Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Growing Pains 1939~~~

I tell my story subjectively as I lived  and perceived  life once upon a time.  

I must first return to a place, Fond du lac, WI, a people, the Bergin ancestors. Michael Bergin, is my great grandfather. Michael with his brother Timothy emigrated from Ireland to America in the Spring of 1846. After living 2 years in Vermont the brothers came to Wisconsin homesteading 160 acres along Vandyne Creek, near Fond du lac, Wisconsin. The creek divided the brothers land. 

Our Michael Bergin ancestor married Julia Clochesy, and my great great grandparents raised their family. When their eldest child, Timothy married, he left home, pushed westward and homesteaded in Minnesota, eventually having 10 living children. Another son, Michael followed raising 8 children. My grandfather's brother, Michael, visiting at the Wisconsin homestead is shown in the photo below along with his twin daughters. We have many Bergin relatives in Minnesota and westward, even in California. I have this piece we found far off in a LuVerne, MN library when we visited the Bergin extended family while RVing. Rock County biographies. Michael Bergin [1882], for nearly 30 years a resident of Springwater Township is one of the precinct’s most popular farmers and stock breeders and large land owners. He holds title to 800 A of finely improved land in the township and as a successful stock raiser has a wide reputation. He makes a specialty of fine Durham and Shorthorn cattle, Jersey Red and Poland China hogs, and Belgian draft horses, which he imports from Europe. The parents of our subject were Michael and Julia [Clohesy] Bergin, who came from Ireland to the United States in 1840 and made settlement in Fond du lac county Wisconsin. There Michael Bergin of this sketch, on November 7, 1857, gazed for the first time on things of the earth. The father had invested in government land and for his farm paid $1.25 per acre. At the age of 25 Michael set out for Rock County, where he purchased the homestead right to the northeast quarter of section 12, range 47, Springwater township, his home to this day. As he prospered he came into possession of other holdings. For eight years he served as director of his school district. He is a stockholder in the Farmers Elevator Company of Sherman, South Dakota and in Independent Harvestor Company of Plano, Illinois.  In Luverne, on January 10, 1859, was united in marriage to Lizzie Fitzgerald, the daughter of James and Honora Fitzgerald, both of whom were buried in the old country. Five children had been born: John, November 5 1890, James August 3 1891, Julia June 5 1895, Irene and Mary, twins, March 5 1900.
Bruce searched and found the deeds to both brothers land holdings and has them on file. Very impressive.
Middle row-Uncle Michael  2nd from left, John and Margaret far right.  My dad top row right between his twin cousins Irene and Mary.  Young uncles seated front with Helen  All thanks to Elayne's son, Bill, who rescued this photo for posterity]  
My grandfather, John Bergin, the youngest of the brothers, remaining in Wisconsin,  inherited his father’s farm, the homestead, from his dad, Michael Bergin Sr.. John is my father’s dad. We have each person named and archived in above photo.

In the 1970s my dad, William T. Bergin wrote: “Our family’s descendants lost $50,000.00 when Tim, the brother homesteader, across the beautiful creek married a 50 yr. old lady when he too was 50. Then he died of a heart attack. My father had to buy his 120 A. Now the [his?] heirs in the case were entirely outside the family”.  Tim’s homestead was lost to his family. Persons in each generation can make unwise decisions.
Later on my beautiful grandfather, whom I saw as so lovable, lost my father’s respect as he became a slave to his alcoholism, abusing his property, and finally lost the land he had so easily inherited. For most any immigrant to own land was a dream almost out of reach in Ireland. Beyond his generation,  this homestead  would be a loss to any  Bergin progeny. My Daddy held this idea that he could successfully become a landowner where his grand-uncle and his father failed. This 'grand idea' or dream of owning some land expanded as he shared with my mother. Perhaps his dream might become reality. When shared with his wife and us his children the dream appeared as a story we might each take hold of. We believed that together we could make a dream come true.

