When We Were Young

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When I look through Victorian era photos of my grandmothers, I am in awe of what deeply joyful girls they were and what strong women they became.  At times, I find myself imagining how they must have been as children or as teenagers.  It’s clear from family stories and old photos that they both enjoyed laughter and were deeply loyal to friends and family.

Both my grandmothers fell in love, knew heartbreak and loss, raised children in times of economic challenge, and all while serving their churches, their parents and their communities.  So many relied upon them, so many friends loved them, so many memories and personal sacrifices were ultimately gifted to their grandchildren.

My father’s mother, Urilda, experienced the meteoric rise to economic prosperity of her father’s business ventures.  Born to a farming family that tinkered away on creating new types of farm equipment, her father (Frederick Ingersoll) was a natural mechanical engineer and designed roller coasters for 19th century amusement parks known as Luna Parks. He ultimately designed and was invested in several of them, and they practically lived at Krug Park, the gem of Frederick’s Luna parks in Omaha.

Urilda Augusta Ingersoll

Urilda as a Young Woman

Sepia photographs of Urilda capture a childhood of visits to the family farm as well as life in a manor house, private girls school and European tour.  She was an amazing pianist and studied in both France and Germany.  Along the way she met and fell in love with an itinerant artist, Clarence Wilbur Taber, Jr., the spoiled son of the creator of the Taber’s Medical encyclopedia.  From the letters I have between Urilda and CW, it was a complicated love affair with a man who seemed utterly unable to commit or be responsible for any of his actions and choices.  Ultimately, he wandered away from two wives (Urilda was the second), each with a set of children. At one point, Urilda mothered both her own two sons by him as well as three stepchildren, supporting Clarence (as absent as ever) through the loss of his young daughter.

Susan, Katie, Fred and Urilda - Krug Park, MI

Susan, Katie, Fred and Urilda – Krug Park, Omaha, NE

With the stock market crash and unexpected death of her father, most of the Luna Parks went bust as investors pulled out or simply went broke.  Two years after Frederick’s death, a horrific roller coaster accident killed several riders at Krug Park.  Any residual income that Urilda had, along with her sister (Susan) and mother (Katie), dried up completely as part of court settlements.  The three women moved to Atlantic City, where Urilda and Susan were employed as factory workers for the Heinz Company (makers of fine ketchup, mustard and pickles).  To tide them over, any remaining family finery of furs, silver and jewelry were gradually sold off to keep the women and Urilda’s two toddler-age sons fed, clothed and housed.

Cousin Emma, Urilda, Susan with James and Julian - Atlantic City

Cousin Emma, Urilda, Susan with James and Julian – Atlantic City

Bob, Hope & Scott Taber

Bob, Hope and Scott Taber

My mother’s mother story was also influenced by both farm life and the rising industrialism and innovation indicative of American life at the turn of the 20th century.  Reba, my grandmother, was the oldest daughter of three girls (along with Bunchie and Margie) born to Effie.  Shortly after her own mother died, Effie herself ran away from home to live with cousins as a child abused by an unhappy stepmother.  Even Effie’s father agreed it was the right move to make on her part.  So, Effie grew up on a farm in rural Pennsylvania and fell in love with one of those cousins, Walter.

By all accounts an intelligent and quiet man who loved to walk for miles at a time, Walter became an engineer with the Pennsylvania Railroad.  Considered a hot ticket similar to being a jet pilot of his day, Walter managed to remain humble and practical.  He often took his young daughter, Reba, with him on certain rail trips.  She recounted to me fondly how she once was with him when they rounded the famous Horseshoe Curve, a maneuver that allowed a view of the whole train at once, with the workers in the caboose waving at her from across the gorge while she sat in her father’s lap in the engine.

Horseshoe Curve

Horseshoe Curve

During a time when women did not have many career options, the three choices for employment outside of the home were to work as a nurse, a teacher or a secretary. As a young woman, Reba felt a strong pull to become a deaconess in her Lutheran tradition.  However, as the oldest daughter, she knew that her parents were depending on her to care for them in their old age.  So, instead of pursuing vocation, Reba became a teacher.

