Saturday, September 20, 2014

52 Ancestors-# - Ruth Ida Antilla, Mother-in-law

[I write here a stream of my own memories of my mother-in-law. But since she is my grandchildren's  great grandmother, I think this has a place in the Past Remains blog. For privacy (since this is the generation one before my own), I have used names of only deceased relatives. If you know the family, you’ll know the other names by the context.]
My mother-in-law Ruth was a predictable but sometimes puzzling to me—as all people are. She was very smart but never believed it of herself.
She was a sensitive to what people thought of her, and often sided with people she felt were being treated unfairly. I think her anxiety level was high good portion of her life (that she soaked up the news daily, TV news before bed and smoked cigarettes must have added to her natural anxiety. 
She declared her shyness but was always talking to strangers. Possibly she felt less nervous once she broke the ice talking to complete strangers.
She fairly blunt, and often spoke what was on her mind but tempered that inclination with age. She was a true believer in psychology. She always wanted to know why people did things, as though understanding their reasons might make a difference.
She read a lot. But she seemed to feel a bit guilty about reading, so she kept quiet about it. Occasionally I’d pick up a book on her table and ask her about it, perhaps begin reading it. If I borrowed it, upon returning it, I’d always ask her, “Why didn’t you recommend that book? It was good.” She’d just wave her hand dismissively or ignore my question.
She loved puzzles: crossword and other word puzzles.
Her husband-to-be, John, had returned from World War 2, (probably still traumatized) and thin. Ruth was likely dreaming of a making a home for a family–to-be, and getting away from her own home life, as many of their generation were looking forward to. They were married in July of 1946 in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, she was 21 and he was 23.
Old postcard of Pearly Lake; West Rindge, NH-not far from Jaffrey
They had a stormy marriage—but that’s not rare. However, they stuck it out, and were faithful to each other. They argued a good deal, and only late in life did they cease the continual, trivial bickering. But, they stuck to the marriage through all the ups and downs. I credit them both.

