Bertha, who gave up comforts and security / To follow the man she loved into the mountains;

Bertha was one of the names considered by my parents when it came naming me. When I was younger, it was told as a joke – as in “be thankful, we could’ve named you this unpopular name or that unpopular name”, both being names of my parent’s grandmothers. I’m sure I would’ve rebelled against ANY first name when I was younger, so the joke lands flat. In fact, I did rebel and I have gone by my middle name since I was 11 years old. I site this particular branch of my family tree as precedence for this and have no regrets.

Great-Grandma Clark was born Bertha Marion Branch on September 10, 1885 in New London, Connecticut. She had a younger sister, Aunt Clarice. Her father died when she was four years old. The following year, her mother remarried.

Bertha attended college at Willimantic Normal School (today called Eastern Connecticut State University) where she received a teaching diploma in 1906. Her first posting was at a school in Niantic, Connecticut.

She married Ernest Dwight Clark on June 22, 1911 and spent her honeymoon camping in the mountains of West Virginia. Camping as a honeymoon isn’t my idea of romantic, but to each their own.

Bertha & Ernest Clark, Summer 1911

The couple moved to Virginia where her husband worked for the U.S. Forestry Service. They had four children; Helen Melissa (Aunt Melissa – note the use of her middle name here) was born on November 10, 1912, Ernest Dwight Jr. was born on May 19, 1916, Hazel Elizabeth (my maternal grandmother, family called her Betsy when she was younger) was born on April 19, 1919, and Sarah Barbara (Aunt Barbara, see the trend?) was born on April 12, 1922.

The family moved back to Connecticut in the summer of 1926. In addition to being a mother of four children and managing a household farm, Bertha taught school in a one-room school house. My mother recalls hearing that she struggled to get a teaching position at the time because she was a married woman. The thinking was that married women shouldn’t work outside the home. Her husband had to “raise a stink” about her being able to get a job. It’s refreshing to me to hear that she had a supportive husband and that she was able to pursue teaching.

During WWII, her two eldest children served in Europe. Her only son died in the war. She saved their letters home, which seems like a lost art in some respects these days. I have over fifty letters that Aunt Melissa wrote to her mother over the course of the war.

Great-Grandma Clark died when I was 8 years old. I recall her as a quiet woman, gentle and quick to smile. At some point, I inherited the doll’s tea set you see pictured here. It has been carefully wrapped and carted around with me through several moves. It’s not worth much nor is it in particularly good shape. Several pieces don’t match, paint has worn off in places, and there are small chips and nicks – but it is one of my most beloved possessions.

framed photograph of myself and Great-Grandma Clark from Summer 1977

Below is a recipe that’s been passed down from her daughter Hazel, to my mother, and then to me. These were handwritten and I transcribed it to my own recipe collection some years ago. I recall that I included added notes in parentheses, but am uncertain if the added notes are my mother’s or my grandmother’s – perhaps both? This is the sort of recipe that assumes the baker knows how to make a pie crust and gives helpful instructions similar to the adage to “cook until done”.

Grandma Clark’s Pumpkin Pie Recipe

  • 3/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1 tbl. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg (or more)
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • 1 1/2 c. cooked pumpkin (or squash)
  • 1 1/2 c. milk
  • 1 well beaten egg

Mix dry ingredients, add to other. Bake in hot oven (450 F) for 10 minutes. Reduce to slow (325 F) and bake until firm. Usually takes a long time. We use not quite so much sugar – either brown or white and about 1/4 c. molasses for good old flavor.

I made this last fall and it was smooth, creamy, and full of nostalgia, bringing to mind family who are gone but not forgotten.