Friday, November 2, 2012

Elizabeth Comes of Age

Uncovering a grandparent's early life is not an easy job. Things are much easier, of course, in this age of the Internet and that of genealogy enthusiasts. Still, the best source of information is the individual, but when that individual is reticent about sharing their life story, which is often the case, or worse, already passed on, gathering the pieces of the life puzzle is challenging to say the least, but exhilarating at best.

Elizabeth Wlkelinski was born in the mining town of Horning, Pennsylvania; a community near present-day Pittsburgh.  I seem to recollect that her father may have worked in the coal mines or at least in some capacity in that industry.  I do recall hearing that he was a bootlegger; transporting liquor during the Prohibition era.  At some point in time the family, including young Elizabeth, moved to Erie County, New York.  Before moving into a home in the city, the family lived on a farm in Lancaster, NY. 

Little is known on my part of her young womanhood years.

This picture shows her in the company of an unknown young man; maybe he's a friend, perhaps he is one of her brothers.

At some point in time Elizabeth met and eventually married Frederick Oberlander.  Fred came from a German family that immigrated to New York with several members settling in Onondaga, New York. 
Portrait of my grandfather, Frederick Oberlander

Fred had been married before his marriage to Elizabeth and with him came two children: Fred, Jr. and Olive. 

Elizabeth and Fred started their own large family with the birth of Patricia, also known as Patsy and Pat, in 1932.  Patsy would be joined by nine other brothers and sisters. 

Elizabeth and possibly infant Pat.
The farming life must have suited my grandmother and her husband as they purchased a 65-acre farm in Corfu, a community approximately 30 miles west of Buffalo. 

The farmhouse as I remember it.

I asked a lot of questions of my grandmother and sometimes she was in the mood to share. One story that I find so poignant and fascinating is her recollection of going to the family doctor and finding out she was once again pregnant.  She told me she asked the doctor, “How is this happening?”  This story by today’s standards might seem unrealistic, but I am pretty sure my grandmother’s telling of it rings true.  After all, she shared a couple of her own how-not-to-get-pregnant remedies with me: take a hot bath after intercourse and douche with vinegar.  Whether or not she tried these methods herself is up for debate; she did, after all, have ten children.

Discussing personal hygiene was not a comfortable topic in our home.  She was my grandmother, two generations removed from me and I did not learn the things I needed from her, but in my health class at school.  In fact, topics of sex were so taboo in our home I recall being shamed when I asked, after having seen a television advertisement, “What’s a tampon?”  Her strained response was, “Those are only for married women.  And never ask me a question like that again!”

But, based on these few precious photos I have of her in her youth, I believe Elizabeth was a fun-loving, curious woman who was a product of her time.  I know that every now and then during my time with her, she had a wicked sense of humor and knew how to have fun. 

"Lil" was my grandmother's nickname

No comments: