Song of My Family

My wife and I recently travelled to the village of Westfield, New York, on the edge of Lake Erie, the heart of the America’s oldest wine-producing region. Here, I’d expected to learn more about my ancestors. Instead, after seeing the places they lived, hoped and dreamed, my understanding changed. These weren’t my “ancestors.” They were, are, my family. Real people whose dreams created the roots from which my dreams have grown.

Here, with its climate nearly identical to their birthplace in Baden-Württemberg, Germany’s principal wine-growing region, my great-great grandparents Conrad Dimler and Eva Hoffmann, came to farm and grow grapes.

Like Eva, Conrad had been born out-of-wedlock. Consequently, each had their mother’s rather than their birth-father’s names. Their mothers were peasants, possibly gypsies; the name Dimler means “tumbler or traveling entertainer,” and was often used to describe a “noisy, unruly,” undesirable person.

They were rootless, homeless.

Until they planted roots in Westfield. They soon changed their surname to “Teemley,” perhaps because that was what their pronunciation of Dimler sounded like to American ears. Or perhaps to distance themselves from their background—like vine-cuttings used to create a new vineyard, they created a new identity.

Here, with the help of their many children, the Teemleys built a home on a tree-lined path called Parker Lane. Most of the children eventually married and moved away. Only Maria, named for her grandmother in Germany, remained unmarried (she died at 17 and was buried beside her parents).

Conrad’s beloved Eva passed away in 1888, and soon his grip on reality began to slip. Ironically, it was the youngest child, Albert-the-dreamer, never much of a farmer, who became the head of the household. The problem was he’d gotten his girl Amy, the daughter of Westfield’s esteemed Dr. Bowen, pregnant. So, just four months after his mother’s death they quietly married and took over the house on Parker Lane. Five months later, their first child, my grandfather Warren, was born. And two years after that, Conrad passed away.

Suddenly, the two dreamers, my great-grandparents Albert and Amy Amanda, a poet, writer and artist, who’d considered a life on the stage, were parents and homeowners. Amy eventually became a journalist, writing a long-running social column for the Westfield Republican.

And Albert? Around this time, a teetotaling Methodist name Thomas Welch figured out how to make “unfermented wine,” and began hiring nearly everyone in Westfield to either grow or process concord grapes. It’s likely the Teemley farm became a provider for the Welch’s juice company that now dominated the town.

Most of Albert and Amy’s kids grew up and moved away. Only two are buried beside their parents: Marshall, who died as a baby; and Myron, who suffered, I suspect, from “shell shock” (PTSD) incurred as a teenage doughboy on the fields in France, and shot himself, leaving a newlywed widow and one-year-old child behind. Amy died too young, after which Albert lived on alone in town, dying just five years before I was born.

The farmhouse on Parker Lane is now a stone foundation in a field. But Teemley cuttings cropped up in new places.

My grandfather Warren married a petite English girl name Arline, and relocated with several brothers to another wine-growing region in Watkins Glen at the foot of beautiful Seneca Lake. But after his kid brother Myron’s death, Warren packed up his little family and started over in California.

A short time later, their youngest, William (“Wee Willy”) Teemley, my father was born. A dreamer if there ever was one. Tumblers. Travelers. Cuttings. Dreamers.

Teemleys.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Memoir and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

49 Responses to Song of My Family

  1. Absolutely fascinating Mitch. Really interesting to read how families grow and become who they are.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My German relatives were all Lutheran Pastors. I love your family history stories…dreamers, poets, tumblers, travelers, cuttings!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Enjoyed your family song, Mitch.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is so compelling. I’m still following stories of the past, noticing the clues to why people turned out the way they did. I was contacted earlier this year by a woman who claims relationship to us, as they’ve been rootless for all these years. Her information meshed with mine. She and her mother have been in tears. They have found family! And just because Great Great Uncle Ed didn’t get married didn’t mean he didn’t have a daughter who had a daughter who had a daughter whose daughter contacted me. (She plans to write a post for my website about it!) lump in throat

