Edwin ate with butter while the children and his wife had margarine. He demanded the first cuts of meat and always the best food; his wife and children made do. The maternal grandfather of Alma Vogels, Edwin Whitaker, a machinist, dark haired, pompadoured, clean shaven, “a dude”, Alma remembered, “a handsome man who liked the ladies,” deserted his diabetic wife, Alma’s grandmother (also named Alma), after the loss of 2 or 3 babies never carried to term. He abandoned them after the birth of the youngest daughter, Delores — Alma Whitaker had spent most of that pregnancy in bed. Alma Vogels’s mother, Esther, was 12 years old when he left.
Edwin’s family hailed from New Jersey in a town somewhere along the Delaware river. His father was known as ‘Captain’. Alma Vogels never met him.
He may have spared the family some money, and he did stay in touch for a while. Esther knew him by the tenor of his footsteps on the porch and fled by the back door when he would return. He had enough influence, perhaps as a consequence of the money he provided, to tell Esther she could not accept a scholarship to Juilliard, and so a life was unalterably diverted by a father in whom she had once taken delight. What else can one think about their photograph together — look at her smile and the warmth of her embrace.
Esther’s gift was musical. In her teens she helped support the family by playing the organ for silent movies. She improvised the music to match the action. She learned by listening.
Alma Vogels grew very close to her grandmother. She came to live with Esther and Newlin Harter, Alma Vogels’ father, during the Great Depression when her father lost his job with the telephone company where he worked in mid-level management. They would have lost their home without her financial help. From the moment he lost his job, Newlin refused to keep a phone in the house. He tore them out.
Grandmother Alma kept a room next to her granddaughter and namesake. They played solitaire and read books together and rode in her father’s big black sedan Alma V had christened ‘Betsy.” They grew very close.
Esther grew to be a dark-haired, big woman who wore black velvet and glittery pins. She was courted by Newlin Harter whom she met when she played piano for a production of a Philadelphia Ballet Company; the production had a circus theme, and Newlin appeared in a leopard skin outfit as a strong man. He had big shoulders. Somewhere he learned the trick of sawing a girl in a box in half. Alma remembers sitting in the bathroom and watching him shave and coming downstairs some mornings to climb into their bed and laugh and play.
The great tragedy of their married life came in 1928 with the death of their first son when he was two years old. One morning Newlin left for work — his son, his namesake, Newlin Hoagland, was sleeping quietly. When he left the house, he was fine. When he returned, he was deathly ill. That morning he came down with a fever. He died the next day without ever opening his eyes. Newlin blamed Esther. Alma V can still see Esther playing “Mighty Like a Rose” on the piano in his memory. The tears rolled down her face.
Earle Vogels, husband of Alma, never knew his father, who collapsed and died in a train station somewhere in northeastern Pennsylvania. Earle was six months old. Because of his condition, his father had been rejected by the Army for service in World War I. He kept his secret. He never told his wife, Earle’s mother Mae, that his heart was damaged. His death was entirely unexpected. Earle, his mother and sister were supported by his grandfather. Earle does not know what he did for a living, but on the side he practiced taxidermy and filled his house with birds and animals. Earle remembers going to the bathroom at night having to pass by a stuffed moose at guard in the hallway. The great grandchildren brought home a flicker and a turkey vulture whose wings posed outstretched took up the length of a couch — unexpected treasures harvested from the past.
The Vogels’ Heritage Thus Far:
Photos in order top to bottom:
Great grandfather Edwin Whitaker
Great grandmother Alma Banks
Delores, Alma and Esther
Esther and Newlin, horse
Esther and Newlin, bicycle
Earle, being held by his mother, and Earle’s father, also named Earle, seated; with Earle’s grandfather in the cap