I got the impression they generally stuck to their gender roles pretty closely, but it is hard to determine why. Perhaps because they were of a generation in which gender roles were pretty definitely defined.
If I stayed overnight I’d find she’d made toast and had a cup of coffee all ready for me in the morning.
Free-for-all-ing it in the kitchen wasn’t standard practice: she’d make dinner and carry it to the table, or lunch or breakfast.
Now and then my father-in-law would pitch in with some of food preparation, but I think she liked doing things her way.
I once asked her why she did all the cooking, cleaning, etc. She said she liked doing it her way. Fair enough.
She also handled the books and paid the bills and did the correspondence. She was very hands-on about her household: she would allow relatives or friends to help her with work but she never did hire anyone to do her cleaning.
It seemed to me that laundry day was still a production as it had been in the 1930s when you had wringer washer, and hung the clothes out on the line to dry. Her washer and dryer were machines for which she seemed to have a certain level of fondness and respect.
After she had canned vegetables or made jam, she did something I have never seen before or since. She would make frequent trips back to the kitchen to check on the jars. I understand an occasional check, but she’d go in and look at them as if she’d just given birth. My husband speculates that it gave her a good feeling, perhaps a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of security by putting up canned goods.
She was not only smart, but she also had a great memory for my friends & relatives, and for prices and wages. I don’t think she forgot a friend of mine, even if she’d never met him.
She did have employment, usually part time, through the years.
Her Background
She was the eldest of the five children, with one brother (who died at 52 of alcoholism).
As she told it, her parents had a troubled marriage.
She was a naturally anxious person and the eldest child and became quite stressed when her parents would leave her to babysit the younger siblings—likely before she was old enough to do it.
Her father was an alcoholic and the parents would go out drinking and dancing, leaving her responsible for the house and siblings.
Remember, this was the 1930s, before cell phones and paved roads for cars were new but not very safe. Cars were quite unsafe. There were many fewer phones in homes, and pay phones tended to be in cities. Death by car accident was not unusual.
Her parents had her answer the door when a bill collector came—and she had to say her parents weren’t home. She hated that, quite sure the bill collectors knew she was put up to it by her parents. She felt guilty about lying for her parents.
She felt very close to her sisters and loved them very much. She always spoke of Jaffrey, New Hampshire as “over home” though she’d lived in New York for nearly all of her adult life (except for a short period in Florida & in New Hampshire).
Eastern New York where she settled was close enough to drive “over home” for a weekend or short holiday. Likely, living a bit far away made “over home” take on a nostalgic aura.
Ruth & I
Though our initial encounters were a bit rocky, I still miss Ruth. She died when I was living in Washington, DC. I’m glad she got to meet our daughter-in-laws, and she saw our sons grow up into fine, good and kind men.
1970s-Ruth and I have our first encounter
I first met Ruth in December of 1974; my husband and I were not engaged but only dating (if you call going to eat a sub together a date). He is the only son and has four sisters.
Initially Ruth was wary of me. It was nothing personal, at least, I didn’t think so.
For my first visit to their house I was with a group of college friends and we were on our way to attend a meeting in Albany. My husband had made his parents’ house available for us overnight as it was several miles northeast of Albany.  Ruth targeted me to sleep on her bedroom floor, perhaps so she could keep her eye on me? I think his dad was working overnight. While the rest of the crew slept downstairs, tucked away in various places. 
My husband’s youngest sister (who is my age) attended a different college in the same town. We got to know one another that first year and became friends (and still are).
Later, sometime in 1975, I was invited back to their homestead for another visit (I can’t recall the season or reason). I recall washing dinner dishes (she had no dishwasher there). By then we were informally engaged. I don’t know how supportive of it she was, but I’m sure she didn’t want her son being married young to some flibbertigibbet.
After dinner I offered to wash the dishes. As I washing them, she stood nearby and critiqued my dishwashing. That was fine up to a point.
When I was finally exasperated with her, I said, “Here, if you want to do it, then I’ll let you do it.” I stepped back from the sink, but she was mollified and let me continue in peace.
So was our pattern: if she nagged me, riding me too long, I’d eventually push back and she’d back off. I never was angry about it. I preferred that to her having a secret hatred for me. We had a very honest relationship.
Backing up a bit to our pre-marriage period:
What I didn’t know was that she was apprehensive about letting her son get married. She began to give my husband-to-be grief about it, putting him in a difficult and uncomfortable spot between his mother and his fiancé.  Finally my husband’s youngest sister (and my friend) suggested she back off, that I was good for him, etc. Whatever she said, Ruth paid I thank you, little sister! (you know who you are).
Early Years: Wedding and Africa
1976 – Ruth and John (the parents of the groom) attended our wedding in the Catskill Mountains. She told  (broadcasted?) everyone how difficult is to find my parent’s house and how they had gotten lost on the way (the wedding was nearby our home). It seemed she talked to anyone and everyone at the wedding.
Ruth and John @ our wedding (on end, leaning over) 1976
1976 -We lived in Syracuse for a few months before our first overseas experience together. We had a 2 bedroom apartment but very little furniture (no beds and one mattress).
Ruth and John came for their first visit to the son & daughter-in-law’s apartment. It dawned on me that I was to make dinner for four of us!
But I'd been busy working long hours at my job,  and we didn’t have a proper stove, just a hot plate and a used deep fryer from my mother.
I had gotten the vegetables and the potatoes ready for dinner but was puzzling over what to do with the chicken. I decided to fry the chicken, but was proceeding very slowly (never having made fried chicken before).
Ruth was in the kitchen and I could see she was getting fidgety. Having had her delicious cooking, I knew she was not only experienced, but also a good cook. When she finally offered to lend a hand I was relieved (and I am sure she was, too).
I don’t recall if we had dessert. If we did, it was likely ice cream. No, they didn’t stay overnight.

1977-In January we were headed off to Africa. At the time we didn’t know when we would return, we each had a one-way ticket and not all that much money.
We decided to spend Thanksgivings with my family and Christmases with his family (we added New Year’s Eve with my family later).
We spent the Christmas of 1976 with his family.
Ruth liked the little plastic snow-covered Christmas church which had a light inside. She placed it on the fake snow on top of the big boxy television set, then set the little wax figures of choir members around the church.

Christmas 1984
The Christmas tree they had in Valley Falls was real, it wasn’t slick (which is just as I like them). When the moved to Warrensburg they got an artificial tree.
[As an aside, perhaps it was that year that I first realized she waved goodbye to us the same way every time we departed from a visit: she stood at the window waving till you were far out of sight every time you left her house.]

Ruth and John drove us to my parents' house in January 1977. My dad drove us to the bus depot in Liberty, and we left for JFK (NYC) for our flight to Africa. I think this photo was taken the day they drove us to my parents' house. Ruth is holding an Instamatic camera, I believe.

