By Bill Miller
This article is dedicated to THE COURAGEOUS FIREFIGHTERS WHO SAVED US ALL FROM A TERRIBLE TRAGEDY, and to all those servants in our community who spent long hours serving them. Tragedies can reshape us into better and more grateful persons. This is the story of what a tragedy did to our family.
How did we come to be the person we are? Were you shaped more by genetics or by your family history? Probably both. Modern genealogy proves that genetics affects everything from our good looks and intelligence to our artistic and athletic talents. Any deficiencies you can also blame on your ancestors. But there is more to our story than our DNA.
All of us have also been shaped by our family history, by the decisions made by ancestors and the issues/crises they faced. I was painfully reminded of that by my great-grandmother, Geraldine Richards Northrup, who died tragically at age 36. In many ways, my life was shaped by that event, though it happened seven years before I was born.
Geraldine was born in 1897. In July 1914, the month and year that World War I started, she married my grandfather, Carl Northrup, She was 17 and he was 18. He worked on Boston & Maine RR, and she did the rest. Nine months later my mother was born, at the same time the USA entered the war. Then came sons in 1917 and 1920, daughters in 1922 and 1928, and completing the family with a third son in 1931.
In her autobiography, Mom describes their family life: “Even though we were hard up mother always contrived snacks for us and our friends. They loved her. This was a carefree life….I loved school…loved all sports…a great reader. I aspired to be an artist and clothes designer…I planned to work a year after high school then go to college.” Then, on March 11, 1933 multiple tragedies struck. Her mother awoke in terrible pain. The doctor came and decided to give her a hypodermic shot. As mom watched, “he put something on her stomach, then he plunged a long needle in.” She was taken to the hospital and rushed into surgery. “A gall stone had blocked her bile duct, which the doctor had burst with his needle, and within hours she was dead. She was killed by a doctor, and she died on my youngest brother’s 2nd birthday!”
On that very same day, March 11, all the banks in the country closed by decree of President Roosevelt. Her father instantly lost his job, and her mother’s insurance failed. In their grief, they were all cast into the darkest days of the Great Depression. There was no extended family support. My mother, Marian, quit school in her junior year of high school, to help raise her five younger siblings. As she later wrote, “I had to grow up in 15 minutes.” That moment permanently reshaped her life. She became a survivor and a take-charge young woman. She was hard-working and task-oriented for the rest of her life. In the years that followed, she realized that “The God I had denied at my mother’s death did not deny me or our Dad. Faith in God is what sustained us and pulled us together. We learned that there is no catastrophe or problem too great for you and God to handle.” She would rejoice to know that all 61 of their descendants embraced that faith.
In 1935 she married my father, George Miller, and they had three children. I was the middle one. Through hard times, bankruptcies and WW II, Mom raised us in that faith refined by the fires of tragedy. She practiced what her father preached, “The best helping hand is at the end of your arm!” She demanded that we use it. Her desire for a college education was realized by two children and most grandchildren. Her passion for art is shared by children and grandchildren. Her self-motivated, take-charge, demanding work ethic shaped all our lives, to this very day.
Genealogy is not about dates, it is about the people who shaped our lives. None of us are self-made. We are all the products of our DNA, our family history and our culture. If you want help creating your family history come to the Lake Lure Genealogy Club, meeting every 2nd Tuesday at 3:00 in Mountains Branch Library.
FAREWELL TO BILL MILLER FOUNDING CHAIR FRIENDS OF THE BRIDGE Bill and Ellie Miller were given a beautiful hand-painted gourd with the thanks of the LLFB Board. As the Friends of the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge volunteers gathered to celebrate another beautiful season in the gardens, we also paid tribute to our departing chairperson, Bill Miller. Bill and his wife, Ellie, are moving to the Charlotte area to be nearer their children. It was Bill’s idea to turn the decommissioned Historic Bridge #7 into a garden. He told the story well in a recent TED Talk. You can see it here: Bridge to Somewhere Beautiful. Since his idea was embraced by community volunteers, his leadership has brought the dream to life. Donors and willing hands built and tended the gardens while Bill continued to speak to groups about the project, gathering financial support and taking the story with him wherever he traveled. He was a champion in generating support for the Sensory Trail for the Visually Impaired that was created in partnership with the Lake Lure Lions, along with the mobile phone audio tour. All along he, too, has invested “sweat equity” into the gardens, taking his turn digging in the dirt. [Photo left by Alice Garrard] Bill is quick to give credit to others for bringing his vision to life. We who have benefited from his idea are grateful and will think of him as we continue to enjoy the beauty of the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge gardens. We wish him happy days ahead with the hope that he and Ellie will visit often from their new home in the Charlotte area. Thank you and good luck but not goodbye, Bill! – Published from the November issue of the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge newsletter.