Tag Archives: Vera Anderson

Penmanship Samples, a Family Heirloom

My handwriting is terrible. Some very old penmanship samples showed me just how awkward. My struggle with writing made me admire my grandmother’s Spencerian script even more. But she was not the only person with good handwriting back in her day.  If you look at the penmanship of most of the entries in the autograph books of Maude and Vera Stout, you will see many examples of children who might have studied penmanship with a master.

One day when I was visiting her, she showed me three pieces of paper with fanciful birds, drawn by pen in swooping lines of every-changing width.  I gaped. The person who created these penmanship samples was an artist. In fact, the drawings were promotional material. Advertising differed in the 1880s from today’s TV and websites. So did penmanship.

  The International Association of Master Penman, etc. provides a haven for those who think penmanship counts. They introduce F. W. Tamblyn, who moved from itinerant penmanship teacher to penmanship by mail courses. If you love beautiful penmaship, you may want to givve their site a look.
Penmanship Sample

This is smaller than the other two penmanship samples, also done by J. S. Johnston of Millersburg, Ohio. Like the other two, it is on ruled paper like children used in school.

They were all signed by J. S. Johnston, Millersburg, Ohio, and two of them designated that Mr. Johnston was a Penman.  My grandmother had kept them folded in a drawer for more than sixty years.

Itinerant penmanship teachers swarmed over the countryside in the 1800s. At that time, penmanship fell under the category of vocational training.  For those of us researching court documents and old legal papers, we become familiar with the handwriting of clerks hired for their beautiful and clear penmanship.

Grandma Vera Anderson explained that the penmanship teacher would come to town (Killbuck, Ohio) and set up outdoors near the center of town, creating these awesome examples of his work and handing them out to the children who gathered around.  Of course, he really wanted the youngsters to run back home and tell their parents about the wonderful drawings and that they could sign up and take his class so they, too, could make their writing a work of art.

In this one I admire the delicate suggestion of tree limbs in the background of the top bird, and water behind the lower bird. And how beautiful that U. S. A.!

Penmanship Sample

Two graceful birds in penmanship sample by J. S. Johnston of Millersburg, Ohio. Note he made an error in writing Millersburg! 7 3/4″ wide by 9 1/2″ tall.


I think of the skill needed to make these penmanship samples with a scratchy metal pen dipped again and again in a pot of ink and I get the shivers.  Even if he had never studied the concept, he was working with negative space and balancing the decorative designs around the page so that they fit into the whole.  His composition draws the eye just where he wants it.

I wonder how long it took for him to create something like the complexity of the drawing below? I can almost hear him talking to the gathered children as his hand flew across the paper. He told them how these lines form part of letters in handwriting, and wouldn’t they like to be able to do this, too?  Here, take this paper home and show your Mother and Father. I will be here all week giving lessons in penmanship.

Penmanship Sample

Very detailed picture made by penmanship teacher, J. S. Johnson of Millersburg Ohio, on ruled paper like a child’s school tablet. 7 3/4″ wide x 10″ tall.

When I inherited the drawings, I framed them properly as a work of art should be framed. Now they are well over 100 years old, and protected.

I think of these examples of penmanship, and the children’s desire to write beautifully in the autograph books whenever I hear the current discussion of whether it is practical to teach script in school any more, since everybody prints or keyboards.

Poor Mr. Johnston, the penmanship teacher, would be bereft.

As I would be without these gorgeous penmanship drawings.

Note: This post is a response to the weekly prompt of the 52 Ancestors project started by Amy Johnson Crow.    This week’s prompt: Heirloom

Picalilli from Grandma’s Garden

Way back at the end of 2015, I made some picalilli.  Somehow in the rush of Thanksgiving and Christmas that year, I did not share the recipe with you.  I apologize.  Of all the things that Grandma Vera Anderson preserved, I most yearn to have the recipe for picalilli. Alas, she probably just threw together whatever vegetables, in whatever amount she harvested, and no recipe remains.

And what is picalilli? It’s origin seems to be India via England. The inclusion of turmeric provides a big clue to Indian origina, as turmeric is a must in Indian cooking.  I have included some links to more information down below, including the puzzle of  the difference between picalilli and chow-chow.

Although I do not have Grandma’s recipe for picalilli, I think I came up with a pretty fair approximation, after scouring old cookbooks and the Internet. Just keep in mind, this is a pickle made at the end of the growing season, so she might well have included other “leftovers” from her garden.

