Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Memories of Grandma and Grandpa

This will be the first Thanksgiving I've spent in Bovina since 2002. This brought back memories of my Thanksgivings in Bovina when I was a kid. Other than my folks, the people I connect most with Thanksgiving are my grandparents, Ben and Anna Bell LaFever. By the time I was old enough to know them, they were no longer living in Bovina but had relocated to Northern New York. Most Thanksgivings, however, they came to Bovina to celebrate with their three sons and their families.

My grandparents both had strong Bovina roots through their maternal ancestry. In fact, they were third cousins once removed through their Scottish Miller ancestors. My grandmother was born Anna Bell Barnhart in 1893 in Bovina, the daughter of Jeremy Barnhart and Kate Miller. Grandma grew up on Pink Street and attended the one room school there through the eighth grade. She continued to live at home after leaving school. Her father died in 1916. The following year she was married, not to my grandfather, but to James Calhoun.

My grandmother's first marriage was not to last long. James had been drafted right around the time of his wedding and after about 10 days together, he went off to war, never to return. He was killed in action in October 1918. (See my blog entry for November 11 for more information on this ill-fated marriage.) Anna Bell continued to live with her mother (as she had done during her brief marriage) until she bought her own house (two doors from the one in which I grew up). Around 1921, she found herself being courted by a man seven years her junior, Benson LaFever.

Ben was born in Bovina in 1900, but unlike Anna Bell, he did not spend his entire childhood there. Grandpa's father, Sylvan LaFever, had his roots in Ulster County (as did my grandmother's father). He came to Bovina to work as a hired hand and married into the well established Burns family. Sylvan tried farming in Bovina, but he soon failed, likely a victim of the economic downturn around the turn of the century. The failure happened right around the time of the birth of his first son, Ben. Because Sylvan had lost the farm, Grandpa was born on the Burns farm up Crescent Valley. His family left Bovina not long after his birth, living in Norwich and then near Oneida Lake. In 1908, his mother, Ella Burns LaFever died, likely in childbirth. Grandpa and his brother Clarence were sent to live with their Bovina relations. Grandpa spent several years off and on in Bovina into adulthood.

In 1921, he was working for Wilford Barnhart, brother of Anna Bell Calhoun. This probably is how Grandpa met Grandma and started dating. In May 1923, they were quietly married in the living room of her home, with only a few family members and friends attending. They moved to their farm about a mile from where I grew up in the late 1920s. They had four children, Howard (who passed away in 2005), David (who died at 18 months), Charles (my dad), and George (my one surviving uncle).

I usually saw my grandparents two or three times a year. They would come for Thanksgiving and Christmas and we would usually go up to Massena once a year to see them (they were very successful strawberry farmers). By the time I knew my grandmother, she was in a wheel chair, the effect of her rheumatoid arthritis. Getting her in and out of any house was a bit of a production, but she always took it with good humor. She managed to do a lot in that wheelchair. I don't really remember thinking of her as an invalid. She made beds, fixed meals, and cleaned house, all from that chair, And if you needed a little swat in the rear or a cuff on the ear, she could easily deliver that too. We have a home movie clip that shows her taking a rather hyper little Ray and making him sit down for a photograph!

Thanksgiving 1971 was memorable for all the snow we got - around 20 inches. I had to shovel at my parents and at Russell's Store, where I worked. And I had to shovel a special path so my Grandma could get to their car. It had to be wide enough for her chair and for the people on each side to move it along. At one point, we debated putting skis on the chair! I burned the calories that Thanksgiving.

During Thanksgiving 1974, my grandparents stayed with my Uncle George up on Mountain Brook in Bovina. One of the first drives I made as a licensed driver was to drop in on them. My sister Diane came along and took this picture - the only picture of just me with my grandparents. It's one of my favorites - it has an 'American Gothic' feel.

One of my most vivid and precious memories of my grandparents and their trips to visit at Thanksgiving happened in 1977 and, again, at my Uncle George's. Dad had just been elected Town Supervisor of Bovina. He didn't think his parents had given much thought to his election, but when Dad bent over to greet his mother in her wheel chair, she put out her arms and bursting with pride said 'Hello there Mr. Supervisor.' I was pleased to see that it had indeed been 'on their radar.'

This Thanksgiving was to be their last in Bovina. My grandmother's health prevented any further trips. She passed away in March of 1980 and Grandpa died two years later in 1982. The Thanksgiving smells and tastes always evoke images of my dear old grandparents - Grandma's yummy rolls (which I bake each year) and Gramps sitting with his knife and fork in hand waiting for his piece of pie. Gone but not forgotten.

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