Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wedding Wednesday: Uncle Dutch's Secret Marriage

You think you know all there is to know about a family member, and then the secrets start pouring out... I always knew that my Great Uncle Dutch (Grandpa John's older brother, Raymond) had been married to his wife, Helen Prowse, until his horrible death in 1954. What I didn't know is that he had been married once previously. Apparently, none of his friends and family knew, either, until after Dutch and his first wife Olive (Ollie) Frager, had already been married for a year!

This little news nugget in the July 19, 1934, edition of the Hayward Daily Review, tells the story:

Here's what the article says:
'Dutch' Bartram Wed To Pleasanton Girl
The marriage of Ray "Dutch" Bartram, employed by the Rowell ranch in Dublin canyon, to Miss Ollie Frager of Pleasanton, was revealed recently to their many friends. The young couple have been married over a year, which fact they have kept secret for some time. They were married at Fallon, Nev.
Miss Frager is a popular school teacher in Pleasanton, and is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Frager.
Ray Bartram is the son of Mrs. Alice Bartram of Richmond, and is quite well known in this community as a rodeo performer. The young couple are making their home in Pleasanton.
Uncle Raymond "Dutch" Bartram
and his sister, my Aunt Grace
My guess is that Ollie and Dutch met while rodeoing together. I've seen both of them mentioned as winners in the various rodeos around the area. Ollie and my Aunt Grace Bartram are also mentioned as friends in various news accounts. I wonder why Uncle Dutch and Ollie kept their secret for so long?

In any case, theirs seemed to be a short-lived romance: By July 1937, the Reno Evening Gazette shows that Ollie had filed for divorce against Uncle Dutch. Uncle Dutch and Aunt Helen (Prowse) subsequently applied for their marriage license in Reno in July 1943.

On a side note, Ollie isn't the only Frager to have married into the Bartram family: my Great Aunt Mildred (Millie) Bartram (another of Grandpa John's many sisters) married Manuel Frager, who I believe was a cousin to Ollie.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Happy 102nd Birthday to Grandpa John Bartram!

Today would have been my beloved Grandpa John's 102nd birthday! Grandpa always liked a good celebration, so I think I'll have a drink in his honor tonight. Meanwhile, here's the blog post I wrote two years ago for his 100th birthday. Enjoy!

If you've been following my posts, you know that I have a huge soft spot for my maternal grandpa, John Bartram. Today would have been Grandpa John's 100th birthday, so I'm dedicating this blog post to him.

I've already written about Grandpa's rodeo exploits and his knack for telling tall tales. Here's a little bit more about his life. John Bartram was born on April 4, 1911, in Allen, Kansas, to Joseph and Alice Veale Bartram. He was the fourth youngest of 17 (!!) kids. He and his siblings grew up on his father's farm, and he left school after third grade to help out with the necessary chores that kept this large ranching family alive, including farm work, carpentry and horse shoeing.

Grandpa had the adventurous spirit that was so prevalent in many of my ancestors. In 1924, at the young age of 13 years old, he made his first trip to California, hopping a west-bound freight. He stayed here for one year, working on ranches in the Clearlake area, before heading back home to Kansas. He again returned to California in around 1927 at the age of 16 (again riding a westbound freight train), and this time he stayed for good. He landed a job at the Rowell Ranch in Dublin Canyon (between Hayward and Dublin) where his brother, Dutch, was working as ranch foreman. He worked at the Rowell Ranch until the early 1950s.

Riding in a parade at the
1939 World's Fair in San Francisco
In 1932, Grandpa began his career as a professional rodeo performer, competing in rodeos all over the west for over 20 years. He bulldogged and roped steers and rode broncs and bulls. He joined rodeo greats Johnny and Frank Schneider and Joe Berl to make up the American team of rodeo riders sent to the World Games in Australia in 1936, where they competed against cowboys from Russia, Australia and other countries. He also participated in the rodeo portion of the World’s Fair in 1939 in San Francisco. This was a dangerous sport, but he competed with gusto. At one rodeo, Grandpa was bucked off a bull and broke his back.  He recovered and continued his rodeo career, but the injury stayed with him through his life.

