By REBECCA SCHWAB
OBSERVER Staff Writer
BROCTON – Marjory Diehl plans on living until she is 110 years old. She wants to beat her mother’s record of 105.
Spry and active at age 92, Diehl’s goal seems perfectly reasonable. She gardens, reupholsters furniture, writes thousand-page books, makes dolls and entertains at nursing homes with her yorkie, Bingo. Good luck to the people trying to meet her for tea or a game of bridge. She’s busy.
“I enjoy life, mostly,” Diehl explains. “I keep active. I think, when you don’t, that’s when the years catch up to you.”
Diehl’s bustling lifestyle isn’t so surprising, though it is no less impressive, when one considers the women from whom Diehl has descended. Not only did those ladies not die young, they didn’t sit idle.
FREDRIKA THE FEARLESS
Consider Fredrika Timerick, Diehl’s great-grandmother. Fredrika was born in 1845 in Germany. As the story goes, the teenaged Fredrika was betrothed to a boy in her village. The fall before her wedding, an aunt invited her to the city of Hamburg for the party season, full of holiday balls and dances. While there, Fredrika met a young man named Karl, and the proverbial sparks flew. Fredrika was an honorable young woman, though, so she said a heartbroken goodbye to Karl and returned to her village, steeling herself to keep her promise and go through with her marriage to the local boy.
But as soon as Fredrika arrived back home, she discovered a piece of news that others thought would devastate her. As Diehl tells it:
“Her fiance had gotten a little too frisky with another of the village girls while Fredrika was off dancing in Hamburg. He got her pregnant. Well, that girl’s parents were making him marry HER, so Fredrika was off the hook.”
But Fredrika’s shocks weren’t over. This village boy thought he could have his cake and eat it too. He had a plan to keep Fredrika close to him, even though he had to marry the young lady he’d impregnated. He had it all worked out: he’d set her up with an aging widower from the village, who would also make out on the deal, since Fredrika could help him raise his seven children! It was a win-win situation – for the men. Well, Fredrika didn’t find this plan satisfactory.
“She went after him with the buggy whip,” Diehl says. “She wasn’t about to let him tell her to marry that widower.”
After she had put her ex-fiance in his place, Fredrika got word to Karl. Instead of Fredrika rushing back to Hamburg, Karl came to Fredrika’s village. They married and settled in, Karl taking Fredrika’s father’s job as bookkeeper after the latter man’s death. The couple lived a happy life for many years, and started a family. They already had four girls, Anna, Mary, Amelia and Matilda, when in 1885 Fredrika became pregnant with their fifth child. It was then that she and Karl decided to emigrate, and they booked passages for their family on a ship that would take them to the United States.
For the second time in Fredrika’s life, however, her plans would be drastically changed. And this time, the outcome couldn’t be fixed with a sharp tongue and a buggy whip.
Two weeks before their ship was scheduled to leave the port, Karl died. An illness had taken him suddenly, what Diehl thinks was probably appendicitis. The shock of his death sent Fredrika into early labor, and she gave birth to a premature son the same day Karl died. Fredrika was left with four dependent girls, a sickly newborn, and a hard decision.
When the date of departure came, Fredrika and her children were on that boat.
Fredrika and her husband had worked for a wealthy estate owner, and had purchased their house from him. Before her family left Germany, she sold it back to him, for about $400. With only this and a few personal belongings, she and her family put their faces into the salty wind and braced themselves for what was to come.
The baby, Charles, almost died on the boat. Since he was born premature, and likely because Fredrika was already 40 years old, her body did not produce milk. Luckily, there was another woman on the boat nursing a newborn, and she agreed to nurse Charles, too. With this and barley water, he lived and thrived, not leaving this earth until many years later in 1960.
Fredrika and her children traveled to Kansas City, where Fredrika used the money from the sale of her home to buy a boarding house. Along with the rent money she made from boarders, the girls and she took in laundry and pressed clothes.
