Grandma Moves to Culver Parkway Circa 1959

EDNA MAE SCHUYLER HOWLAND

b. 10 May 1880 – d. 4 January 1965

During the 1950s, Grandma Howland lived in an upstairs flat on East Main Street in Rochester, New York, along the bus routes that led into the city and converged at Main & Clinton, the heart of downtown amid bustling office buildings and the iconic department stores of the time: Sibley, Lindsay & Curr; McCurdy’s; and the B. Forman Company. Her apartment was demolished in the late 1950s to make way for the Inner Loop, the expressway that led people around the city rather than into it. The site of her apartment building is now where the Inner Loop intersects East Main near Union. A Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise stood as a modern marker to where her building once was.

When that urban renewal occurred and Grandma’s apartment was demolished, she came to live with us at 470 Culver Parkway. We were Edna’s son, Verne – my dad, and his family, which included his wife, Josephine, and his three daughters – Linda age 15, Mary Ellen age 6, and me, Michele. I was 4. My brother, Lee, about 21 at the time, was already off to college. Edna was about 80 years old.

I remember one scene on moving day. Dad had parallel parked our two-tone silver and white 1957 Chevy station wagon at the curb in front of Grandma’s apartment building and headed up to Grandma’s flat. Mom, Mary Ellen and I waited in the car. I was at the passenger side, standing in the back seat, peering out the window. After awhile, Dad returned to the sidewalk. Grandma wasn’t yet in the scene. He opened up the front curb-side door by my mom’s seat, and they had a quiet exchange, at least nothing that I remember in particular. But what I do remember is my dad’s body language. Standing on the sidewalk, looking toward my mom, and his back to the apartment, he slapped himself! Not across his cheek, but with an open hand and out stretched palm, he whacked his forehead and grazed the top of his head.

Over the years since, dad repeated that gesture on more than one occasion, as I witnessed some of his most exasperating moments. I suppose that moving his aged mother into his already full household was one of them. Back on that day, I recall an innocent curiosity over his odd gesticulation. But now I have a much more complete understanding of the sentiment: the trials and sacrifices of an adult child caring for an aging parent.

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Don’t remind me that I have more years behind me than I can hope to have ahead of me. I am an inquiring mind. I write to share my curiosities and to tell the stories of my discoveries. I have an inclination to look as far as I can to the past. While so many of us are fully absorbed—rightly so—with planning for the future, for the unknown, for the next challenge, and for scrapbooking the life of our off-spring, I tell family histories that I hope would not remain buried under the weight of today’s preoccupations.
I try to write and share stories in a way that will capture a fleeting interest, cause a chuckle or raise an eyebrow, and that will ultimately leave a sense of connection and pride in the life and times of our ancestors. Some facts are interesting on their own accord, and I share them. But I also tell the stories of my search and my sources. I speculate on missing pieces, and I weave together my findings to show the spirit of the Howlands and other ancestral families.
Through the powers of social media, I have serendipitously connected with distant relatives who have greatly enriched my research. There are countless others of you “out there”, and I hope we can inform each other though our outreach.
During my career I repeated this mantra: “At the end of my life, I should not look back and wish I’d spent more time at the office”. And I must imagine, at the end of my life, I should not expect my beneficiaries to be particularly thrilled to inherit reams of family history charts! But I do have faith that some of them will be interested in these stories.

Curiosities of family history: the beginning

For well over a year, I’ve been plodding along, pursuing Howland ancestry and trying to trace each generation, beginning with my father, Verne Howland, and moving backwards.

I know Dad toyed in genealogy during the early years of his retirement.  All of his work, of course, was well before ancestry.com was ever imagined. As a result, his documentation was limited to a few generations backwards.  He couldn’t be certain of much, but he carried an oral history about his family having been in the whaling business and, perhaps even, coming to America on the Mayflower.   I remember hearing: “the Howlands were here a long time, a very long time.”  Dad said that his grandmother told him these things — but which grandmother? I don’t know.  All of this speculation about Mayflower roots was fueled during the family’s 1966 road-trip vacation to Plymouth, Massachusetts, where we saw the Howland House and John Howland’s  name carved in Plymouth Rock or some rock or other. On the same trip, at Mystic Seaport Village in Connecticut, we also toured a whaling vessel that was captained by a man named Howland.

I admit I’ve been pretty outspoken about the drudgery of so many of the family vacations of my youth, one museum and  historical site after another, hours upon hours in the back seat of the 1963 Rambler Ambassador. But this trip to Plymouth and Mystic was among my favorites.  Although I might have rather spent a week in a cottage on the Cape, I have to admit that climbing around in the galleys of that whaling ship at Mystic left a lasting impression. I even remember the souvenir I bought, a tiny ceramic whale.  Today, I wish I knew what became of it.

These days, I’m following my curiosities, but there are many lives lived between 1600 in the Massachusetts Colony and Mt. Hope Cemetery, in Rochester, NY, the final resting place of the more recent generations of Howlands.  This is not going to be easy.