In 1936, Grandpa met a pretty little rodeo queen at the Livermore Rodeo: my grandmother, Donna Madsen. They fell in love and were married in Reno, Nevada, on March 26, 1938. Grandma and Grandpa had four children: Clinton James, Brenda Rae, Rebecca Elizabeth (my mom); and Clay John. In 1959, Donna and John were involved in a terrible automobile accident which left my grandma brain damaged. She passed away in 1966, leaving Grandpa John to care for the family.

Back: Uncle Jim, Aunt Brenda, Mom (Becky)
Front: Uncle Clay, Grandma Donna, Grandpa John
L-R: Uncle Jim, Aunt Brenda, Grandpa John, Mom, Uncle Clay
As a grandfather, he was wonderful to all eight of his grandchildren. He was loving and attentive, and seemed to enjoy spending time with us. We probably didn't realize it at the time, but my sister, Cindy, and I were fortunate that Grandpa lived with us for part of our childhood. Here are some of my memories of growing up with Grandpa John:
  • His tall tales and songs. I've already written about his story of the buzzards who hoisted him out of a dry well. There were plenty of other stories and songs, including some that I can't repeat in polite company... 
  • He never lacked a ride! Grandpa was an alcoholic and we eventually had to take his drivers license away from him. It didn't slow him down, though. Whenever he wanted a six-pack of his favorite beer (Olympia), he'd saddle up his horse and ride a few miles down the road to the local country store. He didn't even need to dismount since the storekeeper would come out with his beer, take his money and then come back out with his change. Then, he and his horse would ride back up the hill and he'd enjoy a nice cold brew out on the porch. 
  • His short-lived excitement at me getting my own drivers license. At first, Grandpa was tickled about me getting my license because it meant I could take him into town for more affordable beer. I wasn't so excited about getting this chore, though, so I made the poor guy suffer it by taking him on joy rides and watching his knuckles turn white with every turn. When I moved away to college, Cindy continued the joy rides with Grandpa (including one infamous ride that entailed running over chickens, which he never really got over).
  • His wake-up calls. I'm not a morning person, but Cindy and I raised sheep in 4-H, which meant we had to get up early each day to feed them. Grandpa made sure we were up every morning to take care of our sheep, and usually had to resort to tearing my bedclothes clear off of me in order to do the trick.
  • He called me Wendower -- not sure why!
  • His pride in us kids. Grandpa didn't get to finish school, so he was proud of us kids and encouraged us to succeed. He helped us when he could, especially with our 4-H endeavors, and cheered us on in everything else.  
Grandpa John and his girls!
Grandpa John passed away on August 15, 1987. He had suffered for years from the effects of alcoholism, emphysema and, finally, lung cancer (not to mention a broken heart from losing his Donna). He was a strong guy with a strong heart, though, and fought these diseases for far longer than anyone expected he could. It was still quite a blow to all of us when we lost him. As I think of Grandpa John on this 100th anniversary of his birth, I'm happy to remember his warmth, humor, resilience and love. Happy Birthday, Grandpa John!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Talented Tuesday: Great Aunt Grace Bartram Bags the First Deer of the Season!

I come from a family of deer hunters on both my Bartram and Brittain sides. I remember well the beginning of deer season when I was growing up. My dad, uncles, grandfathers, etc. would all get ready to head up to Kennedy Meadows in the Sierra mountains, and we'd all wonder what they were going to come back with: hopefully enough deer for Uncle Jimmy to make some of his amazingly delicious deer jerky. Oh, how I miss that jerky...

While I'd always heard the hunting stories of the men in my clan (some of them tall tales, I'm sure), I had no idea that at least one of my female relatives was quite the shot, herself. Since I've subscribe to a couple of the online newspaper archives that are out there, I'm finding out all sorts of fun things about my family. Here's an August 2, 1932, Oakland Tribune newspaper article that tells the story of my great Aunt Grace (1913-1975, and Grandpa John's sister) bagging the very first deer of the season!
That's Aunt Grace on the left, with Elizabeth Rowell on the right
 The article is a bit hard to read, so here's what it says:
(Caption under the photo: It took two girl hunters to bag the first deer of the season in the Livermore hills. One shot from the rifle of Miss Grace Bartram (left), of Castro Valley, and this three-point, 180-pound buck was downed. Miss Bartram was accompanied on her first hunt by Miss Elizabeth Rowell, also of Castro Valley. -- Wallace photo)
Hayward, Aug. 2 -- Her first shot in the first hunt brought Miss Grace Bartram, 21, Castro Valley girl, the first deer of the season. 
Just two hours after California's 1932 deer season officially opened yesterday, Miss Bartram and Miss Elizabeth Rowell, 18, also of Castro Valley, ran across a three-point buck in the Livermore hills near Sunol.
One shot from Miss Bartram's rifle and the first deer of the Livermore hills, one of the state's principal hunting sections, was bagged.
Miss Bartram said it was the first time she had ever been deer hunting. She confessed to a slight case of "buck fever" after the the animal was downed, but today was back in the hills with Miss Rowell again on the hunt.
Taken to Don Harder's sports emporium here, Miss Bartram's deer was found to weigh in excess of 180 pounds. She won the Harder cup for the first deer bagged in this section.
Not bad for her first shot of her first hunt on the first day of deer season!!  

