She was born Catherine Patterson in Oceana County, Michigan on November 27, 1889. Her oldest child was born in December of 1906 so I am guessing she probably became Catherine Beck when she was around 16 years old, probably in Marcellus, Michigan, where her family lived[i]The Marcellus cemetery has lots of monuments bearing the Beck name. My brothers and I knew her as “Grandma Beck”. To my parents, she was “Mother Beck” or just “Mother”. To everyone else, she was “Kitty”. This 1950s photo, taken on her 80th birthday in our home on The Lake depicts her as I remember her – quiet, unassuming, and very proper in every way. If she had another side, I never saw it.
Seated in the middle with her two daughters and two sons
My first memories of Kitty are from the few months we lived with her and Granddad Beck after our family moved back to Three Rivers. We had lived in North Carolina, where I was born, and then five years or so in Rossmoyne, Ohio. At that time Grandma & Granddad lived in a small house at the very end of Canal Street, on the east side of Three Rivers. I am pretty sure this is the house, although I don’t think the garage, of the adjacent property on the left, or the house on the right, was there at that time. The driveway ran all the way to the rear of the house and of course, the big tree in front was not there. I do remember there was a long clothesline on the right side of the house and I think these proud fishermen (left to right; my uncle Elwin, my Dad, and my Granddad) were photographed next to that clothesline.
For those who don’t know what a clothesline is, every house-wife in town, including Kitty did the laundry on Monday – not Tuesday or Saturday – but Monday (all day) . As the washed clothing came out of the wringer they went into a bent-cane or wicker basket (plastic came much later), which she carried outside to “hang” on the clothesline, using wooden clothespins. If it happened to be the middle of the winter, the clothes would freeze stiff, in which case it could take a day or two to dry. If you have heard the expression, “He (or more appropriately She) really got her tit in the Wringer this time”, the linked picture should clear up any misunderstanding.
The railroad went through their back yard but I don’t ever recall seeing a train pass through. I do remember however the large vegetable garden between the house and the railroad. That was the scene of my first encounter with a tomato worm . I probably thought at the time it was a horned devil from prehistoric times, measuring 5 or 6 inches long. They made great bait for Bass fishing.
Kitty was a seamstress and I recall that she worked through the winter months at the local tannery – read about it here.
Kitty’s story would not be complete without mention of Clark, husband, and father of four. I recently came across this 1940 Census record, showing Kitty, Clark, and Zenobia (“Beany” to me) living in Three Rivers at that time. The headings are impossible to read on the report but here is an image of the template that was used to collect the information.
I think I was 10 years old when Granddad Beck died at the nursery where he worked, apparently from a heart attack or stroke.
We can see in the report that Kitty also worked at the nursery, earning $125 for 11 weeks as a laborer. Assuming a 40 hour week, that would be $0.28 per hour or $5.34 per hour in 2021 dollars.