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Long way home

On the way HOME…

Home is where your family is, where your loved ones are, so it seems Florida, where my mother (93) and her cousin Jean (90) and my cousin Bill (81) and his four children Tim, Mimi, Heather and Billy and their children and spouses live and my “baby” sister Julie. I remain the only member of the clan who does not own a piece of the Sunshine State having only been a short-term investor for a home for my mother that didn’t quite work out as planned, but we’ll leave that there for another time.

Jean Montville, who just turned 90, was the primary reason for the Pig Roast/Birthday Celebration this year, for a host of family who turned, 90, 81, 60, and 50 in the only month that does not have either 30 or 31 days, in fact is short of 29 for most years at 28, but Spring being what it is, stirring all those hormones and love-making end up with February babies nine months later remains one of the last two links to a long line of relatives on my mother’s side of the family. Jean’s mother Dorothy, named for her mother Dora was my grandmother Augusta’s sister, hence my mother Joan’s cousin. Dora had six children all together, Augusta (Gussie) being the first followed by Millie, Carl, Dorothy (Dot), Nonnie, and Fred fifteen years later. After a number of decades only the oldest and youngest Gus and Fred were left, Gus my “Nana” made it to 97 allowing Fred to catch up and pass her by four more years leaving us at 101. As they both told family members, “You come from a family of long livers.” My grandmother always adding, “My liver is this long,” gesturing with both hands to further describe the expanse of her internal organ.

Dora left Germany or Austria/Hungary as it was known in the mid 19th Century after her mother died and her father remarried a woman with several daughters who played out the sad tale of the Wicked Stepmother and Evil Step-sisters who made her do all the work, treated her like a slave Cinderella style providing the motivation for her to turn her sites to the new land of America. She boarded a ship at 16, the age my daughter Sade is now, affording only steerage which was displayed in living color in the movie “Titanic”. Music and Dancing aside, the quarters were cramped and unsanitary and as my grandmother described it, “Stunk to high heavens.” According to her story, no doubt family lore from Dora, Steerage passengers didn’t have the opportunity to stop in at one of the elegant dining facilities upstairs, no ice or butter sculptures, or silver and crystal place settings no, they had to bring their own food, mostly “…herring and limburger cheese,” things that wouldn’t spoil, and even if they did there was no way of telling they smelled so bad fresh.

Dora made it through Ellis Island and to the heart of New York City where she joined the large enclave of Germans who preceded her. They directed her to “Castle Gardens” where the wealthy of New York Proper came to find “…a girl or a boy to work their homes. They needed butlers and chambermaids, upstairs servants and downstairs servants.” Apparently the young and pretty fraulein Dora was hired by the wealthy Babbit Soap baron Benjamin Babbit as an upstairs girl. He lived until 1889 and my grandmother Gussie was born in 1885, so she may have worked for the Babbits for many years until my great-grandfather Frederick Shroeter married her and made her an honest woman.

Their first born Augusta, my grandmother had three children who lived, one who did not, only named “Baby Jockers” so little time he spent on this earth. First born to Augusta and Frank Louis Jockers my grandfather and namesake, my Aunt Virginia Bill’s mom. Then Muriel, Aunt Mimi or just Meam, my favorite aunt who gave me unquestionable love from the day I was born to her baby sister Joan and my Dad Glen Robert Miller. And so it goes… Ask yourself this: What have I accomplished in my life? What have I contributed? What legacy do I leave behind when I am gone? Coming from a family of incredible people, high achievers and low, I have miles to go before I sleep. I just hope I have done them all proud that went before me.

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