A Letter from Gerald Thomas to his Daughters

Gerald Thomas and Anna Noteboom

Gerald Thomas and Anna Noteboom

I recently connected with a distant cousin named Paul through Ancestry.com.  He is my 2nd cousin, 1x removed – the grandson of my great-grandfather’s brother.  When I connected with him, I was able to see photos of my great-grandfather’s family I had never seen before and now have the names of the parents and siblings of my “Missing Thomas“.  He had previously been a brick wall for me.  We compared details of what we had heard about the disappearance of Francis Theodore Thomas, and much of it was similar, though Paul had more information than I did.  Paul also had a copy of something that I am so thrilled to have received – a letter my great-grandfather Gerald Francis Thomas wrote to my grandmother Marion and her sister Ethel in the months before he died in 1979.  It’s amazing – the love he had for his wife is endearing, something truly beautiful.  I am reprinting the letter in its entirety below, along with some illustrations.  Thank you Paul for this treasure!  (Notes in brackets [] are my own clarifying notes.)

April 1979

As much as I can remember, Dolly & my family history.

I will start with my grandfather.  He was born about 1840.  His name was Walter Noteboom.  He was born in Holland. He worked on merchant ships as a boy. I don’t know how he started in this country. His wife’s sister Donta Dough Dough (Auntie Dora could not say Dora when she was a child, she said Dough Dough and the name stuck), loaned him money to start a saloon. He ended up owning a man’s hotel in New York, the Cosmopolitan it was called. He owned the 3 houses on Schenck. My mother remembered when the cows came to the kitchen windows for something to eat. That was when we lived with Auntie Honey for awhile. His first wife [Christiana Nullmeyer] died after Aunt Geraldine was born. His second wife was Uncle Mike’s twin sister [Kate Dulk]. My mother and aunts called her Mama Kate because they did not want to call her mother. Us kids call her Grandma Kate. Grandpa died around 1910. My grandmother I never knew, she died before I was born. Her maiden name was Nulmeyer.

My mother was the oldest, next Auntie Dora [Dorothea Noteboom] she married Dick Krankenberg, then Aunt Honey [Johanna Noteboom] she married Harry Weymer they had four boys. Harry was the oldest. Walter died when he was a young boy. Jack accidently hung himself practicing boy scout knots in the cellar at 147 Schenck Ave and Horace was the youngest. My Uncle Walter’s second wife was Dot and for all I know, she is still alive. His first wife was Jessie. Aunt Geraldine was the youngest. I was named after her. She was my godmother. She married Jim Clarke, they had two children. Jim was a Colonel in the army. He is retired and Helen is married and lives in Conn.

My mother [Anna Henrietta Noteboom] was born in 1882. She used to tell us when she started school she could not speak English. They only spoke German at home. She met my father Frank Thomas through her brother. He was an orphan and she felt sorry for him. They got married in 1901 against my grandfather’s wishes and she was told not to come home. We never did until after things happened with my father.

Snippet from letter - Anna and Frank marry

Snippet from letter – Anna and Frank marry

Anna Noteboom and Francis Thomas at Rockaway Beach

Anna Noteboom and Francis Thomas at Rockaway Beach

He was swimming at Rockaway Beach in August of 1908. He was never seen again. His body was never found. When he left the house going to the Post Office first to get his pay which he did. The mystery of this, and I don’t think it was talked about too much, his clothes were not in his locker. It was never found out whether he went swimming or not or what happened to his clothes. I remember my mother never wanted to talk about it so we never found out too much. She was left without a dime. I remember I had 6 cents. She had to borrow money from Schmidt the butcher.

She went to work cleaning peoples’ houses and she took in wash. Many a day Mae and I carried a wash basket through the streets. I remember they used to give Mae and I a nickel or dime when we brought the wash. When we got a little older, she went to work for Mrs. Henning and then later on for the Sisters and I guess she did that until Mae got married. Mae got married in 1922. I got married in 1923. My mother and Frank lived with us for awhile, then Frank got married and she went to live with Mae and Jack. Mae died around 1966 and my mother died in January 1967. She was 85.

