Red Oak reunion includes passing of priceless family heirloom
A unique piece of family history was passed on to a new generation with long ties to Red Oak.
The family of Janet (Peterson) Spicer recently met for a reunion at Stadium 34 in Red Oak. Spicer grew up in Red Oak and spent much of her life in Emerson, before moving to Arlington Place in Red Oak, where she currently resides. Janet is the daughter of Cassie (Clites) and Harold W. Peterson. Peterson, known as “Taxi Pete,” served as the long-time taxi driver for Red Oak. He purchased the business in 1926 and sold it in 1946. Spicer is one of five siblings, including her twin brother, James, who lives in Tehachapi, Calif.
During the reunion, a cracker jar, more than a century old, was passed down by Signa (Peterson) Gibson, Janet’s niece, to Carol (Spicer) Weeks, Janet’s granddaughter, to give to her sister, Cathy (Spicer) Pollock. While she doesn’t know the exact history, Gibson estimates the jar first came into the possession of her great-great-grandmother, Margaretta Withrow, in the 1860s.
“We believe the jar first came into Margaretta’s possession in 1868 and was a wedding present. She had the jar in her possession until she passed in 1916” Gibson said.
From there, the jar was passed down to Gibson’s grandmother, Cassie Peterson, known as Teresa, who owned the jar until 1968, At that time, the jar came into Gibson’s possession.
“The only memory that I recall regarding how I received the cracker jar is that my parents were sitting with me at our kitchen table in Oregon. They told me that my grandmother wanted me to have the cracker jar,” explained Gibson. “I presume that I received the cracker jar after her death because I do not remember an opportunity to thank her or to ask any questions about it. At that time, the idea of a great,-great-grandmother was unfathomable. I was only around 17 or 18 years old at the time.”
Gibson said the jar included a personalized note, which read: Signa – This cracker jar belonged to my grandmother Withrow, your great-great-grandmother. It was always on her table.
Gibson said she was pleased to be able to look after such an important family heirloom for so long.
“Given my grandmother’s death was in 1968, I have had the jar for 55 years. It might sound dramatic, but I actually felt honored to keep it safe during this time. The cracker jar was stored in its own box over the years. After completing graduate level college in 1973, I moved the cracker jar from my parents. After that, I moved five times. After the most recent move in 2017, I unpacked the cracker jar and displayed it in a china cabinet. As part of downsizing and end-of-life plans, I thought that the cracker jar should remain in the family, but my two adult sons do not have children to inherit the cracker jar,” said Gibson.
Gibson credits Spicer for the suggestion to pass the cracker jar down to Cathy.
“I contacted Aunt Janet for ideas on how to keep the cracker jar in the family. She suggested passing the jar to one of her granddaughters, Cathy, who lives in Pella, because she has agreed to keep all the family genealogy materials. This made sense to me also because Cathy and her sister, Carol, live in Iowa and have children,” Gibson commented.
“The next step was transporting the cracker jar from Oregon to Iowa. We decided to deliver it in person, so we arranged the reunion in Red Oak on Sept. 16,” Gibson commented.
Getting the jar, Gibson said, allowed her to find out more about her great-great-grandmother and connect with her.
“In today’s time period, with the genealogy information available, I was able to match a name, Margaretta Campbell Withrow, to the generic reference “great-great-grandmother.” Knowing her name, who she married, where she lived, her children, her parents, her siblings, has contributed to a special, unique feeling as family members look at and hold a physical item from a relative who passed away over 100 years ago,” stated Gibson. “In addition, the handwritten note from my grandmother adds a more personal attachment to the jar, compared to receiving an item after a death, with no prior understanding that the item was specifically intended for me.”
Transferring the jar, Gibson said, has led to some amazing facts and stories shared by her relatives.
“The greatest part of transferring the jar to Cathy has been the conversations, the stories, the photos with living family members. The gathering of aunts, uncles, cousins, children and spouses at the recent reunion has added a dimension to my life that I could not have anticipated,” Gibson commented.
The reunion also allowed Spicer to reflect on her life growing up and living in and around Red Oak. Spicer recalled the support and charity of the Red Oak community that was shared in 1927, when after only a year in operation, her father’s taxi service burned down, taking with it two cars, a truck, and a hearse, and he didn’t have insurance to replace the vehicle.
“There was an auto dealer directly across the street from his business when it burned. When my dad went to him, the dealer just loaned him the car. He said take it, and you can pay for it as you get money. Of course fares at that time were 25 cents, so it took him a while at a quarter a fare. He also was the one who met all the trains when they came to Red Oak, and would provide taxi service to people to other towns that the trains didn’t stop in,” Spicer said.
Over the years, Spicer said Red Oak held a very near and dear place in her heart.
“Red Oak has always been a special town for us from the time when my mother and father got married and beyond,” stated Spicer.