The E. E. Rockfields in New York City, 1904

Mayme Rockfield with first born daughter, Louise 1909

Mary (Mayme) Egan Horne   30 Nov 1879–26 Feb 1974    

Everett Earl Rockfield   21 Feb 1879–2 May 1943

Everett Edward Rockfield, abt 1899

My grandparents were married in August 1903.  The wedding was held in Columbus, Ohio.  Both Mayme and Ev were in their mid-twenties and the next-to-the-youngest and youngest members of their respective large families.

After their wedding, Ev got a job in NYC working for Railway Express.  What an adventure this would be for a newly married couple that had never ventured outside of Ohio!  They packed their wedding gifts and clothing in steamer trunks and headed east.

The Rockfield's New York City apartment, 1904

Mayme must have had great fun decorating their first home in the latest fashion.  These were still Victorian times, so lots of “stuff” was required.  A cozy corner was a must in the interior design of the day.

In the first picture, note the curtain on a rod stretched across an alcove.  A lamp is placed on an upended trunk.  Framed family pictures are hidden in the dark of the enclosure, but would be illuminated by the lamp when lighted.  Another trunk has been placed horizontally in front of the vertical trunk with more of the curtains thumbtacked on to it.  I doubt if this corner was designed for actual sitting—except for the cat!

Pillows are scattered around with casual elegance.   Some are lacy, others stamped with Gibson girl portraits and others covered in silk.  Patterns abound!  One floral carpet has been laid over another floral carpet while another floral pattern covers the walls and a different one adorns the ceiling.

Two swords are crossed at the top of the display.  Mayme’s father attained the rank of Captain with the Union army during the Civil War, so one of the swords is his.  Everett was a Mason and became a Knight Templar, so the other sword belongs to him.

Two decorative columns hold classical busts, one adorned with beads around its neck.  A classic Gibson girl framed picture hangs on the wall.

English: Pen and ink drawing of the Gibson Gir...

classic Gibson Girl Image via Wikipedia

In front of the display two fencing swords are crossed and two fencing masks sit behind the swords, one of which is upended.  I suspect the cat!  Most surprising is the rumpled rug.  Again I suspect the cat, sitting in blurry elegance on a pillow in the cozy corner.

Mayme saved this cat from certain death when she dashed into the apartment to drag her out from under the bed after someone threw a firecracker through the window and set the apartment on fire.

The second picture shows a large portrait of Mayme’s parents in the mid-1860s shortly before their wedding.  A restored version of that picture hangs in my stairwell.  Another framed family portrait is displayed as well, with the busy cat on another column stand.  A decorative cloth is arranged on the hearth and more photos reflected in the mirror.

The vase was a wedding gift.  That vase still survives.  I remember it in my home from childhood.  My mother hated the vase when she was a little girl and tried to break it.  Fortunately, it survived the attack and has graced a home in our family ever since.

I’ve always enjoyed these pictures and the little peek into my grandparents’ lives at the beginning of the last century.

I’m grateful that my mother saved them and took the time to tell me about it and add little notes for

Wanna-Be Cowboys

Today my younger daughter, Jennifer, and my three grandchildren are visiting the National Western Stock Show .  I guess I should have been more diligent about taking my daughters, Jennifer and Julianne, to the Stock Show every January when they were young since Jen considers it a yearly event for her daughter.  She values the experience for her child and enjoys it enough to take her two nephews as well on a rare day off.

Julia, Andrew and Beck at the National Western Stock Show. 16 Jan 12

I remember my own visits to the Stock Show while growing up in Denver.  We went to the rodeo several times.  It is always held indoors, since this is Denver, Colorado in January!  There are three venues near what used to be the stockyards.