“They worked so hard for their living,” Diehl says. “They were tiny women, and it was hard work! They wore themselves out. But they did it. They made it.”
Diehl’s grandmother, Matilda, known as “Tillie,” turned 15 on the ship en route to America. Before she had a chance to turn 16, she attended a dance, and like her mother before her, she met her husband there. Joseph Koran was 25, and that night he told her he would end up marrying her.
“Well, he did,” Diehl confirmed.
Koran worked for the railroad as a conductor, and the couple stayed in Kansas City. They had three children, George, Joseph, and Ann. Ann, Diehl’s mother, eventually followed in the family footsteps and met her husband Frank Clampitt at a dance. He was from Texas, and that is where the young couple planned to settle down and start a family.
They hadn’t been in Texas long, though, when Ann got word that her father had had a work accident back in Kansas City. As Diehl describes it, Koran had been standing on the passages between two railroad cars.
“He didn’t expect the cars to start moving,” Diehl says. “He lost his balance and he fell between the two cars. His legs were crushed.”
A heavily-pregnant Ann rushed home to see her father. It was late August 1920, and women had just won the right to vote. While she was visiting, Ann met up with some old friends from school, and the ladies decided to celebrate their hard-earned suffrage. Even though Prohibition was policing stores and night clubs, the women got a hold of some bootlegged champagne and someone’s boat. The party was on … that is, until Ann noticed, a little late, that she’d gone into labor. She was having so much fun that she missed the early warning signs of her baby’s arrival. Her first child, Marjory, was born only an hour and a half later.
“I was always proud I was born that day,” Diehl says, laughing.
Ann stayed at her mother’s house, recuperating, for a couple of weeks. Frank Clampitt, her husband, came as soon as he could to collect his wife and new daughter, and they headed back to Breckenridge, Texas. But they didn’t stay there. Clampitt was a traveling meat salesman, and he moved his family often, following his work. Marjory was followed, in turn, by brothers Jack and Jimmie, and all three children learned quickly not to put down deep roots.
“My father was a crackerjack salesman,” Diehl remembers. “He travelled, and my mother said he had the gift of gab and he was handsome, and she was not about to let him out of her sight. By the time I graduated from high school I had been to 13 schools. Every six months or so, my father would get transferred and we would move.”
The Clampitts ended up back in Kansas City after jaunts in Texas and other states. But try as she might to keep a watchful eye on her charismatic husband, Ann’s marriage was not fated to last. Diehl remembers the early years of her parents’ marriage as happy ones, though, accompanied by relative financial security – a rare gem in the days up to and including the Great Depression, when economic hardship wracked the country around them.
“We were always in reasonably good shape as far as money goes,” Diehl says. “Always on Sundays we would go out to dinner. People didn’t go out to dinner then. We’d go to dinner and to a movie and walk around looking in the shop windows in Kansas City. One year before Mother’s Day, my mother and Jack and I were looking in windows, and we went by Jackard’s jewelry store and there was the most beautiful necklace and earring set. My mother carried on and on about it and he got it for her. Another year we saw one of those metal porch gliders with the cushions. Those were very new then. And the next day she had a delivery and it was one of those. He was always doing those kinds of things.”
That secure and easy life came to an abrupt end in 1936 when Diehl was 15. Frank Clampitt left for work in the morning, as usual, saying a casual goodbye to his wife and children. But he didn’t come home that night, or any other. Ann was left with three children and 34 cents in her pocket.
It took Ann days to admit to anyone that her husband had abandoned her and their children. Perhaps it took that long for Ann to realize it herself. But hiding from the truth wouldn’t help her feed her children, so she called one of her brothers to bail them out for the short term, and thought of a plan. She was an excellent seamstress and a resourceful woman. Frank Clampitt or no Frank Clampitt, she would not let her family suffer. Diehl remembers her mother’s career, as well as how smart she was with money.