Sunday, November 2, 2008

My Great Aunt Betty

How do you possibly thank someone who opens up his or her heart to you without expecting anything in return? How do you explain the instant bonds that are formed among strangers when they share an extraordinary experience? What is the value of information that will never make the history books but answers long-standing questions about your personal history? These are the questions that swirl through my mind when I consider the connections just recently made with my Great Aunt Betty Osborne and her children Judy, Jeanne and David.

Aunt Betty is my father’s aunt. She was married to my paternal grandmother’s brother, Joe Osborne. Betty and Joe met while in college and their young marriage survived the separation of military service during World War II. After Joe’s release from a military hospital in Texas, the family moved to Nitro, West Virginia and raised their three children. It wasn’t until recently that Betty moved from Nitro to be near her daughter Jeanne in Missouri. She is a vibrant 88 years young with a very sharp memory.

To tell the truth, I hadn’t heard much about Aunt Betty and her family until these past few weeks. I don’t think we’ve ever met. But I do know that my grandmother, Ruth Osborne, and her younger brother, Joe, were very close throughout their lives. They visited often as adults and ensured their children knew each other well. My dad has fond memories of his cousins, aunt and uncle. Yet now, although still technically strangers, Betty and I share a common vision. We both desire to preserve the family’s history and we are working toward that goal. She is the link to a generation of people whose memorable moments have remained slightly elusive to this day. This blog brought Betty and me together; we will continue to use is as a forum to safeguard our shared vision.

Recently, I sent Betty a series of questions that highlight her own family’s genealogical data. As I told her, it is important for me to understand a bit of her life story before I delve into her interactions with the Osborne family. I also included several writing prompts to spur specific memories of the Osborne’s. My dad helped facilitate these prompts.

Evidently, Betty was ready to write. Within a few days, she had written answers for every question and promised more in the near future. Her insights into the lives of the Osborne family members are particularly valuable as there is very little documentation that exists today. As an example, no one is really sure of the name of Ruth and Joe’s grandmother. It is one of the greatest mysteries of my short genealogical career. Possibly, with Betty’s help, it will be solved.

It is with extreme gratitude to Betty and her children (who continue to send me wonderful family photos to add to my collection) that I can publish the writing prompts and recollections here.
1. When I first met Joe through a college friend from New york, we went to a Sunday supper at the Methodist church in Buckhannon, W. Va. After the church service, Joe walked me back to the dorm. 'The rest is history!!!' We were happily a couple for over 50 years.

2. Joe and I got married on Saturday, January 14, 1939. Joe knew he had to leave college at mid-term (after his father had his stroke). We went to Oakland, Maryland to be married. He and a friend had made a trip to Maryland to get the license three days before the 14th. Addy and Phyllis McKown made the trip to Maryland with us thru a snow storm. Had to keep our marriage a secret because I couldn't live in the college dorm if I was married. Joe lived in a boarding house until the end of the semester and then went home to Plymouth.

3. My first impression of Joe's parents was : Met the senior Osbornes in March of 1939. When I was in Charleston on spring break at my college roommates home, Joe had gotten a job with Monsanto. Took me to meet his parents at that time. Mr. Osborne was in a wheel chair (he was very pleasant). Mrs. Osborne was not quite as receptive. They knew that we were married, but I did not. (Now I know she was concerned about their circumstances - and about help Joe could provide.)

4. Joe remembered his father as: Always thought Joe had great respect for his father. Really didn't talk too much about his parents.

5. Joe remembers his mother as: Great respect for his mother - helped her in anyway he could. Talked about errands he helped her with, chores about the house. The years after she and Dorse moved to Bancroft he visited weekly and after the war, when we had no car, would go by Greyhound bus for a visit. Approximately about 15 miles from Nitro.

6. Joe's siblings were: Macel and Lesa (half sisters). John, Edward, Gilbert, Ruth, Harry Clay, Dorse and Joe. (Harry Clay died Nov. 5, 1918) before Joe was born. Died from the flu epidemic of 1918.

7. Joe's overall relationship with his family was : Kept in close touch. Visiting often with Ruth and family in Wheeling; John and Gilbert in Roanoke, Ed, Lesa and Macel in Charleston.

8. A memory of Joe's childhood that he shared with me was: As a boy scout - his troop was to attend a church service - he was concerned about his shoes and asked to go get new ones. His mother nixed the idea, but his father took him to get his new shoes!

9. My favorite memory of Anna Osborne is : When Anna was living with us during her last years, she would express concern why Ruth wouldn't come home instead of living with 'that man' in Wheeling.

10. Dorse was special because: He really was special under such dire circumstances - Being crippled and hard to communicate. He was always cheerful. His last years in Bancroft he enjoyed walking to the local post office to get the mail and greeting he would get from the people he would meet. He looked forward to the church services at the local Baptist church. His hobby was collecting match book folders and received many from relatives and friends. Enjoyed listening to the radio and the last year of his life watching TV. They went without a TV for a long time because Anna was afraid that their assistance from Social Services would be put off. The family finally bought them a TV. (Badly crippled from a type of meningitis - 1917 era) Was always special and well cared for by family.

11. During the WWII years, the Osborne family: Joe was drafted in the Army- trained in Texas -served in Germany in the infantry - wounded and returned to a hospital in Texas - injuries slight, Thank goodness. Meanwhile, Judy and I went to Charleston to live with Paul Engle (Macel's husband) and his infant daughter Sara Jane. Joe's half-sister Macel Engle had just given birth to Sara Jane. Macel died in childbirth - a shock to all the family - Paul had Sara Jane in a childcare home, so I volunteered to move to Charleston to care for Sara Jane. This helped Judy and I, too - as I couldn't afford to stay in our house at the time. I believe the Army pay was $100 a month!!!We 'lived together' for a period of three years 'til Joe was released from the Army Hospital in Texas. We then moved back to Nitro. Lesa and lee Johnson then took care of Sara Jane until Paul re-married.
12. My children regard Abe and Ruth : 'My Kids' loved Ruth and Abe. Visited them more than the Aunts and Uncles from Virginia, but really always enjoyed our extended family.

13. My best memory of Wheeling is: One visit in the early years '40's we went to a park in Wheeling in the evening - enjoyed dancing to a live orchestra! Also on a few visits we played golf.

14. The last time I was with Ruth: Really can't remember the last time I was with Ruth. I do remember the terrible feeling Joe and I both had hearing about her death. She and Abe had both come to Charleston when Joe had his first aneurysm surgery in 1975. Joe came home from work when he got the news and sat out on the back steps and cried. They were very close.

For now, Betty Osborne and I remain email correspondents. We will continue to exchange our stories using available technology until we meet in person. I truly hope this will be soon. Every bit of information provided here is a launching pad for new investigations and there is still so much to learn from each other.

So Betty, until next time...thank you for opening up your heart and mind to me during the past few weeks. I feel this experience has brought the Osborne's and the Martin's closer together with a shared vision for the preservation of the family's history. This little blog has certainly worked its magic once again. Your insights are truly remarkable and are now preserved for every future generation to behold. My gratitude is boundless.

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