I think I got my fill, though, as a teacher of second graders for six years.  The National Western Stock Show was a regular field trip for that grade in the Denver Public Schools.   We had guides who helped us lead 30 or so youngsters through the throngs of visitors and around the cattle, sheep and horses.  Still, I always worried about those children who lagged behind or wandered off.  There’s always one!  The children I taught didn’t usually attend the Stock Show with their families, so this field trip was a good educational experience for them.  Even though they always held their noses with the first whiff of the animal droppings, they came back to the school very excited about the animals and cowboys, trailing an earthy stock show fragrance.

National Western Stock Show Parade - 17th Stre...

Herding longhorns down 17th Street Denver National Western Stock Show Image via Wikipedia

English: Downtown skyscrapers in Denver, Colorado.

Denver SkylineImage via Wikipedia

My sister-in-law has visited Dave and me in Denver several times.  She lives in Evanston, Illinois, just outside of Chicago.  On one of those trips she mentioned her surprise that people from Denver consider themselves Westerners.  When Dave told me that, I was surprised.  Of course we consider ourselves part of the West—the Wild West even—although throughout my lifetime Denver has been trying to be considered MORE than a “cow town.”  Anyone who visits Denver today will see a city that has grown beyond the “cow town” image.  Maybe that’s why Connie was surprised that Denver’s citizens consider themselves Western, not Midwestern!

My mother’s family came to Denver from Columbus, Ohio in 1920.  My grandmother’s younger brother, Edwin, had moved to Denver for a job opportunity selling mining equipment.  My grandparents and family followed a few years later.  Eventually, the entire Horne/Rockfield side of the family had settled in Denver.   The legends and myths of “The West” were clear in their minds, as you can see by these pictures.

My Ohio to Denver family saw themselves as pioneers when they moved to Colorado. This is taken in about 1925 in Indian Hills, a mountain community outside of Denver. It is almost in the suburbs now.

My mother (the tall "Indian") with her cousins, parents and sister at their cabin in Indian Hills. circa 1925 They look rather grumpy here. A fascination with western lore, the many westerns on TV in the 1950s and early 1960s, influenced Baby Boomers around the country. When I visit antique stores and look at old pictures, people in cowboy clothing prevail.

World War II brought my father to Denver.  Lowry Field, as it was called in those days, provided technical training for the Army Air Forces involved with armaments, i.e. gun sites and the loading and dropping of bombs from the air.  He fell in love with my mother, Denver and the mountains and returned here after 3 years as a Bombardment Officer in the Mediterranean Theater.  This is where I was born and my love of Denver began.

English: Lowry Field, Denver, Colorado

Lowry Field Denver, CO World War II era Image via Wikipedia

A fascination with western lore, the many westerns on TV in the 1950s and early 1960s, influenced Baby Boomers around the country.  When I visit antique stores and look at old pictures, people in cowboy clothing prevail.

Aunt Emily visiting from Illinois, with my sister Beth (pointing the gun) and me, Mary Julia 1954

Last year I wrote a post titled The Code of the West in which I referred to a set of principles developed for a curriculum unit in a local school district.  I believe this code applies to our lives today as well in the past, whether we live in the west, the east, the north or the south.  These are universal principles.

The Code of the West
▪   Live each day with courage
▪   Take pride in your work
▪   Always finish what you start
▪   Do what has to be done
▪   Be tough but fair
▪   When you make a promise, keep it
 ▪   Ride for the brand
▪   Talk less and say mor
▪   Remember that some things aren’t for sale
▪   Know where to draw the line

                                                                                                                 Happy trails to you!

Remembering Roy D. Harris–On His 100th Birthday August 25, 1911-December 14, 1997

This post is abstracted from the Preface of my as of yet unpublished book Uncommon Valor.  I have used information from an unpublished autobiography of Marshall Harris and a biographical sketch written by Roy Harris.

Roy David Harris Memorial Album

My father, Roy David Taylor Harris, was born in Pindall, Arkansas, on August 25, 1911, 100 years ago.   His two middle names honored his paternal grandfather, a Methodist preacher from southern Illinois.  He was the oldest of two sons and one daughter born to William and Julia Harris.

