Friday, December 16, 2011

Mr. Stubblebine's Horse

(I wrote this story several years ago about s small moment in time where the lives of my mother and the Stubblebine family intersected. I was supposed to play music last night with a Stubblebine descendant. Unfortunately she could not make it, but running into that name made me go and dig out this story to re-publish it.)

In 1942, my mother Mildred Sheeler Hall was a 16 year old high school student living in West Philadelphia. Her mother, Ida Evelyn Sheeler, had died in 1931 when Mildred was five years old, and Mildred knew her only through the memories of her Spring City cousins, the Sheelers and the Cooks. After her mother's death, Mildred's family had moved to Orlando, Florida, where they lived across the street from a municipal park and riding academy. Mildred learned to ride horses while living in Florida, and after her father died in 1940, she had returned to the Philadelphia area to live with her aunt, Mildred Mae Sheeler, near Rittenhouse Square in the city. After school and on weekends, she would go to the Fairmount Stables in West Philadelphia to ride horses.

Her Aunt Edie Cook knew of Mildred's love for horses. Edie, the daughter of Francis Cook, a Spring City pharmacist, had occasion to talk to Mr. Stubblebine, who ran the real estate agency next door to the Cook pharmacy in Spring City. Mr. Stubblebine had a horse that he was very proud of. Edie asked whether her niece could ride it some time, and Mr. Stubblebine extended the invitation to her to come out and ride his beautiful horse. Edie then passed along the invitation to Mildred to come out to Spring City and ride Mr. Stubblebine's horse.

Mildred was a good judge of horses, having ridden both good and bad ones in her time in Florida and at the Fairmount Stables. Her expectations were low on the weekend when she went out to Spring City to meet Edie and go see the horse.
They went to Mr. Stubblebine's house and then out to the barn, and Mr. Stubblebine brought out a magnificent horse. Mildred couldn't believe her good fortune, to be permitted to ride this beautiful animal, nor the generosity of Mr. Stubblebine to entrust this proud possession to her. He saddled the horse, and then had it pose for Mildred to take several pictures. She then mounted the horse and rode around the barn area to get the feel of the horse. Once she and the horse had gotten comfortable with each other, and Mr. Stubblebine had gotten comfortable that this young girl knew what she was doing, she asked if she could take the horse out through the fields to nearby Zion Lutheran Church cemetery. Mr. Stubblebine said that would be fine, and so off went Mildred astride this magnificent horse.

Mildred's mother, Ida Evelyn Sheeler, was buried in the cemetery at Zion, along with Ida's mother, Ella Mae Cook Sheeler, and Ida's sister, Doris Sheeler. Ella Mae and Doris had died within a year of each other in 1912-13 from tuberculosis, the same disease that had taken away Ida in 1931. Mildred had never been to her mother's grave. She rode the horse methodically up and down the rows of gravestones at Zion Cemetery for an hour or so, but she never found her mother's grave.

Years later, in 1984, I went to Zion Cemetery on the same mission, to try to find the grave of my grandmother, Ida Evelyn Sheeler. Instead of a horse, I rode my trusty Schwinn 10 speed bike. I didn't know of Mildred's ride many years before. I simply did what she must have done - started at one end and worked my way up and down, row by row, though the cemetery. I was more fortunate than the young Mildred;

I found the Sheeler family grave about midway up the one field that I had started in, and pulled out a notebook and described where I had found it. When I returned home that day, I called my mother and told her that I had found her Sheeler family's grave sites, and she and I returned several weeks later so that I could show the graves to her. That is the only time she had been at her mother's gravesite.

As I write this, it is now May of 2005. My mother, in her eightieth year has been diagnosed with cancer, and I have been visiting her to go through her old family pictures and stir up these old memories. When we came to the series of four unmarked photos which my mother immediately identified as "Mr. Stubblebine's horse", my siblings and I all laughed that she recalled this horse and the peculiar name of its owner, sixty five years later. She can look at pictures of the various horses that she rode in the 30's and 40's and remember their names and some of their attributes.

I wouldn't have remembered this name for very long, but coincidentally within a couple of days, as I was searching on the Internet for what had become of Spring City High School, I came across the name Stubblebine in connection with Spring City, and I followed the link to a Stubblebine genealogy site that mentioned several Stubblebines in Spring City. Two likely candidates stand out: Harvey Stubblebine (b. 1900, d. 1964) and his brother Everett (b. 1901, d. 1978), who both were born and died in Spring City.
The report of Everett's marriage noted that he had just completed a course in real estate law, so it seems that he is most likely the Mr. Stubblebine who owned the magnificent horse. Unfortunately, his back is turned to us in the surviving pictures (see attached), and so the identity is a mystery to us, at this distance, but it may well be that his descendants may recognize this side of him.

I wrote to Joe Stubblebine, the keeper of this very thorough Stubblebine genealogy web site, and he suggested that I write out my mother's story and send it along with the pictures that we had. I was glad to do so. The story is not one of action or adventure; simply a slice of life from this time, a brief intersection between the Stubblebines and the Sheelers of Spring City, a thread in the tapestry of life. I am glad to share it with the Stubblebine family and friends.

Contributed in August 2005 by Douglas P. Humes