Mary Ruth on the farm she loved, 1916 or so.
I've copied some scenes from Mary Ruth's life, mostly in her own words. She left a couple of memoirs, and of course, many letters and shorter accounts.
The older photos are from Josephine's collection, preserved by Steve Russell (deepest thanks, Steve), and compiled by Betsy (deepest thanks, Betsy).
[From a 1997 memoir] "What is it like to be 83 and to have seen the better part of the century?
I was born in 1914 on the Illinois prairie. My first clear memory is of a November night when I was four. Such remarkable happenings. Winter nights should be at home, but Dad hitched the horses to the buggy and in the dark and cold took us into a very small town nearby, to a familiar spot, my uncle's general store. There was only one store.
We joined the gathering crowd in the big meeting hall on the 2nd floor. In contrast to our travel in, here lights were very birth; it was very hot and very noisy. Such a contrast; I'd never been in sch an assembly before. Aside from those contrasts I couldn't understand any of the intense excitement and the mood of exultation. Long after bedtime it was still going on, but at some signal, all the large windows were open and my dad set me on the window sill and held me there as we looked down below. A huge bonfire blazed up in the center of the street intersection below, and amid great shouts, a man, fully dressed was through into the fire. What a shock! They told me the man was the Kaiser Wilhelm. I was too young to know it was in effigy."
Grandpa Gibbens with Mary Ruth and ??
. . .
My parents had been leasing a farm, now they bought their own twenty miles away, and I attended a one room school. There were wide swings in the economy, with few of the safe guards government now provides. After a promising start, times became hard for farmers and dad looked for another way to support the family."
[Mary Ruth left a school paper that she wrote in about 1926, about "Our Trip to Starved Rock." ] "One Thursday morning in the last of August we started on a trip to Starved Rock . . . Allen Park was near Ottawa so we camped there. Daddy and I put up the tent which was fastened over the car to keep out the rain. Then, while the children played Daddy and I walked up town. . . . We got our groceries and walked back to the camp. . . . We had put our cots in the tent and soon after the dishes were done Mother, Elizabeth and I walked up town while the children went to bed. . . . The Fox River joins [the Illinois River] . . . the lights shone on the river and the stars were reflected. Oh! It was pretty. We went to bed about nine o'clock. Daddy and Mother slept in the car." [This is the first that I've seen of this account, so I will scan it and send the whole thing around. It's four pages, neatly written, single spaced, and now that I look I see that it's followed by a story about Christmas that Mary Ruth made up.]
Elizabeth, Mary Ruth, and Josephine.
Elizabeth, Mary Ruth, and Josephine.
The Gibbens siblings, circa 1926 or so?
The Gibbens kids, Mary Ruth, Jo, Elizabeth, Bob (?). Missing Stephen. 1923? [Deirdre suggests that he either wasn't there yet, or was staying warm in the oven -- Grandma said that she put both the twins and Stephen into the warmish oven when days were too cold for infants. This day looks like a pleasant one though.] Need help on these dates.
[Continuing with the 1997 memoir]. "We were proud of our life as agricultural people. We raised, canned and preserved, most of our own food, including the beef, pork, and chickens. I was adept at harnessing the horses, and the winter Dad was gone I kept the furnace going, a responsibility I considered a great honor. . . . It seemed a good life, but we felt with great expectations. . . . Mother felt assured we could go to college in the city, and Dad believed fervently in the benefits of insurance.
So we moved, and marveled at city life. . . . Generations ago my father's ancestors came from Germany, Mother's grandparents were from Ireland. Nearly everyone we had known were agricultural people. Dad had studied piano and was licensed to teach, but felt it didn't provide an adequate income for a family. Mother had taught elementary grades for years, and both of them felt it was important to prepare for a career, and build on a good education.
In Kalamazoo, I felt quite out of place and became very shy. The parents of classmates seemed very different from my own. Mother was busy raising us five children of whom I was the oldest. Dad's work [selling State Farm insurance] took him into the countryside and I felt neither of them knew anything about this new community. As the oldest of us siblings, I felt lonely indeed. I had to make my own way, but most of the '20s, looking back, were fun. . . . I entered college nearby on a scholarship [Nazareth College, where Jo and Elizabeth also went, as did Peg, Betsy and Micki]." . . .
Mary Ruth, high school graduation. She was 16, I think, so about 1930.
"Jobs were hard to find in the early 1930s. My first teaching job was in New Troy, about fifteen miles west of here [Buchanan]. My hope had been to start a highly social life in the wide world, going from one party to another -- a butterfly. In fact, there was a sign on the one small grocery which acclaimed New Troy Center of the World. There was a small bar also on this two blocks of church, school and house, to which one went to use a telephone. All out of town teachers found board and room in a widow's home. The one man had the best downstairs room and choice of bathroom hours; we three girls were upstairs. No drug store for incidentals and no soda bar for conversing, no bus to get out (of town), no nothing. Sundays I walked two miles to church, got a ride home with Phil Sexton's family. But what fun it turned out, friends made all the difference. And I've danced till two in the morning, to phonograph music in that one building, having a wonderful time. Afternoons, next to the gym and basketball practice, high school boys taught me ping pong, with practice enough to become good at that, and sometimes I passed as one of them. . . .
