“BLOG,” where did that strange word come from?

…I have wondered.

The word “blog,” according to Wikipedia,  ” is a contraction of the words Web Log (weB LOG).”  Most people already know this, I suppose.

Unfortunately, the word reminds one  of  “blah.”  Hopefully, “blog” will not become synonymous with “blah.”  ( I can see it happening – because we have so many ways to create chatter, blather and prattle – blah, blah, blah).

I will try to keep this blog from sounding like “blog, blog, blog…” I am struggling with how to keep it interesting. I will try not to present information or comment that is not inspiring or relevant.

Relevant to what – I have been asking myself?

What is it I am doing with this blog ?

I think I am using it as a place to create a direction for the larger story I would like to put together.  A blog  seems so “unconfined.”  “Unconfined” is always a good way to start. You just go where you go – which usually turns out ok.

And, to what larger story am I ultimately going with these wonderful letters and photos? To a biography, I think.

But what does that mean?

I would like to present Helen’s life  in a way that is interesting to an audience beyond our family. As is the case with all of us,  Helen is defined by historical and familial context. And, she represents her time, her place and her genes.

So – I will blog my way through not just the letters as I read them (I have just finished the 1917 letters), but I will also present the context of Helen’s life as I research pieces of it  – starting with my next post: The Hungerbeuhlers of 1520 North Franklin Street.

A big cast of characters there!

Some day, some day, I will make a lemon pie…

I do have to get to some serious work on this project – but allow me this bit of fun.

I have heard dozens of times during my marriage to Helen’s grandson, Van,  about his grandmother’s wonderful, amazing, delicious  lemon meringue pies. And this from a guy who’s not that much into food. I have made a lemon meringue pie every few years over the last thirty – and I’m sure they didn’t measure up.

So, I’m reading letter # 13 October 7, 1917.

Young, newly-wed Helen had gotten a  letter from her friend, Elsie, who was learning to bake pies.

Helen writes to her mother:  “… one of them was lemon meringue. Never mind, some day, some day, I shall attempt a lemon pie.”

Well, first, I can’t really explain what a connection that was – to have a familiarity I have with the “grandmother” Helen to pop out at me from the letter of this very young woman, so far in time from being the grandmother of my husband’s memory. This very ordinary thing, a lemon pie, just  becomes extraordinary because who would think you could find her first thought of it from so long ago!

It gets better.

Letter # 15 October 20, 1917 

Helen writes to her mother: “Just baked a lemon meringue! Yes, sir and it’s good , too – Alfred said so!”

And – even better – The Recipe !

CRUST: One and 1/2 heaping cups lard, Three cups flour,  A little ice water , Salt to taste

FILLING: Mix 3 Tbl. cornstarch and 1 C sugar, Pour over 1C boiling water. Boil until clear.

  When slightly cooled, add:  2 Tbls butter, Juice and rind of 1 lemon, beaten yolks  of 2 eggs

 Cook slightly. Pour this mixture into baked pie crust.

MERINGUE:  Mix 1 Tbls powdered sugar with beaten egg whites.  Spread over top of lemon mixture, brown in oven for a few minutes.

To beat egg whites – use a pinch of salt.

Anyone interested – we could have a lemon pie contest and see who gets it just right. My husband Van will do the taste test!

“I can still talk things out with you – only it comes in inky form.”

Louisa Hungebeuhler Ottens

Louisa Hungerbuehler Ottens

From letter #16
November 27, 1917
Bible Institute of Los Angeles

A very long letter ends:

“And now, I’ve written all this to you, Mother dear because you are my Mother. I can still talk things out with you, only it comes in inky form.”

I think as we begin to delve into the letters and  life of Helen, we need to pause and pay some attention to Louisa Ottens, the Mother, always with a capital M, to whom our letter-writer, twenty-one at the time of this letter, is so devoted.

We must know Louisa primarily through inference because we do not have her part of the letter exchange. Her letters are missing  and we will not be able to hear her “voice.”

There is one person left, I know of, who will remember Louisa. That would be Helena Talmage’s sister, Betty Schlichter – Louisa’s second granddaughter. I hope to visit Aunt Betty this fall. She is ninety-two and very sharp. I think she will be helpful in “finding Louisa.”

We have some photos of Louisa, like the one above, in which she always looks pleasant, affable and hardy.