January 1977 dropping us off

Africa 1
She made sure we stayed in touch while in Africa. (Remember this was before cell phones and the use of the internet by civilians).
We actually called home (via a landline) and talked to them one Christmas.
We  also tape-recorded ourselves and sent it to them; and they returned the tape to us with some chit-chat when her sisters and brother-in-laws from Jaffrey were visiting them. That was precious.
She sent us (for some reason which I forget) some cash (not much, $10?) in the mail. When this went through the Nairobi Post Office, it was stolen. It was an impulsive gesture and was an object lesson for us both.
We wrote long letters on aerogram paper and she responded to them with her husband adding a PS. She kept all the aerograms we sent her, and handed them back to us when we returned. That was a precious gesture to me.
~When our car wasn’t sold and someone “drove it off a cliff,” she handled the paperwork.
~When we (stupidly and belatedly) realized we had to pay taxes for the year before moved away, she handled that paperwork.
~When we tried to set up a business with a friend from college selling African-made trinkets, and when there was a dispute about money, she was (reluctantly) involved.
~She provided a storage place for the few items we wanted to preserve.
Were we shallow and selfish? YES!
Are we still grateful? YES!
We returned to the US in 1979.

We were living in the Albany area, about a 25-35 minute drive from Valley Falls (in Latham, Schenectady, and Guilderland for very short periods).
We lived in the city of Albany for about five years.

I never had wedding china because I never wanted it or needed it.
In the early 1980s a supermarket was making white-and-blue china available to buy with a certain number of stamps collected and the price was fairly low.
I had always liked her dishware from the 70s as it had symbols from the bicentennial (the year we were wed), called "Liberty Blue."
Ruth asked if I would accept some dishes that were similar. By then I needed some so gladly accepted and then I got hooked on blue-and-white plates. I have a few pieces of her 1970s collection.
Liberty Blue plate
The house in Valley Falls was a good retreat from the busyness of working, doing “things” (whatever 20 year old marrieds without kids do), taking care of our stuff on the weekend and dealing with friends who were slightly off-kilter (as many of my single friends in their 20s were).
Sunday afternoons we got in the habit of escaping to Valley Falls.
There we’d snooze and recharge and we’d have lunch and chat about nothing. Then, as Ruth’s delicious pork roast, or beef roast (or whatever was cooking) she’d ask if I wanted tea.
I wasn’t accustomed to having someone older than me wait on me. She’d sit in the living room and we’d talk about just about everything. 
I enjoyed talking to her, of course we didn’t always agree, but it didn’t matter and it never got in the way of our conversation. She was good at interviewing people, she had a high EQ, as they would say today.

Our children were born in the 1980s and she, when asked, would babysit them. She did love babies and came to visit each child right after their birth.  My own parents lived a good two-hour trip away and both worked full-time jobs. Ruth worked part-time for several years (I forget when she quit) but her job was within walking distance of their house, so she didn’t have a hard commute, so she was the more likely candidate for babysitting.

Getting satisfactory gifts for her 16 grandchildren over such a large age range probably wasn’t easy, and she tried to economize at the same time.

One Christmas she ordered handmade Christmas ornaments bearing each grandchild’s name. These were to be a special gift for the grandchildren to enjoy when they were older. She was quite pleased that she could give this to each of them.

For many years she knitted slippers for Christmas for each grandchild, her children and their spouses. She seemed gratified that they were in such demand.

Ruth was a very good cook and she enjoyed it. Granted, her foods were high in fat and salt, and traditional New England. Still, they were delicious.
Sunday dinner was quite the affair. If she knew we were going to be there, she’d often (I assume because I was the only daughter-in-law) call me first and ask me what I wanted to eat, or check to see if I “ate green beans” (or whatever). This is more common now with allergy concern and vegetarians but then this was not customary at all. Guests ate what was served.

She was particular about food: if she thought one brand was superior to another, she spent the extra money on it, though she economized in just about everything else.

Ruth was proud of each of her grandchildren. She’d frequently call to check on each family.
Ruth’s phone calls helped me out enormously in those times. It was supportive and helpful to talk to  an adult and not a peer, who had raised children. It helped me keep perspective (which is a large part of keeping your sanity).
When my husband was commissioned to be a diplomat in Washington DC, they came down to see his commissioning service. Ruth would still call me with frequently.

