I gave the routine warning knock while opening the door to my grandmother’s home. Just as I expected, she was sitting in her small green naugahyde chair, facing her television. Her reading materials, books and magazines, were next to her on a side table. A bag of yarn and unfinished crochet projects were near her feet. At first, everything appeared to be usual until I realized my grandmother was quiet. She hadn’t greeted me. She was wiping her eyes. She was crying.
I think I froze, standing in the middle of the room, until my grandmother (Olwyn Hawbecker), invited me to sit. She then composed herself and explained how she had been reading her own grandmother’s journal. She motioned to the side table where I noticed an old paper-bound rectangular booklet. She turned to a specific page and read:
I can’t tell anyone how lonely I was coming home from California all by myself and Olwyn not with me. I do miss her so much in every way. Wherever I did look I could see something of hers. It sure was a sad homecoming for me. If she would have died I couldn’t have missed her any more. This I have written just as I felt when I came home and will never forget as long as I live. This I wrote when I got home. It is my little diary so you can see when I am gone, Olwyn.
My grandmother then explained how her own mother, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Lutz Hawbecker Swartz, had left Pennsylvania for California while Olwyn was very young. Olwyn was raised, for the most part, by her grandmother, Alice Pohe Lutz. When Olwyn was around twelve years old, Alice decided to take the train to California to visit Lizzie. Olwyn remembers her first experience of having a cold glass of milk while she was traveling on the train. She thought it was a real treat! I’m sure she had other adventures while on the train, but for some reason, the cold milk was the one memory that stood out.
After visiting for a time, Alice and Olwyn were to travel back to Pennsylvania. Much to the heartache of Alice, however, Olwyn decided she wanted to stay in California. In retrospect, Olwyn wondered if she made the right decision. Her grandmother was good to her. She was well-respected in her community. And she and her husband, Samuel, ran a successful dry-goods business. Olwyn could only reason that as a young girl, she simply wanted to be with her mother.
“I always keep this next me,” Olwyn explained as she softly rubbed her hand over the journal. I remember thinking how odd it was that I had never noticed it. In subsequent visits, I made an effort to see the journal and sure enough, it was always there on her side table. Sometimes other magazines or books were on top of it, but the journal was always there, within reach of my grandmother.
Alice Pohe Lutz’s journal from the year 1922 records some of her travels on the Overland Route, a railroad route that ran between San Francisco, California and Chicago, Illinois. There are a few references in the handwritten journal notes to “George” in Chicago. My grandmother told me that Alice had a brother named George. He supposedly changed his name from Pohe to McLellan so he could get on the Chicago Police force. It was thought that someone with an Irish or Scott background had a better chance to get on the force than someone with German ancestry. The irony is that the Pohe ancestry can be traced to Ireland! Perhaps George knew his aunts and uncles in Pennsylvania often spoke German and simply assumed his surname was also German. I can only assume that the George in Alice’s journal is her brother.
I feel like I know Alice better as I read through her journal. It’s a small glimpse into her long life but it reveals much. For example, she appreciated the beauty of nature and describes her awe in almost every new scene she encountered. She must have loved Olwyn deeply. It is the only way to explain the pain she describes upon having to part from her only granddaughter. She was loved by others as evidenced in the hospitality shown her in Chicago by her brother and niece. She was educated and could express herself in writing. She was courageous enough to venture across the states alone.
In an effort to know Alice better, I have given my best attempt to save the original spelling, grammar, and punctuation in my transcriptions of her journal in the PDF below. I apologize for the quality of the photos. Again, I did my best with the tools I had at the time. I hope the PDF quality is well enough to share with others. I think she would like her descendants to know her. More importantly, I think she would like her descendants to know of her love for little Olwyn.
Please be patient. This is a large file and may take a few minutes to download. Click here for: Allie Pohe Travel Journal
Please note: I aim for accuracy, but my memories may not always match with historical facts. Please contact me with corrections, as needed.