    Liked by 2 people

  5. What a wonderful and fascinating family history, Mitch! Congratulations and be honored with this. xx Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Debi Walter says:

    I love learning about our family’s story, but oftentimes the answers lead to more questions. Especially when names are changed after moving to America. My husband’s
    Maternal grandmother was from Sicily. I wanted to know their story, so I sat down to begin. With my first question, she smiled and completely ignored me—as if she didn’t understand English. I think she purposefully stayed silent to protect the not-so-innocent. But we’ll never know.
    Great post Mitch!

    Liked by 2 people

    • mitchteemley says:

      Thanks, Debi. And I know exactly what you mean. My 3x-great grandmother’s identity remained a mystery until a “Private” ancestry.com site essentially goofed by telling me I couldn’t access info about “Maria Dimler, born 1800 in Wurtttemburg, Germany,” unless I obtained permission (from someone who’s passed away). Suddenly, I had her name, and could search for further info. That breakthrough happened just last week!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. That’s a fascinating family history, Mitch. Thank you for sharing it. “I have great respect for the past. If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going.” – Maya Angelou

    Liked by 2 people

  8. ejstoo says:

    Very interesting. Some families have songs and others have big white coats with extra long sleeves.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have recently traced my ancestors back to the Palatinate area of Germany and Austria. Skilled farmers, they came in a large group to the US in the early 1700’s fleeing war, famine, and religious persecution. My ancestors continued to intermarry within the group for many generations. So many cousins! Learning about them has been oddly – and unexpectedly – fulfilling. Thanks for sharing your own discoveries.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. The title of your post is so fitting!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Nancy Ruegg says:

    Tumblers and Dreamers, yes, but also Writers. It must have made you smile to discover another writer on your family tree!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. murisopsis says:

    Nice family history! And the poem is a delight!!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. A wonderful family history story.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Guten Tag Mitch. Your post showcases your flair for page turner storytelling. Do you believe any (pre fact-finding tour) foreknowledge of your forebears’ song played a role in influencing your own creativity / career path? Or are your talents “merely” in your DNA? “Song of My Family” would be an apt title for your published memoirs. Expect book signing tours for the foreseeable future.

    Liked by 2 people

    • mitchteemley says:

      Hi Tom. I had little knowledge of or, to be honest, interest in my forebears until recent years. (As a young man I considered myself a “one-off,” both for good and for bad.) DNA? Yes. But I also suspect that passed-down habits, values, and experiences played a role in shaping my creative/storytelling orientation (from my maternal forbears, as well).

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Staci Troilo says:

    I love studying family history. It’s wonderful that you were able to learn so much about yours. Seems you come from strong stock.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. TEP336 says:

    That is so cool. Thanks for sharing, Mitch.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Beautiful story! And well told too!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Ann Coleman says:

    How great that you were able to discover so much about your family! And you’re right, they’re so much more than just ancestors…they are a part of us, and always will be.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. I really enjoyed this post, Mitch. I’ve been lucky in life to have spent time with my aunts, uncles and grandparents In Michigan, especially Marquette. Many of the poems I’ve written harken back to experiences with people and places. One of my aunts compiled a family history which I’m anxious to find again after reading your piece. Thanks for your entertaining and inspiring story!

    Liked by 2 people

  20. What a wonderful family!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I loved this blog–you are quite the storyteller–as you weave this tale of your ancestors–your family. I think you come from a long line of storytellers. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  22. A fascinating family history, Mitch! Great poem by your great-grandma! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  23. gpavants says:

    Hi Mitch,

    What a great tribute to your family of dreamers. It’s good to know our roots, right? Thanks,

    Gary

    Liked by 3 people

  24. You are truly a historian, Mitch. And you have a knack for detail. I love your blogging acumen.

    Liked by 1 person

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