A group of Catholic young folk from New Buffalo and St. Joseph gathered on weekends to have good times. Someone said 'you should meet Al White, he's been to college,' a rarity in those deep depression days. So one girl [Ruth Mathieu, who was a good friend of Al's sister Teresa] took me to Buchanan late one afternoon. Al worked 2nd shift, as a supervisor, grateful for that opening at Clark Equipment. He was sleeping on the sofa, girls weren't a part of his life then, and he wasn't at all happy to be awakening for a stranger. I certainly wasn't impressed either. Weeks later we met again at a party and he invited me to go ice-skating. Occasionally we dated after that; in the summers he brought a friend and we double dated, very common then."
[Peabody teachers' college offered Mary Ruth a fellowship, so she got her Master's in Early Childhood Education in Nashville, summa cum lade. She taught in Ann Arbor for a year, which she didn't like, and then went to Wakefield in the Upper Peninsula. She continued to date Al, long distance, and when he got a job at Westinghouse in Pittsburgh in October 1939, he proposed, she accepted, and they were married all in the space of a couple of months.]
Mary Ruth skeet shooting with Al -- 1938 or 1939? My personal favorite photo.
Mary Ruth at Lake Michigan, 1939 -- taken by Al.
The wedding, February 3, 1940. Note the snow. Grandma made the dress in about a week. Chick Franklin was the best man, and Elizabeth is the maid of honor.
[From another memoir by Mary Ruth, written in 1994 and focused on her married years] "Westinghouse allowed Al Friday and Monday for travel time, plus the weekend to get married. As we came into the city he stopped at a florist's and bought a lively spring bouquet, blue iris, red tulips and other flowers, so that, as he explained, I wouldn't feel quite so lonesome and lost when he went to work the next day. They did help. . . . The first year of our marriage was one of the happiest of my life and the only one which seemed really free. . . .that first year in Pittsburgh was a wonderful rest. . . ."
The Gibbens siblings, and Rob and Nell -- 1942?
[Still in Pittsburgh] . . ."As civilians we did what we could, and one way was to be thrifty. Even after the depression, we learned new ways. We saved money whenever possible to help our forces overseas. . . .In later years, my brother spoke of their fortuitous experiences abroad, not in direct personal contact with death and dying [I'm not sure what she's referring to, but I think that most of her siblings did see action; maybe they were reluctant to share.] . . . Elizabeth's service was of great value, from the nurses landing in Africa, in Anzio and the in the forefront in France. Her comments now are somewhat ambivalent."
Mary Ruth and Al, in Pittsburgh, late March, 1945, with Jim, Peg, Teri.
[Mary Ruth describes how happy she was in Pittsburgh, and then continues --] "No wonder I cried as we descended in to Buchanan. And cried again, many times. . . . We left [Pittsburgh] with our three youngsters, the baby Joe in the baby basket, and Teddy, a good sized Irish setter on the floor of the backseat. It must still have been about a ten hour trip, much of it in the dark so the children would sleep. . . . It was early February, with intense cold and a blizzard raging. . . [they stayed briefly with Al's parents, two houses away from 116 Clark Street, and soon moved into that house.] . . . The next winter the four children starting about Christmas time has measles . . .were very sick. . . . No sooner had they recovered, they all had the chicken pox, one after another. The new baby was expected at the end of March, and how I did pray they would be over . . . sure enough, the last signs of chicken pox dropped away before Betsy came, April 2."
The Gibbens siblings and Rob and Nell -- 1950?
I think that many of us are in this photo -- it's about 1952?
[Photo missing for the moment.]
The ice rink in the backyard at 116 Clark Street, Buchanan, 1954. Note that everyone is up by the porch -- Mary Ruth has probably brought out hot chocolate, or something wonderful to warm the skaters.
Mary Ruth, Grandpa and Grandma, Jo, Jeanne, Margaret, and Elizabeth with various grandkids, including some of the West Coast Gibbenses--1963?
In Buchanan, Mary Ruth and Al's 25th wedding anniversary -- Mary Ruth, her parents and her siblings. December 1964.
A collection of grandchildren with Rob and Nell, in the late 1960s?
Betsy says 1973. Look at the hair, and Elizabeth, always stylish.
Last photo with Al and Mary Ruth, in the lawn seat at 116 Clark Street -- 1973, we think.
[Al died in March of 1974. Mary Ruth taught for a couple of years after that. In 1976, she left, bought the brown (Chevy?) van, passed the driving test that the boys set for her (drive in rush hour in Chicago), and headed out on her own to drive around the country. From there, she traveled to every continent except Antarctica, as often as possible with her kids, grandkids, and exchange students.]
Mary Ruth and crew in Arosa, Switzerland, summer, 1977.
[Next two photos missing for the moment.]
Elizabeth's 70th -- at Russells' house in Kalamazoo, 1986.
Another one from Elizabeth's 70th, with Steve and Margaret.
Mary Ruth at Portage Glacier, 1987 (those are icebergs in the lake, not actually the glacier).
Mary Ruth's 75th birthday party. 1989.
Those good-looking Gibbens siblings, 1994.
Fishing at "The Swamp," Mary Ruth's lake, 1995.
[I'm going to end this account of Mary Ruth's life here, so it's out in time to celebrate her 100th year. I can continue with photos and stories, and remembrances from all of you, if you'd like to hear more. Teri, May 28, 2014.]