It’s Mother’s Day, of course. Mother’s Day falls within a week or so of the anniversary of mother’s passing. The year she passed away, I spent Mother’s Day cleaning out her apartment and moving the furniture I was keeping, along with several boxes, home, in a rented truck. Clearly, that was one of the most miserable Mother’s Days ever. Talk about a tough day.
After Mom passed away, as I was cleaning out her closet, I found her old dancing suitcase, the handle cracked with age and hundreds of performances. Mom lived out of this suitcase for years, her ever-present companion.
The metal latches were worn smooth with her fingers, packing and unpacking costumes across the country, needles and pins still clinging to the inside for quick fixes. That sojourning suitcase with all of its secrets, now “retired” and packed full of “stuff” that she had saved for me.
Thanks Mom. Such a wonderful gift.
The Suitcase of Life
Mom called it her “suitcase of life” and after I opened the suitcase, on top, greeting me was a note written on an envelope in her handwriting.
How my heart ached for my mother’s suffering when I saw that. Had I know about this a few days sooner, perhaps I could have given her some sort of assurance or comfort.
A few days, you ask? A story was unfolding, even as she died, a tragedy that reached back some 65 years.
The first thing that struck me was the apologetic timbre of the note, along with the fact that it was incredibly sad that she felt her life was in any way “bad.”
Mom’s life was difficult. She was an accidental pioneer.
No, her life wasn’t all bad – in fact, it wasn’t’ “bad” at all, but it was anything but easy. She was a soul placed on this earth before her time – seldom in sync with the society and location in which she found herself living, trying to survive, at the time.
Mom often endured criticism for both her own choices and circumstances that dragged her along, over which she had no control. Sometimes when you’re marching on life’s road, the only way is forward, no matter where it leads.
I knew that somehow this gift was a combination treasure chest and Pandora’s box.
What treasures did she leave?
There were certainly some surprises, let me tell you! Things I never suspected. Things I suspected and could now confirm. I’m just as sure that there are secrets I’ll never know – that she took to her grave with her. Secrets too personal, or painful, to leave behind for scrutiny.
One of the best gifts was a treasure trove of photos, with at least a few from her childhood. Let’s start there.
Baby Barbara Jean
In many ways, my mother, Barbara Jean Ferverda, was typical for the time and place in which she was born. The tiny town of Silver Lake, Indiana in 1922 was a conservative Brethren crossroads community in Kosciusko County, Indiana with far more horses than cars. The “town” was all of three blocks wide and about as long, streets were dirt, and a cornfield grew beside their house.
Notice the horse and buggy in the upper left hand side of the photo.
Her parents, Edith Barbara Lore and John Whitney Ferverda owned the last house at the edge of town – the only home they ever owned and where Mom lived her entire life before leaving entirely.
Edith, third from right in front, worked at the local chicken hatchery as a bookkeeper until sometime after 1940.
A working wife was highly unusual and not well accepted. John was the stationmaster at the railroad depot, beginning in 1910, within sight of the house.
That was, until John bought a hardware store in 1916 and then apparently sold the business about 1922. The family oral history says that he went bankrupt during the Depression. I’m not sure which is true, or perhaps some combination of both.
One way or another, by 1930, John had lost the hardware store and sold tractors and trucks at the Ford dealer until no one could afford to purchase tractors and trucks anymore.
Mom remembers that when she walked the 3 or 4 blocks to school as a child, she would go another half block beyond the turn to go to school and ask her father for a nickel for a candy bar. Then, she walked another half block where she would promptly purchase a Hershey bar at the drug store on the corner, beside what used to be her father’s hardware store. Her mother wouldn’t have approved of the candy, but her dad just pretended not to notice. She loved Hershey bars literally until her dying day.
By the 1940 census, the family raised chickens and had a large garden along with fruit trees and berry bushes – which was all that stood between them and hunger during the Depression years. John listed himself as a chicken and fruit farmer.
Mother cleaned chickens and was paid a nickel for each one she cleaned. She hated cleaning chicken as long as she lived – but during the Depression, everyone did anything and everything they could to contribute to the common good.
In some ways, mother was very different from the other children as she grew up. Aside from having a working mother, the major difference being that contrary to her family’s Brethren background, mother danced. You can bet that was the talk of the town – but it didn’t happen in quite the way you might imagine.
Mother’s life seems to have been divided into compartments or chapters, and in many cases, she did her best not to let those compartments intrude into each other. So, I’ll tell her story the same way she lived her life – in sections – starting with life in Silver Lake.
Mom with her mother in 1923 where Mom looks to be maybe 3 months old or so. She was oh so cute. I’d love to hold and snuggle that baby. Especially today – Mother’s Day.
Mom’s maternal grandmother, Nora Kirsch Lore McCormick, James Martin on trike, her brother Lore Ferverda and Mom in February 1923.
What is it about my family and pixie haircuts for the girls? If Mom hadn’t been wearing a dress combined with a name on the photo, she would look like a little boy in this picture taken in September 1925.
Mom was 2 years and 9 months old in her first portrait.
Photography in the 1920s was very much a luxury. Cameras and film were both rare and expensive. Therefore, we have very few photos of Mom before she began dancing.
This picture, where Mom REALLY looks like a boy, was taken at Tridle’s, her babysitter’s house, playing with or feeding the chickens.
Mom looked every bit as unhappy with her bangs cut to her hairline as I was a generation later when Mom gave me the EXACT same haircut. I think this was an outgrowth of conservative frugality when no one was about to waste money having a child’s hair cut when you could do it easily at home. Mistakes? Don’t worry – they grow out!
One thing that struck me about these photos is that Mom was blonde as a baby. I never knew her as anything but a brunette, until age lightened her hair once again.
Mother had an older brother, seven years her senior, Harold Lore Ferverda, known as Lore, sporting his new bicycle in the photo below.
This series of 3 photos looks to have been taken at the same time. In the photo below, Mom looks to have been crying. Older brothers will do that to you, just saying…
Mom always loved dogs, and Lore probably told her the dog didn’t like her or some other “brotherly” thing meant to irritate his baby sister. It obviously worked.
If Mom looked unhappy above, she looks smug as a bug in a rug below, with her brother, center, and cousin, James Martin at right.