Picallili vegetables

Chopped vegetables for picallili. Cabbage, bell peppers, green tomatoes.

Cabbage,green tomatoes, red bell peppers, green bell peppers ( which Grandma called “mangoes” in a 1943 letter), sugar and spices. Recipes call for onions, which I can’t eat. I thought the picalilli was fine without them, but feel free to add them if that is important to you.

This recipe comes from the Ball canning site.  I highly recommend this site if you are a novice at preserving and canning, as I am.  The Ball people have been providing the jars and lids and advice for generations, so you can find answers to your questions about what to do if you don’t have a canning kettle, how long you can keep things preserved for refrigerator rather than canned under pressure, and how to prepare your jars and lids.

A note on Ball canning jars.  Mason jars, invented in 1858 by John Mason, are the style of jar that Ball manufactured in Buffalo, New York, starting in 1884. Do you own some old Ball jars? Learn all about dating Ball jars at this website.

I deviated from the recipe by leaving out the onions, substituting ground giner for grated ginger root, and and I did not boil the filled cans for long shelf storage.  Instead, I sterilized the jars and kept the product in the refrigerator for not over two months.

If you do not have half pint glass canning jars, you will need six or seven of them.  Do not reuse the two-part canning lids.  You can find the lids and jars in most grocery stores, and in Walmart.

Another thing you may not have on hand is cheesecloth–needed to make a spice bag. That also should be available at your grocery store.

Picallili spice bag

Picallili spice bag

Pickling spices are available in the spice section of your grocery store. (That’s the pickling spices in the blue-lidded container.  The other round beads are the mustard seed. If you’re lucky, you’ll have access to a store that sells spices and herbs from bins, so you can get the small amount you need–only 1/4 cup.

Picallili spices

Dried spices for picallili

Everything else in the recipe should be easy to find.

Picallilli seasonings

Picallilli seasonings

Everyone who tried the picalilli on my Thanksgiving table–even the picky eaters–loved it.

By the way, Grandma also made something she called chow-chow, and I have no idea what was in it or how it was different.  I vaguely relate it to pickled corn, but I am not sure about that. Anyhow, here is more information about the varous pickles and chow-chow. Notice how close the Philadelphia Pickle is to my recollection of Grandma’s Picalilli. And a second article from the same site, has several Chow Chow recipes that sound suspiciously like Picalilli.


Prep time 13 hours
Cook time 1 hour, 25 minutes
Total time 14 hours, 25 minutes
Dietary Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Misc Pre-preparable, Serve Cold
Website Ball Preserving
The origins of picalilli are mysterious, but Grandma Vera Anderson made it from the last of the vegetables in her garden.


  • 5 cups cabbage (finely chopped (About 1 1/2 medium heads))
  • 4 cups green tomatoes (unpeeled, cored and chopped (about 8 medium))
  • 1 1/2 cup onion (chopped (about 2 medium))
  • 1 cup red bell pepper (stem and seeds removed (1 large))
  • 1 cup green bell pepper (stem and seeds removed (1 large))
  • 3 tablespoons salt
  • 1/4 cup pickling spice
  • 4 tablespoons ginger root (coarsely chopped (or 1/2 tsp. ground ginger))
  • 2 tablespoons mustard seeds
  • 3 cups white vinegar
  • 1 3/4 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric


1. Combine cabbage, green tomatoes, onions (opt.), red and green peppers and salt in large glass or stainless steel bowl. Cover (a towel is fine) and let stand in a cool place for twelve hours or overnight.
2. When the mixture has sat for twelve hours, transfer to a colander in the sink and drain. Rinse with cool water and drain thoroughly. Using your hands, squeeze out excess liquid. Set aside.
3. Heat jars in simmering water (not boiling), or in 250 degree oven until ready for use. Wash lids in warm sopay water and set lids and bands aside. (Or run through dishwasher with heated dry cycle.)
4. Prepare a spice bag by putting pickling spices, mustard seed and ginger in a square of cheesecloth. Tie two opposite corners tightly, then gather up and tie the other two opposite corners ro make the spice bag.
5. In a large stainless steel pot, combine the vegetable mixture with the vinegar, water, sugar, turmeric and the spice bag. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Uncover and boil for 5 minutes, stirring frquently. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently for one hour, until thickened to the consistency of a thin commercial relish--about 20 minutes.
6. Discard spice bag.
7. Ladle hot relish into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot relish. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Apply band until fit is "fingertip tight." (In other words as tight as you can fasten with just your fingers).
8. If you are preserving the picallili for long-term shelf storage, process jars in boiling water to cover for ten minutes. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed.
9. If you are storing in the refrigerator rather than processing for shelf storage, let the jars cool for one hour, then store in refrigerator.