When William Harris found steady employment with the Great Northern Railroad, his small family lived in a boxcar while he worked as an expert cement finisher on a bridge construction crew.  The boxcar was fitted out as living quarters that had to be packed up tightly whenever it relocated to a new job site up or down the tracks from Illinois to North Dakota.  In spite of how well Julia packed the cabinets, inevitably some dishes flew out of the cupboards and crashed onto the floor.  Roy recalled playing alongside and inside the railroad tracks as a toddler.  In fact, this was his earliest memory.  The boxcar home became more crowded when Marshall Fields Harris was born in 1913.  A sister, Emily Ruth, was born in 1924, after the family had settled down to farming.

Once Roy and Marshall were school age, William and Julia realized that their gypsy lifestyle had to end.  After renting several small farms in southern Illinois, they bought their own farm in Dorchester, Illinois, near the state’s border with Missouri.  This farm was surrounded by six acres of rich, fertile soil.  William loved gardening, so he established a large garden that provided vegetables, berries and peanuts.  They had a cow for milk and dairy products, chickens for their eggs and fried chicken dinners, and hogs for meat and sausage.  William also raised bees and Julia raised parakeets.  To subsidize the farm’s income, William returned to work for the Great Northern, this time laboring in their coalmines.  Once the brothers were old enough, they also helped on the farm and hired themselves out to work for other farmers.  Although the Harris family had little disposable income, and only a small savings account, their farm kept them well fed, even during the Great Depression.

Recalling his childhood, Roy remembered camping trips with his family.  In those days cars were unreliable and cranky, so trips on undeveloped and dangerous roads included several unexpected stops along the way to fix the car.  Nevertheless, Roy spoke fondly and humorously about these adventures, as well as the campfires and the stories told under the stars.

He also recounted tales of the mischief the two brothers dreamed up.  One of those stories involved catching unwary drivers in a hole the two of them enlarged in the road after a rainstorm.  The boys would hide, waiting for someone driving too fast or not paying attention, to become stuck in the hole.  The boys would conveniently appear, offering to help free the frustrated driver.   Invariably, the grateful victim would give them a few cents as a reward for helping.  As soon as the car was out of the way, they would hide again, awaiting the next unlucky automobile.  A day spent as “Good Samaritans” could net some candy money at least!  Eventually word traveled into town about the “helpful boys” and the hole in the road.  Their Dad immediately ended this profitable enterprise.  In addition to adventures and misadventures, the horses, geese, cows, barn cats and dogs provided tales of a pleasant and loving rural Illinois farm life.

With a large extended family in and around Dorchester, Shipman and Bunker Hill, as well as an active church life, relatives and friends socialized a lot.  Cousins became best friends, and there were several good neighbors on the nearby farms.  Roy knew a number of immigrant families during his childhood in the southern Illinois.  Many of them were not new immigrants, but they still spoke their native languages at home.   He remembered that the local Methodist church offered German language services while he was a child.  A search of the census records reveals surnames from Italy, Bohemia and Scandinavia. Besides the Methodist church, there was a busy Catholic church as well.

Roy and Marshall began school together due to the years spent in the boxcar.  Despite their 23-month age difference, they remained in the same class throughout their public school days.  Since they attended a small country school with several grades mixed together, wide age differences were not uncommon.

Julia and William recognized that a good education would broaden their opportunities, so they provided some financial help to their sons when they enrolled at McKendree College, a small Methodist school in Lebanon, Illinois.   It took them over six years to graduate from college because they had to take time off in order to earn additional money for their books, room and board.  Gerald Harris, their cousin and the assistant pastor of a St. Louis Methodist church, was also the administrator of Goodwill Industries in the St. Louis, Missouri area.  Besides helping Gerald set up the church for services, teaching Sunday school and providing janitorial services, the Harris brothers worked as solicitors for Goodwill.  This required traveling to other states in the summer to arrange for and collect donations.

