Monday, October 26, 2009

The Autograph Quilt: Alodia Schleifer & a Miraculous Healing

We’ve already met Alodia Howard Schleifer, one of the women who signed the quilt, in connection with her husband Fred’s purchase of a Hudson Terraplane from a car dealership on South LaSalle Street, next door to the Odd Fellows Hall. (See the posting for July 16, 2009.) Since July I have found this photo of the happy couple standing in front of the car in question.
FYI: The crease on the front left fender is a flaw in the photo, not the car.

But the car did not figure in my childhood memories of Alodia Schleifer. Actually, I don’t remember knowing her because she moved to Utah when I was only three or four years old. My memory consists of the oft-repeated story of how she was healed from terrible burns when my grandfather Greer administered to her in the late 1930s.

You see, Grandpa James T. Greer was blessed with the gift of healing. In her book The Story of Jim and Myrtle Greer: Family and Church, Grandma Myrtle Greer says this about it: “Jim had to get up many times in the middle of the night and go and administer to somebody, but he never hesitated, and he never complained. He’d come back and sleep what time he could, and then he’d get up at the regular time. He never missed work on account of it. Sometimes they’d ask him to go all the way to Rochelle, Elgin, or even as far as Iowa. There wasn’t much priesthood then, and a lot of times he had to go alone because he couldn’t get nobody to go with him. He administered to a lot of people. He didn’t have much education and wasn’t up like some of them are now, but he sure used what he did have.” (p. 120)

Recounting that terrible night when Alodia Schleifer needed a blessing, Jim said: “Fred Schleifer worked at Lyon Metal in the same department with me, and I introduced him to his [second] wife. She was making jelly, and she had a big stew pan full of jelly. It was just about ready to jell and she poured a little bit out into a glass of cold water to see if it was hard enough to ball up. She spilled some on the floor and she didn’t take the time to wipe it off the floor. When she stepped in this jelly, she hit the stew pan and it turned on her in the face and on her left shoulder. [It burned her so badly that her] head didn’t look like a woman’s head at all. It was almost half as big as a nail keg. Big water blisters with great big bags of water were all over her. She didn’t look human.

“I had a big, old Roadmaster Buick. Myrtle and me started for Kaneville, and a big storm and wind set that big old Buick back and forth. Myrtle said, ‘Let’s don’t go. Let’s turn back.’ I says, ‘No, something’s telling me to go.’ When we got there, I went to the door and old Fred come to the door and he says, ‘How did you ever get here?’ I said, ‘I don’t know but something kept telling me to.’

“I administered to her, and I don’t know how, but I found myself asking for her face not to be scarred. She told me later that she thought of what I said in the prayer. She always wondered why I didn’t mention about her arm and shoulder. I says, ‘Sister Schleifer, ain’t you satisfied?’ I says, ‘There’s not a scar on your face, and your clothes cover the scar on your shoulder.’ She says, ‘Yes, I’m satisfied.’

“I couldn’t doubt in my mind but what there is power in administering to the sick. I’ve never seen anything like it.” (pp. 121-122)

Alodia’s children were still living at Mooseheart and learned about the accident the next time they saw their mother. Georgia agrees with the Greers’ version of the incident.

The Quilt Connection

Alodia and her daughter Georgia H. Lang both signed the quilt, although they must have sent their signatures back from Utah to be included. I have spoken with Georgia and she does not remember ever seeing the quilt. Since her signature shows her married name, it dates the quilt after June 1948.

More about the Howard/ Schleifer/ Lang Family

Georgia was named for her father, George Howard. He worked in the coalmines in Carbon County, Utah, and was a superintendent when he passed away on March 16, 1936. He did not die in a mine explosion as we had erroneously thought, but caught a “cold,” that turned out to be spinal meningitis.

Within a year Alodia moved with her children to Moose-heart, a children’s home for orphans of members of the Moose lodge, located north of Aurora, and it wasn’t long until Jim Greer introduced his co-worker Fred to a 49-year-old widow. The family stayed in Illinois until Georgia graduated from high school in 1947 and then Alodia, her son Wallie, and Georgia moved back to Utah. (Her older son, Lynn Howard, married a girl from Kaneville and stayed in Illinois.)

Fred Schleifer went west with them but Utah didn’t exactly suit him. Before long he moved back home where he married “the lady who ran the grocery store.” Meanwhile, Georgia met Ray Lang at the LDS Business College in Salt Lake City and they were married on her nineteenth birthday, June 8, 1948. Alodia passed away on September 13, 1956.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Signature Quilt: Cora Hall, "More Than a Friend"

Cora Hall’s long-time friendship with Myrtle Greer is attested in this note she wrote in Myrtle’s autograph book in 1933.
Although it would be interesting to know more about the “cottage meeting”/birthday party, we can see at least that being a member of the Aurora Branch brought Cora friendship and good times.

She appears in many early photos of the branch, and she is the center of this happy scene in 1932. L to r: Myrtle Greer, Mable Stemple, Cora Hall, Elder S. Lawrence Moss, Elder Walker, [2 unidentified children], Louise Greer, Jimmie Greer.

Cora Hall had lived near Jim and Myrtle Greer in the small farming community of Tadpole, near Cypress, Illinois, in the mid-1920s. Jim often recounted working at the sawmill owned by Cora’s first husband, George Benard, because that was where he worked side-by-side with Oscar Johnson, who was a member of the Mormon Church. Jim watched to see if Johnson lived his religion and was impressed to see that he did.

Cora herself had joined the Mormon Church about seven years earlier, in 1919, possibly because of the influence of the Johnson family or maybe as a result of contact with the missionaries who came through the area each summer doing what was called “country tracting.”