The decision was made to draw up a purchase contract for a property, 180 A. on Seaman Road, in Hebron, IL. Dad had purchased the property with $12,000. This mortgage was held by Wilder Smith at the Hebron bank. He was an investment banker hoping to make big gains. The original owner was Ross Sill. This farm was known in the community as the old Ross Sill farm. Later I learned from the Stewarts that there was a scheme for this property.What wasn’t told to my daddy, I believe, is that this property had been sold previously at least one time. Then the property foreclosed on. My Daddy was seen around town as one more city sucker. Of course, they certainly didn’t know my dad. A plus for this property was  it’s extensive road frontage. A west/east road came down a hill, wound round the property and as the road turned  north/south the land was on both sides and continued so as it turned once again west/east. This layout gave us no immediate neighbors. Mother knew naught of country life other than novels, movies, the Tullybracky home in Ireland which her mother often referred to and romanticized,  and visiting her in-laws  at the farm in Fond du lac.  How could she make an informed decision. We could not. As it turned out it would cost his sweetheart a great deal emotionally. We would  need to meet and pay off the farm mortgage by tightening all our belts or lose this project altogether, something not one of us ever considered.  Mother could no longer walk on sidewalks to church and school. This was country, gravel roads, party line phone, outhouse.
Mother, Dorothy Russell
Long time friends

No longer were there neighbors and friends all around her. One very close old brave friend, Dorothy, would visit  from Milwaukee, though rarely. Relationships were what fueled her spirit. She had us. She had a husband who loved her. She soon discovered rural life in the 1940s was lonely. She would spend 45 minutes to an hour visiting with the fuel delivery man from Standard Oil when he passed her the bill at the back door. I see now she was giving up much of her self, who she was, is, the person she had always been. To accomplish daddy’s  dream, well, our dream, we would all work and sacrifice to keep Simon Legree from the door. She would oversee the chores daddy would daily leave us with. She rarely participated in them. Billy, Jimmy and I were silently aware as little sister and little brothers. I believe, however, Elayne began to step forward into mother’s and dad’s shoes and assume some of their responsibilities beyond her age and calling, when she might best have tended to her own growing into womanhood. This led to her sympathizing with mother. She would get irritated when dad would usher in a new project when we already had enough to do. Whereas I sympathized with my father and thought he should be understood. I mention this because I believe it became a part of who I thought I needed to be. Children assume these roles in their families. We were no exception. I saw myself as needing to keep things on an even kiel-- to keep things running smoothly, removing irritations or covering them over, ta-da, and keeping my feelings to myself. Raggedy Ann again. My sister assumed responsibility to keep things operational. Timing for this project came late for my sister, Elayne who was entering her teens, 14, 15, 16.  Mother played her grand piano most every day and perhaps more than once a day, losing herself in melodies and lyrics and filling our home with music. We loved and appreciated this contribution.

MK, Dorothy, Elayne

Down the coming years we witnessed  mother experiencing periods when she would be sad, lonely, with little outlet for her personality. She would frequently say she had a headache and retire to her bedroom or she’d say “I have some dusting to do”, which we learned to use as a joke line when she did this withdrawal. Headaches did seem more frequent in these years after her prolonged ear infection. After a period of time she would reappear out of her room restored, to be with us, get dinner, tell us to run down in the cellar for potatoes and then to put water on to boil, cut up onion for the ground beef patties, etc. 

She had her red Betty Crocker Cook Book which gave her and us detailed directions for preparing our meals. She surely wouldn't have the kitchen help her mother had. Elayne and I would spend our time and labor out of doors, mainly. We concentrated all our efforts on the outside of our home.Had we remained in the city, keeping a nice house would be our chores. This house was very raw, meagre,  to work with, keep up to snuff, learn from. I had difficulty comparing my family life to those who would be my classmates and friends. I often felt ashamed. Not one of us had any real idea of the sacrifices required.

Mother's personality was strong and vibrant for she was a capable woman, very personable, an excellent listener. Her hair was no longer done weekly, nor would she go shopping for a new gown and accessories as Marquette reunion wasn’t an event  they any longer attended. Many times I would have her sit in her chair and I'd brush her hair, even styling which she seemed to enjoy immensely.  The price of a cleaning woman was no longer in our budget. Daddy did make the project very clear to us- what it would entail and the sacrifices we would each need to make. Awareness came after the fact.  I believe there were those times mother attempted to express herself to daddy but was not able to or perhaps to be clearly understood. When mother and daddy had disagreements and rather than stand firm voicing her needs she would, after just a short spat perhaps, go quiet. She held firmly arguing in front of children was not OK. In the long run these were not necessarily healthy roles. This is how this family would now function.