In the photo below, Mom is in front of the house where she grew up in Silver Lake.
It’s somehow prophetic that Mom’s feet are front and center in this photo, because one way or another, they were her focus for the rest of her life. On the day she had the massive stroke, we found her, having crawled somehow into the closet, wearing her dress shoes and little else. Priorities!
Mom with an unnamed friend, but one I spotted in several photos. Her socks are rolled to her ankles. It looks like a warm day and the girls probably got hot.
In the next photo, on a much smaller bicycle, Mom looks to have been 7 or 8. The house on the right is the side of the Ferverda home where Mom grew up and her parents lived for more than 40 years – maybe as long as 50 years. I was about 6 years old the last time I was in that house, but I remember it vividly.
The double set of windows beside my Mom to the right was the music room where the piano lived and my grandmother would play. The floor was hardwood, so dance practice and lessons could easily take place. My grandmother died when I was 4, but I remember her at the piano and the cactus in pots those windows. I managed to get tiny cactus quills in my hand and they burned like fire. The music room was joyful, filled with singing and fun. Well, except for those evil cactus.
The schoolhouse in Silver Lake included students of all ages, so class pictures were really more like school pictures, meaning multiple ages in each photo. In later years, there were enough students to have several classrooms.
Thankfully, tucked into Mom’s “suitcase of life” were a few school photos. I have cropped Mom’s pictures from the larger group pictures, below.
The photo above on left was labeled 1932, so she would have been 9 years old.
On the back of that photo, Mom wrote the names of each of her classmates, along with her own, in her sweet little-girl handwriting.
Of course, there were no years written on most photos, but the last picture appears to be older than the first three.
I have to laugh at Mom’s crooked bangs, because it tells me that Mom obviously inherited her bang-cutting skills from her mother and later, practiced them on me.
In her last class photo, she looks to be 15 or 16.
I think the family bought a camera when mom was about 10 or 11, based on the following photographic record of at least a portion of Mom’s life, thanks to dancing.
Dancing. How romantic it sounded to me as a child. Mother had been a ballerina! A REAL ballerina! I saw glittery consumes and stage lights, but I never knew Mom when she danced nor did I have any inkling of the story behind her dancing.
And Mom, well, she wasn’t talking. However, there was a suitcase full of photos and another full of costumes to tell the tale. That tale was far more tragic than I ever knew or could have imagined. In fact, I never knew the details until after her death – and I probably still don’t know them all.
As a child, I could never understand why Mom didn’t teach dancing. She certainly could have. She was imminently qualified. I would only learn much later that she really didn’t like to dance, it wasn’t her passion, and it was not a love in her life. In many ways, it was a forced march, a necessity – one that captured her and refused to let go.
Instead, Mom was relieved to be “past” that stage in her life – to shed it and leave it behind. Indeed, she was somewhat embarrassed by her career, as she tried to fit back into the life and lifestyle that she left. She just wanted to be a “regular” wife and mother. Typical wives and mothers certainly didn’t dance, and neither did well-behaved church women. Discrimination and stereotyped assumptions about dancers plagued mom when she danced and forever after.
We never had any photos of Mom’s dancing years anyplace in evidence when I was growing up. She strove to be a “normal” person, not a dancer or a retired or former dancer. Mom’s dream had been to be a bookkeeper, not a dancer. Dancing claimed her, not the other way around.
Mom was obviously very talented. Most people don’t achieve the level of professional acclaim that she did without a love and passion for the art. But then, nothing mother ever did was done in the normal fashion, or half way, and dancing wasn’t any different.
So how the heck did the daughter of a Brethren man come to be a professional ballet and tap dancer with a renowned dance company?
Mother never chose to dance. It wasn’t a hobby she selected. Her health demanded it and her parents arranged for lessons. When Mother was someplace between 7 and 9, she developed Rheumatic fever. She recalled that her arms felt too heavy for her body and it hurt her to even hold her arms at her side. She needed to lay them on pillows to relieve the pain. She clearly couldn’t attend school.
Today we know that Rheumatic fever is the result of an untreated streptococcal infection, manifesting itself about 3 weeks after the person has had either strep throat or scarlet fever. Unfortunately, rheumatic fever is much worse and involves the heart, causing congestive heart failure, mitral valve prolapse and a host of other issues including heart murmurs, which mother had. The doctor told her parents that she needed to dance to strengthen her heart which was damaged by the disease. I don’t know if that was accurate or not, but regardless, it set the stage, pardon the pun, for the rest of her life.
Today physicians recommend another 5 years of low grade antibiotic treatment to prevent a relapse which is all too common. It was during this time that Mom began to have recurring nosebleeds which too are a symptom of rheumatic fever, although I doubt she was aware of this because she never mentioned the connection. She likely had a low grade infection for years, until the nosebleeds stopped sometime in her teens.
Mom was lucky to have survived, as many of the early victims before the use of antibiotics did not.
Rheumatic fever is so named because of its similarity in terms of painful joints and extremities to rheumatism. Mother commented several times about how terribly sick she was and the unending, unrelenting pain. She said that she was too sick to be able to read books, which she loved to do, so her father would carry her down the stairs in the morning, position her on the couch so her body was not bearing the weight of her arms and legs, and would read to her to comfort her throughout the long days. Mother always had a very close and special relationship with her father.
Sometimes her recently widowed Brethren grandmother would come to stay and care for her as well.
It was about this time that Buster came into mother’s life. My grandparents got Buster to help Mom through her illness and with loneliness during the long recovery. Mother loved Buster devotedly and never really got over his passing. Buster was born in 1932 and passed away in 1945 while mother was gone.
Buster’s death was one of three “great griefs” that tumbled one upon the other about that time that would forever shape mother’s life.
Buster was Mom’s constant companion and a full fledged family member.
Mom always felt that her traveling was somehow responsible for Buster’s death, as he grieved so terribly when the suitcases would come out of the closet. Mother’s niece, Nancy, told me when I visited her in 2008 that Buster began drooling and they thought he had rabies, so my grandparents had him put to sleep. Mom kept his photo on her dresser or on the counter in the kitchen throughout her life, literally, until the day she died in 2006 – more than 60 years. That’s devotion! She never stopped missing Buster and I’m glad to know they are reunited now.
There was no note along with this photo, but Mom loved cats her entire life too. Fluffy was her beloved cat as a teen, and she was heartbroken when Fluffy disappeared. Inside cats weren’t a “thing” at that time like they are today.
I’m not quite sure what was going on in this photo, but I do recognize “the facility” to the left. Homes at that time didn’t have inside plumbing, although by the time I was born, a bathroom had been added on the side of the house in Silver Lake.
Before that, it was a long cold walk to the outhouse in the middle of the night!
Mom kept a scrapbook. Scrapbooks were popular then, and her mother, Edith, probably started it for her. It had wooden covers and leather laces which have deteriorated and are broken now. I scanned each of the pages. The scrapbook held a great deal of dancing related memorabilia. You could tell that her parents were proud of Mom’s accomplishments, and probably relieved as well that she was physically able to succeed. They came close to losing her altogether.
Dancing was the 1930s equivalent of physical therapy in tiny Silver Lake.
Pictures were reserved for special events, as film had to be developed and printed. This 1937 snow storm apparently qualified.
As Mom got older, towards graduation, the scrapbook contained photos of other family events, such as a 1938 trip to Lookout Mountain and Rock City, both in Georgia. I’m not sure Mom went along, because the photos are only of her parents and another couple.
I always wondered about Rock City, having seen the signs for years on barns across the midwest and south, and I finally saw it myself in Mom’s scrapbook.
The family obtained their first camera about this time. I’ve always wondered if it was in trade for chickens. My grandfather took just about anything in payment.
A second scrapbook held mother’s Chicago and professional dancing photos, newspaper clippings and such, but this article only covers the years before she became a professional dancer when she moved to Chicago, about 1944.
The front of the photo album was actually wood, shown above. The pages inside were thick brown paper, some deteriorating with age.
The earliest dancing photograph of mother that I’ve been able to find is the one above, dated 1933. She would have been nine and a half years old and looked rather stilted and nervous. She was probably weak from months of recovery from Rheumatic fever.
The programs from the various dance recitals don’t begin for another 2 years, so she may have switched teachers or perhaps there was no program printed, or it wasn’t saved. Given the costume above, there was obviously a dance recital or performance of some type.
The following photograph is undated, but given her age, it appears to be early.
The Courthouse Lawn Performance
It would have been about this time that my mother’s brother painted her face – black – with paint used to paint the porch screens at the house. By the way, this is back in the day when paint required turpentine and scrubbing to remove – if it could be removed at all and didn’t just have to “wear off.”
I’ll let mother tell this in her own words, written before her passing:
One summer when I was about 9 or 10, I was supposed to dance on the courthouse lawn in Wabash Indiana for a holiday celebration. Every spring, the screens on the front porch were reinstalled for the summer. Lore painted the screens with black paint in the garage. Some kittens came to visit and were annoying Lore. He put black paint on the nose of one of the kittens, at which time, I moved in rather loudly to rescue the kitten and took a swing at my brother who swung back and hit me on one check with a paint brush full of black paint….at which time I went running and screaming to the back door telling mother “Lore put black paint on me!!!”
Mother lost it and was chasing Lore with a broom – she was so livid. It’s funny now but was very serious at the time. The turpentine was in the basement and Lore was trying to get there but he couldn’t get past her swinging the broom.
In the meantime, I was trying to remove the paint with a wet wash cloth. That paint was not water soluble, none was at that time, and the wash cloth smeared it even worse. After a few minutes we got most of the paint off with very little loss of skin.
The neighbors heard my mother a block to the church and across the street. I was able to dance after all was said and done.
Of course, Lore painted the entire side of Mom’s face including her cheek, ear and hair. Thankfully, he didn’t get any IN her eye. And she had to leave to dance in a few minutes.
My grandmother began wiping paint from my mother with her ever-present apron. My grandfather went to find gasoline and busily began removing paint from my mother’s face while my grandmother nearly killed her son. They washed mother’s hair with gasoline or turpentine in the driveway, then in the sink. Performances don’t wait and dancers can’t have paint on their face (unless the role calls for paint) nor can they smell like turpentine or gasoline. They all 3 left in the car with my mother in tears, and without Lore who was in BIG trouble.
My grandfather drove while my grandmother continued to soak my mother’s skin in gasoline to remove the paint which had sunk into her pores. Then, my grandmother applied layers of makeup to cover mother’s bright red (and black) skin on one side of her face.
Mother’s face and eye began to swell, and by the time she was finished dancing, she covered herself with a shawl to hide and went to the car immediately. It was perceived as a celebrity exit, but it was anything but.
I don’t think Mom ever forgave her brother, not just for painting her face, ironically, but for painting poor Fluffy’s nose. Indeed, it made a great story for years and she got mad at him all over again every time she told it. He, on the other hand, desperately wanted to forget the entire episode. I think he came out on the short end of that stick in multiple ways!
Unfortunately, we have no photos of that memorable event.
The following photo is dated 1934, and again, no program. Were it not for these dance photos and scrapbook, we would have no photos of mother during this period of time.
Beginning in 1919, the newspapers in northern Indiana begin proclaiming the talent and beauty of Violet Reinwald, mother’s dance instructor. The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette said, “Miss Violet Reinwald, principal among the soloists was a dancer of rare grace and beauty. Miss Reinwald has won Fort Wayne audiences before, but her appearance last night in new numbers has acclaimed her the mistress of her art; her reputation as a danceuse is made.” She is described a few months later as an instructor in interpretive dance. In 1920, she opened a school of “Fancy Dance” and her “Revues” are covered in newspapers for at least the next two and a half decades.
This 1936 program provides additional information about Violet. Her Chicago connection may be the link between mother and her professional career, launched at the upscale Edgewater Beach Hotel there during World War II.
Ironically, Violet herself suffered from mitral valve stenosis, a condition caused by untreated rheumatic fever. She passed away in 1952, at age 50, still listed on her death certificate as a dance teacher. Perhaps her personal experience with rheumatic fever, and unquestionable recovery, is why my grandparents chose Violet as mother’s instructor.
Violet also became mother’s mentor and advocate.
Beginning in 1935, when Mom would have been 12, turning 13 the second to last day of the year, we begin to find programs for her performances.
Most years, two performances were given around Memorial Day, one in Huntington, Indiana and one in Fort Wayne, with the Fort Wayne performance seeming to be the larger one. The performances, at least initially, were entirely different. The programs for the Fort Wayne recital appear to be more professionally produced and included ads, which probably meant that Violet had to pay for the theater in Fort Wayne, so had to raise revenue one way or another.
Below, the program for the Violet Reinwald Revue, Huntington – Tuesday, June 11, 1935.
Fortunately, we have photos to go along with the 1935 performances.
With what I’ve heard about my extremely conservative grandmother, I’m totally amazed that my mother was allowed to wear a skirt this short for any reason whatsoever – costume or not!
The Russian act was performed in Fort Wayne, listed in the program below.
This costume was also worn in the recital in Fort Wayne.
Mom truly looks happy in these photos.
Kicking It Up a Notch
In May of 1935, things change a bit and it looks like Violet Reinwald went upscale, scheduling a performance at the Shrine Theater in Fort Wayne, Indiana, complete with professionally printed program and advertising. The stage, above, is where mother would have performed as my grandparents sat in the audience.
The Huntington event was only a couple of weeks later, so Violet’s students would have been practicing two entirely different programs at the same time. That’s an impressive undertaking!
The Shrine Temple in Fort Wayne was constructed at 431 West Berry Street in 1924 with an eye to professional theater production. This building is shown above as it originally appeared and below, as it appears today.
Mother returned to Fort Wayne with me in 1994 to hang a special exhibit at the Allen County Public Library titled “Seven Generations of Hoosier Needlewomen.” She never mentioned to me that she danced in performances, for years, just across the street and down a block or so.
It is ironic that in the spring of 2009, three years after mother’s passing and 70 years after Mom danced in this building, I stayed in a hotel across the street from the Shrine Theater as I taped several segments about DNA for the Allen County Public Library and their cable television station. Little did I know.
Those DNA presentations were open to the public at the library. After I finished speaking, a lady approached me and told me that she knew my mother and had been mother’s dance student at one time. She had no idea when she decided to attend my presentation that it would include my mother, or that she had any connection at all. Talk about a small world. It thrilled me to no end to meet someone who remembered my mother so fondly some 65 or 70 years later. The lady mentioned that mother gave her a costume that mother had once worn, and she would check to see if she still had that costume tucked away someplace.
Based on this program, we know where Mom was on Tuesday, May 21, 1935.
The ads in the program are as interesting as the program itself. The phone numbers all begin with a letter plus 4 numbers. Later that letter would translate into digits and ultimately into contemporary 10-digit phone numbers.
In Fort Wayne in 1935, you could get steam permanent waves in your hair by Joseph or could purchase Rosemary butter, Fort Wayne’s favorite. I surely have to wonder about those steam waves. And what was Rosemary butter anyway?
You could go to the Town House for special Sunday Noon dinners from 12-2 or visit their beverage room after the theater. Now that’s a nice way to say “bar.” You could probably order a Berghoff beer, still available today, in the beverage room as well.
Packard Piano was a very large and well-established business, building and shipping both pianos and organs, but they went bankrupt during the depression, as did so many others.
A cab ride to seemingly anyplace would cost you twenty-five cents. Heating was done by coal or coke, and that’s not the drinkable type.
Mom danced two roles during this performance, the Russian and another group dance. It’s fun to see the photos of the costumes she wore.
The ads provide us with a glimpse into life at that time in Fort Wayne.
Of course, while mother danced in Fort Wayne, the family lived 40 miles distant in Silver Lake. My grandmother or grandfather drove Mom back and forth for years, which also meant, of course, that they waited while she took her lessons and practiced. They had only one car, which both adults as well as my uncle shared. Driving a car as well as gasoline was expensive and scarce during the depression which lasted for 10 years, not ending until 1939. The cost of dance lessons and driving back and forth to Fort Wayne must have been a real commitment for this family.
They were probably greatly relieved when mother became good enough to receive even minimal compensation by teaching younger students.
The Double Exposure
You might notice the name of Mary Louise Woerner in the programs. Mary Lu was Mom’s long-time dancing partner and friend.
The following double exposure was one of Mom’s all-time favorite photos and was taken about this time. I wrote about “Mom’s Joyous Springtime “Mistake” and the fond memories of finding this photo in the photo box at my grandmother’s table as a child.
I thought this was Mom hand-standing on her own behind, but Mom said it was her and Mary Lu, goofing around as they practiced in the yard. Yes, they practiced dancing outside in the yard, on sidewalks, everyplace.
In the 1936 dance recital, mother was an acrobat and danced in the music segment for the Reinwald Revue. There were two performances, one at the Shrine Theater in Fort Wayne on May 26th and one later in Huntington on June 4th.
In a second performance she was also a gypsy.
This year, Mom appeared in a featured dance duet with only one other person, a notch up from a group performance.
I couldn’t help myself, and had to laugh at this ad.
If my child looked like that, I think she’d need more than glasses. I wonder how they convinced that child to cross her eyes like that. This was before the days of photoshop. Mom always told me if I crossed my eyes, they would stay that way! Maybe this is why.
Note that the students had a contest to see who could sell the most tickets.
In 1937, a third recital venue was added. The Reinwald Revue held in Bluffton, Indiana on May 27th was sponsored by the Sigma Phi Gamma sorority.
In this production, Mom danced in the ballet Moonlight Interlude and then danced the role of the Emerald in the jewelry store. I would like to have seen that costume, in color. However, color photography was years distant and I don’t believe there is any photo of her portraying the emerald.
It appears there was a Huntington Revue this year as well judging from the program.
For the first time, Mom is wearing toe shoes, a much-coveted rite of passage for a ballerina. Judging from the look on Mom’s face either the sun is in her eyes or her feet hurt, or maybe both.
Apparently that hedge was a favorite photography location, because Mom’s picture was taken there for years.
I wonder if the Moonlight Interlude is the dance associated with the photos of Mother and Mary Woerner in their identical costumes, below.
