Carol's Early Years
Carol's life was dictated by the beginning more so than most of us. She was born to a couple in there mid-40's who had been married for 20 years with no sign of children until that spring in 1934. One can only imagine the surprise this was for the couple who had just come through the depression era and had lost their business along with a good life style. Gunda, Carol's mother, was not in the best of health and the pregnancy took its toll as she had complications and died 6 days later. Following is Carol's birth certificate. Note the full name is Carol Elizabeth Lee. In her baby book there is a handwritten note (probably from Martha) that says: "Named after her Grandmothers - Elida Larson and Lise Lee - thus Elizabeth. Carol meaning Joy and Happiness - fitting this blessed event, more than any other name."
Walter was now faced with a troubling situation, a young baby and the loss of a wife of 20 years. Dame fortune would play its hand as one of Gunda's cousins, Martha Opsand Cregier, was in a similar situation having lost her husband and trying to raise her son Ed, now 11 years old. Martha was working full time and Ed was in foster care which was not what Martha wanted. They merged the two situations with Martha quitting her job to stay at home to be a full-time mother to Carol and her son Ed. This solved the problems for both and they were married a year later.
Carol was the light of her father's life as shown in the photo taken when she was six weeks old
At five months we see her with both Walter and Martha. Walter referred to her as his little "sunny Jim", an affectionate name he had for her we believe came in part from her smile as you see below.
With Ed so much older Carol essentially grew up as an only child but one where the parents were the ages of her friends grandparents. Carol would recall things that were directly related to the fact her parents were older. One of those was the fact that their friends and relatives were their age and older and there were a number of deaths and funerals that Carol attended. Many of the relatives who had died were in a cemetery in Chicago and the family would go there frequently to take care of the graves. Below is a picture of Carol at her mother's family gravesite with her father and Martha when she was one year old.
Carol remembered those trips to take care of the graves with Martha planting all the flowers to keep the sites looking nice. At one trip Carol who liked playing with marbles decided she would plant some of her marbles and see them grow just like the plants that Martha planted. She kept checking on those marbles for years and they just did not seem to grow! This was probably one of Carol's early creative stages.
Carol, as many learned over the years, was extremely creative and artistic as well as one with a lot of perseverance. An early indication of things to come was her winning third place in a doll buggy decoration contest as a seven year old. The buggy is shown below.
Growing up in Chicago was supplemented by treks to Martha's brothers farm in Iowa. Trips to Harold's farm were memorable for Carol. Harold had six daughters who were all much older than Carol. So adding another girl to the mix was just what a good Iowa farmer needed. Carol recalled the wakeup calls of Uncle Harold. The girls were all in the upper floor and Harold would yell up the cold air vent at 5 or 6 AM, depending upon their sleeping in! Carol became part of the farm activity such as taking lunch to the field, feeding the chickens, collecting eggs, canning, and taking care of the cows. There were good times for all and Carol would later become close the young girls when she was at school in Chicago. Below is one of the hot days on the farm with Uncle Harold and, I believe, Rosella.
In 1943 Carol had an experience that most of us never had - she received a court summons on a case of her parents versus her! She was summoned to court as Martha was petitioning the court to adopt her as shown below.
Although the outcome was never in doubt, Carol remembered the judge explaining the whole process to her. For a 9 year old this was a big deal. She especially thought it was "neat" that she was being asked if she wanted these two people as her parents and thinking that none of her friends had that choice! So this day was another memorable one in her early years. She did say yes to the judge and the decree follows.
Carol's life also revolved around Chicago's life of the 30's and 40's. Her parents took advantage of the many activities available and she would recall the many times they went to see musicals and shows as well as going to the museum. Also, since they lived due west from Cominsky Park, the bus went straight their and Tuesday were free for the "ladies", she became an avid Cub's fan.
Some people have wondered where Carol started in the needlearts. Well, it started early as Martha was schooled in Norway in all kinds of handwork - general sewing, cross stitch, pulled thread, various canvas work, and knitting. So Martha introduced Carol early and often. She had the old school adage of "idle hands are the devil's hands". Carol gained an appreciation of fine work via Martha and visits to the museums. One item of note is that she learned these things the "European way". For example in knitting they throw the yarn opposite of the tradition American way. Carol became so accustomed to it that she never did change that way of doing it.
An amusing story revolves around her sewing. When she was coming up to her 14th birthday her Uncle Larry told her that his birthday gift for her was going to be special and he started on this months before hand. Now, a young teen age girl can generate all kinds of great ideas and Carol was no slouch in that game. She was certain it was going to be that wrist watch she wanted. When the day arrived there was this BIG thing covered with a blanket and uncovering it she found this brand new Singer sewing machine and cabinet. She was speechless but kept her cool. She found it came with lessons and dutifully went weekly for a few months to learn the art of making clothes. One encounter almost ruined it for her and it impacted later how she taught a number of girls sewing. She had made her first dress and was very proud when she showed it to Martha. But Martha noted a few problems with how some seams were made and how the sleeves were eased into the body. So Martha took it ALL apart and sewed it back together. This devastated Carol and she did not sew for some time. Fortunately for her daughters she went back to sewing later and taught not only them but many neighbor girls. This good old Singer sewing machine was with her until the late 60's when she got a new machine (she used the excuse that it did not sew backwards and as many know it certainly did and good old Jerry showed her how that worked - actually the zig-zag was the real reason).
A number of her parents friends were a major part of her life and one Carol remembered fondly was her "Aunt" Nettie who is the one on the far left below with Walter and Carol on the left and two other friends in the middle. As many of the early pictures will show there were few people of her age. Carol grew up with adults and was always comfortable with discussing things with them. This was probably one aspect of her developing a BROAD range of interest and knowledge.
Carol also remembered the family was split relative to her father and stepmother. One outgrowth of that was a split for all holidays, one group would visit one weekend and the other the next one. This was great as one had an extended birthday or as her father would say she had a "Polish" birthday ( they lived in a Polish neighborhood).
Next we will move into her educational years or at least her beginning formal education. Carol never stopped learning. She was a student forever!