New Year’s “Back in the Day”
New Year’s Day is celebrated in many ways. In our family on the Montour County farm, it was a day of traditional foods: pork and sauerkraut accompanied by fresh baked bread smothered in butter and King syrup (the Pennsylvania Dutch sweet and sour). It was a day of watching parades on television and inviting family for the traditional meal, but still feeding the farm animals and milking the cows both morning and evening.
We are fortunate to have several diaries in the archives which open a window to the daily routines of the past. As mentioned in a previous article (the diaries of Paul Roat), many entries in folks’ diaries detail the weather, chores completed for the day, and sometimes, in a subdued way, special events in the writer’s life.
I am in possession of my mother’s five year diary from 1937 to 1941. Irene (Faus) Hagenbuch was born in 1920. She started dating my father (Homer Sechler Hagenbuch, b. 1916) in February of 1937 and in March of 1939 they were married. In April of 1941 their first child was born, my sister Barbara (Hagenbuch) Huffman. So, this five year diary contains information about some of the most important events in my mother’s life.
The 1935 and 1938 diaries I possess of my great aunt, Grace (Sechler) Cromis (b. 1882), also have important life events buried within their pages. The most poignant are when her husband went through several home surgeries for gangrene and finally his death due to that dreaded infection.
Aunt Grace was the older sister of my grandmother, Hannah (Sechler) Hagenbuch (b. 1889). Grace was married to Peter Franklin Cromis (b. 1858) who had been previously married to May Sechler, Grace’s aunt. When May died in 1911, “Uncle Frank” married his niece (related through marriage), Grace Sechler. My father often told me that this incident was frowned upon, but it was eventually accepted by the family.
Uncle Frank Cromis (who is my great great uncle AND my great uncle at the same time!) died of gangrene on Feb. 19, 1938. Written in a matter-of-fact way, Aunt Grace tells in the diary of her husband’s toe amputations and subsequent death.
If we consider our own daily lives—except for some special events both happy and sad—the days pass by with work, sleep, a daily routine, and watching the news and weather! What did Irene and Grace write about in their diaries on January 2nd and on the previous day, New Year’s Day?
On Jan. 2, 1935 Grace writes:
Not much of any importance today. The school bus could not get around on account of the roads not being open yet.
This is the day after New Year’s Day. Was New Year’s Day for Grace Cromis more exciting? Having her sister, Hannah, and her family for supper was probably a special time. This is what she wrote:
Richard Moser died Dec. 29 and was buried this PM. Clarence, Hannah, Chas, Homer, Wilmer, Lee, Florence, Ellen and Mary were here for supper. Snow fell during the night and the lane drifted shut. Hagenbuchs got stuck in the snow on Runyan Hill. No school today. Wilmer stayed the night.
Clarence is Clarence Hagenbuch (my grandfather). He was born in 1889 and was married to Grace’s sister, Hannah (Sechler) Hagenbuch. All of their children are mentioned as being there: Chas being my Uncle Charles and Homer being my father. Aunt Grace even lists my aunts and uncles in their birth order. I wish that Aunt Grace would have written about the menu for their supper. Knowing that all these farm families butchered in the winter time, especially the Cromises, I expect they had pork and sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, sausage, and all the fixings!
On January 2, 1938, Aunt Grace simply wrote:
Mostly cloudy. Mary and Myron went to church and S.S. (Sunday School). Roy shaved Frank. Margaret and Anne came along.
At this time, Uncle Frank’s health was rapidly deteriorating due to the gangrene and the Cromis’s neighbor, Roy Whitmoyer, came to shave him. Margaret is Roy’s wife, and Anne is their daughter. Myron (b. 1918) and Mary (b. 1914) were the children of Grace and Frank Cromis. Not mentioned, but also living with the Cromises was Grace’s nephew, Harold Sechler (b. 1923).
And what of Jan. 1, 1938? With her husband only six weeks from death, my Aunt Grace probably wanted a quiet day. She writes:
Rained nearly all day. Emerson Smith brought Mary home.
Emerson and Mary Smith were neighbors.
Irene Hagenbuch was 16 years old on Jan. 2, 1937. Here are the January 2nd entries in her five year diary:
 It snowed, rained, and sleeted today. We were going to the show but the roads were too slippery.
