Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Biography from the Heart: Emma Bickerstaff Meinzen

During most days of my childhood and youth I spent time with my grandmother, Emma Virginia Bickerstaff Meinzen. She lived two doors and one large yard away on our street in the village of Mineral Ridge. My mom watched me from our doorway when, at age five or six, I walked down the street alone to Gramma's. Through grade school I spent as much time in her company as my parents would allow.

Gramma taught me how to crochet granny squares and how to cut and hand stitch Dresden Plate quilt blocks. She answered my questions about baking and cooking while she made dinner, measured a cake, or mixed and rolled out pie dough. She treated me to Vienna bread and real butter after school. (Our own house was an oleo-only house. Eating real butter was almost as good as eating chocolate.) I watched her sew, helped her hang laundry outside on the clotheslines on summer Mondays, and we picked strawberries on June mornings then toted them home and made jam and fresh strawberry pie.

Grampa was a barber. To keep the costs down, Gramma used a wringer washer to wash the towels Grampa used in his barber shop (though my mom and aunt have said that she washed them by hand before she had a wringer washer). When her youngest daughter graduated from high school and chose to go to college, Gramma worked in a bakery to help pay for her tuition.

Gramma never had a driver's license: someone else drove when she needed to go anywhere. If the driver was my grandfather, she frequently reminded him that he was going too fast (at 35 mph!). On the other hand, fast trains were not a problem. She once took me with her on a train trip to Cleveland. Someone drove us to the train station in Niles where we boarded the train and an hour or so later we arrived at our destination. (The trip by car from Mineral Ridge to Cleveland took two hours or more.) Riding a train was an exciting adventure, all the better because I shared it with Gramma.

Because of the precious hours I spent in her company I think I should know some facts about my grandmother's childhood and youth; her parents and their personalities; her school experiences; how she met my grandfather and decided to marry him; and so much more. But I don't know any of those things. Maybe I never asked when I was young; or maybe I asked and she didn't answer; or maybe I asked and have forgotten her answers. (It's easy to believe that she didn't share much about her younger years: I come from a long line of non-storytellers on both sides of my family who remained mum about their childhood experiences.)

Other than the anecdotal information above, everything I know about my grandmother, Emma Virginia Bickerstaff Meinzen, can fit in a thimble. She was born in Jefferson County, Ohio, on July 6, 1892. Her parents are Edward Jesse and Mary (Thompson) Bickerstaff. She is the second of 9 siblings. She married William Carl Robert "Bob" Meinzen in Mineral Ridge, Ohio, on September 8, 1914, and is the mother of four daughters. She died on February 7, 1973, in Warren, Ohio, and is buried in Kerr Cemetery, Evansville, Ohio.

That last paragraph, the one with the bare-bones biographical information, is important for genealogical purposes. But the previous paragraphs are the biography from my heart. They tell who my grandmother was by going beyond dates and locations. I wish I could find paragraphs like those for every ancestor. They will help future generations know my grandmother, know the kind, loving, and generous person she was, and help them understand a little about the relationship I had with her. I'm grateful to have been able to spend so much time with her. She was a light in my young life.

. . . . . . . . .

This post is being contributed to the Carnival of Genealogy #116, Picture/Story for Women's History Month, which is hosted by Jasia at Creative Gene. Thank you, Jasia.


  1. Nancy, sometimes your writing is informative sometimes it touches my heart. This is a heart toucher. It reminds me of my wife and the time she spends with her grand daughters, teaching them the things that her grandma taught her- sewing, knitting, how to make a pie crust that doesn't taste like cardboard- even how to sort clothes before you wash them. You must have had a special place in your grandma's heart.

  2. Hi Nancy,

    My blog was deleted yesterday, much to my horror. It's not that rare of an occurrence, as I found out from the help forums. And there's nothing you can do about it; you're at the mercy of Blogger. If they decide to fix it your blog comes back. It doesn't always work out that way though.

    Some people might not care, because they just blog for the present, but I thought of your blog, which builds on itself. Maybe you already back it up, but if not you might want to see the post I put up today on how to do that.


  3. Nancy, what an absolutely delightful read. Everyone needs a Grandmother like your Grandma Bickerstaff --- and I love stories that touch the heart as do yours. Makes one want to curl up in a granny square wrap, munch on chocolate chip cookies while grandma tells stories of here and there.

  4. Jimmie, I was lucky to be the youngest of all the grandchildren which, I think, put my grandmother on the downside of her energy level: she was able and willing to sit and visit with a young granddaughter. It was a huge blessing to live close enough to visit daily. It seems that fewer and fewer descending generations live in close proximity to older relatives these days. What an opportunity they miss.

    How wonderful that your wife is teaching her granddaughters lifetime skills and building bonds of friendship and love as she does so. They will cherish her and that relationship for their whole lives.

  5. Christine H., how awful that you lost your blog! And how wonderful that it was restored, whole and complete!!! Thanks for thinking of me when it happened. You are the second blogger I know within only a few months whose blog disappeared. I took to heart this second recommendation to back up my blog and DID IT! I would be heart-broken to lose everything. Thank you for posting a comment to encourage me, Christine. I appreciate it.

  6. Thank you, Joan. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

  7. What a beautiful tribute to your grandmother, Nancy. I can tell how much you treasure your memories of her. I feel the same way about my grandmother. And I agree--the dates, names, and places are necessary, but it's the stories that keep the person's memory alive. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Nancy,

    I love this blog post about your grandparents. I have the same feelings about my grandma Morse and wish I'd asked her so many more questions as a kid. Keep up the great writing!


  9. Such beautiful memories! Thanks for sharing!

  10. I love this story from your heart. It so clearly demonstrates that family history is so much more than biographical details. Like you I wish I'd asked more questions, or listened better..not sure which it was, but like you I don't remember.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...