In high school, Reba’s red hair, beauty, smarts and good humor made her very popular, and (her children share with pride) she even dated the captain of the football team.  However, her heart was ultimately won over by a transplanted Canadian who worked as an engineer for Westinghouse.

There were few men that Reba ever really spoke well of. Her father and her beloved Cecil (her husband) were two of them.  As a couple, Reba and Cecil were extremely involved with their church.  They both taught Sunday school, Cecil coached wrestling at the local high school, and Reba wrote 4rth-grade reading level how-to books for unwed mothers on how to care for their babies.

They had two daughters, Patty and Lisa (short for Elizabeth) fifteen years apart.  The long hiatus between children is attributed to the years when Cecil cared for his stepmother.  The family memory is that Cecil felt a deep debt of gratitude towards his step mother for rescuing him, his brother (Howard) and their father from their father’s alcoholism after the death of Cecil’s mother. After his father died, Cecil took it on himself to help support his step mother, who apparently had little regard for Reba.  This would explain why the stepmother wasn’t taken into Reba’s home.  Subsequently, during the intervening fifteen years his stepmother remained alive, Cecil lived during the week with her and spent the weekends at home with Reba.  When his stepmother died, he moved back with his wife permanently, and voilà! A second child came along.

Alexander Family

Reba, Patty, Cecil, Lisa

Sadly, Cecil’s brother – a fireman for the Canadian Railway – died tragically in a head-on collision with another train.  The newspaper article carefully tucked away among treasured family items reports that Howard was pinned for several hours, alive in the wreckage, until a doctor could reach him to perform an amputation of his leg.  The effort was far too late, and Howard died before he could be brought back to town.  I believe that a ring I have of the fraternal order of Canadian Railway firemen belongs to him – the loop of it is dented and the crest shows the tender signs of regular wear.  It must have been returned to the family when Howard’s body came home to Ailsa Craig, Ontario.

After Cecil died suddenly at the age of 56, Reba kept her promise of taking care of her parents and never remarried.

Reba and LaVene

Reba and Patty

Reba’s eldest daughter, Patty (my mother), was raised within the breadth of expectations that a teacher and dedicated Lutheran Christian woman might have for her daughter.  In other words, my mother lived with a certain pressure that could rightly be characterized as simultaneously attempting to achieve perfection in all things while also greatly resenting the pressure to attempt to achieve perfection in all things.

My mother was a straight-A student and mightily excelled in her artistic and musical talents.  She desperately wanted to pursue a career in theater and arts, but (based on what my mother shared with me in later years) Reba felt that education and marriage assured greater security.  I also suspect that Reba’s own sense of familial and Christian responsibility generated a certain fear in my mother of never wanting to be perceived as selfish. As a result, my mother rarely bought anything for herself but enjoyed vicarious joy in being generously gifting towards her family.  Growing up, I was frequently perplexed by my mother’s quiet battle of guilt whenever she felt very attached to something – a car, a coat, a sewing room, a home decoration.  When I once gifted her with a art deco doll that I knew she adored, she was very concerned that my father would be angry since he had criticized her for wanting to spend money on such a frivolous thing.  I’m not sure he realized how acutely skilled he could be in pushing her skillfully hidden childhood buttons.

Don, Julian, Patty, Geoff, Margie & Goldie, Ocean City

Julian, Patty, Aunt Margie & Lisa with Don and Geoff – Ocean City

Like her father, my mother also died suddenly at the age of 56.  My father (Julian), with whom she raised 3 children (Don, Geoff and me), was genuinely and desperately heart broken.  For a man who spent much of his life trying not to rely on others (given the childhood experience of an absent father) and doing everything possible to keep others (even his own children) at a certain emotional distance, the loss of my mother just about broke his spirit.

Between the loss of his wife, one of the few people he ever trusted with his own vulnerabilities, and his open-heart surgery a few years later, my father at last began to mellow under the tenderizing hammer of life as he entered his seventies. Once there, he turned again to his own artistic side – oil painting, writing poetry and short stories, and playing the recorder and the keyboard, things he had done in his early adulthood but had put away during years of career building and child rearing.