Mom would have been about 15 at the time. I notice her hair style is different from the Music photos above too, and Music is also listed as a dance in the 1936 program.
The following photos are of mother’s friend, Mary Lu who passed away in 1961 at age 45, also having been a professional dancer for her entire life.
Mary Lu was 6 years older than Mom, and you can tell that she has been dancing a very long time by looking at the muscle development in her legs.
Below, the 1937 Reinwald Revue at the Shrine on May 25th, two days before the performance in Bluffton. It was a busy time of year for Mom.
I have omitted the program pages that do not include mother.
Dry cleaning deliveries are still free, but now permanents are oil instead of steam and cost $1.
Mother was once again an emerald. A new advertiser is City Light, above. Interestingly, the Light Company was owned by the residents.
Ankle socks in plain or gay stripes are 17 cents or 3 for 49 cents. How could you resist?
The Student Becomes the Teacher
About 1936, Mother began to teach dancing at the ripe old age of 14. Her mother, Edith provided the music in the music room at home by playing the piano and mother gave dance lessons to young students. As the teacher, Mom was responsible for having a “Revue” for her students as well, and indeed in 1937, she held the first Barbara Jean Ferverda Revue, although the location isn’t mentioned. Clearly, it had to be someplace with seating for all of the parents, grandparents and families who would dutifully attend.
How I would love to turn back time so I could attend. Mom must have been so excited!
Mom’s brother, Uncle Lore was even involved, although I’m betting it wasn’t voluntarily. Maybe he was still doing penance for the paint brush incident.
One of Mother’s students sent her the card below and Mom always kept it. This may have been her student who passed away. Mom was crushed when that happened.
Although mother danced a lot, her life did not stand still and she had other interests outside of dancing. Mom also played the piano, as did her mother, who I’m sure taught mother.
Mom’s Best Friend – Frank
Mom had a diverse group of friends including Frank Drudge, literally the boy across the street who was 6 months younger, a cheerleader, a dancer at the same dance school as Mom, and Mom’s best friend.
Frank was being raised by his aunt, Carrie and her husband who had no children. Mother was particularly close to Carrie who became almost like a second mother. I’d wager that the two families shared driving back and forth to Fort Wayne for dance lessons.
I remember when Carrie died in 1963. Mom was visiting friends in Silver Lake after her parents passed away and called Carrie to see if she could stop in and visit. Carrie didn’t answer the phone, which Mom found odd, but she tried again a few minutes later. Mom subsequently discovered that Carrie fell and broke her hip on the way to answer the phone, and a few days later, died. Mom felt terribly responsible, even though she knew logically she didn’t need to. Mom lost both of her parents, Carrie and my father within a 3 year span.
Mom’s Brethren Grandmother was Evaline Louise Miller who married Hiram Ferverda. Hiram died in 1925, but Evaline lived until 1939. Pictured in the 1937 photo above, Evaline (upper left) with her son John Ferverda (lower right), Mom with Buster, and Evaline’s daughter, Chloe standing beside her, with her daughter and husband. This was taken in front of the house where Mom grew up in Silver Lake.
It comes as no surprise, I’m sure, given that Mom danced, that the family was not Brethren, attending the Methodist church just two doors away in Silver Lake.
A much better photo of the church, today.
Mom was baptized here when she was 11.
Mom had a group of church friends that she either met or met up with at Epworth Forest, the Methodist Church camp. Epworth Forest still exists today. Mom would have been 15 the summer of 1938
Mom is on the far left in the above photo.
In the next photo, Mom is sitting in front of the group.
I’m surprised at how much she seems to have matured between July and November. She was still almost two months shy of her 16th birthday.
Unfortunately, Mom didn’t tell us the names of her friends. This is the third photo with hose rolled down to the ankles of the girls, so I’m beginning to think this was a fashion statement.
Looks like Frank and Betty just might have been a couple.
Mom rode a bicycle, literally until she couldn’t anymore. Notice that she is wearing a dress, and her hose or socks are once again rolled down to her ankles. Females simply did not wear pants at that time, and for a long time in her adult life, at least until the 1980s, she refused as well. I was forbidden to wear blue jeans, which equated to poverty for Mom. It wasn’t until she was well into her 70s that she owned a pair of jeans herself – and then only “dress” jeans, NOT Levis.
The Reinwald Revue in 1938 was again held at the Shrine Theater. By now, Mother is dancing solo performances, according to the program. She is 15 and obviously coming into her own as a performer and a young woman. In the 1938 Revue Mom danced a solo number as the Beachcomber and with a group doing the Military Toe Dance.
Unfortunately, we have no photos of 1938 or 1939.
There was no Huntington or Bluffton program in those years, but there was something new.
Infantry Recognition Party
Below, the Infantry Recognition Party program from 1938. The beginning of World War II is generally held to have begun on September 1, 1939, but the nation was ramping up and preparing prior to the official date when war was declared.
Mom gave two performances, just shy of age 16.
You knew this was coming, right?
By 1939, Mom was dating Dan and would marry him 4 years later. She noted in her scrapbook, “One winter afternoon out at Dan’s.”
Dan was Mom’s only known boyfriend. The earliest photos of Mom at Dan’s are in 1939, where she is pictured with his dogs at his parents’ farm. They may have been dating earlier.
Mom would marry Dan in 1943 when he was on leave from the service. World War II changed the lives of many, but the War was also responsible for ending the Great Recession – quite the double-edged sword.
The Reinwald Revue was once again held at the Shrine Theater on Tuesday, May 23rd in 1939. While we don’t have any photos of mother, the program tells us that she danced one solo, the Mardi Gras Queen, and one duet, the Moonlight Serenade with Mary Lu Woermer. She also danced a group number called “On Revival Day.”
Dancing and Graduating in 1940
By 1940, Mother was reaching adulthood and graduated from high school on April 22nd at age 17. Tradition held that the girls married the next month, but that wasn’t the path mother chose.
