Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Going Home 114 South Seventh Avenue -"To Grandfathers House We Go"

This is the last of the Reminiscences triggered by attending my 60th LTHS Reunion in October. (Until the next one.)

During the weekend of my  60th LTHS Reunion in October I spent Saturday driving to my old family haunts. I met my niece at the Thomas Lot (Section 14) at Forest Home Cemetery on Des Plaines Road in Forest Park, visited our old home on Dover Street, and drove by my grandparents home at 114 Seventh Avenue. 
My grandfather, Robert Vaughan Thomas (1868-1949) had moved from his Warren Avenue home in Chicago with his wife, Rachel Lewis Thomas (1874-1956) to La Grange around 1902 where he built this house. They had six children. From the gravestones at the Thomas Family plot  we know "Our Baby" (1899) and "Baby John" (1912) apparently died at or right after childbirth. Robert Thomas (1896-1907) and Gwendolyn Thomas (1904-1907) both died of Scarlet Fever on the same week-end at home at ages 11 and 4. 
Their combined  gravestone reads, "He was a gentle boy" for Robert, and "Safe in the arms of Jesus" for Gwendolyn. Although my mother told me about this , my grandmother never spoke about this devastating tragedy. My brother told me recently that our grandmother Rachel kept many of Robert's and Gwendolyn's clothes and toys and papers but she never let anyone touch them because they might have "Scarlet Fever". My mother, Gladys Ann Thomas Sessions (1901-1995), and her younger brother, David Vaughan Thomas II (1908-1988)  grew up in this house. David, my Uncle 'D', married Gladys Schwartz from Ohio, had three children (Skip, Dave, and Jack), lived in Hinsdale, and was Plant Manager for the Hooker Paint and Glass Company.  My mother graduated from LTHS and then Wells College in Aurora, New York. She and my father, Arch D. Sessions (1899-1993) were married in 1927 and moved to La Grange to 29 Dover Street in 1930. Their four children were Robert Thomas Sessions (1930-), David Lee Sessions (1932-), me, Donald Gordon Sessions (1935-), and Melissa Jane Sessions English (1939-1982). As children we were always at our grandparents house. My memories of the house include: the front porch which had wicker furniture in the summer; the spider web stained glass window with its ruby red center in a small room just to the left of the door; the living room to the right with its massive pocket doors which could be closed off when someone was playing the grand piano, the oil portrait of Robert above the piano; the amazing library with bookshelves to the sky, the portrait of Ap Vychan, family patriarch (the painting of this imposing stern man in clerical dress looking down at us was spellbinding - it had been brought on a ship coming over from Whales and a box had been placed on it inadvertantly leaving a rectangular impression on the canvas), under it was a wooden straight back chair with Welsh writing carved into it; arising from the central entry room was the wonderful wooden stairway to the upstairs;to the left of the entry room was the formal dining room where we celebrated all holidays with gala afternoon family dinners;  off the dining room a bright windowed room which was where the children would  eat; behind the dining room was a hall into the kitchen area which was the domain of Ann Bernhart who was grandma and grandpa's housekeeper (there was a picture of Jesus on the hall wall - Ann was Catholic, Ann came from a farm in downstate Illinois and became one of the family), Ann cooked  fabulous meals - our favorite treat was when she made fresh doughnuts and doughnut balls, after they were cooked in hot grease she put them into a paper bag with granulated sugar and shook them up and down, and we ate them hot, after Grandma died Ann moved to a small apartment above Sanborn's Grocery Store (now DeVries) about a block from our house on Dover until her death; upstairs were bedrooms -my grandparents lived in the front room overlooking the street, I remember my grandfather sitting in his chair using a large brass spittoon which wreaked of tobacco, he died of cancer of the esophagus; there were many other bedrooms upstairs and Ann lived in the back on the right; on the next floor was the attic which had many cabinets holding family treasures; the basement was amazing because its floor was painted gray and was too clean to believe; the front sidewalk was made of bricks, one of my first jobs as a child was to pull out the grass that grew between the bricks for which my grandpa would pay me pennies; it was a great neighborhood - my pediatrician, Dr. Norman T. Welford lived behind my grandparents to the west and the Vials (relatives of the man who founded La Grange) lived south on Seventh Avenue in the middle of the block on the right; the garage housed my grandfather's 1940 Cadillac which both David and I used through our high school years and beyond, it was a black four door sedan with standard shift and full running boards and was one of the first cars in the country to have a button to raise the radio antenna automatically, I must admit that I used the parked car in the garage to make out with girlfriends during my senior year at LTHS after school (the garage was very private), no one was injured by this innocent exploration into young love. Later David used this car during his first two years in medical school.The house continues to have wonderful memories for me.

Here is a photograph of the Robert V.Thomas family in the side yard of their home in 1910. In the first row on the left is Margaret (Aunt Lil) Thomas who was my grandfather's sister and my mother's Aunt. Aunt Lil married a Gorham, who although he was from the silver family came with no silver. They had a daughter named Margaret who married Charles Edwards and produced our  cousin Charles Edwards who is a lawyer in Ridge Manor Florida. Next to Aunt Lil is my mother, Gladys Thomas Sessions (1901-1995) who looks about 8 or 9 years old. Between and behind Lil and Gladys is David Vaughan Thomas (1908-1988) who was Gladys's brother (my Uncle 'D") and who was about two at the time of the picture. To Gladys's right is her cousin Marguerite Thomas Mooney, who was the daughter of mother's Uncle John and his first wife Margaret (both shown in the last row). Uncle John lived in south La Grange and after Margaret died, married a  lovely lady named Aunt Edith whom I knew. Mother's cousin Marguerite married Thomas Mooney and they lived in Riverside and had a son named Tommy Mooney who we knew as our second cousin. 
The large man sitting in the second row to the left is my grandfather (Gladys' father) Robert Vaughan Thomas (1868-1948) who built this house at 114 Seventh Avenue in the early 1900's. He worked his way from stock boy to Vice President of the Hooker Paint and Glass Company of Chicago. Next to him are his parents, David Vaughan Thomas (1841-1929) and Ann Edwards Thomas (1840-1914) who were my great grandparents. In the back row on the left are Gladys' Uncle John Thomas and his wife Margaret Thomas. Next to them is my grandmother, Rachel Lewis Thomas (1874-1956). The remaining couple is unidentified. Grandpa and grandma were  quite proud of their flower garden shown behind the family.

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