Farmhouse, 1993

Years ago, I sent away for the abstract and plat map for the Larson’s farm in Indiana. While vacationing in the area, we scouted down the house. Unfortunately, the owners weren’t home (or thought we looked shifty and chose not to open the door). We left a copy of the original farmhouse photo and our address, but never heard from them. It would be interesting to see the house today, yes?

Carl & Sophia Larson Family, circa 1910

A guess at identities: Back, l-r: Clarence and Olga. Middle: father Carl, Esther, and mother Sophia. Front: Arthur and George.

George, on the left, and Clarence Larson

Olga Larson, 1895-1927

Clarence Carl Larson, 1897-1959

Geroge Berthal Larson, 1899-1983

This picture was provided by Larry Newburg, our Kusin, as he likes to say. Wait to you see the information he has to share—stay tuned!

Strangely, of the many pictures we have, none of them are of Arthur. Very unfortunate, since it’s Arthur who provided so much personal information about the family. He lived from 1902-1990, and I’m hoping his daughter Donna can share as well.

Esther (Larson) Mann, 1908-1978

Another photo provided by Larry.

George Larson

Anyone know antique cars? Any ideas of the era? Look what a sharp dude George was!

George Larson 1918 military draft registration

While World War I lasted from July 1914-Nov. 1918, the U.S. didn’t get involved until April 1917.

Above is George’s draft registration card, dated September 1918. At the time, he was working as a postal clerk in Chicago and never was drafted.

Below is a more visible sample of a registration card.

1918 U.S. Draft Registration Card

Enter George

February 11, 2010

February is the month of love, and it certainly was for Ruth. February is the month George Larson came into her life.

“Grandpa and I met in February of 1929,” wrote my grandmother in a letter to me, dated 1979. “We met when I took a job at C.A. Burnette Co., in Chicago. Grandpa was the bookkeeper and I was the switch board operator.”

Nine months later, on Thanksgiving Eve, they were married.

Who was this George who obviously swept her off her feet? Or perhaps she swept him?

George was originally from northern Indiana—a farm boy, he was. As a teenager, he and his brothers grew pickles (cucumbers) and hauled them into Chicago to sell. As a young man, right after he graduated salutatorian of his Grovertown high school class, he moved to Chicago to look for work.

George had been living in the big city for more than ten years before he met Ruth. In fact, family lore has it he was previously engaged to another woman. Well, thank goodness that didn’t work out!

Ruth was just shy of 20-years-old that February day when she met George. He was almost 30. What began then was a unique relationship that would last the next 54 years.

And beyond.

Handwriting. I love it. It’s one of the things that touches me most as I sort through these old photos and letters. Each distinct style personifies the writer and in its own way brings that individual back to life.

Today, handwriting is a lost art, is it not?

The handwriting in the top photo is Ruth’s. By the look of that smudge, I wonder if she was using a fountain pen? The careful handwriting in white is my Aunt Judith’s, a teacher. And the handwriting in the last photo is my mother Carol’s. With such an obvious backhand, one might assume she was a leftie. Nope, she was not.