|Birth: ||May 11, 1903|
|Death: ||Dec. 4, 1954|
Fay was my paternal grandmother, and I think of her as a lovely outsider because she never had the comfort of being with half her family as a child, and later was in a blended family, and still later married into a family very unlike her own. Despite the awkwardness of the life she had and got, her grace carried her through.
Fay was the daughter of Susan Mabel (maiden Schell) (Meckley) Dietrich and Edward Aaron Meckley. They married at age 19, knowing she was on the way.
Fay's early years were spent in Union County, Pennsylvania in the Lewisburg area. She was not to know her father for long, as he abandoned the family. The 1910 census shows that by the time Fay was 7 (and probably sooner) she and her mother Susan had moved home to live with Susan's parents on the farm.
It seems some of her father's family knew of her or kept in touch, at least for a few years. One living cousin of hers recalls his elder brother saying he was "going to visit Fay". That visiting cousin (now sadly deceased) once told me he recalled Fay and her mom taking the train back into town years later after having left. This was probably for when Fay's parents finally officially divorced and had to appear before a judge, when her father wished to marry the woman who had come between him and his wife, Fay's mom. Fay's daughter Janet remembers her saying many years later, "It was hard to sit in in court and hear him say that he did not want us." Fay was about age 10 at the time she heard this from her father. This may have been the last time the Meckleys connected with Fay or any of her kin, until I tracked them down in 2006.
My father never knew anything about this branch of his family, his mom's side, and I wish so much he had lived long enough to learn about them, and to see a picture of the grandpa he never knew. By all accounts, Ed Meckley was a lovely, jovial man, who was active in a financial capacity at a car dealership, and on the local township board. He also had a candy store early in his career. This is the kind of man I could see my great grandmother Susan finding attractive, a light-hearted person like herself. One never knows what goes on behind closed doors, and perhaps the marriage suffered because of their youth, or the strain of having to marry because a baby was on the way. I have Ed and Susan's marriage certificate, and their parents had to give consent, and probably did so for propriety's sake. Maybe a shotgun was out in Susan's dad's horse carriage too. But it is undisputed that one stress on the marriage was wrought by a lady who used to come by the house when Fay was a baby, who used to rap on the windows to let Ed know she was around. That lady eventually did become Ed's next wife, but he was apparently in no hurry, as his divorce and subsequent remarriage to this lady did not happen until 1913, ten years after Fay's birth. Ed and his new wife would have no children.
Sometime after Ed left, Fay and her mother moved to Allentown, Lehigh County. This was probably after both of Susan's parents died. Fay became the stepdaughter of William Joseph Dietrich, when her mother was remarried.
Fay gained stepsiblings from her stepfather's first marriage - Naomi, Ruth, Esther, and William J. Dietrich Jr. She also became half-sister to June Dietrich Decker, when her mother had a daughter with her new husband. In this family, Fay probably felt something of an outsider. Her best friend was my maternal grandmother, Melva Helfrich (later Ettinger), and the two of them graduated high school together.
Fay became the wife of Gilbert Allen Romberger. It is not known for certain how they met, but for a few years, her stepfather Dietrich dabbled in construction, and it is possible her husband-to-be called on her stepdad while selling for the family firm, Romberger Cast Stone. Dietrich's office was in his home, so Fay may have been around or served tea.
Her beau Gilbert A. Romberger was a lively, sporting man. He won a city tennis title the morning of the day he and Fay drove to Philadelphia to be married by Gil's former pastor, who was, by then, teaching at the Lutheran seminary there. Fay became mother of Gilbert Daniel Romberger, Joyce Carolyn (Romberger) Fenstermacher, and Janet Fay (Romberger) Bittner.
Fay did not grow up in wealth or comfort, which may account for her later love of fine things. A good wife and mother, Fay was meticulous about her home and dress. She was a member (and president) of the Delphian Society (an early women's culture, study and reading group which promoted the education of women through group work), and a collector of silver and fine china.
Perhaps it felt a little scary to her to marry a man who had a father with a successful business, and to move right into a new custom-built home, but she was game. Some remember Fay as a bit of a social striver, and given her meager beginning and sudden change through marriage, one certainly can understand her desire to fit in gracefully, and indeed, she is remembered for her grace.
When my dad was in his 80's, I learned a little tidbit from him about life in his home growing up. It happened when I was clearing plates at the table. He still had food on his plate but didn't seem to be eating any more, so I asked him if he were done. He said "I'm not done... but I have had an elegant sufficiency." "Where did that come from!?" I asked, and he told me that is what they said at home when he was a boy when they had eaten enough. I don't know if it was a joke in his house, or if he and his sisters actually were trained to sound so genteel. If it was for real, it sounds like traces of Fay. My dad suffered through piano lessons and boy/girl social dances and lessons as well, probably at his mom's behest.
I did the math only in 2011, and it made my heart stop for a moment to realize that Fay began to face her death while her son, my father was away in the Army Air Corps, and her daughters were marrying and moving out. It must have been hard to look into the future and know she would not be a part of it for very long.
When Fay was about age 40, it became apparent something was wrong with her health. Sparing no expense when local doctors were unable to help, her husband Gilbert took her to a noted Philadelphia specialist who diagnosed her with scleroderma, and quietly told her husband that she probably had about 10 years to live. While there is more than one kind of scleroderma, the kind Fay got, systemic scleroderma is not a kind disease, although probably now more can be done to slow its course and ease the suffering caused by it. Back then there was little to do except watch Fay get dry, hard, and thin. It's been said of the disease "she turned to stone" - correctly suggesting women are its principal sufferers (four to one over men), and it is essentially hardening of the connective tissues. It is an auto-immune disease that has over-production of collagen at its root. Over time, the skin gets tight and shiny, other organs may harden, the bowel can shut down, and the ability to swallow can become lost. Even very ill near her end, Fay remained striking, resembling Katherine Hepburn, as her skin drew tight over her cheekbones. She eased her pain by sipping Four Roses bourbon, but nothing could change the course of her malady, and Fay died of it after a 10 year battle.
Though I never knew Fay because of her death before my birth, I owe the existence of my family to her. When my dad returned from the war, many of the girls he used to know had married. He asked his mom "Who's still around?" Fay replied, "Melva Ettinger's got a cute daughter, Lucy" so my dad called her, and made a date for the movies... and the rest, as they say, is history.
Fay brought her dark beauty into our branch of the Rombergers. Her Schell mother was blonde and blue eyed, and our Romberger line had been mostly lighter skinned folks with lightish-brown hair. Fay's three children got beautiful soulful dark eyes, darker hair, and olive-y skin. When I found some of the Meckleys and spoke with them on the phone, it made sense when I was told they were mostly dark people, though her father Ed had had blue eyes. They sent me a grainy picture of Ed Meckley, Fay's father, that had appeared in the town newspaper. My hand shook as I squinted at it. Ed does not look much like my dad because Ed was short and slightly stout, and my dad was tall and thin, and most of their facial features are not alike. Still, in the picture Meckley is standing on a stage receiving an award, and in his shy smile I see the echoes of my dear dad's smile. It's very haunting to see your father's smile on a stranger's face, but there it was.
Instantly, without regard for blame, and with an intensity I would not have expected, I ached for Ed Meckley and the family he lost, for Fay's mother Susan whom I'm told never really got over Ed, for Fay who never really knew her father, and for all her kids who carry Ed's coloring but who never knew their grandpa. Even today, of my four Romberger-blooded cousins, three are dark haired and eyed and have darker skin, so Ed's family's traits live on in people who know almost nothing about him, and it's hard not to feel sorry for both sides. For many reasons I hope there's a heaven, but especially so for Fay, so she might finally know peace with her father.
(I found this obituary tucked away in a dresser drawer today February 5, 2010, while preparing to move. The obituary is clipped and laminated on the back of a card showing Christ in Gethsemane, but I later found the source to be the Allentown newspaper known back then as the Morning Call or Evening Chronicle of December 5 and 6, 1954.)
MRS. GILBERT A. ROMBERGER
Mrs. Fay M. (Meckley) Romberger, wife of Gilbert A. Romberger, died at 11:15 p.m. Saturday at her home, 2442 Union St., Allentown. She was 51.
Born May 11, 1903, in Lewisburg, she was the daughter of Mrs. Susan Dietrich and the late Edward Meckley. [Sic - Ed did not die until 1959, but perhaps it was assumed he was gone or worded this way to obliquely suggest why Fay's mother did not have Meckley as her last name.]
She was a member of Christ Lutheran Church, Allentown; the Allentown Women's Club; Cedar Crest College Auxiliary and the Allentown Hospital Auxiliary. She was a past president of the Allentown Delphian Society.
Surviving are her husband; one son, Gilbert D., Allentown; two daughters, Joyce C., wife of Dr. Robert Fenstermacher Jr., Allentown; and Janet F., wife of Frank D. Bittner, Allentown; one sister, June D., wife of Walter A Decker, Allentown; two grandchildren, and her mother, Mrs. Susan Dietrich.
Services will be at the convenience of the family.
Many thanks to Edda Meinikat who kindly sponsored Fay's page. Danke, Ms. Edda.
Edward Aaron Meckley (1883 - 1959)
Susan Mabel Schell Dietrich (1883 - 1974)
Gilbert Allen Romberger (1897 - 1961)*
Gilbert Daniel Romberger (1923 - 2006)*
Joyce Carolyn Romberger Fenstermacher (1925 - 1985)*
Janet Fay Romberger Bittner (1929 - 2011)*
Fay Schell Meckley Romberger (1903 - 1954)
June Dietrich Decker (1917 - 2007)**
Created by: sr/ks
Record added: Jun 20, 2006
Find A Grave Memorial# 14662942