The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio


August 5, 2012

Those 10 Calaway girls

Surviving member recalls being 1 of 10


KINGSVILLE TOWNSHIP — In the early 1940s, Walter supported this family of 12 on his wages as a flooring salesman for the Carlisle-Allen Company of Ashtabula. JoAnn said the family stretched every dollar by growing a garden and canning as much of their food as they could. When their city lot was too small for a garden plot, they rented land for a garden. Each girl was expected to participate in the growing and harvesting.

Frugality and hard work ensured that the girls grew up well fed.

“I never recall a time we didn’t have a full table, full of food, and not having dessert,” JoAnn says. Strawberry shortcake and chocolate pie were the favorites.

With 12 persons to feed, there was no room to accommodate personal culinary preferences. JoAnn, who hates liver to this day, was singled out as the picky child.

“Everyone except JoAnn likes spinach, everyone except JoAnn likes vegetables and everyone except JoAnn likes meat,” the newspaper article stated.

“JoAnn’s the only fussy one,” Mrs. Calaway says. “But even she likes plenty of milk.”

Rationing cut into the bounty on most Americans’ tables. Prior to the war, the Calaway family burned through 15 pounds of sugar every week. The war cut that to six pounds, more than half of it going toward the morning cocoa.

During the war, the girls worked at various jobs that required walking to work. JoAnn worked at the A&P Store on Main Avenue, where she met her future husband. Several of the girls worked at the bayonet factory.

Walter Calaway eventually left his job at the department store and went off on his own as a flooring and countertop installer.

“He did very well,” JoAnn says. “He had more work than he could handle.”

Hattie helped him in the business by hand sewing the binding on the carpets. The couple eventually had a new home built on Route 45 in Saybrook Township. A three-car garage was part of the construction; the plan was to devote one bay to the business, but because there was a large basement under the house, it ended up being in there.

The third bay was made into an apartment, and the youngest daughter, Beverly, lived there with her new husband, Robert, after they were married.

JoAnn says every daughter was treated equally when it came time to wed.

“He gave us all a $50 bill,” JoAnn says. The receptions were held at the house and Hattie baked the wedding cake.

The girls’ married names were Isabelle Brail, Esther Smith, Pauline Thompson, Beverly Montgomery, Betty Spencer, Edith Drake, Lillian Proper, Lucille McConnell, JoAnn Howard and Doris Weir.

The 10 girls gave Walter and Hattie 29 grandchildren. Walter died at the age of 66; Hattie lived to be 88. All but one of the girls, Doris, stayed in  Ashtabula County, Ohio, after marrying. The girls always made it a point to get together at least once a year. JoAnn says their oldest sister, Pauline, seemed to assume the role of the bossy big sister as the girls grew older.

And then they started passing from the scene, as did their spouses. JoAnn’s first husband, Charles Howard, died in 1980. Eighteen years later, she married Robert Keller, who passed away last year.

Her last remaining sister, Esther Smith, 92, died July 21, 2012, leaving only JoAnn the last survivor of the 10 Calaway sisters.

“Life goes on,” she says. “Changes all the time.”

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