Monday, February 10, 2014

Claudia Overington Newman Gammon, 1925-2014

As I said in my last post, my grandmother Claudia passed away on February 8. I wanted to write a bit about her life, so here's my attempt.

My grandmother as a baby (1925)
She was born Claudia Overington Newman on June 2, 1925 in New York. Her parents were Claudia "Poppy" Overington and Glenn T. Newman.

My grandmother with her mother, on the porch at Oaklands. (1925 or 1926)

The story is that Poppy was attending Hood College, and a friend wanted to go on a date but couldn't go alone. So Poppy went with her friend, and her friend's date brought Glenn, who was at Annapolis, where I believe he was at the military academy. But Poppy missed the train back to school and didn't get back until well after curfew and so she was expelled. Facing disgrace, her family encouraged her to marry Glenn and so they were married on June 14, 1924.

By the time my grandmother was four or five years old, Glenn and Poppy had divorced. Poppy and my grandmother moved in with Poppy's parents at the Overington house, Oaklands, in Frankford, Philadelphia. Poppy worked as a stenographer at a railroad office and her parents took care of my grandmother during the day. She told me once that when she'd been learning to talk she'd started calling her grandfather Grinnie, and the name stuck. And her grandmother at some point or other became Minnie. She seemed to have happy memories of her childhood at Oaklands.

Claudia at the beach in Atlantic City with her grandparents (1929)


Jumping rope in the driveway at Oaklands

August, 1931
When she was eight years old, her mother married Edgar Jones, known as Casey. They continued to live at Oaklands for some time. By 1940 Poppy was working as a secretary for security brokers and Casey was a salesman for a manufacturing company. My grandmother grew up in a mansion with servants. She attended services in a church her ancestors had helped to found. Her grandparents regularly took her to the beach at Atlantic City, New Jersey. Her childhood was one of decaying privilege, as the family fortune was nearing exhaustion by the time she was born. Her grandfather had failed to pay his taxes and the city arranged that he could keep his property as long as he was alive, but once he passed away they would take the house. He lived until 1950, and by the time the house was torn down in 1953 it was in such an advanced state of disrepair that I have to assume that its condition and subsequent condemnation was due to the family's inability to keep it up, or perhaps they did not care to since they knew they wouldn't be staying.

My grandmother in her graduation dress (1942)
At any rate, my grandmother graduated from Frankford High School in 1942 and went away to Albion College in Michigan to study biology. While she was there, a bunch of new Army recruits were there for a ten week training program. There she met one from Los Angeles - my grandfather, Howard Gammon.

My grandparents outside the house where my grandfather was stationed at Albion College (1943)
In 2011 my father and I interviewed my grandmother about a few things using my cellphone as a recorder. She'd already had her stroke and had difficulty focusing but she was delighted to talk about how her parents met, and how she and my grandfather had met and gotten married. She got roped into a blind double date much like her mother had. "I was horrified," she said. "I had to go out and go, of all things, on a scavenger hunt and things like this with an absolutely blind date - somebody in the army that I didn't know from Adam!"

I'm not sure of the exact story but at some point or other they got engaged, I believe before my grandfather got shipped off to a military base in California. My grandmother went with her grandmother to a department store to buy her wedding dress, which was made of cotton. They got the dress pressed at a Chinese laundry. My grandmother had wanted a petticoat to wear under the dress but couldn't find one so she called up her college roommate, who was in Chicago. Apparently rationing wasn't as strict there so my grandmother took the train out there to visit and picked up a petticoat.

June 3, 1944 in Roswell, NM
I know my grandmother took a train out to Roswell, New Mexico, where she met up with my grandfather and his mother and they got married. I think my grandfather got shipped out to Hawaii after the wedding and then came back to her. They lived in a lot of places throughout their marriage until 1958. They had a daughter, Mary, in 1947, then another, Jeanne, in 1948. I learned on the day she died that she'd had two miscarriages after that. She had named one of those babies Ruth. My father Jim was born in 1953, the youngest of the family.

My grandparents and their three children in the middle, with my grandfather's parents on either side (early 1950s)
They lived for some time in Chardon, Ohio and later on Runyon Avenue in Piscataway, New Jersey. In 1960 my grandfather opened his own business, Gammon Technical Products, which was based out of Newark, NJ originally, then in Brielle and finally in Manasquan, NJ. They raised their three children. My aunts eventually moved to Chicago, where they lived until recently, when they moved back to NJ. My father stayed in New Jersey, where he met my mother. My grandparents went with them when they eloped in Bel Air, Maryland.


1959
At my parents' wedding (1974)
The period of my grandmother's life I was around to witness is actually the time I know the least about. She and I never had much of a relationship. So I will leave you with her obituary, as published by the Asbury Park Press:

Claudia Overington Newman Gammon, 88, passed away peacefully at home Saturday, February 8. She was raised in Philadelphia and attended Albion College. she married Howard M. Gammon in 1944. Howard went on to fly in WW2 and they lived in several places before settling in New Jersey in 1958. 
Claudia was an active member of St. Mary's by the Sea Episcopal Church and volunteered for many civic organizations over her life including past president of the Manasquan Woman's Club and the Manasquan Thrift Store for the VNA. She loved to read and travel. 
Claudia is survived by her husband of almost 70 years, Howard M. Gammon; 3 children, Mary and Jeanne Gammon of Spring Lake, their foster daughter, Lovi of Elgin, IL, and Jim Gammon and his wife Wanda, and her 2 grandchildren, Jimmy and Sandi, all of Wall Township. 
Visitation will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12 at O'Brien Funeral Home, Route 35, Wall Township. Funeral Service will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13 at St. Mary's by the Sea Episcopal Church in Point Pleasant Beach. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the St Mary's by the Sea "Table Fund". http://www.saintmarysbythesea.org/. For more information or to send condolences, please visit www.obrienfuneralhome.com.

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