Dec 19, 2007

Recollections of Aunt Ethel

Aunt Ethel Mead VanAuken was my father’s older sister. She and her husband Gilbert lived in Delmar, New York, in a revolutionary war era house at 87 Murray Avenue.  As I recall, they had bought a small farm and developed it into housing areas, naming the streets as they built them.  They named one of the new streets Mosher Road.  The name Mosher is a Mead family name.  It also is my middle name.  I remember my Aunt Ethel telling me that they had named the road after me.

We would alternate holidays – one year, we’d go there for Thanksgiving, and the next year, they’d come to our home at 901 Union Street in Schenectady. This made for interesting comments by my parents. Harold Mead and Margaret McLaughlin Mead (my parents) rarely had a social engagement that didn’t involve alcoholic beverages. The VanAukens were tea totalers. My paternal Grandmother was a devout Methodist, a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and hated alcohol in any form. Aunt Ethel followed in her footsteps. Whenever we went to their house, which was beautifully furnished with colonial-era antiques, my parents would comment endlessly on the way to and from their house on the lack of alcoholic beverages -- an unusual obsession, to say the least.

Ethel and Gilbert were unable to have children. They adopted a girl, Elizabeth, whom they obtained through a Catholic adoption agency. Regardless of their devout Methodism, they always raised Elizabeth in the Catholic tradition. She attended Catholic schools and graduated from a Catholic girls’ college in Albany (possibly the College of St.Rose).  She obtained her nursing degree from Syracuse University in 1949. She then served as an Army nurse for several yesrs, never married, and died of pancreatic cancer while in her 40’s or 50’s. I recall that at one time Elizabeth resided in Wappingers Falls, New York.

Aunt Ethel also graduated from Syracuse University at a time when few women got a college education. She was very active in the Alpha Chi Omega sorority, and eventually served seven years as the national president of her sorority.
One of her roommates in college was Dorothy Thompson, who later became a well-known newspaper and radio journalist and and second wife of Sinclair Lewis. Aunt Ethel went to England to be the Matron of Honor at their wedding. They remained lifelong friends. In 1939, Ms. Thompson appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

To the best of my knowledge, Aunt Ethel never held a job, in the general meaning of that term. She was extremely active in church and civic activities, however.   She died in February of 1955 and is buried in Bethlehem Cemetery in Elsmere, New York.

Her husband Gilbert was a highly regarded architect in Albany. He was a veteran of the Spanish-American War, during which he had served in Texas in the cavalry. He loved to regale the children of the Mead family with a tale of how he was bitten by a rattlesnake while in Texas. He had been shot at and missed by (in his words) hordes of Mexican infantry, but the only injury he got was a snake bite while dismounting from his horse.

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