 Got up 8:45 starting out new year bad. To S.S. and Church, am “secretary”. Was to Cantata at Ridge Turbotville Reform Choir.
 Warmer, washed and ironed. Not feeling so good. Harley, Pauline were married Dec. 22, 1938.
 Did washing, finished canning pork chops. Baked apple pies. Smoking meat. Aunt Gertie went to hospital.
 Cloudy, snowed all afternoon Did washing. Kept Nancy in afternoon, she’s 6 mo. old today.
Irene’s entries for New Year’s Day describe family visits, cooking and baking, time spent with friends, resolutions, the joys of a young woman, and some mysteries! She writes on January 1st:
 Whitty, Edith and I celebrated. Made new acquaintances with J.B. and P.R. of Watsontown, had a swell time at the New Year’s dance. 1:20.
 Got up 8:30, baked two cakes, cleaned duck and odd jobs. Stayed in with Ruth.
 to Church and to S.S. Daddy and I to grandma’s. Daddy with us and made the happiest New Year’s resolutions. He is Superintendent of S.S.
 Happy New Year. To Grandma’s 4 dinner. Took them a duck. Harley and Pauline there. The baby is awful cute. To Aunt Edna’s.
 Beautiful Day. Sauerkraut and pork for dinner. Homer worked.
In 1936 and 1937, Irene Faus was a “house girl” for Nathanael and Harriet Keefer who owned a farm near Washingtonville, PA. “Edith” was their daughter, Edith Keefer, who would marry Jimmy Hartman and they would stay close friends with Homer and Irene during their lifetimes. In fact, Edith was a school teacher of my father’s in about the year 1929 when Dad was 13 and Edith was around 21 years of age.
It is not certain who “Whitty” could be. However, researching the 1940 census, neighbors of the Keefer family were Norman and Sarah Whitmoyer whose daughter was Dorothy Whitmoyer. She was the same age as Irene. And, to make further connections, the Roy Whitmoyer mentioned by Grace Cromis in her January 2, 1938 entry, was Dorothy’s brother!
Harley Snyder, married to Pauline, was Irene’s first cousin. His father was Clinton Snyder; his mother was Ina (Faus) Snyder, sister of Irene’s father, Odis Guy Faus (b. 1899). The “awful cute” baby is Harley and Pauline’s daughter, Norma Snyder. Aunt Edna is either Edna (Faus) Confer, who was another sister of Odis Faus; or Edna Hilner, wife of Irene’s uncle, Raymond Hilner who died in 1933. This Aunt Edna was the sister-in-law to Irene’s mother Minnie (Hilner) Faus (b. 1897). It can be confusing when one has two Aunt Ednas!
In 1938, Irene Faus was working at Eyer’s Store in Turbotville, PA. This general merchandise store was owned by Elias “Pop” Eyer and his wife Vida. Their daughter Ruth, who by 1940 was married to Nevin Rovenolt, became good friends with both Irene and Edith Keefer. These three ladies would continue as close friends for the rest of their lives. On January 1, 1938, Irene writes about Ruth.
Others that Irene writes about are her father (Daddy), Odis G. Faus who was Sunday School Superintendent at Moreland Baptist Church near Muncy, PA; her grandmother, which could be either paternal grandmother Emma (Johnson) Faus or maternal grandmother Louisa (Miller) Hilner, although Louisa Hilner died in 1939; Aunt Gertie, who is Gertrude (Hill) Hagenbuch wife of Homer Hagenbuch’s uncle Percy; Nancy (6 months old on January 2, 1941), who is Jimmy and Edith (Keefer) Hartman’s daughter; and the elusive “J.B. and P.R. of Watsontown.” During the first months of 1937 before settling on Homer Hagenbuch as her “beau,” Irene often references young men acquaintances with only their initials.
It is understood that for most readers of this article the small details outlined above may not be of interest. However, we must realize that these details are what make a person’s day-to-day existence come alive. As has been written before, genealogy is not just names, dates, and places. Family histories are made up of people’s joys and sorrows, their work and play, and even their innermost thoughts and beliefs.
The events of January first and second more than 75 years ago give us a real look into the lives of two ladies, Grace (Sechler) Cromis and Irene (Faus) Hagenbuch, who were women of primary importance to their families.