(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

courage. adventure. endurance.

my great-grandmother Margaret (Stangl) Carter was quite a woman. I was given cause to think of her today when reading Halfway to France's comments on not being a wearer of pants. Shocked at the revelation, it made me think of my great-grandmother who for years refused to wear pants. That led me to comment about even a woman who lived in sod houses and prairie times eventually gave in and made herself a pair of polyester pants. Then I started thinking about Margaret. (see how my mind works? I mean rambles? Think YOU find it irritating, pity me ... I've had to live with this all my life!)

Anyway, back to Margaret. I'm going to tell you a little bit about her story, as I know it ... passed down through the years and maybe not 100% accurate. but I'm sure 98%. Well, I'll guarantee 95% and in today's media, that ain't so bad.

Margaret came from a big family in Austria. I mean, she had like 7 or 8 brothers and sisters. She lived in a castle. I used to think that was romantic until I found out they lived in rooms in the castle. Which was old and decrepit. But anyway. Margaret had an uncle who had emigrated to the United States. In 1911, when Margaret was about 14, her uncle Josef and his wife Bertha came back to Austria for a visit. He offered to take any of the family back with him when he returned. Get them set up. He had a big ranch in Java, South Dakota. Well a big property. Farming and animals and the like. And no one to really help him. He had a wife, but as I know it ... they had no children.

Well, no one in the vast Stangl brood was willing to take up Uncle Josef on his offer. No one, that is except Margaret. Margaret thought this sounded exciting. "Weren't you scared, Grandma?". soft chuckle. "Well, I thought it would be an adventure you know. And Uncle Josef promised to send me back in four years." So not one of those other Stangl kids, including the many boys took the trip. Margaret's mother made the uncle promise 2 things. He would send her home in 4 years and he would make sure she remained a Catholic.

Margaret slept with her aunt the first year she arrived, as she was afraid to sleep alone. Margaret didn't speak English and her early years of adapting were hard. But she did it.

Well, the years passed and WWI erupted and there was no return in sight for Margaret. No Catholic church either. Margaret caught the eye of a handsome son on a neighboring horse ranch. Floyd Alan Carter was taken with Margaret when they crossed paths at a town dance. Floyd was enlisted in the Army but the war ended before he was sent overseas.

Margaret and Floyd married. They lived in South Dakota for many years before tiring of destitution in the tough land. The moved west to Roseburg, Oregon.

Why do I prattle on about Margaret? well. the talk of women and pants got me thinking about Margaret. She never returned to Europe. She never saw her mother, her father, her beloved brothers and sisters again. She never worshipped again in a Catholic church. She slowly lost her native tongue, although I can remember her singing in German. and speaking a few phrases. She and her family wrote back and forth in the early years.

I often asked my great-grandmother why she never returned, later in life. There were a number of implausible excuses, the plane ride (she eventually had done and there was always a boat). The money (in later years, they could well afford it. Even as tight as my great-grandmother was!).

I wonder did she use up all of her courage in that first journey. As tremendous as it was ... did it change her in ways I'll never understand? Margaret Carter was a woman of endurance. I think her life ended up being a series of challenges to be endured. Endless ship ride. vast plains and prairies. sod houses. unforgiving dust and dirt and wind. multiple births. only one daughter alive. I also know she had an enduring love for her husband and family. In the end, endurance was adventure enough.

I come from a series of enduring women. I, too, am a survivor. Unlike my great-grandmother, I'm discovering my courage for adventure a bit later in life. I hope I do as well as Margaret.

I have some pictures to rustle up and share a bit later.


Cassoulet Cafe said...

That was a very nice post! Your stay at the ocean is inspiring important posts about beloved family history. Thanks for sharing! (By the way, did you grow up in Roseburg, Oregon?)

Je ne regrette rien said...

thanks CC ... yes, it is true there are probably more where that came from! No I didn't grow up in Roseburg although I have lived there twice in my life...once in 5th grade and then with my husband 1978-80. My daughter was born in Roseburg. I returned to California in 1981.

La Belette Rouge said...

Really lovely story. And, I was so touched by your idea that perhaps she used up all her courage. Really sad.

You clearly have not used all of yours up. As a matter of fact I think yours is a renewable and self-generating resource. I feel sure Margaret would be proud of your sense of courage and adventure.

Utah Savage said...

JNRR, this is a great piece. i so completely love it, that I must and should have long ago, steal you http thingy and put you on my blog love. I can almost speak a little French, but I absolutely cannot write it, so much as I would love to say something lovely to you in French, it can't be done, but Vig left you a small Frenchy bit following you comment on my piece on Hill. Come back. Don't think of me as a stalker, but I'll be back. I actually think courage does grow if you survive the trip. Tomorrow is my 64the birthday. Nobody I knew in my twenties would have put a bet on those odds. And sadly, it is true--I am that savage.

Please drop by today for a plea. The link is posted by Stella in the comments. I'm begging. That's hard on old knees.

Je ne regrette rien said...

LBR- it saddens me too, thinking of all that optimism slowly eaten by the daily drudgeries that represented Margaret's life. Women WERE the appliances in those days and most men WERE the farm equipment. Life was hard. But knowing what spark was alive in her spirit when she was young still inspires me. thanks for those encouraging words!

U.S.- feel free to stalk at will! I'm enjoying snooping around your blogs and will gladly sign up for some reciprocal stalking! on the link and plea; consider it done.

La Framéricaine said...

Ma Piaf,

No wonder I think of you as a "jewel"--in my mind Austria and crystal are forever wed!!!

The story of your great-grandmother's trip from Austria to South Dakota is wonderful! It gives me flashbacks to Theodore Dreiser novels of immigrants in the "new world." Her story is also very reminiscent of Willa Cather's "My Antonia." I could jut smell the earth in SD and imagine her doing the Lewis & Clark shuffle over to Oregon with her husband.

I too thought perhaps you were a 3rd generation Oregonian so now I am going to be waiting for Chapter 2 to find out where you were born!

Keep on scribing!

Je ne regrette rien said...

LF-I'm a native California girl. Yeah my ggm lived the dusty prairie life, alone a lot with my ggf in the Conservation Corps trying to keep his family afloat and my grandmother selling eggs to make ends meet. lots of stories there for sure.

La Framéricaine said...

I'm all eyes, Chérie!

b said...

This is such a beautiful story and so well told! What a life. Even if she didn't go back to visit (maybe she just didn't want to?), you are right... she had quite an adventurous life. Her enduring nature lives on in you! And truly, better later than never, right? :)

I would love to see photos!! And I'm so excited to meet you next week when LBR is here!!

Hill Country Hippie said...

Know what really boggles my mind? My husband's grandmother actually came out to Texas in a covered wagon as a baby. She then stuck around long enough to see man land on the moon. Isn't that bizarre, to go from covered wagon to rocket in one life-span? Doesn't it make you wonder what's in store for us?

WendyB said...

What a fascinating story!

Je ne regrette rien said...

HCH-yes ... similar stories here. Floyd was born prior to 1900. I often think of the amazing leaps in industry and technology he was privy to. I don't know if we will see the equivalent degree of change in our lifetimes.

WendyB-Welcome and thanks!

nate said...

Thanks for the great story, Kim. I was too young to remember Grandpa Carter's stories, and I'd love to hear more. I uploaded a photo I found of Floyd and Margaret.