|Birth: ||Apr. 11, 1903|
|Death: ||Oct. 19, 1977|
Born in the coal-region of McAdoo, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, Melva Ellen Helfrich was a daughter of William H Helfrich and Cora Ellen (Schollenberger) Helfrich.
She was sister to Grace, Harold, and Ellsworth Helfrich. She also had a brother who passed young, Claud Morton Helfrich.
Sometime in her teens, her (apparently "upwardly mobile") mother declared "I will not have my daughters marrying coal-crackers" and persuaded their father to move the family to Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. It was there that Melva graduated high school, and later became the wife of Henry Clauss Ettinger.
Before she married however, in 1920 when she was only 17 her mother died. In between high school graduation and marriage, she pursued one of the few occupations then open to women, moving for some years to live with her Aunt Dell in Philadelphia, where she worked in millinery, making ladies' hats. Aunt Dell, her mother's sister, was probably warm loving support to her and a motherly figure until Melva married. Henry Ettinger was a good prospect, from a family with an established stove, plumbing and heating business, but he also came along at a good time, as Melva was ready to get out of the house when her father was readying to take a new wife which would happen in June 1924. Melva and Henry were married June 7, 1923 by the Rev. John A. Smith in Allentown. Prior to marriage, Melva's address was 43 N. 13th Street in Allentown, and she had turned 20 less than 2 months before her nuptuals.
Once married, Melva became the mother of Ruth Emma (Ettinger) Duncan, Lucille May (Ettinger) Romberger, Edwin H Ettinger, and Jane Louise (Ettinger) Hunt. Initially the young family lived at 1137 Walnut Street in Allentown (a two-story row home), until Melva's husband's favorite uncle, Ed Ettinger, sold them his large three-story home at 14th and Walnut for a very kind price.
Melva was an excellent cook, and kept her growing family well-fed. They were also well-clothed in part due to her skill with needles, and the clothing, as well as knitted and crocheted items she produced. There's a surviving picture of my mother in a striking white gown with opera-length black gloves, dressed to go a ball, and her mom Melva made the dress. We still have a few of her afghans and aprons too!
While she'd had houses most of her married life, she and my grandpa downsized as they grew older, and this apartment they had was wonderful. Located at 15th and Hamilton in Allentown, it overlooked the main drag going into town, and was in a former private home that had been divided up into three apartments. You parked on the street, right next to a leftover "horsehead on a stick"- with a ring -an old tie-up from back when people really drove horses everywhere. There was a wrap-around front porch, and a large fake owl hanging on one side, probably to deter pigeons from roosting. (I always called it "Oggie" after Pixanne's companion.)
My grandparents had the whole second floor- a living room, two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, dinette and a large back porch with gray-painted boards overlooking a sizeable green backyard. The dinette had a suspended lamp you could pull down from the ceiling and raise when needed. On one windowsill was a small milk-glass hen on her nest, and whenever I visited, I would pick the top up to find a few M & M's inside for me, as though she had laid eggs. There was a small cold room off the kitchen where you could store things, and aside of the living room was an enchanting small circular room surrounded by curved windows. It faced south and east so it was nearly always sunny and warm, and was a quiet place to sit away from everything. There were two chairs, a marble table, and a few small interesting pieces there- matching brass urns from India, a china shoe with angels on it, an old lamp with a pull-chain to turn it on. The marble side table always had a portrait of Aunt Dell on it, right up until Melva would leave this home at the end years of her life.
In her later years, she was my babysitter when my parents went out for the evening, and I would stay in her apartment which was loaded with antiques, lamps, and a charming melodian which she would play on very rare occasions due to its age and delicacy. I don't know if the furniture was silk, but she had an especially lovely ivory sofa, and a carved loveseat with gold cushions where my child portrait was once painted. Next to that was a glass curio filled with old, small collectibles. In spite of all the nice furnishings, and her intrinsic worrying nature, I don't recall her being too picky about the chance of spills, so we snacked there in front of evening TV. Around Lawrence Welk time, a trip would be made to the kitchen. She'd return with a highball for my grandpa, a Schaefer's beer for herself, and an ice cream soda for me, along with one of those little red and white boxes with a cellophane front of skinny Reisman pretzel sticks. A lover of cheese, she often brought in some cheese for herself, sometimes with ring bologna.
Her apartment was the place to be for Halloween and Saint Patrick's Day, because the parades would go right by the front. If you got cold outside on the curb, you went upstairs to warm up, or could just stay up there and see everything from the front window.
We were at her apartment when the end of the Vietnam War was announced. She told me about how at the end of "the war" (presumably WW I or II) people crowded into the streets and all the church bells were ringing. I waited for the same thing to happen, even opened the windows to hear the bells, and heard and saw nothing.
While her health was not the best and her walking was limited by pain, I can recall her taking me on short walks to nearby West Park where we would feed the squirrels and pigeons. She told me about her family, her rush to get out of the house and marry after her mom died and her father remarried, and her father's tragic death from a fall down the stairs. In even later years, our special relationship came to an end as her circulatory problems worsened, vein-swapping operations were done, and finally one of her legs was amputated just below the knee. I watched her grow away from me and become more self-focused. As an adult I understand it, but back then it felt like she no longer had any thoughts outside herself. It must have been very hard for her, and she never really did get her old spirit back. Her apartment then became a place full of gifts and pick-me-ups sent by thoughtful friends and family- cheeses, petit fours, candy, perfume, lotions, bathrobes and nighties.
Her weak attempts at learning to walk again were thwarted. While at Good Shepherd for rehabilitation, she was told to "try the parallel bars" by a staff member who then left the room. After waiting, my grandma concluded she was to do so alone, and tried, whereupon she fell, splitting her leg stump open and necessitating a second amputation, this time above the knee. With the loss of the joint, and the artificial leg technology of the time, coupled with her loss of will, she never walked again. Her health worsened to where the help she had from hired folks and my mom were not enough and she needed more care, so she moved to Liberty Nursing Home. I do not recall how long she was there until she had a fall, and in x-raying her after the fall for rib pain, a mass was discovered, and she later died from cancer.
Right before her end, her mind went back in time, as many such people's minds do, to a more pleasant place and time. She spoke of going onto the back porch and having lemonade. I hope somehow she was able to stay there in her mind, so her passing might have felt filled with some comfort.
William H Helfrich (1867 - 1939)
Cora Ellen Schollenberger Helfrich (1874 - 1920)
Henry Clauss Ettinger (1900 - 1971)
Ruth Emma Ettinger Duncan (1924 - 1995)*
Lucille May Ettinger Romberger (1926 - 2012)*
Edwin Henry Ettinger (1931 - 1999)*
Grace Myrtle Helfrich Peters (1900 - 1989)*
William Ellsworth Helfrich (1901 - 1964)*
Harold Henry Helfrich (1902 - 1982)*
Melva Ellen Helfrich Ettinger (1903 - 1977)
Claud Morton Helfrich (1911 - 1912)*
Created by: sr/ks
Record added: Jun 21, 2006
Find A Grave Memorial# 14665130