My father was handsome, healthy, bright, a reader, interested in government, provided for his family, was always there with us working, talking, sharing, soft spoken, quiet, comfortable in the kitchen especially mornings when he would get breakfast ready before catching the train for his commute to work in Chicago. He’d put the aluminum wearever double boiler on the stove and when the water boiled make a big pot of hot cereal for all, oatmeal, malt o’meal, cream of wheat. We’d have stewed prunes, 3 0r 4 in a small bowl, glass of milk, perhaps buttered toast and jam, our soft-cooked egg. Parents drank coffee. We never did. We went off to school with a big breakfast under our belts. He kept his employment with American Printing Ink Company and would travel to Chicago daily by railroad, an early commuter, a weekender.  He had a very special boss, Mr. Metcalf which made his workday enjoyable.  Each morning while readying for work he’d turn on the tiny radio, listening to weather, news and farm reports. I found this routine comforting, feeling safe and secure, as I stirred from my night’s sleep each morning from my bunk bed. He now could routinely find his own special reading time seated in his train car the hour into the city, mornings, and the hour back out, evenings. In retrospect 'what was daddy giving up?' I can hear Elayne at times saying, 'He is playing'. I comment because we each made decisions those days about ourselves and about life which would affect our relationships in the future with our spouses and with our children. I want you to know. Daddy had suffered from stomach ulcers and we felt it our place to keep mealtimes quiet, no arguing, no disturbing discussions. He had lost a Marquette schoolmate, a buddy, Dorothy Russell's [shown above] hubby who was a lawyer and poisoned. Mother always saw this as a threat to her marriage. It was mainly any thought, 'heaven forbid', at all that we would lose our father similarly which kept us kids in line-- behaving ourselves. Ulcers were a potential killer or so we thought. To rile up daddy was forebode. No need for spanks. We felt our bad behavior could kill our father.  I have referred to my father as daddy, thus far in this story. This could aid in understanding my felt position in this family as daddy's little girl. 
He was not an overbearing bossy father. She was a good manager, caring person, a mother. He had a domestic side, clearly and she had a business aptitude. They were not the typical man of the house and little woman. They were a match. Yet, in melding herself into country life she was modeling to me now how to  survive in an unequal situation. And so it was. We looked good. 

Hard times mother would take out her rosary and pray. Offer up her sacrifices. This lovely couple were living in that still very patriarchal society. Women in this society were undervalued. And even though this was not being played out much in my home if this project were to succeed Cecile would swallow her needs, come to see her role as subservient. Rather than bring up her problem, name it, and find a solution she prayed her way to conformity, swallowed her feelings, become part of it. And land knows the old patriarchal church laid out the prescription for her. She assumed a role in contradiction to who she was. Isn't this what many of our Catholic mothers did down through history? She was my model. Would I mirror? My brother Billy would frequently say to her, “Is you happy woman?” She was and she wasn't.
We, Elayne, MK, Bill and Jim witnessed this. Eyes wide open. We were each being educated to rural life. This was not a Fond du Lac vacation. Basically, to pull this off we found ourselves living in a world equivalent to those depression years of the late 20s and 30s when we were babies. Only difference being it was a life we had chosen. There was so much love within this family. Looking back I really don't think any of us, and particularly my dad, knew the difficulties here involved. We would have needed to discuss more. I would from time to time wonder why we were struggling so when my dad was a university grad, which wasn't true of our piers who appeared to me to be unburdned. We saw mother's pleasant, out-going personality fade. My father’s dream was both good and not good. He accomplished [we did] what he set out to do but the price was high-- too high? Yes, I think so. When one considers problems  without answers get passed on to the next generation. I was not aware then, in those days the soul price we were each paying individually-- only in retrospect. The home one grows up in is the whole world to a child, it is reality. My father's home of origin was an alcoholic home which means it didn't always function normally. There were how-to's daddy never learned as a child. Church and society said men were heads and women hearts. Disciple Paul quoted evermore.  Play the roles. Could an adage have been 'bite off more than you can chew'? 'Be strong'. 'Life is hard'. 'Make life difficult'. 'God expects us to suffer in this vail of tears.' 'We must earn our way to heaven'.

Much later mother did express herself sadly, to the grownup me, when she said, 'You know, MaryKay, life is very, very lonely'. I'll have more to say of this profile later in this text. 


  1. Mary, I enjoy your write up and pictures you posted very much. my name is Michael John Bergin. My father was Leroy Michael, grand father John Edward, great grand father Michael who settled in rock county mn. You have the same white hair my father and grandfather had.
    Best wishes,
    Mike Bergin

    1. Just saw your posting, Michael Bergin's in-laws Fritgeralds, then his brother Timothy Bergin who passed it to his son Emmet and my grandfather Reese bought the land and I grew up there Springwater township, rock county, minn


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