Visiting us in Mexico
By the late 1980s we were living in Mexico in the Mexican State of Tamaulipas.
We got Ruth and John to fly down to visit us (they flew to Texas and we drove them to Mexico). I bought a comfortable bed for guest room.  We had a patio so that they could smoke.
The parents enjoyed their stay.

Ruth said it was difficult to get used to having Maria (our days-only maid) make her bed. She'd ask:
“Don’t you feel bad about having Maria do things for you?”

“No, because she wants and needs this job, and we pay her well.”
“Does it bother you having her here in your apartment?”
“No, I do my work and she does hers. Then we have all weekend and holidays without her help.”
“I guess…but…”

Our maid Maria (blue sweater) her son & parents at their home c 1987
She never got used to having household help, she wasn’t comfortable with it. I think she felt she was a snob if she let Maria do anything.
Even after I explained that if we lived had we not hired someone and that it would be bad, as we’d be seen as too miserly to give someone a job, it was difficult for her to accept, although she understood it intellectually.

And traveling in Mexico...
Things went well during their visit: we went to go up to South Padre Island to the beach and visited the zoo in Brownsville, Texas.
The glamorous life of a diplomat in line waiting to cross from Mexico to Texas. 1987
We had plans to drive to Ciudad Victoria, the capital of the state of Tamaulipas.
Our trip to Ciudad Victoria took us across the barren interior of the state. Ruth and John and the children were in the back seats of the consulate SUV (borrowed with permission).

We had just crested a rise in the middle of nowhere when we came upon a make-shift roadblock. It looked like an informal militia, but my husband says it was regular members of the Mexican army. It seemed that there was one purpose of the roadblock: to extract money from travelers.

Guns were brandished about and my husband was explaining (in Spanish) that he was a member of the diplomatic community and so ….
I was thinking, I guess they’re not allowed to try to extract bribes from him as he’s a diplomat? I wasn’t sure if these men would grasp that fine point.
Still, my husband continued talking to them to wheedle our way out of the situation.
Quite suddenly Ruth exploded,
“They’re not getting my purse from me! Oh no, they’re NOT!”
Glancing over my shoulder I saw Ruth had the purse clamped under her arm and both hands squarely over the top.
My husband continued talking while I wondered at the scene—the son and mother both, in their own way, pushing back against a small group of armed militia who evidently felt it was OK to color outside the lines. It was somewhat comical.
The rest of us were mere spectators (except for my occasional emphatic nod to my husband’s rapid-fire, earnest insistence that he’s the ‘vice-consul.’)

They had some dogged Gringos on their hands. Finally, I don’t know if they were tired of the obstinacy, or whether my husband had chewed them down with his energy, they just let us go on through.

In the late 1980s we returned to the Albany area and were living in a suburb. The grandparents downsized and moved to Warrensburg, NY.
Ruth never did move “over home,” after all, her children and grandchildren were in New York, which was compelling enough reason to remain. 

The day she moved to Warrensburg, she burst into tears. After that it seemed, apart from reading the Troy Record, she didn’t seem to miss Valley Falls much.

Now and then I had mentioned to Ruth with her interest all things medical,  she could be a nurse.
Then, once she moved to Warrensburg, Ruth put her energy into volunteering at the town’s health clinic.
She also volunteered at the Methodist Church there (as she had been in Valley Falls).
In the 1990s both of us were returning university students and had jobs, and our children were in school. The pace of life had picked up and we were far too busy but visiting them in Warrensburg was still a Sunday tradition.

In 1990 my husband began traveling for weeks at a time internationally for his work. Calling overseas was extremely expensive and VOIP (using a computer, such as Skype) was something no one had (that I knew).
Ruth would call me at least once a week when he was on a trip, just to check on the family—that was very thoughtful.

Despite a postage stamp sized kitchen and an electric stove, she still served up wonderful Sunday dinners, we still visited over tea, spouses slumbered.
Ruth would keep something on hand for the kids, Goldfish crackers as a treat, or perhaps some Wise potato chips. She’d allow the children to watch the show of their choice.

They had two spare bedrooms and as she was a bit of a packrat, they were always full of things (did she still have her 1960s era set of encyclopedias?). There were old papers, very old paid bills and tax forms from many years past, kewpie dolls or other things she fancied from the 1920s-1930s, and silver coins she’d collected through the years. 

Occasionally, we asked them to watch the children if we needed to take a short overnight or two away. Apart from the (normal) boredom of being in a "grownup" house (nothing to do) and the perpetual haze of being with two smokers (sorry, kids!), I think they enjoyed it—and enjoyed being back home, too.

