Today, October 31, 2019, marks the 100th wedding anniversary of my paternal grandparents, George and Laura Gardner. I don’t know much about the wedding, only that it was held at a friend’s home. I do know a bit more about their lives, though, through their journals and letters.
George Gardner and Laura Berg grew up on neighboring family farms along Clam Lake Road, just outside the village of Bellaire, Michigan, in the early 1900s. When George graduated high school in 1913, he took the teacher’s exam and began teaching that fall at one of the local one-room schoolhouses. At one point he and his youngest sister Pauline rented a house in town, so that she could attend high school and he could walk out to Eddy School each day. He taught school four years before leaving for Army service in World War One in November 1917. Both of George’s older sisters had become teachers also, as education was highly valued in their family. Their grandfather, who had immigrated from Germany, was a college professor, chairman of the art department at Hillsdale College and a beloved local artist in Hillsdale.
Laura had grown up on the family farm also, and even though she was four years younger than George, he never had her as a pupil. Like most young people of her generation, she left school after eighth grade and was living on the farm. However, George encouraged her to continue her education while he was in the army. So during the war, she boarded in town with the Richards family, attending school during the day and helping with the chores and watching the children in the evening. George’s sister Pauline was in school with her.
After serving in France for several years, at the end of the war George returned to Bellaire in May of 1919 and in October he and Laura were married. They lived in a little house just up the road from the family farm and George continued to teach school. Laura, however, soon became very busy, as she gave birth to their first child, Ruth Ella, on August 12, 1920, and their second child, George Wesley (my father) on August 21, 1921. Two children in two years. They were a happy little family, living simply on their farm, surrounded by family and friends. Always a devout couple, George and Laura were faithful attenders of the local Methodist Church, and always found time to attend regular services and special meetings. During the war, Laura had shared parts of George’s letters at the weekly prayer meetings.
Tragedy struck on January 28, 1922. George and Laura, along with George’s older brother Paul, had decided to go skating on nearby Torch Lake after work. Laura had put supper in the oven and George’s mother Sarah was watching the children. The three started across the lake, but Paul turned aside to look at a fishing shanty. Shortly after, Paul heard his brother shouting, and saw George struggling in the water. He immediately skated toward the couple. On the way, he saw Laura sink below the ice and his brother George floating on the water. Lying on the thin ice, Paul took off his sweater and tried to throw it out toward George, but George was not responsive and Paul, in anguish, saw his brother also sink below the ice.
George and Laura’s bodies were never recovered. Paul adopted his niece and nephew, one of the first single men in Michigan to be allowed to adopt a child. Ruth was 17 months and Dad was 5 months old. The court allowed it because His mother Sarah lived in the home. George and Ruth grew up surrounding by loving aunts, uncles, and cousins, and never felt unloved. Today George and Laura’s many descendants live and work all over the United States and beyond. I am honored to be one of them.
My grandparents’ lives were too short, but their years were happy and full of life and love. They had anticipated a long fruitful life together. It was not to be, but they are together in heaven, and have now been reunited with both of their children. Picturing the joy of that reunion was a great comfort to me when Dad died in 2009, and I realized that my father was getting to know his parents for the first time.