Onions are optional. In fact all the vegetables are interchangeable in picalilli.  Tumeric gives the pickle a distinctive yellow hue, and a hint at its Indian origins.

Have you eaten or made picalilli or chow-chow?  What were the ingredients? I’d love to know if they differ in various parts of the country.

Blue Star Mother: Family Letters

Blue Star Mother flag

Blue Star Mother flag with three stars.

Blue Star Mother

In December, I shared my grandmother Vera Anderson’s letters written in December1943.  During that month, she was thinking about Christmas and in her role as a Blue Star Mother. She was very concerned about her Navy SeaBee son, William. Through her letters, we saw a bit of what life was like on the homefront during World War II.

Many homes in Killbuck Ohio displayed a small banner with one or more blue stars embroidered on it. Grandma’s silk Blue Star Mother’s flag looked like this, with stars for Uncle Bill (William) Anderson, Uncle Herbert Anderson and my cousin Bob (Robert J.) Anderson.  When these letters were written, only William had joined up the Navy, but the other two would join before long. (I don’t know whatever happened to the banner, but it is one heirloom I would love to have.)

Articles on the Internet provide contradictory information about the beginning of the Blue Star Mother banners–with some claiming they started in World War II. However, this story seems to be the more accurate one. A soldier from Ohio designed the original flag in World War I.  By the time of World War II, the government codified who could fly the banner and the size and design.

Since December, I have selected snippets from Grandmother’s letters to my mother that showed her role as a gardener (and preserver of vegetables) and in her role as a Rosie the Riveter as she tries to make enough money to support her sick husband and herself. Now I am going back to grandma’s role as a Blue Star Mother. Some of the excerpts below are from December letters, so you may have read them before, but I wanted to put the whole story together.

During World War II, no matter what else was happening in people’s lives–and she related births, deaths, marriages, a bank scandal, basketball team and grandchildren’s accomplishments–the war was never far from her mind.

[I will be publishing the entire letters on a separate page for the benefit of relatives and anyone else who would like to see all the details of life on the homefront in a small Ohio town.]

I have struggled to date some of the earlier letters, but still do not know for sure the order of the letters. She wrote them in October and November 1943, but in many cases only put the day of the week rather than the date, and if I do not have the envelope or other clues, I cannot date them with certainty. The December letters all had dates on them.

The October Letters

Bill and Sarah Anderson 1943

Bill and Sarah Anderson, Aug. 1943 in Killbuck, Ohio

This is an earlier letter, because there is no mention of William leaving California.

Sent Wm. a letter and a compass this morning. Will send you his letter. Didn’t I send you his address?

For good measure, she includes his address at the end of the letter:

  • W. J. Anderson E.M. 3/C
  • 12 Spec. Batt. Platoon #2
  • Port Hueneme
  • Calif.

This letter seems to have been written before the October 12th letter.

Sarah (his wife) … had a letter from Wm saying there were 12 boats in there to be loaded and they was working them awful hard. He said his boss said he was the best checker he ever had and Wm. Says he always asks for him. He said they was loading their equipment on one of these boats so he thought they would be going this week. He said he thought they would go to Espiretu[Espiritu] Santo, an island east of Australia. It is 15 x 168 on map. We found it and put a flag on it. I do hope they get across and nothing happens. I guess all we can do is “Hope for the Best.” I do hope this D- war is soon over. Wm says he wants to go so I guess he will get his wish. I hope he never regrets it but we will never know if he does. It will be a wonderful trip and experience for him but he is sure taking an awful chance.

I was very young, but I vividly remember the large map of the Pacific that we studied and studied during the war, trying to figure out where my uncles and cousin were.

In another letter, Grandma show that although their mind is on the war, there is time for levity. (Bob–son of William the sailor)

Bob put on quite a show imitating Hitler last night and we laughed until we cried. He is good.

Another October letter, written before Oct. 12:

I will send you William’s address as I am afraid if you don’t write right away he won’t get it as he wrote Sarah they will be on alert after Fri. was the report now. Thinks they will be sailing before many days. That isn’t just what he said but I can’t think of the word he used but that it meant they will not be allowed any leaves or any liberty after Fri. He said they all were ready and wanted to get it over.