On my father’s side, I can not tell you too much as I said he was an orphan when he was a young boy. He had one brother, William, who was shot to death on the Brooklyn waterfront. He was a truckman. I never heard any details, my mother was not close to him or his wife. Auntie Kate was his oldest sister. She married Thomas Bouse’ they had a daughter Florence and his other sister was Aunt Mae. My sister was named after her. She married Jack Gardner. I don’t know how rich he was. We thought he was a millionaire. They lived in an elevator apt overlooking Central Park. I remember it was the first time Mae and I rode in an elevator. Grandpa Thomas was supposed to have had ancestors that were Quakers in Pa. Grandma Thomas’ maiden name was Fredericks. She had a sister whose name was Hall. Her husband was a Captain in the Civil War. Every Decorations Day, we used to meet in the soldier’s cemetery on Cyprus Hills and decorate his grave. That is all I can remember of them.

I was born as you know March 10, 1902 at 172 Miller Ave in East New York. Nanna and Frank went back to live there from the time they left us until Frank got married. Then she went to live with Mae. My earliest recollection was when I was four years old. I was playing with Jack Kaufman that was Bee Bee’s brother. I fell down he fell on top of me and broke my leg. I can still remember a man carried me home. Two months before things happened, my mother, Frank, Mae and I went to Auntie Kate’s farm in PA. My mother had a fight with Uncle Tom and she sent me to the people down the road to get the man to drive us to the station. I remember how surprised my father was to see us. Two months later he was gone. My uncle Willy moved us from Miller Ave to Belmont Ave.

Walter Noteboom, c. 1905, probably in Brooklyn, NY

Walter Noteboom, c. 1905, probably in Brooklyn, NY

Mae and I started school in 158 on Belmont and Warwick At. I used to wait for Mae to get out. We used to go home and stay in the house until my mother got home if she was working that day. Grandpa used to pay the rent and buy the coal in the winter. My mother and him made up when things happened. We used to go to his …. He was a fat man with a mustache and goatee. We used to have to kiss him, which Mae and I didn’t like because it tickled. From there we moved to Van Sicklin Ave. on the other side of Atlantic Ave. near Fulton St. Nanna was right below Atlantic Ave.I transferred from PS 158 to PS 76 on Wyona St. where Nanna and I graduated together in 1916. At age 14 I went to work at Barrett & Nephews. They were dry cleaners in downtown Brooklyn $5.00 a week. I quit that job to work for Schmidt the butcher when I wouldn’t have carfare or lunch money. From 7 in the morning until 6 at night and Sunday I had to clean the stable and feed 2 horses for $5 a week. I quit that to go to work as a helper on a truck for V. Henning & Sons, the same man whose wife my mother worked for. I got $7.00 a week 7:30 to 5:30, Sat. 7:30 to 4:30. I quit that for Meyer & Lange wholesale grocers in N.Y. I got $18 a week for 6 days. Just before I was 18 I asked Mother if she would go out with me if I got my license to drive a truck. She said ‘yes’ and we started going out together. In fact she was to our house for my 18th birthday. The luckiest day of my life I started with Nanna March 10, 1920 until July 10, 1978 58 years together. You can’t do much better than that.

Dolly

Dolly

In March of 1923 we were married. We had the reception in Mother’s house. Frank and her brother Louie had an argument, he chased Frank out. Frank went through the gate, but Louie tried to jump from the porch over the fence, caught his foot in the fence, broke his leg, end of reception. We lived on Norwood Ave. where you were born, then we moved to 147 Schenck Ave. with Auntie Honey where Marion was born. Mother and Auntie Honey had an argument so we moved to Lenki’s on 167th St. in Oct. of 1928 then to Altmans for awhile and on Oct. 1941 we moved to 166th St. with Rosie and Joey, then Frank & Helen and last but not least Ralph & Flo. We lived there for 37 years. In May of 1978 Jerry & Magda came to see us. Mother was starting to slip. On July 9th it was Sunday she stayed in bed until 10 AM. She got up had a cup of coffee and a little toast.

