Strong Woman

Small, but mighty!

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You already met Elizabeth Gertrude Nolan briefly in Valentine. She was born 10 June, 1891, in Smiths Creek, Michigan (west of Port Huron). She was one of 10 children born to Patrick Nolan and Alice Needham–sandwiched right in the middle. I met her at age 88, and knew her only 8 short years. She was the only “grandma” I could lay claim to, since mine died before or just after I was born.

Elizabeth was an itty-bitty thing, Irish through and through, and from what I could tell from the little bit of time I spent with her, pretty feisty. At that time she was living alone in the house at 809 Pingree, in Detroit (it’s still there–Google Map it!), until the dementia that developed in the last few years of her life required her moving to a nursing home, where she could reside safely.

Elizabeth finished the 10th grade. Her father died in 1904, and her mother in 1907. That may have been the event to end her education and propel her to Detroit, working as a governess from 1907-1919. The 1910 census shows her oldest sister, Mary, as the head of household¹ back at the farm, with five of the younger siblings residing with her. I don’t know if Elizabeth sent money back to help with farm expenses, but it’s possible. Living in Detroit no doubt provided the opportunity for her to meet her husband-to-be, Frank, but I don’t know how or where.

He was NOT Irish–rather, Bohemian (a nice catch-all that could include Hungary, Czechoslovakia, that whole region) and some iteration of Germanic (his mother’s maiden name was Schmitt–definitely not Irish!). According to Mike’s mom and aunts, Frank’s parents (Frank and Magdalena) were not particularly happy he was marrying an Irish girl. Consequently their kids did not see much of that side of the family. But when his parents celebrated their 50th anniversary with a big party, the family attended, and Elizabeth made sure the kids all had new outfits (a rarity) for the event. Sue the youngest) had a pink, lacy dress. The occurrence was unusual enough to still be a vivid memory for the girls 60 years later!

Elizabeth had seven children in eleven years; 5 girls and 2 boys. Feeding and clothing that many, especially through the Depression, can’t have been easy. Nevertheless, she managed the children and household, doing the best she could. All the stories I’ve heard of her painted a portrait of a very resourceful woman.

While 1967 may have been “the summer of love” in San Francisco, it wasn’t quite like that in Detroit. Riots were taking place about a mile from the house on Pingree. Elizabeth’s concerned adult children encouraged their parents to pack a couple of bags and come out to one of their houses until the situation settled down. They refused, making for very unhappy children! But they, and their house, survived the unrest.

For all the hard work in her life, she nevertheless knew how to have a good time. Her living room and basement were the site of numerous family gatherings, as evidenced below. I don’t know what holiday this was, in the 1940s or 1950s, but she was certainly living it up! That didn’t really diminish as she aged. The colorful blur in the lower photo (not taken by me!) is her at age 88, dancing the night away with two of her grandsons-in-law–barely keeping up with her.

1950 KUKLER Elizabeth party
Undetermined party–maybe on a New Year’s Eve?
1979 08 Denise wedding
August 1979, Elizabeth Gertrude Nolan Kukler (age 88),  dancing at a granddaughter’s wedding with grandsons-in-law!

Living 6 1/2 hours away, my opportunities to get to know her very well were limited. But never was there any question in my mind of her strength–not necessarily physical (especially in her late 80s and 90s)–but certainly of spirit. Hopefully some of that has passed down to my daughter and granddaughter (her great- and great-great-granddaughters)!

¹1910 U.S. census, population schedule, Michigan, St. Clair, Wales Township, e.d. 125; sheet 10B; dwelling number 226; family number 229; line 74; Mary NOLAN household; accessed 5 March 2018. Mary NOLAN, age 25; NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 673; digital image, Ancestry.com.

#52Ancestors

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