After college graduation, Roy and Marshall headed to St. Louis.  While Marshall started work in a bank, Roy followed his interest in electronics and machinery.  He found a job as a motor tester with Emerson Electrics until the factory had a labor cutback and he was laid off.   During visits back home, several people approached Roy about becoming a teacher and principal of a small two-room school in a nearby town.  He accepted the job, attending Southern Illinois University in the summers to obtain necessary teaching credentials.

In 1940 Marshall Harris married and joined the Navy, moving to San Diego.  In 1941, after a few years of teaching, Roy decided that he would not renew his contract when it ended.  The world was changing.  Hitler was marching unimpeded throughout Europe while draft notices were arriving in young American men’s mailboxes.  Expecting a draft notice, Roy

a choice about his branch of service.  After investigating the training possibilities, he chose the Army Air Corps because they assured him he would be assigned to Scott Field in Illinois.  They also promised him training in radio communication, one of his great interests.  Rumors of a girl friend in his hometown may have influenced his desire to stay nearby.  However, the promise of remaining in Illinois proved to be untrue, as did the radio training, when he was notified just a few days after signing his enlistment papers, that he would be sent to Lowry Field in Denver, Colorado.  Roy’s disappointment with his reassignment faded as he first viewed the Rocky Mountain backdrop from the train window.  The sudden appearance of the mountain range rising up from the plains captured his heart and never let go.

There was another benefit of this new training field–Roy discovered how interesting armaments could be.  The classes involved both manual and hands-on learning with generators, bomb racks, propellers and machine guns.  Roy was very successful during the training and graduated at the top of his class.  He also demonstrated leadership skills and was asked to become an instructor of the power turrets class.  Because power turrets were a new invention, Roy and the other instructors had to design the course of study and test questions from manuals and their own experiences during training.  The intellectual challenge was stimulating, and the opportunity to work with new machinery and technology exciting, so Roy was pleased with this new adventure.

There were many advantages to becoming an instructor.  He liked the teaching, he was now a sergeant with a technical degree and his pay was better than what he had been making as a civilian.  Additionally, he was not subject to bed checks, K.P. or any other duties—and he had Sundays off!  On his first free Sunday, he headed right to the place where he felt most at home, the nearest Methodist Church.

Within a few weeks, Roy met Betty Rockfield, an elementary school teacher and the woman who would become his wife.  Their “official” introduction occurred at a special Halloween party Betty planned for military men and other young adults attending Warren Methodist Church.  Before the night was over, Roy asked her out on a bowling date.  By St. Valentine’s Day they were engaged.  They were married in a hurry-up formal wedding on 9 May 1942, just before Roy was shipped off to Officer Candidates’ School in Miami Beach.

Betty followed Roy to Miami Beach when the school year ended in June.  The officer candidates’ wives were billeted in luxury hotels along the beach and were able to see their husbands on weekends.   Betty spent her time getting to know the wives and exchanging recipes with them, playing bridge and ironing Roy’s shirts.  By early September 1942 she was back home and teaching again.

Roy and his fellow officers shipped out to England, then Scotland and on to North Africa.  Roy spent World War II serving in the Mediterranean Theater as an armament officer for a light bombardment group.  He moved from North Africa to Sicily, Corsica and Italy.  He also spent time in France and Germany during the Battle of the Bulge.  Roy and Betty did not see each other again until July 1945.

Roy and Betty had two daughters, Mary Julia and Elizabeth Ann, born fourteen months apart (1947 and 1948).  The family lived in Denver, Colorado.  Betty was a teacher and school administrator.  Roy searched a while before settling on a career as purchasing agent for American Smelting & Refining Company.  In 1964 he was offered a job as head of purchasing for the entire company, requiring a move to New York City, but turned it down.  The war had drained Roy of his early ambitions.  He wanted a dependable family life, regular hours and a routine.  His Denver ASARCO job suited his post-war lifestyle choices and his orderly nature.

