When my grandfather Rupp was young he once witnessed a blacksmith hitting a young man. The young man was the blacksmith's son, who turned out to be my grandfather Nick Fey.
Was my grandmother Florence happy in her arranged marriage to my grandfather Nick Fey? Was he happy?
I asked this question of my mother, to which she replied, cryptically, "Things were hard."
Nick Fey was a blacksmith trained by his father, also a blacksmith, a harsh, mean-tempered man who expected his son to work for him without pay in return for his training. In a strange turn of events, my great-grandfather Rupp on my father's side was a customer of my great-grandfather Fey. One time my great-grandfather Rupp and his son (my father's father) were waiting in the blacksmith's shop and saw my great-grandfather Fey in a fit of anger hit his son and throw him across the room.
When he was young my grandfather Nick was a talented violinist and mandolinist but he had to give up his music due to a loss of hearing that began in early adulthood. (The question has been brought up whether his deafness could have been the result of a blow to the ears by his father).
Nick Fey appeared to have inherited his father's bad temper and impatience; he blew up frequently and unexpectedly, though he struck Florence only infrequently and was filled with regret afterwards. My patient grandmother, however, always attributed his anger problems to the unbearable, unending ringing in his ears that he swore was driving him crazy.
Neither having any family support, my grandparents started their life together poor. There was one time when they were newly married that they had nothing to eat all day but one rutabaga (a turnip-like vegetable) between them.
But my grandfather got a job as a metalsmith on the Erie-Lackawana railroad for $20 a week and my grandmother as a scrub-woman who worked eight hours for $1.50 a day then took her customer's laundry home at night for no extra pay. They were the working poor of their day.
Whenever my mother told me stories of her childhood she generally spoke only of her mother, brother, and sister; of her father she spoke only rarely, for which reason I always thought that he must have been someone who came and went and that my grandmother was raising her children alone.
When I finally asked my mother what role her father played in her life she told me that her father did live at home with them; it was just that he was deaf and so they couldn't talk to him even in his stable moods, and for this reason their mother was the meaningful presence in their life.
My grandparents had five children, though two of them died: one a 2-year-old named Geraldine, the other a 5-year-old name Rosemary, both from illnesses that were never clearly diagnosed, though my mother, a nurse, suspects that the 5-year-old died of spinal meningitis. After the death of her second child, Rosemary, my grandmother sunk into a depression that was healed only with time and the need to care for her other children.
Her remaining children were my mother, Romaine; my Aunt Mary who, born at home at 3 pounds, survived but was mentally disabled; and my Uncle Gene.
My mother and her siblings grew up poor and, when the depression set in and there was no more work for their father, sometimes hungry.
Still, my grandmother worked and there was always some food on the table, though for years the family's meals were a bowl of rice and milk for lunch and bread and coffee for supper. When they could afford it there was chicken once a week for Sunday dinner.
To be continued....