October 12. Sarah and Bob (William’s wife and son) visited grandmother with news. Sounds like William’s departure is imminent and he has been having an adventure. Grandma almost sounds like she envies him, but she is terrified that he will actually be going to war.

Sarah and Bob was here a little while. She had a letter from Bill yesterday and he thinks he will be sailing around 15 or 18 for where I told you. [Espiritu Santo—island east of Australia] He says he weighs 175# and can take the training with any of them and better than most of them. He says he has been having some wonderful trips out on ocean with Coast Guard that Flying isn’t any thing to being out on rough ocean in one of those boats. Every thing is closed up tight and you look out in the water through the windows and wonder some time if it will ever get on top again. He is ready to go. I think it is terrible. I wake up at night and it seems like a dream that it can’t be so. I wish it was over. I am afraid Wm is getting right in the midst of it. He doesn’t write us very often. Herbert had a nice letter. I am glad he wrote you.

A letter probably written October 25, she lists some of the local “boys” who are facing the draft.

Wm is still in California. I hope he never leaves there. But he would be disappointed.

Earl and Elliot told me he was going to Cleveland and enlist in C.B.s Frank Kinsey passed and they say Bob Purdy has been called out of Coshocton Co. Mr. Click got reclassified in A-1. Franklin Day got his notice also.

You may notice that “Mr. Click got reclassified A-1”  This is the same Mr. Click who later gets arrested for embezzling from the local bank. Ironically, his crime kept him out of the armed forces.

November Letters

November 19, she writes:

Wm is still in Calif. He was out fighting that forest fire.

The LA Times in September 1992 reported on the 60 worst fires in southern California in the past 60 years, including this, “DATE: November, 1943 AREA: Topanga Canyon, Malibu, Los Angeles County ACRES: 40,000 ”

On Google Books I found interesting information on the American attitude about forest fires during World War II.  On page 42 of the book, “The Culture of Wilderness: Agriculture As Colonization in the American West” I learned the the FBI suspected foreign incendiaries as the cause of the California forest fires in 1943.  They learned, instead, that it was caused by Americans not used to dealing with the dry conditions.

America had good reason to worry about forest fires and produced posters (Yep! more posters) warning that preventing forest fires was defense against the enemy.  In fact, Japan had incendiary balloons that they successfully floated over the western U.S., particularly the states of  Oregon and Washington. Fortunately, they were unsuccessful in starting forest fires.

Toward the end of November, she writes:

We haven’t heard from William for several days. I am afraid he is going to have to go. They called them all together and told them they would leave this month. I had sent him a fruit cake and cheese. Hope it got there before he left. Sarah also sent him cookies and pickles.

Another letter still is hopeful that he will not go overseas. She includes a list of Killbuck men who are enlisting or reporting for examinations. Mrs. Alderman apparently has not heard from her soldier husband.

William is still in Calif. Said in his last letter some talk of going up coast to some port in Wash. I hope they do keep him in States. He got my box and said it came through in very good shape. He said they had a farewell party and the boys put on a show and I will send you a part of the program.

Bernard Click Bernard Gallion and Franklin Day, Loudell Lanham’s man all go to Columbus next Wed for examinations. Helen Alderman told me to day she didn’t know where Louie is.

December Letters

December 10, she is feeling melancholy about Christmas.

I think William has sailed as he thought he would go into Secure last Sun or Mon. I am all broke up about it. He mailed his Xmas cards last week.

December 14, some ominous news from William.

Sarah had a letter from Wm saying he was sending clothes etc home as he thought he would go into Secure last Mon. nite. Didn’t know where they was going but a lot of tents on boat so thought must be somewhere it would be warm. I am so sorry I was so in hopes he would never leave the States. I feel awful bad about it.

In same letter she mentions working at the movie theater for another woman going to a Blue Star Mother meeting, so apparently she is not active in that organization.

Worked for Amy last Sun afternoon and Mon night as she went to Blue Star Mother meeting.

About December 22, she writes the last letter that remains in this series. It is the letter that unveils the bank scandal but also starts with  specific news about William.

Yes, Wm sailed Sat Dec 11. Only wonder where he is and how he is tonight.  I know he would have been disappointed if he couldn’t have gone.

After all the hints that he might be going, and the periods of waiting, it is definite. Her son has gone to war and she is officially a Blue Star Mother.