Rediscovering A Talk With My Husband’s Aunt (Part 1)

1 Apr

Cleaning out my house as we prepare to move has brought me several treasures.  One I have been looking for over the last few months, as my husband’s family had planned a family reunion in June, which has since been cancelled.  But what I was looking for finally turned up in a file cabinet drawer.

Over 30 years ago, I sat down with my husband’s Aunt Matt, who was his mother’s sister.  My husband’s Mom died of lung cancer when she was only 59.  After my daughter was born, I felt truly sad that she would never hear stories about her grandmother’s family.  So I asked Aunt Matt if she would be the substitute. She was delighted!

We used to spend a long weekend each March at the Lake of the Ozarks with Aunt Matt and her husband, Uncle Stan, in a time share they had.  This was the perfect opportunity.  My husband and his uncle took my daughter fishing, while Aunt Matt and I talked about her life in Leavenworth and Wichita, Kansas, and I recorded her words.

Aunt Matt, whose real name was Marie, was filled with love for her parents and her nine siblings.  Her father, Leon, was from Romania.  He had both a law degree and a medical degree.  After college, at Sorbonne, he went to England where he met his wife, Esther. She was just 15 when they married.  (See blogs below about their marriage) Leon spoke 7 languages!

Esther and Leon

They first lived in London where the first three children were born: Molly, Joe and Jean.  They came to North America in 1912.   I understand that they came through Canada.   They first settled in New Orleans, where Leon taught at Tulane University.   (I had never heard this before!)

During the First World War, Leon entered the United States Army, where he became a colonel.  He stayed an extra year in Europe as he was put in charge of the exchange of prisoners.  (There is actually a photo of him with prisoners that one of my husband’s cousins owns.) 

Colonel Leon M.

While he was in Europe, his young family lived in Brooklyn with family. Aunt Matt said with their grandparents.  (I do know that Esther’s had family in NY. But I thought it was her brother.).  When he finally got back to the USA, the family moved to Pennsylvania, where Colonel Leon was in charge of a military hospital.  They lived in a home belonging to a family that gave it to the Army to use.  It was just 100 steps from the hospital.

Somewhere along the way, from Tulane, to Wichita for a bit, to Pennsylvania, four more children were born: Marie, Fred, Florence (Toots) and Ben (Bubsy).  When Leon was finally discharged and left active duty, he moved his family to Wichita, Kansas. Aunt Matt had no idea why they moved. (The names in parenthesis are family nicknames.)

The next baby, Leona ”Lee”  (Bubbles) was born in Wichita.  Her birth in 1925 was almost exactly one year after the oldest daughter, Molly, died while attending college in New York.  Bubble’s middle name, May, was for her sister.  This baby was important in my family, as she was my husband’s mother.  Aunt Matt said, “Lee was a born one year and two days after Molly died of pneumonia in 1924 while at Columbia University, where she was studying art.”

Lee was the only child born in Wichita.   While there, Leon had a private practice. But he was also part of a group that founded the first free clinic.  The St. Francis Free Dispensary was founding in 1922.

Aunt Matt did not know why the family moved once again to Leavenworth, Kansas. But they did sometime before 1927, because the last two children, Barbara and Richard were born when they lived in Leavenworth.  Leon had a private practice their specializing in OB/BYN and Surgery.  

Life changed for them after just a few years after moving to Leavenworth. When the youngest, Richard, was just two years old, their mother, Esther, died.  Aunt Matt was in college then.  She was told that her mother died of pneumonia.  But we know she died in childbirth.  (See blog below.)

This blog covers the first three pages of 17 pages of notes. The next ones will discuss the time in Leavenworth, Kansas.

If you read these other blogs, you will find slightly different stories. We all have the stories our parent’s told us. With ten siblings ranging about 25 years apart in age, different grandchildren of Leon and Esther, were told slightly different stories. OR had slightly different memories. These are Aunt Matt’s memories.

6 Responses to “Rediscovering A Talk With My Husband’s Aunt (Part 1)”

  1. Amy April 1, 2020 at 9:01 pm #

    It’s hard to imagine that she married at 15 and the marriage lasted. Was it an arranged marriage? How old was Leon?

    You’re so lucky to have had this chance to interview your aunt! I look forward to the segments to come.

    • zicharon April 1, 2020 at 10:40 pm #

      Leon was already a doctor in his mid to late 20s when they married. They met in the hospital. He was the doctor on call. And she had cut her hand or arm. I am so glad I did speak to her. She told me several stories. And she did focus some on Jay’s mom.

      • Amy April 2, 2020 at 9:46 am #

        Wow—I wonder what her parents thought. Yes, a nice Jewish doctor, but ten or more years younger and not yet even of legal age. If some late 20s doctor had wanted to marry one of my daughters at 15, I would have told him to wait at least seven years until she graduated from college and see if they still loved each other!

      • zicharon April 2, 2020 at 12:12 pm #

        Remember. They got married in the early years around 1900. I think
        Things were a little different then.

  2. Sharon April 3, 2020 at 8:51 am #

    Glad you are moving to find this treasure and start this series 🙂 I loved the picture of Esther and Leon, what a treasure. My husband married his first wife (in the 60’s) and she was 15 (I can’t even imagine) went on to have 4 children but died in childbirth with the last. We married and when the youngest wanted to marry at 16, her HS sweet heart already in the service, we were horrified but she passed the HS equivalent exam, her fathers condition and married in Vegas. She went on to have 3 beautiful grands for us, a career at in finance at the Pentagon and now in Alaska on base in finance still. Different time periods but when love calls ……

    • zicharon April 3, 2020 at 11:07 am #

      Esther also died in childbirth when she was about 41. Very sad times for the family. So happy that your daughter’s marriage was so happy!

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