Mom told me she wanted to go to college, or at least business school in Fort Wayne, but she was afraid and no one encouraged her. Of course, her brother Lore had gone to college, but those days were different and it was pretty well expected that women would marry out of high school and start a family, not go traipsing off to college. Her parents told her that they had paid for one college education (for Lore) and they weren’t paying for another one. The Depression was just ending, money was still scarce, and they had already paid for years of dance lessons. Mother couldn’t ask for more. It’s somehow ironic that Mom’s mother, Edith, attended Business School in Cincinnati, paid for by her aunt, before she married Mom’s dad. Edith’s bookkeeping skills are what sustained the family when John was out of work.
I’ve always wondered how far mother would have gone had she followed her dream to college – but that fork in the road was only peered down and longed for. There were no scholarships then, at least not for women. Student loans hadn’t even been dreamed of.
Mother disliked her senior picture, below, but I always thought it was stunning and that mother looked beautiful. There is a photo of me and later, one of my daughter about the same age that are strikingly similar.
On May 28th, just a few weeks after graduation, Mom would once again dance at the Shrine theater in Fort Wayne. No individual photos, but Mom danced a solo, American Melodies.
I suspect that mother is one of the older students in this picture from the program, but I can’t identify her.
In 1941, the Reinwald Revue was held at both Fort Wayne and at Huntington High School. The program was the same in both locations, and Mom danced a Moonlight and Roses solo along with a group piece titled Bucking Broncos Tap.
1942 Baer Field Review
Mom, second from right, supported the war effort in June 1942 by dancing for a fundraiser at Baer Field in Fort Wayne.
Mom would turn 20 in December of 1942.
1942 – Dancing Professionally
In 1942, Violet Reinwald’s Shrine program focused on patriotism. The country was backing the war, and our soldiers. Everyone was a patriot and everyone was involved one way or another – there was simply no question about that.
Mother performed 3 solos, Blues in the Night, My Melancholy Baby, United Nation – Russia, and a group number titled Salute to the US Armed Forces.
I would love to have seen these performances. In fact, I would love to have seen mother perform anything, at all, ever.
1942 would be the last year that mother would dance with the Violet Reinwold Revue.
By now, Mom had been dancing at least 9 or 10 years and teaching for at least 6. She was two years out of high school and most of her classmates had married and already started a family. She would turn 20 that December. It was time to do something.
I don’t know why, but Mom chose to branch out beyond Indiana, a decision that was viewed with a great amount of skepticism by those in Indiana. I suspect it may have had to do with the relationship with Dan cooling. For some reason, they had chosen not to marry immediately after high school, as was the local tradition, nor did they marry during the next two years. These choices didn’t follow the expected pattern.
In the summer of 1942, Mom performed in Philadelphia and Atlantic City, as well as other locations on the East Coast with a touring troupe, traveling by train.
In July 4, 1942, Mom was in Atlantic City. There were several pages in her photo album which recorded her day at the beach.
I wonder if the location where they were performing was one of the buildings in the background.
Mom never shared the back story to the photos below. Let’s just say that she was beautiful and single, and the men in uniform weren’t Dan.
That looks positively dreamy.
The legend at the bottom on the photo says that this is “John Shiver, myself, Walt.”
Let’s just say that look definitely qualifies as flirting. I think Walt got left out. In fact, I don’t think John and mom even know Walt is there.
Looking back, I wonder about John Shiver, Charles Sharp and Walt. Did they remember Mom? Was this a chance meeting or something more?
I think Mom liked men in uniform.
World War II and Marriage
The war was escalating, and Mom’s life was about to change, dramatically and forever.
I’m don’t know whose car this was, but Mom looks stunning!
Back home in the fall, Mom was dating Dan again just before he joined the military on October 14, 1942. Below, Dan in uniform but without his shirt.
Mother didn’t know it yet, but when Dan left, she was pregnant. She would make that discovery a few weeks after Dan was already gone. In the photos above and below, I can see my brother and my nephew’s faces so clearly.
Like so many young couples, Dan took a leave from the service as soon as he could, came home, and Mom and Dan were married, not in Indiana, but in Joliet, Illinois. I suspect this location was chosen to cover the fact that their child was “premature” and that the pregnancy predated the marriage. Today, there is little or no judgement about couples living together before marriage, but at that time, this “situation” was embarrassing for everyone involved, with a great deal of condemnation for the young woman.
Would Mom and Dan have married otherwise? I don’t know, but suspect probably not, since they hadn’t already married and seemed to have been living very different lives. Dan stayed at home on the farm and Mom was dancing and touring. She obviously came home to say goodbye to Dan, given the timing involved. Maybe it was the uniform!
Unfortunately, they spent very little time together as husband and wife, because Dan had already shipped out. Mom stayed home with her parents to wait when they received a small bundle of joy in the form of John who was born while Dan was serving his country. Mom continued to live at home with her parents and wait for Dan’s return. His tour of duty wasn’t scheduled to end until October of 1945 – but things would change long before that.
Oh, those garter belts. They were just awful, torturous devices, but if you wanted to wear hose before panty hose came along in the 1970s, this was the only way to do it.
Today, it might look like Mom is posting for a pinup photo, but she probably wasn’t as it would have been considered VERY risqué. Hose were a luxury and a rarity during wartime, so it’s very likely that Dan actually brought Mom these hose and she is showing off the fact that she has hose to wear. I don’t know, but suspect this photo may have been taken when they were married.
1943 – John Arrives
Clearly, Mom didn’t dance in 1943, as she was busy with other things, namely one named John.
Dan and Mom holding John right after he was born.
A Sad Divorce
Sadly for Mom, Dan and John, the stress of being young and apart was too much for the young couple to survive, and their marriage deteriorated before Dan came home from the war, although their divorce was not final until in 1946. In reality, they never had the opportunity to live as a married couple. Perhaps if they had, the outcome might have been different.
When Dan came home on leave shortly after John’s birth, it became obvious that marriage wasn’t the answer. Ironically, mother said very little about this time. However, given the small town grapevine environment, I heard both sides, from multiple people, and let’s just say that being married to each other simply wasn’t going to work.
At that point, Mother knew that she had to go to work because she had a young child to support and she realized no husband was going to be “marching home” from the war. The divorce decree only called for $4 per week child support, and they had been living apart for their entire married life, so child support for John didn’t begin until he was three when his parents’ divorce was final. Otherwise, it fell to Mom and my grandparents.