Urilda Taber with sons, Julian & James, Atlantic City

Urilda with Julian and James – Atlantic City

My father died a month short of his 80th birthday.  It was a swift death and – I believe – painless.  He was as surprised as I was, which I can say with certainty because I was with him.

He told me that when I was born, the nice Jewish obstetrician brought me to him in the waiting room and handed me into my father’s arms saying, “Mazel tov, Mr. Taber! You have a beautiful baby girl!”

My father took one look at my reddened face still mooshed from childbirth and said, “What is it, and what am I supposed to do with it?”

I think my father spent a lifetime trying to answer that question.  To our mutual credit and wisdom, it was a journey we ultimately took together.

Not long ago, when my husband (Nigel) and I were traveling in Ireland, I heard a song on the radio by the British group, Take That. The song is called, “When We Were Young,” and every time I hear it I see visions of my own youth welling up in my memory like the font of some inner pool of life:

Had the world by the tail,
Good would prevail,
Starships would sail
And none of us would fail in this life
Not when you’re young
We were drawn to whoever
Could keep us together
And bound by the heavens above
And we tried to survive
Traveling at the speed of love

To see the music video of this song, check this out –

These lyrics securely draw together the treasure of my own youth like the pull strings of a cinch purse.  I have loved being alive.  I have not always loved everything that has ever happened to me, but I have ultimately loved being alive.  However, this is only because I have had the experience of loving others and being loved…

Cousins Reunion 2010

Our “Cousins Reunion” of 2010
Me, Walter, Don, Paul and Geoff

Other family members, grandmothers, aunts and uncles, parents, my brothers, high school and college friends, kindred spirits, boy friends that dumped me, boy friends that I dumped, and finally the man who is my husband of twenty years.  I’ve loved sweet spiritual companions who were disguised as cats or dogs, landscapes, starlight and moon rises over water.  I love the ethereal that is God and the mortal human that inspired a love movement who had the courage to name and claim the responsibility of a life fully lived for the purpose of love.

SUNY at Geneseo, 25th College Reunion
Drama/Music/Dance

When I look through Victorian era photos of my grandmothers, I am in awe of what deeply joyful girls they were and what strong women they became.  At times, I find myself imagining how they must have been as children or as teenagers.  It’s clear from family stories and old photos that they both enjoyed laughter and were deeply loyal to friends and family.

When I look through the photos of my own youth, I don’t have to imagine.  I remember.  And I am so grateful for all the love that I have ever known.  It is a blessed heritage of all the ages past, even of all the ages of one’s life.

In Production of “Hold Me” c. 1985

SUNY Geneseo

Loved Always and Forever – Geneseo

Becky Clark
Sister Spirit

Skyping Nigel – Husbunny of 20 Years

7 thoughts on “When We Were Young

  1. Love this post (read it twice), love the song, love this:

    “I have ultimately loved being alive…… because I have had the experience of loving others…”

    Life is rich. : )

  2. Rachel,
    what a lovely story! I’ve often wanted to know about the smily members you’ve referred to in sermons and conversation. you were born to entrain, i think..in words, in person, on stage and in print…and to teach love. Thank you.

  3. Dear Rachel … My sister, Joan directed me to this posting. Thanks so much for the photograph of Bob, Scott, and Hope when they were very young. I was just going through old photographs of Bill Taber’s and there are many of Urilda, James, and Julian, and even Bill with them. Of course, I must get copies to you. Let me know how to do this. Cheers, Cousin Judith in Manhattan.

  4. Hello Rachel, thank you for your wonderful story. I work at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh and I’m researching and writing about Pittsburgh’s Luna Park and of course the Ingersolls. Little is known about the family or their company, so I was glad to read about Frederick’s descendants. I hope we can talk more about him if you’d be so kind. (I’m also really enjoying your Tolkien post and need to reread it a few more times to digest it all!) Sincerely, Brian

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