Sometimes the most impressive lives bear unspeakable sorrow but the story is told with a glow of perseverance, or simply never told at all.
— Margaret Allenwood, 1902
(See Part I)
Anna Chloe spent her life with a steely determination to accomplish farm and house work. Her somber presence stood in stark contrast to the joyful personality of her husband, Charlie, who saw a good-natured practical joke in nearly every facet of life, just the thought of which made his bright blue eyes sparkle with glee.
When I asked one of Charlie’s contemporaries, a woman who lived to 100, to tell me a bit about my great-grandparents, she brightened as she said, “Oh that Charlie! He was a good one!
She shared dozens of examples of how Charlie had been the life of the party, and every day was a party if he was involved.
A life filled to the brim with sorrow could have worn him down, but instead he chose to lift everyone up.
His parents, William and Laura, had started out together in an Ohio brick farmhouse, once part of the underground railroad. Their firstborn, a beautiful girl named Addie Caroline, was born in 1882, followed by my great-grandfather, John Carl, forever known as Charlie, in 1884.
Early in 1889, a businessman from Pittsburgh visited the family to propose a trade of his builder’s supply shop in Pittsburgh in exchange for their 150 acres in Ohio. The family packed all their worldly possessions, boarded the train, and began life in the city, living near William’s parents, German immigrants who adored their grandchildren.
William’s business sold cement, stone, plaster and other items, using several teams of horses to make deliveries to builders. The business and the family prospered. William was able to purchase the Ohio farm and home of Laura’s parents, building a cottage for summer visits there.
While the family mourned the passing of an 8-month-old baby girl to cholera, their strong faith helped them to accept this loss, and they became involved in their Pittsburgh community.
Addie was blessed with a beautiful singing voice and sang with her father and brother in church and other events. Addie and Charlie sang duets for their grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Joy and laughter was abundant.
In 1895, a typhoid fever epidemic swept through Pittsburgh.The parents’ concern turned to despair as their beautiful daughter fell ill. The beloved 13-year-old, described by her father as “dear as life itself,” died in December of that year.
Though a fifth baby boy was born three months later, and a thriving business needed his attention, William seemed unable to bear this sorrow. His father died a few months after Addie’s death, and William died a year later at age 38.
Charlie was 12, and firmly believed his father died of a broken heart. The family lost the once-prosperous business, and the two oldest boys were sent back to Ohio with an uncle who had attended the Pittsburgh funeral, earning their keep by working on his farm.
Charlie had lost his cherished sister, his dear grandpa, and his father, and was sent away from his mother and the life they had built.
Their mother would later join them, bringing the caskets of her husband and Addie along on the west-bound train. She planned the Christian re-burial near the Ohio farm William and Laura had purchased when times were good.
Struggling to survive, with five very young, city-raised sons attempting to learn how to farm with unfamiliar horses, Laura was overwhelmed.
Within a year, this young mother had to set sentiment aside as she parted with this farm and home which meant so much, purchasing a seven-acre plot nearby.
Charlie and Harry were able to help their mother thrive with enough produce to eat and some to sell, one dairy cow, several chickens and a pair of work horses to accomplish it all.
This began Charlie’s life-long love of horses paired with his determination to prevail.