Monday, April 1, 2013

Revisited: Happy Birthday, Grandma Edith!!

Today would have been my Grandma Edith's 93rd birthday. Here's the post I wrote two years ago to celebrate this wonderful lady's birth!

Edith Vivian Hunt
b. April 1, 1920

My paternal grandmother, Edith Vivian Hunt Brittain, was born on this date, April 1, in 1920. And she was no fool! Since I've been following in Grandma Edith's genealogy footsteps, I'd like to take a moment to honor her memory.

Edith Vivian Hunt was born in Slick, Creek County, Oklahoma to James William "Earl" Hunt and Ethel Modina Martindale Hunt. She was the older sister to Edgar James "Bud" Hunt and George Lee Hunt. She grew up in Oklahoma, and that's where she married my grandfather, Woodie Leroy Brittain, on August 18, 1938. They then moved to California shortly after that, settling in Hayward. There, Grandma and Grandpa had one son: my dad, William Lee Brittain, on October 28, 1942.

Grandma and Grandpa stayed in the East Bay Area, eventually moving to Livermore. This is where my sister, Cindy, and I spent most of our time with Grandma Edith, and where our fond memories of her live. Grandma Edith was a wonderful grandmother! She was a bit childlike, herself, so she had no problem keeping up with Cindy and me, and seemed to love playing with us for hours on end. Here are some of my dearest memories of spending time with Grandma Edith:
  • There was a pond near their house in the Springtown neighborhood of Livermore, California. Grandma would save up the ends of her bread loaves until Cindy and I came to visit. Then, we'd walk over to the pond and feed the ducks. If we were lucky, Grandma would let us walk across the street to the 7-11 and get a Slurpee and some candy!
  • Grandma loved board games and often played Chinese Checkers and Monopoly with us. The Monopoly games were often marathon events, but Grandma had endless patience (and/or stamina!) and usually stuck with us to the end of each game. 
  • Grandma Edith and I shared a love of black licorice. One of our favorite things to do was to buy a pack of the really long, skinny licorice strings and unfurl it. Then, each of us would take an end and start nibbling until we met in the middle with a sweet kiss. 
  • Grandma's southern cooking! Oh, she made the best fried chicken and pecan pie and homemade biscuits and... Everything she made was wonderful. She also liked to fry her eggs in about an inch of bacon fat (I know -- could have had something to do with the hardening of the arteries she eventually suffered from). She was also great at letting Cindy and me "help" in the kitchen, and she often let me sneak sips of her coffee when Mom wasn't looking. 
  • Her passion for genealogy. Grandma spent hours researching Grandpa Woodie's and her family histories. This was long before personal computers and the Internet. Grandma did it "old school style." I remember sitting with her while she read letters from cousins (near and distant) comparing notes on their research and answering questions for one another. I loved hearing about her regular trips to Oklahoma to visit her family there. I'm indebted to Grandma Edith for her dedication and hard work on our family tree, and for planting the genealogy seed that eventually grew in me.

Grandma was also a breast cancer survivor, and battled that beast with bravery. She eventually was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease at some point during my teenage years. It was brutal for all of us to watch her decline and see her once curious mind and playful disposition deteriorate. She finally passed away on June 2, 1993, but we really lost her long before then. She's buried at the National Cemetery in San Bruno, California, and I'm lucky that I live near enough that I'm able to visit and pay my respects fairly often. I still miss Grandma Edith, and I'm proud to honor her on this special day.
Grandma Edith with me and my little sister, Cindy