Friday, March 8, 2013

On the Road to Bathgate Act 4: Introducing the Foster Family Offspring

The Foster Family

A Thumbnail Sketch

Laura Albina (Bina) Foster, Florence Foster King, Adams Foster, Grace Foster, Lyndon (Red) Foster, Herbert Foster, Margaret Foster Cameron, Bryant Foster, Jimmy Foster, Charlotte Foster Von Allman and George Washington Foster

My grandfather, Isaac Jarvis Foster, emigrated from Canada and homesteaded a claim in Bathgate North Dakota as a young man in 1879.  In the ensuing decade he met, wooed and married Laura Elizabeth "Lizzie" Armstrong.  On a farm at the turn of the 20th century it paid to have a large family.  The result in terms of offspring were my dad plus ten aunts and uncles.  When Grandpa Ike ran for county sheriff, his campaign slogan was "Head of a Family of Thirteen, VOTE FOR US."  He won.  In the lineup above, Dad is the little guy, the youngest of 11; he looks to be maybe three years old, which would date the family photo to 1912.  His siblings posed at an angle.  Dad is turned squarely ahead, a free and independent spirit from the beginning.

Aunt Bina's Headstone
Aunt Grace's Headstone
The older siblings, born before 1900, were not well known to me.  Numbers one through five are Laura Albina (Bina) Foster, Florence Foster King, Adams Foster, Grace Foster, and Lyn (Red) Foster.  Bina attended North Dakota Agricutural College in Grand Forks and earned a two-year degree in pharmacy in 1915.  Grace attended business school in Winnebago Minnesota, then took a course in watchmaking and engraving in Peoria Illinois.  Aunt Bina was a "druggist" working in North Dakota hospitals, frequently exposed to infectious disease.  They died young in 1928 and 1927 respectively.  I never met Lyn.  He enlisted in the army in 1916 and fought in 5 battles during World War I in France.  Florence also attended the University in Grand Forks.  I but dimly recollect Aunt Florence as a gray haired woman who died when I was young. 

With the farm gone, his parents dead and the remaining family scattered to the four winds during the Great Depression, Uncle Adams went to live in a home for the handicapped in Grafton, North Dakota, as he was unable to care for himself.  The Sisters there were wonderful caretakers.  We would visit Adams and take him out for a picnic along a nearby creek.  After a couple of hours he would tire and ask to go home.  He had no sense of or ability to manage money. We would contribute to his commissary account so he could buy himself a Coke, a candy bar or personal items from time to time.  My dad said that Adams hit his head as a youth when he was thrown from a horse (or he suffered from a debilitating fever, I'm not sure).  Adams led a long life; he is buried alongside his parents in Bathgate Cemetery.

The other six siblings were Herbert Foster, Margaret Foster Cameron, Bryant Foster, Jimmy Foster, Charlotte Foster Von Allman and George Washington Foster.

Lake View
Trust Match-
Book Cover
$100 Gold Certificate
Uncle Herb liked salt in his beer.  He drove a streetcar in the late 1930's, served in the Navy during World War II, and then returned to Chicago to drive a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) bus after the war.  I was impressed that he could pull out his CTA ID and board any bus or train in Chicago, gratis.   I remember tagging along once when he opened his safe deposit box at Lake View Trust and Savings in Chicago.  Aside from important documents, the box was stuffed with 100 dollar bills (Gold Certificates, not Federal Reserve Notes) and silver dollars.  The Great Depression had taught Herb that bank notes and savings accounts were anything but safe.  Herb lived with a woman not his wife; I was never sure whether that was scandalous or thrifty.  Herb is also buried in Bathgate.

Wieboldt's Department
Store Locations
Clark Street, Evanston IL
Aunt Margaret lived in an apartment on Clark Street in Evanston Illinois, a few blocks from Lake Michigan and across the street from Northwestern University.  She always sublet a room, typically to a graduate student at Northwestern, who would call her Mrs. C.  Margaret would frequently correct or direct my dad, striking him firmly with a rolled up handout or program at services or events to get his attention.  I came to realize in the pecking order of the large family, she was my dad's surrogate mom.  On Sundays we would go to her place for dinner or she would come out to our place in Morton Grove.  I loved her wild rice dishes and German chocolate cake.  She lived a couple blocks from the El so she did not own or normally need a car; we would ferry her back and forth.  For several years, before I was 8, we used her address to secure Evanston beach tokens that gave us access to Lake Michigan.  Margaret worked as an elevator operator, and then in the back office of the regional Wieboldt's Department Store chain, before getting a desk job in the Cook County coroner's office.  She liked to relate the story of the cadaver that sat up when its storage drawer was opened, scattering the normally jaded morgue crowd (apparently the deceased had been sitting upright when rigor mortis set in).

The buried van where the Chowchilla
kidnapping victims were stowed.
I first met Uncle Bryant when Dad drove me out to California for graduate school when I was 21 years old.  Bryant was 72.  We rendezvoused near Fresno.  Dad and Bryant had not seen each other in 40 years.  It was an emotional reunion -- couldn't shut either of them up.  I remember that Bryant knew the driver who was kidnapped along with his school bus and the 24 children on board in Chowchilla, seeming to disappear into the ether.  Bryant gave us the inside scoop as we ate the nightly special at Denny's. 

We visited Uncle Jimmy once, in Oregon in 1962 on a side trip out to the Seattle's World Fair.

Aunt Charlotte was a mass of freckles.  She lived in Littlefork, Minnesota, just south of International Falls, which is frequently cited for the coldest temperatures in the lower 48 states.  Aunt Charlotte's home overlooked the Littlefork River, which was rusty red as a result of flowing through  a region replete with iron deposits.  She taught grade school and was proud to have educated a fellow by the name of Tim Babcock who became Governor of Montana.  I understand Mr. Babcock is still with us and contemplate that I could run across him and have an opportunity to reminisce.

There was an unnamed baby girl born prematurely between Charlotte and George, who died within a few hours of birth for lack of an incubator.  She was buried in the front yard under a rose bush in a coffin hewn by her father, Isaac.

The eleventh and final child was my dad -- George W Foster.  He lived to 88 years old.  Dad began college at Jameston College in North Dakota, but his education was cut short by the Depression before he could earn a degree.  His resume from 1932 to the end of World War II is pretty much of a blank, as he excised those years.  To wipe the Great Depression out of his personal history, he posed for decades as being ten years younger than he actually was, something I did not learn of until I was in college.  Dad was active in civic affairs and politics, worked in the printing business for many years and then selling major appliances at Wieboldt's department store. 


  1. Hi Grady- I scanned a doc for you that talks about the farm (by Margaret I think) about the farm and including some stories about your dad.!139&authkey=!AB22nUwxbTAv6BA

    1. Thank you so much Matthew! Wow! That's an incredible document. It sure is written from Margaret's perspective, and even sounds like it's in her voice. Lots of details that fill in gaps and correct some of my assumptions. I'll use it to write some more posts -- eventually I hope to make it to Bismarck to research State Historical Society which claims to have about three decades (starting in 1880's)of Bathgate newspapers on microfiche.

    2. On further study, the document was written by Charlotte.