My father-in-law died in 1999 and Ruth died in February of 2010.
I think she was one of the more adept conversationalists I have ever met. I’d bet she might have made a good story teller had she wanted to.

If you asked me of my typical memory of her, she'd walk into the living room (whether in Valley Falls or Warrensburg), a cigarette in hand, just slightly behind her back. “Charity, you want a cup of tea?”
After my affirmative answer, she’d be back in a few minutes with a mug on a saucer and the mantra, “I don’t know how long you want that bag in.” Returning a few minutes later with her own cup, she’d light up another cigarette; take a drag and a sip of tea.

She'd begin:
“What do you think of what the president said on TV?” or,
Gah! Isn’t it terrible what happened in XYZ?” or,
“How are your parents, Charity? Don’t they get terrible snowed in?” 

[Good conversationalists always ask questions: open-ended opinion questions and then redirect depending on the response.]
We’d talk weather, news, politics, state politics, and religion.

She never forgot to ask me about my husband’s youngest sister (and my now best friend) as she knew we talked at least once a week.
Ruth gave me delicious recipes, some New England jargon and no, never lost her New England accent.

Ruth & son August 2007
Ruth asks me about genealogy 
She spoke fondly of her Finnish grandmother, Ida. I assume Ruth’s middle name comes from her grandmother’s first name.
Back when Ancestry and I were "infants" in online genealogy (in the days of DOS and dot-matrix printers) she wrote down the information on Ida Paavola of Finland, and the husband (her grandfather) Henry Antilla (Heikki Anttila) and gave it to me. She asked me to find out what I could.
Unfortunately, I haven’t found out much more than she gave me.
I can track the Antilla's  movement from the east to Minnesota (he was a stone mason) and their subsequent return to New England. But I’ve not gotten far in Finland. I did find out that Anttila is a very common Finnish name.

However, I know a good deal about her other ancestors. Today I could tell her that she’s got a long, long line of New England ancestors, almost back to the Mayflower.  And, that most of her ancestors were Revolutionary War soldiers.

This is all I have on her paternal grandfather & grandmother of Finland:

Heikki Anttila (also called Henry Antilla)
Born: 25 Sept 1856 Finland;
Christened: 28 Sep 1856
Born in
Kankaan ? Kylasta (or kylä means village)
Reisjärvi pitäjässä  (or Reisjärvi Parish)
Oulun Laanista Suomesta (The province of Oulu, Finland)
Died: 5 Oct 1926 in Troy, NH
Buried:  14 Oct 1926 in Troy New Hampshire, USA
Marriage certificate: married in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, USA on 22 May 1893 to Ida Maria Paavola.

Henry became a US citizen, 26 Jul 1904 in Minnesota, the County of St. Louis. 
His name was Anglicized: dropped the first “t” and doubled the “l” in Antilla and changed Heikki to Henry.

When he married Ida Paavola she was not yet 18 and he listed his age as 35. He was nearly 37, in reality. It’s very possible he had a prior marriage.
Ida Maria Johanna Paavola
Born: 10 Oct 1875 in Finland
Died: 2 June 1940, Troy, New Hampshire

1 Johan: 1895-1895
2 Vaino:  B. 3 Oct 1896 in Fitchburg, MA. D.  20 Feb 1969
3 Vieno (Herbert?)  B. 1901 in Sparta, Minn. D. in 1973
4 * Antti (Andrew): B. 11 Jul 1903 in Sparta, Minn. Died 25 Aug 1949 Jaffrey, NH (Ruth’s father)
5 Roy Benjamin: B. 24 Nov 1908 Troy, NH D. 20 Mar 1975
6 Etheli M. : B. 16 Dec 1911 New Hamsphire D. 1 Mar 1912 NH
7 Tauno: B. 27 Aug 1913 Troy, NH. D. 26 Nov 1990 Peterborough, NH
* Antti (or Andrew) Antilla married
Marion Lottie  Cook on 10 Aug 1925 in Marlboro, NH (Ruth’s parents)
1* Ruth Ida Antilla: 
B. 1925 Jaffrey New Hampshire, 
Married: John Johnson 13 Jul 1946 (age 21) Jaffrey, NH
D. 17 Feb 2010 Glens Falls, NY
& 4 children: 3 younger girls and one younger boy.

No comments:

Post a Comment