Besides his work, Roy enjoyed a routine in his private life.  He played volleyball every Tuesday night and exercised at a local gym two nights a week.  He loved following his favorite baseball teams (the St. Louis Cardinals and a local AAA minor league team) and football teams  (the Denver Broncos and the University of Colorado) on radio and television, sometimes using both media at the same time!  His interests also included keeping up with the latest technological advancements in radio, television and phonograph equipment.  He loved cars, keeping the family automobiles in tip-top condition.  Whenever he traded in a car, the dealership never had to clean it or tune it up.  In quieter moments, when the lawn had been cared for, household repairs made and other duties accomplished, my father would sit down with the daily newspaper, which he read cover to cover, or the most recent The Reader’s Digest.  He loved jokes, comics, word puzzles and sports stories.   He also solved the daily crossword puzzle.

Roy’s steady habits were a good antidote to Betty’s frenetic pace.  His structured days, neat habits and bookkeeping skills continued into his retirement and the years after Betty’s  1990 death. On a personal level, I found his apartment a sanctuary from my harried days of work, children and a difficult second marriage.  We drank Diet Seven-Up from glasses filled with ice, placed on neatly folded napkins and arranged on snack trays.  Around his reading lamp, with soft drinks in hand, we often discussed my mother.

All the time that he seemed to be neutral in our lives, Daddy was lending moral and emotional support to his beloved Betty.  I found evidence of his devotion in little notes and cards my mother saved throughout the years.  After she was gone, he would say, “Poor Betty, she always put making her mother proud before anything else.  She was never really happy.”  By that time I had also decided that my mother’s lifelong pattern of preoccupation with tasks outside of her domestic life had driven her into a corner from which she couldn’t escape.

During these special times with my father, politics, religion, television programs, my teenage daughters and my disintegrating marriage were also discussed and dissected.   It was then that he paid me a high compliment after my second divorce.  “Mary Julia, there is no man smart enough or good enough for you.”  I still cherish that assessment, although I did eventually find someone who met these criteria.  By the time I met and married Dave, my father had slipped into dementia.  When he died in December 1997 at the age of 86, I became a 50-year-old orphan.

I feel privileged to have spent quality time with my dad during the seven years between my mother’s and his death.  When she was alive, he seemed to sit apart from my sister and me.  Once she was gone, he established special relationships with his two daughters.  I treasure the discoveries I made about my father–his kindness, keen insights and the similarities of our values, politics and personalities.  My husband, who never knew my mother, told me that I looked much more like my dad than my mom. While searching for pictures to scan, I could see this clearly.  My sister has his wide smile.

I’m grateful for those few precious years and all that I learned about my modest, sweet and caring dad.  Finally my father stepped out of the shadows so we could become friends as well as father and daughter.

Family Myth 1: Peter and Elizabeth Collins

My sister and I are the remaining members of our immediate family.  Usually she remembers what I have forgotten and I do the likewise for her.  Sometimes we remember the same event differently, based upon many different factors–family placement, what impacted one or the other individually or our emotional baggage at the time.  It is valuable to have another viewpoint to flesh out an event.

For all the family history I did not witness on the maternal side of my family, I have over forty years of family letters written by my grandmother and saved by my aunt.  My grandmother lived in Denver and my aunt lived in New York.  Fortunately, they were skilled and avid letter writers, so when my aunt passed away, my mother brought the letters back to Denver and now I have them.  My aunt  and my mother were intrigued by our family’s genealogy and they encouraged my curiosity.  I have inherited their work and I am building on it, with a firm  resolve to complete the family tree as best I can, as well as write a family history to go with it.  So, let me begin with this story.

Mary Egan Horne Rockfield in a studio pose 1890s

Mary Egan Horne Rockfield

My maternal grandmother was a great storyteller.  My sister and I would sit down on either side of her begging,  “Tell us a story, Grandma!”  Sometimes she would share a fairy tale memorized from an old book that I now cherish.  Other times she would launch into a family story.  We were very young children then, so we never thought of writing down the stories or asking pertinent questions when we didn’t understand something.