Dan filed for divorce when he was discharged from the service in 1945, and custody of John was agreed to be awarded to Mom’s parents, John and Edith Ferverda. Mom had already gone to Chicago to dance, the only thing she could do to earn enough to support herself and her son.
The hard feelings and divisions generated between individuals and families during this time never healed.
Dan came home, married his second wife and settled down to farm. Mom continued to dance in Chicago, but a sense of sorrow had inched its way into her heart and she became very sad, missing her child, wanting a life she couldn’t have, and feeling consuming guilt about her parents suffering the consequences of her choices. She couldn’t win, but she never stopped trying.
I asked mother one time if she had any regrets. Her first answer didn’t really surprise me, but her second and third ones did.
Little did I know what a landmine this question would turn out to be. It’s also the perfect, or imperfect, lesson in how things aren’t always as they seem.
The First Regret – Not Enough Time With Johnny
Mom said that she was sorry that she hadn’t been able to spend more time at home with “Johnny” when he was little. She did not want to leave to dance, but it was the only skill she had and she felt that she owed it to my grandparents. I know she felt incredibly guilty, and not without some encouragement from my grandmother about the fact that her parents were burdened with raising her child.
I never knew the rest of the story until I found the papers in her suitcase and John revealed the story he had been told by his father after he found papers in the attic when he was about 10 years old, which didn’t exactly match the story conveyed by legal documents in the suitcase. These two events occurred within about a month’s time of each other, during and after mother’s death. In other words, too late to ask her any questions – but at an incredibly emotional juncture.
It was a shocking revelation, at least to me.
At one time, Mom and Dan jointly agreed to adopt John privately to a physician and his wife in Chicago, but both sets of grandparents petitioned the court, together, to prevent the adoption.
Eventually, the stigma of being a “bad mother,” meaning willing to place her son for adoption, was laid on mother’s shoulders alone. Dan disavowed his part in the decision when approached by John after John found the papers in the attic, claiming that he had no knowledge of the adoption because he was in the service at the time. However, the court papers were in the “suitcase of life.” Dan had been discharged from the service and he, along with mother, JOINTLY agreed, before the court disallowed the adoption, granting custody to my grandparents who subsequently raised John.
Perhaps John’s question caught Dan unprepared. Nonetheless, his answer irreparably damaged both John and his relationship with mother.
Dan lived nearby with his new family, paying $4 a week in child support. Mother danced in Chicago, lived with the dance troupe, in essence with a house-mother in a supervised facility, and sent her money home to her parents for John.
No More Shame
That judgmental mantle of guilt and shame because the parents were willing to place a child for adoption should never have been laid on anyone’s shoulders, and certainly not on mother’s alone. Mother and Dan were doing what they jointly thought best for John under the circumstances. The fact that the grandparents prevented the adoption cast mother in a villainous light and haunted her forever, especially after Dan managed to “forget” his role, leaving mother to suffer alone.
I feel compelled to state unequivocally that placing a child for adoption is not the manifestation of the absence of love – it’s often the demonstration of a greater love for the child. It’s the essence of doing what is right for the child, no matter how badly the mother, or parents, wish that circumstances were different. Unfortunately, in mother’s case, she was condemned for both being willing to place her child for adoption, and for not placing the child for adoption and burdening her parents with that child. John resented her for both choices, but never shared with mother why he was so cold and bitter towards her, while his father was absolved and cast himself in the role of co-victim along with John. Mother was never afforded the opportunity to provide an explanation, or her side of the story. My brother only heard one side, and it wasn’t complimentary towards mother.
Clearly, in retrospect, it would have been better if this chapter hadn’t been kept secret by all parties involved. Mom could have shared the reasons why they thought adoption would have been a better option for John, but how to you explain that adoption doesn’t mean that the child “wasn’t wanted.” Perhaps John could have understood that the choice didn’t reflect that his mother didn’t love him. But then of course, in the telling of that part of the story, the rest of the “shame” story would have emerged – you know – like sex before marriage. Of course, for whatever reason, the majority of the “shame” falls to the female who was sinful and didn’t resist, while desiring sex is “normal” for males in a time and place that still embraced very Puritan thinking.
This part of the story has too long been shrouded in shame. Shame of having sex before marriage. Shame of having to “go away” to get married. Shame of dancing, especially in an extremely conservative community and family. Further shame of going to Chicago and dancing professionally. Shame of being beautiful and NOT being correspondingly demure about it. Shame of, god-forbid, wearing makeup to make yourself even more beautiful and irresistible to men. Shame of having an illegitimate child. Shame of even considering adoption, let alone beginning down that path. Shame of having to have your family “stop the adoption,” and finally, shame of being labeled as “unfit,” alone, with the husband who also agreed to the adoption later utilizing that joint decision to turn the child against the you.
Dan and his wife both encouraged John to have some level of relationship with mother, “because she is your mother,” which probably unintentionally continued the narrative of mother being unworthy. He should continue the relationship even though she didn’t really deserve it.
I’m done with shame. I recognize mother for her brave decisions. She was human. She did the very best she could under the circumstances, for all of the right reasons and continued to do so in the face of insurmountable barriers. I’m sorry she had to live with such toxic judgement and I’m ending that cycle here and now. No more shame. Mother had nothing to be ashamed of. Full stop.
Mother clearly loved John as was evidenced throughout my life. Enough to have him, enough to keep him, enough to choose adoption when she thought that would be best for HIM, not her. Enough to send money home to support him and to spend as much time in Silver Lake as possible, withstanding the wagging tongues of shame that never stopped. Enough to make him things, food he loved, attend his functions and all of the grandma events too. And ultimately, enough to leave him fully half of her estate at her death. She never understood why her affection was not returned in kind, but it didn’t matter – she loved him unconditionally, chalking it up to “John just being John.”
The Second Regret – Not Enough Education
Secondly, Mom regretted that she had not gone to business school or college, and that she had been too fearful to go after high school. She already felt guilty about the sacrifices the family made for her dancing, and didn’t dare to ask for anything more. Mom felt that if she had attended college, then she would have had the skills to be able to stay in Silver Lake with John and would never needed to leave to dance, starting that cascading effect.
