Friday, June 26, 2009

Beginnings of the Branch, Part 3: Finding Missing Members Update

Here’s some insight on that first encounter between Myrtle Greer and Mable Stemple. Although the Greers arrived in Aurora in June 1929, it was early winter before they found Sister Stemple, as attested in this note written by her daughter Evelyn Kiesel in Myrtle Greer’s autograph book in 1933.“We are indeed grateful to you for coming to our home on a snowy afternoon to find another ‘Mormon’ family,” she said.

It’s no wonder that it took Myrtle a few months to find them—for all the obvious reasons, of course, but also because of a major financial reversal that the Greers suffered that summer. Remember, they had experienced three crop failures in a row, and they were already destitute. This is the house and barn that they owned near Cypress, Illinois. This photo was taken about 1910 and we see James T. Greer’s parents and siblings here. Jim is the boy standing on the far right. Jim and Myrtle bought the house and 40 acres from his father, Albert Jackson Greer, for $1,000 in about 1925. They had been so full of hopes and dreams. “We felt sure we were going to get rich there,” Myrtle recalled. As we’ve already seen, it didn’t work out that way.

But Jim had managed to get a job at Lyon Metal in Aurora and had rented a small house on Howard Avenue, and Myrtle had joined him there. It was when she went back to the home place get their furniture that they realized disaster had struck. This is how she told the story:

“Jim decided we’d have to go home and get the furniture. We got another payday, and I went down there, taking the kids too. I went down to the house and opened the door, and everything was gone. Not one solitary thing was there. Jim’s harness, his saddle, all of our bedding, all of our books, and everything we had was gone. (We had some nice furniture, we really did.) I never cried so hard in my whole life. That about killed me. And there it was—nothing!

“I didn’t know what I was going to do. What could I do, with two children and these people that used to be such good friends to us that wouldn’t even look at us now? I decided to ask a few people if they knew where our furniture was. Jim Boss didn’t know a thing about it. Nobody knew nothing about it, so I said, ‘Take me to the train.’ We got to the train and come back to Chicago. Jim met us and took us home. I tell you, we were grieved. Not a thing in the world. We lost everything completely. I said to Jim, ‘What are you going to do?’ He says, ‘Well, I don’t know, but we’ll have to do something.’

“We thought about it and prayed about it and decided to stay in Aurora and buy some furniture. We expected we could easily. We picked out the biggest bank in Aurora and we went to the head man, the president of it. We told him we needed $300, and we’d pay him back $10 a month. He thought that was the funniest thing he had ever heard. He says, ‘What have you got for security?’ Oh, we didn’t have anything for security, but Jim had a job. ‘Well, that isn’t enough,’ he said. No, that couldn’t do at all.

“‘But,’ he said, ‘there’s a man upstairs that might listen to you. Go up and see him.’ He told us who he was, Mr. Elder. So we went up and told him the same story. He says, ‘You know, I’ve got a warehouse down there that’s full of furniture that belonged to people who have moved from Aurora. They left and haven’t even paid the rent on it. I don’t want it,’ he says. ‘I’ll get a truck and I’ll move it out to your house, and you keep what you want and what you don’t want, you sell it and use the money.’ But, he says, ‘You pay me $10 a month till you pay me $300.’ So he give us the furniture and loaned us $300 on it. I have some of that furniture yet [1970s], and we sold quite a bit of it. Then we really could have cottage meetings.”
This rocking chair, given to Ginger Hamer by her grandparents in 1972, is believed to be the only piece left in the family from the furniture that was so miraculously obtained in 1929. It has been tentatively identified as a “Northwind” style, a kind of furniture made in the late 19th century and distinguished by carvings of mythological faces. A carved curlicue on the upper left side of the back was broken off, perhaps even before the Greers received the rocking chair. In 1976 Ginger hired a furniture restorer in Mendham, New Jersey, to carve and install a replacement part. He also reglued the rocker to strengthen it and prevent further damage.A close-up of the unusual carving

In her life story, Louise Greer Erekson recalled living on Howard Avenue. “I can remember eating hominy out of glasses. We would just reach in and pick up a piece. Apparently we didn’t have any bowls and very little silverware, because they had all been stolen. (I have always loved hominy.)”

She also remembers how quickly the friendship developed between Sister Stemple and her parents: “The first Christmas in Aurora must have been very bleak. But with help, it was all right. Sister Mable Stemple and her daughter, Evelyn Kiesel, brought us a little artificial tree with ornaments on it. I can remember that spindly tree, probably 3 or 4 feet tall, with just a few ornaments. We had those ornaments for several years. I’d like to have some of them now.”

The Greers later sold their farm in southern Illinois by placing an ad in the Aurora Beacon News. By coincidence, a neighbor, Mr. Fuller, who lived two doors north of them on Harrison answered the ad and bought the farm. “That let us out of the contract, and we took what money we got and put it on our house [710 North Harrison], and that was during the Depression,” Myrtle said.

I believe that with her comment—“Then we really could have cottage meetings”—she acknowledges the hand of the Lord in their lives and affirms their determination to serve the best they knew how.

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