We walked up and down with her holding on to my belt. At 12 I asked her if she wanted lunch. She said, I just ate, so we waited until 1 PM. She had a little cottage cheese. I don’t remember the afternoon too well except she was looking at the “News” and she asked me if I would take her to Alexanders the next day. I said no, I had to go to the bank, I would take her Tuesday. At 6 o’clock we had supper, she didn’t eat and I got mad and went in the living room. She came in and said Don’t be angry with me Pop I love you so. At 9 PM she said isn’t there anything on television, so we watched All in the Family. She laughed a bit at about 9:40 she was dozing so I said come on Dolly lets go to bed. At 11 she was spitting and coughing, at 1 am I gave her her medication. I went to get her a glass of water. She said “I took it” meaning the pill. Those were her last words. I went to sleep, I guess she did too. At 5:30 Monday morning, July 10, 1978, I woke up and went to the bathroom. I didn’t look at her when I went in, but when I came back I looked at her for a minute. I didn’t realize then it dawned on me she was quiet. I looked at her and I knew she was gone. May God rest her gentle soul and give her everlasting peace. If ever anybody deserved it, she did. And so now that she is gone, when my time comes don’t mourn for me, be glad. I know I am going to her. God has promised. She is waiting at the end of the road for me. She is going to say Pop it was so long and I am going to say you said it my little one. And then we will be together forever. That is what is keeping me going. I’ll be glad when my time comes.

Franz Xaver Schillinger

Franz Xaver Schillinger

Papa mother’s father was born in West Point.  His father was sergeant —- Xavier Schillinger.  I can’t think of his first name.  He was a soldier in the Civil War.  He must have been a regular army man because his wife cooked for the Army not the cadets at West Point.  They had 4 children, Papa, Uncle Charlie and Aunt Kate & Mary.  Pop had 11 children.  Uncle Charlie had 3, Emmit, Madeline and Little Charlie.  Aunt Kate married Charlie Altenberg, a butcher on Atlantic Ave.  They had a son Henry who was a musician.  He used to play the trombone when they had parades in E.N.Y. [East New York].  Aunt May went blind.  They lived on Jerome St. right across the street from Saint Michaels.  They had a little store that sold musical stuff.  They had a son Henry.

Louis and Louisa Schillinger

Louis and Louisa Schillinger

Mother’s grandmother [Louisa Bauer] and her husband [Anton Bauer] were butchers from Alsace Lorraine.  They were French German.  They both worked in the butcher shop.  He died and in the early 1900s she lost all her money when the banks failed.  In those days the depositors did not have any protection.  She lived with Mom and Pop [Louise and Louis Schillinger].  I saw her once when I was a boy.  I remember Pop’s father used to ride in the decoration parade.  He was too old to walk.  Papa and my uncle Mike were New Lots Volunteer Fire Dept men.  They used to have a parade in B’klyn on Washington’s Birthday.  You kids used to run out to him with flowers.  Papa and Mr. Valentine Bangert used to give us a New Years call.  Mr. Bangert used to bring you kids favors from the party he went to on New Years Eve.  The Packards used to call in the afternoon.  You kids were afraid of Ponzi.  Papa [Louis Schillinger] died in 1941 and Mom [Louise Schillinger] whose name was Bauer before she was married died around 1960.  She was 94.  All Mother’s relatives were old when they died.  That is why I always thought I would go first.  I am glad I didn’t. I don’t [think] Mother would have made it down here by herself.  Now she is at peace.

Mother was born Jan 27, 1901 at 169 Van Sicklen Ave.  She was the 7th of 11 children, May, Tessie, Kate, Anna, Louie, John, Mother, Harry, Ethel, Joe, & Rob.

We both went to the same school P.S. #76.   I didn’t get to know her until I started to hang out with her brother.  I was about 12 and she was 13.  We graduated together.  She played “The Rosary” at the graduation exercise.

Dolly Portrait

Dolly Portrait

She started to work in A&S’s [Abraham & Strauss Department Store] in B’klyn for $5 a week.  From there she went to work in the telephone company.  She was there for a few years because I used to pick her up there when she was done working.  She worked split time.  She used to get done 8 pm.  She had a fight with the supervisor and quit.  Mr. Ohler was a friend of Pop got her a job in the Homestead Bank on Pa. [Pennsylvania] & Liberty Ave.  She worked there until we were married.  She also worked for awhile before the bank job in Buffs Hankerchief Factory on Miller Ave with my sister Mae who had to quit her job in the NY Life Ins Co. because she was going out with Jack.  Jack’s boss didn’t want him going out with anybody in the office.  Jobs for girls were not so easy to get in those days.