It’s amazing to me that the stage didn’t frighten her one bit, but fear of the unknown, of college or “business school” which is what women who insisted on obtaining a higher education were encouraged to attend at that time prevented her from furthering her education. Changing that one decision would have made such a tremendous difference in her life.
Third Regret – Not Trying Harder With Dan
Third, surprisingly, Mom said she was sorry that she and Dan didn’t try harder to work things out. I would say that this regret is tied to the other two.
Mom and Dan were never able to live together to even attempt to have a marriage in anything but name alone. By the time Dan got out of service, their marriage had suffered from separation and youth, and was unrepairable.
According to my grandfather and cousins, Dan had come home on leave and not told Mom he was home. My grandfather was quite surprised to run into Dan, in the company of another female, and the situation deteriorated from there, as one might imagine. I heard Dan’s side of the story from others, and it didn’t resemble the same story at all. His story was focused on Mom going to Chicago to dance, not on what caused her to go to Chicago. Regardless, the situation was quite sad because what began as a high school romance became a classic tragedy. A beautiful ballerina, war, broken hearts, a child, infidelity, a divorce and a tragic death. All the makings of a soap opera.
Except this soap opera was mother’s real life.
The Three Great Griefs
All I can say from the distance of decades and a long generation is that mother was very hurt by what she perceived as betrayal while she waited for Dan to return. She felt terribly vulnerable and alone. While she was the woman shamed for being pregnant out of wedlock, he was a hero fighting for his country. There were no options for single women at that time, except to quickly marry someone, anyone.
I know she loved Dan and truly wanted that marriage to work. Discovering that your husband was home on leave, and you didn’t know, must have been devastating, especially under the circumstances.
The loss of her marriage was one of the three “great griefs” mother encountered between the beginning and end of WWII. The unraveling of her marriage which had at one time seemed so full of hope unraveled the rest of her life along with it, leaving her as a single mother in a time when women had very few viable options. At least she had one – she could dance.
Mom hated the fact that her parents were burdened with raising John, but there was no other alternative. She could not raise John alone in Chicago and there were no jobs in Silver Lake. Her parents had chosen to raise John by stopping the adoption, but proceeded to complain about his behavior, hoping mother could intercede.
Sadly, my brother came to view my mother’s absence as both abandonment and rejection. He dreaded her frequent visits as she tried to convince him to “shape up” for my grandparents. The phrase “wait until your father comes home” apparently had “mother” in place of father at my grandparents’ house. My grandmother complained incessantly to mother about how difficult John was to raise – even though they had petitioned the court for exactly that situation. There were no winners – only losers.
The story conveyed by my brother’s valentine to his mother detailing the myriad ways that he got into trouble sums the situation up pretty well.
The second grief was the death of Buster in 1945, for which Mom blamed herself, and indirectly Dan because she would not have been traveling to dance if her marriage had any prayer of being solvent. Buster was the only “person” to love mom unconditionally and without criticism or judgement.
The third great grief, another death, happened while mother lived in Chicago. Mother found a new love, Frank Sadowski, her hope for the future, who died tragically, fighting for his country just before the end of the war.
You can read about Frank in the following articles:
Frank Sadowski (1921-1945), Almost My Father – 52 Ancestors #73
Frank’s Ring Goes Home – 52 Ancestors #106
Sadowski WWII Scrapbooks, Salvaged From Trash Heap, 52 Ancestors #149Frank Sadowski Jr. – Bravery Under Fire, 52 Ancestors #162
Warning – you’ll need an entire box of Kleenex!
In essence, Mom lost two men to the war, in two very different, tragic, ways. Her son wasn’t adopted, but she lost his love just the same. I often wonder how different John’s life would have been had that adoption been granted. Perhaps he wouldn’t have been so hurt, resentful and bitter. Discovering that his “mother” had tried to “give him away behind his father’s back” colored his perspective, incorrectly, for the rest of his life, and hers.
The Next Decade
Mom never fully recovered from the war years and the three great griefs. She carried her regrets forever, but she put one foot in front of the other and marched forward. That’s who she was. These tragedies helped form that resilient part of her.
Mom continued to dance in Chicago and throughout the eastern half of the country for the next decade before meeting my father.
But first, she would meet and marry a one…nope, nope, I can’t tell you. You’ll have to join me in a future article for Mom’s next decade, as told by the “suitcase of life” and my subsequent genealogical sleuthing.
Believe me, mom’s life was full of surprises!
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Thank you, Roberta. What an honest, loving, bittersweet, even haunting tribute to your mother. So perfect on this Mother’s Day. Lives can be very complicated.
Roberta, great writing again. Can’t wait for the “rest of the story,” I have a story like this, but I didn’t learn it until about 3 years ago. I need to write mine. Love ya cuz, Lola-Margaret
Yes, you do need to write it!
What a wonderful treasure! I am so glad that you have these items t remember your Mother with. Thank you for sharing them with us!
According to FamilySearch, I’m related to you distantly! You would be my 8th cousin 3x removed through your Grandma Edith on my Dad’s side of the family. I know that it’s really distant, however I wondered if we were connected because of the family backgrounds. I’m also related to your great uncle Ray Ferveda’s wife Grace Pearl Driver, through my Dad’s mother’s Miller line. She was my 6th cousin twice removed. Like you, I just have too many distant relatives but not enough information on the ones that I’m looking for!
Well that’s exciting. Who are our common relatives? Have you dna tested? My mom is in both the FTDNA and GedMatch databases.
Our common ancestors are: Ann Roberts (1640-1673) & her husbands William Pittman (my ancestor) & her other husband William Hill (who your descended from). Grace’s ancestors that I have in common with her is: Johann Michael Mueller (eventually becomes Miller in his descendants) 1689-1771 & Susanna Agnes Berchtol.
I have tested through FamilyTree DNA for their family finders & mtDNA. I’m also on GEDMATCH.
OMG love love this Roberta!! Thank you for writing!!
Thank you Roberta, for sharing these treasures of your mother’s suitcase! The photos really set the period; and your mother is lovely! I notice that she is my mother’s period as my mother was born in 1921. However, I am lucky to still have her here with us, approaching 97! As Always thank you for your excellent writing, and your treasures of DNA lore and knowledge. Georgeann Johnson
So glad your mother is still with you.
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