At times Grandmother’s stories included people we didn’t know, only discovering later on that she was sharing tales of her husband’s raucous childhood.   My grandfather died four years before I was born, so anything I know about him came from his wife (Grandma), my mother (his daughter) and the few letters preserved by my aunt.  Other stories came from my grandmother’s childhood.  They were intriguing as well, giving my sister and me a glimpse of the olden days.

I realized later on in life that my grandmother tended to exaggerate or embellish her stories.  She did it in her letters too,  as well as her oral storytelling.   At times I wish I was more like her!  One of the reasons I don’t write fiction is that I am very grounded in the truth,  even if it is boring compared to a lovely embellished detail.   Great storytellers and stand-up comedians know the value of  shaping a tale into something funny, interesting or tragic—even if it doesn’t exactly match the events as they actually unfolded.

Two years ago I made a discovery that explained where my maternal grandmother may have inherited her bit of the ol’ Irish blarney–her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Collins.  Peter and Elizabeth Collins were my second great-grandparents.  The emigrated from Ireland before the potato famine and eventually settled in Columbus, Ohio.  My mother and I knew very little about them except their names and the fact  they were the only Catholics in our very Protestant lineage.  In 1950, my Aunt Louise wrote to her mother, requesting information about the family.  Here is the reply she wrote concerning the Collins grandparents.

Edward Pearson Horne & Mary Agnes Collins

Your Grandfather Horne’s people came from Cincinnati, Ohio, and were what you term well-to-do people.  He was born in Philadelphia.  His father died when he was very young and his mother was counting on making a fine, educated lawyer out of him, but he ran away.  He lied about his age and joined the army and when he married a Catholic girl, then she was through with him and it broke her heart.  Also, my Grandfather Collins was wealthy.  He owned a large brick yard and did contracting work.  He built many of the largest homes in Columbus, Ohio.  He died during the awful epidmic of cholera where people dropped by the dozens hourly and he came home for his noon meal, finished eating, went out to sit under a tree in the backyard to rest before returning to his office and was seized with an attack and died before a doctor could arrive.  Their home was a beauty, a 14 room brick house with great white marble mantels in up- and downstairs rooms and great stone steps in front with a high iron picket fence.  It was a show place all on its own.  Grandmother Collins sent her three daughters to a private girl’s school in Cincinnati.  There were none in Columbus good enough for her.

A little over two years ago I was able to visit the genealogical library in Columbus to research the Collins family.  Searching church records, city directories and indexes, I finally found information about Peter Collins.  He had died in 1855, but was buried in the Irish and Polish Catholic cemetery, not the wealthy German Catholic church.  I was directed to a court case involving Elizabeth Collins and her children.  Her husband was not the owner of a brick yard–he worked in one making bricks that went into all the fine houses.   He died destitute.  Bankruptcy proceedings were brought against the Collins family and they were evicted from their home.  It was not on Naughton Street.

Further research revealed that the Edward P. Horne family was living on Naughton Street in the 1880s, in a boarding house managed by Elizabeth Collins.  The house with the marble mantels, great stone steps and iron picket fence had fallen in status and become a multi-family living establishment.  Was my grandmother lying? Was her grandmother lying?  Was my grandmother remembering differently, based on her emotional state of mind or her youth when she heard this story?  The fact that her story and the facts I discovered were so different from each other became the most interesting aspect of this piece of family history.   It explains so much about my grandmother, my aunt and my mother: their firm belief that they were so much better than their circumstances.  The pretensions on the maternal side of my family lasted into my generation, until my sister and I both ran headlong into it as teenagers. Part of our story is the many ways in which we broke free.

Sadly, my second great-grandmother lost her life on the iron picket fence that surrounded the grand old house on Naughton street.  A quail startled the horse she was riding and threw her on to one of those iron pickets.  When she died, my grandmother was eight years old.  What I know of the  circumstances of Mary Agnes Collins Horne’s death are based on a story told to me by my grandmother.