Gerald Portrait

Gerald Portrait

Mother and I worked in the B’way  [Broadway] Skating Rink on the side for awhile when we were going together.  She taught beginners and I sort of kept order if kids were skating too fast or they got too fresh.  Mother and some of the girls from the telephone company had a job teaching dancing in a dancing school on Gates and B’way.  We had a lot of good times together.  We went dancing (I was not a good dancer) skating, rides to Bear Mt. on the Hudson River Day Line, a couple of B’way shows, the old Gotham on Alabama & Fulton St. where they had stock company plays every week, Coney Island by open air trolley or bus, Rockaway, the L.I.R.R. [Long Island Railroad], Steeple chase all day for $5 [?], then over to Luna Park before it burned down to their big roller skating rink.  Those three years of our engagement were without a doubt the happiest three years of my life and I’m sure Mother’s too.  My Dolly how I miss her.

Things I remember: Soon after things happened with my father, my mother’s family decided Mae and I would be better off in a home. Auntie Bertha (Miss Happ the school teacher. She was my mother’s best friend) and my mother went to the home on Hempstead Turnpike, it was connected with the church on Wyone St., to see about Mae and I going in. When Auntie Bertha saw the children with their shaven heads and drab uniforms, she said no she would not stand for it. She said she would help my mother, so we didn’t go in.

At Xmas time Mae and I would take colored paper and make strings of circles with the paper and also string popcorn one pink and one white and we would string them on the tree. On Xmas Eve, Mae and I would hang up a stocking. My mother would put in an apple, orange, some nuts and candy and a small toy.

A few years later my mother met a Spanish Amer War Veteran named George Reilly through a mutual friend. I did not like him and he didn’t like me. So when he wanted to marry my mother, she said no.

One day when I was about 12 mother’s brother Harry asked me if I wanted a ride in his father’s motor boat the “Dolly S” Pop [Louis Schillinger] kept the boat at the Old Mill at the foot of Crescent St. So Pop, Mother, Harry and I went sailing in Jamaica Bay. It was the first time I was ever in any kind of a boat. At that time I thought Pop was a rich man to be able to afford a boat like the “Dolly S”. He also owned a horse and carriage. He was also one of the first men in East New York to own an auto. I remember it was a Model T Ford. Later on he had the Buick. I remember when Mae and I were small my Mother used to sing to us “Just Break the News to Mother” “Just Before the Battle Mother” and “Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Grounds” were the Civil War songs I remember “Sliding Down the Cellar Door” those were the simple days. Also “Always in the Way”. Did the old Nanna ever sing those songs to you girls?

When I was about 12 years old, I went to Sunday school on Wyona St. Mr. Henning (I worked for him later on and my mother worked for his wife) asked me if I wanted a job pumping the organ on Sunday. (some words illegible) It was alright if the organist didn’t play loud or long if he did the air went down. I could not pump fast enough. The men in the choir had to run over and pump for me until it went up again. For $2.50 a month, I gave my mother $2 and I kept the 50 cents. I also had a job at Schmidts buther shop on Sat. I used to deliver meat all day for 50 cents. Then when I was 14 I started in Barrett & Nephus they were dry cleaners delivering the goods that was dry cleaned for $5.00 a week.

About 1910 when my grandfather [Walter Noteboom] died, he left an estate of about $30,000, my grandmother got $10,000. My mother, aunts and uncle got $4,000 each. I guess that was the first time my mother had some money she could call her own. When the estate was settled, Grandpa had been paying my mother’s rent and buying her coal. So my bigshot Uncle Walter deducted that money from my mother’s share.

Mother and I graduated from PS 76 on Wyona St. in East New York in 1916. She was 15 and I was 14. I saw her off and on for the next 2 or 3 years. Then when I was 17 I joined the Packards that was a club on Hendrix St. and Glenmore Ave. I saw more of her then because she used to come to the dances we held once a month. I was never much of a dancer, but she used to love to. On March of 1920 I asked her if she would go out with me. She said yes and that began the happiest three years of my life. Prior to that I had nothing, now I had everything. How proud I was of her. During that 3 years we had the time of our lives. We went al over dances, skating, theatres, movies, Coney Island, Rockaway, Bear Mt. skating rinks. We loved each other very much. We would come home and sit on the porch swing until 2 or 3 in the morning. Do you remember the swing and porch on Van Sicklin Avenue?

On March of 1923 we were married. We had a little over 55 years. What beautiful years they were.

Do you wonder that I miss her? When my time comes, don’t mourn for me, be glad because I know I am going to be with her again. I know she is waiting for me. May my descendants all have a marriage like mine.

Signed: Gerald F. Thomas

Finished: May 25, 1979

 

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