In 1927 George Benard was tragically killed in an explosion at his sawmill, leaving Cora with four small children and no insurance on his life or the mill. Within a year or so, Cora married Charlie Hall who lived in the area, but the marriage did not last. By 1930 she had moved to Anna, Illinois, as a personal companion and housekeeper to an elderly woman. Her children stayed in Cypress with their grandparents, Logan and Marietta Benard, who raised them.

By October 1931 Cora was in Aurora. Eventually she found work as a cook and housekeeper for the Hollister family who lived at 564 Garfield Avenue. When first hired, she earned a dollar a day plus room and board. The Hollisters had a summer home in Wisconsin and, when they went there for two weeks every summer, Cora went along to take care of them.

An active member of the Aurora Branch, Cora Hall attended regularly, paid her tithing, and, although much of the work was done by missionaries in those days, she fulfilled callings in the Sunday School and Mutual. Of course Cora Hall was among those friends who signed Myrtle’s quilt in 1948-49.

A couple of years later, the Aurora Branch newsletter noted that Cora Hall was ill and would love to receive cards and letters. Her son, who lived in Aurora, cared for her for a time, and then she went to live with a daughter in Batavia. She died of cancer in November 1951.


Monday, October 12, 2009

The Signature Quilt: Friends and Neighbors

Myrtle Greer, shown here in the late 1940s about the time she received the signature quilt, was involved with neighbors as well as church members. Mary Donnell and Ada Dolittle were two neighbors who signed the quilt in addition to Patsy Ward (already mentioned) who lived across the street. We know little about Mary and Ada, but hope to learn more as resources become available.

We know more about Mae Lenox who lived in a tiny house next door to the Greer’s little house on North Harrison Avenue. She was almost 20 years older than Myrtle, making her 71 in 1949. Her husband Fred had been a streetcar operator, and they lived a simple life. They moved to Harrison in the 1930s. At one time, when they lived on Woodlawn Avenue, Mae had taken in boarders to make ends meet. She had been married before and had one son, Edward, born about 1898, but he was grown and moved away.

Two of the 24 women who signed the quilt were Louise Greer’s art teachers, Bessie M. Erway and Nina Head.

In 1937 when Louise was about 13, Jim and Myrtle Greer arranged for her to take oil painting lessons from Mrs. Erway, a talented artist from Red Cloud, Nebraska. From Fitly Framed Together, Louise reminisces about this experience: “I would go to her house on Montgomery road every Saturday afternoon. Most of my old pictures are ones that I did when she was teaching me.

“Because of the Depression, Mrs. Erway could not make a living selling her paintings, and she worked for years for a company in Chicago making fur coats, sewing the pelts together by hand. It was such hard work that it ruined her hands and caused them to shake most of the time. When she wanted to show me a painting technique, she had to steady one hand with the other.

“I enjoyed Mrs. Erway. She would take me into Chicago to deliver the fur coats. We would ride on the “L” [elevated train] to places like Chinatown. Then we would eat somewhere and buy a treat. It was usually coconut cream pie. One time I didn’t go with her, and she brought me home a coconut cream pie!"

Louise, who is known for her watercolor roses, tells how she learned to paint them: “I don’t remember when I started taking art lessons from Miss Nina Head. She taught art at Aurora College and supplemented her income by giving art lessons. She had turned her dining room into a studio. She would set easels up in there and, when the lessons were over, the students helped put the easels back in a closet. There would be four or five people in a class.

“I paid for the art lessons by helping clean her house. One of her legs was stiff from having had polio as a child, and she had a hard time walking. She would make a little lunch while I mopped the kitchen floor and vacuumed and did other things to help her….

“She used to paint roses on stationery to earn money on the side, and she taught me how to paint them. All these years I have painted roses." (This rose was painted by Nina Head.)


Friday, October 9, 2009

The Signature Quilt: Lizzie Sutton

Continuing the mini-biographies of the women who signed the quilt, here are some things we know about Lizzie Sutton, sister of Mae McHugh, who grew up in Tunnel Hill, living just over the hill from the Lowery family. Myrtle recalled: “There was just one house east of us and then the next house was in another district. Three girls lived in this house, Gracie, Mae, and Lizzie Alexander and they went to school when we did.” (Myrtle and Grace were the same age.)

To get to the schoolhouse, they had to cross the creek that ran through the Lowery farm. As Myrtle remembered it: “At the bottom of the hill was a big crick. When it rained a lot, the crick would get up and we’d have to walk across on a foot log. You see, they put a tree across the crick and then they put a thing along to hold to, and you would walk across on that, and the water just a rolling down below, just roaring. It’s a wonder we hadn’t fallen down in it. Sometimes my dad would bring a horse down for us to ride across.” Shared memories like that foster life-long friendships.

Lizzie Alexander grew up and married Rex Sutton, a Tunnel Hill boy, in 1923. He had been raised by his grandparents William and Rhoda Webb Sutton. Sometime during the Depression, like many other people from southern Illinois, they moved north to get work. It was logical that they would move to Aurora where they had several friends, including Jim and Myrtle Greer. Rex found work on the assembly line at Barber-Greene, a company that manufactured heavy machinery. In their later years Rex and Lizzie lived in a small house on Walnut Avenue. They did not have children.
In this photo, Lizzie and Rex Sutton are standing by Myrtle’s weeping willow tree in the front yard. The occasion is Jim and Myrtle’s 50th wedding anniversary, July 1966.

Although she was always known by her nickname, Lizzie signed "Lizabeth Sutton" on the quilt. This leaves us to wonder if her name was really "Elizabeth A." as shown on the census and other records, or this shortened, friendlier form.

P.S. To set the record straight, I don’t use the quilt on my bed as pictured in the previous post. I store this treasure as carefully as a person can store a quilt in a home. My mother gave it to me in August 2006.