Helen frequently asks her Mother how her garden is doing – particularly inquiring after the chrysanthemums! She regularly describes the gardens of California to her  – or the variety of blooms in a flower shop. They seem to share a love of flowers.

Louisa writes to her young daughter as frequently as she is written to – which is often. We have no way of knowing if her correspondence is as lengthy and detailed as her daughter’s.  Helen requests things to be sent from home – vanilla, sugar and pretzels (always at the top of the list). She makes suggestions for Christmas gifts for her and Alfred!  Helen  graciously acknowledges each receipt – so we know her requests are fulfilled. Mother is attentive.

I have discerned a pattern in Helen’s letters (I’ve only read sixteen so far). Each has two distinct parts – a detailed, up-beat description of domestic life and goings on, and a rather serious and  impassioned religious discourse. Sometimes the transition, or lack of it, from one to the other, is a bit jolting.

Helen is a newly-wed, enjoying  Alfred’s company and dotting attention, learning to cook, sewing , shopping, decorating their home. She is also a devotee to a passionate, fundamentalist Christian movement, inspired by Billy Sunday ( more about him later). She and her husband are in Los Angles for two years of religious study before going off to be missionaries abroad.

So, Helen discusses theology and the religious context of her study and life with her Mother in each letter.

However, Loiusa does not participate in the religious conversation. I know this because it is commented on by Helen in a letter.  Louisa ignores the topic but Helen continues to try to  engage – to convert her family of  “lukewarm Christians” to “know” Christ  – not to just know “of'”  Him. Maybe there will be a reply on this topic from Louisa somewhere down the road, in later letters. We’ll see.

An interesting tid-bit about Louisa, that I know from family interviews, is that she dated Henry Ottens of Philadelphia first, but married his brother, William Frederick Ottens, a candy maker.  Henry ended up being a successful, wealthy businessman and would become a patron of Wildwood, New Jersey.

So, Louisa did not marry the wealthy brother. I have been told that everyone through the generations has wondered about her choice.  My guess is she liked William better! The question would be “why?”

Louisa’s maiden name was Hungerbuehler;  her parents were German immigrants. Her mother, “Grossmama,” is alive when the letters are being written. Helen asks about her often  and occasionally writes to her grandmother at 1520 North Franklin Street in Philadelphia.

I will try to glean more from the letters about Helen’s Mother, Louisa, as I proceed.

What is it about her, or Helen, that has created such a demonstrative mother-daughter relationship? Perhaps this was not uncommon in the post Victorian era.

It would also be interesting to try to find out more about Louisa’s relationship with Helen’s younger sister, Mildred.

Helen and Mildred were like night and day.

There is a large, interesting extended family dynamic in Helen and Louisa’s life  to also be explored. Louisa’s sister’s Amelia, Alberta, Alma, Flora, Laura and her brother, Conrad Hungerbuehler; wealthy Uncle Henry Ottens, Uncle Charles Beck and cousin Charles Beck (on the Ottens side), surround Louisa and Helen in a rich context in turn of the century Philadelphia.

Where to begin….


After a week with Helen’s Legacy – Back to Work


It has been a busy, wonderful week – full of family. We gathered in Montreat with the direct descendants of Helen Ottens Schlichter to celebrate the life of her daughter, my mother-in-law, Helena Talmage.

Helen and Alfred Schlichter had two daughters. Helena’s younger sister, Betty, arrived in Shanghai in 1921. Betty never married or had children. It was Helena who increased the Schlichter line with a daughter and two sons. These grandchildren of Helen Ottens Schlichter have given her a total of eleven great-grandchildren. All but three of them managed to get here this past week.

Six of Helen Schlichter’s great grandchildren have produced fourteen great-great grandchildren. So it goes.

Helen was still living when her first four granddaughters arrived. They called her Gigi.

This lineage, being from daughters , has not passed along the Schlichter name. But we pass along so much more through our genes. Helena’s first grandchild, Laney, her first great-grandchild, Kirsten, and great-grandaughter Jenny, are clearly Schlichters – or rather, Ottens – in stature, facial features and temperament.

We live on.

As I explore her life through her letters, I will be paying attention to the “chain” of women linked from the nineteenth to the twentieth century by Helen Ottens Schlichter.

Back to work.