Father and grandfather

… plus two grandmothers.

A bit more for Fathers Day, with photos from back in the day, more Alpen-Flora, and some reflections on social class. Starting with these photos:


On the left (#1a): my dad, with his parents, Bertha and Melchior Zwicky, in April 1941 (on, I think, my grandparents’ farm in Sinking Spring PA, west of Reading). On the right, two photos from 1948, at my aunt Marian (Marian Rice Fries) and uncle Herb’s farm outside of New Smithville PA, west of Allentown. Top (#1b): Dad and his mother-in-law, Susannah Hershey Rice (called Sue). Bottom (#1c): Marian and Sue, her mother.

In #1a and 1b, Dad is smiling; as I remarked in an earlier posting, Dad was an amiable man, almost always smiling in photos (as in life). In #1a, my grandparents are illustrations of respectable Swiss working-class folk (peasants, in fact), which is what they were, from small Alpine farming communities.

My grandfather worked most of his life as a foreman at Textile Machine Works in Wyomissing PA; my grandmother raised five children in Wyomissing and then, when they bought a small farm, mostly to raise their own food, helped manage the farm, including putting up huge amounts of food for the winter.

My Swiss grandfather was a serious, even stern, man, but not harsh. He’s unsmiling in every picture of him I’ve seen. (My Swiss grandmother occasionally warmed to the camera, as we’ll see below.) But I was happy to listen to Radio Switzerland on shortwave with my grandparents and to hear my grandfather’s recollections of Canton Glarus and to learn about Switzerland from him and to play music he liked on the piano, so we got on well together.

There are no photographs of my other grandfather, who died almost a hundred years ago, in the great flu pandemic. He was also a farmboy, Pennsylvania Dutch, who spent his short working life at Bethlehem Steel. My Pennsylvana Dutch grandmother went to work in the fields at the age of 5, managed five years of schooling before she was needed to work full-time on the farm. She married as a teenager, as farm people tended to do in those days, quickly bore four children (Mabel first; then the twins Marcella — my mother — and Marian; then Mildred). When her husband and baby died (the same night) in the epidemic, she took the only job she had experience for, as a domestic, cooking and cleaning and minding children. It was a hard life, which she bore with surprising grace. She smiled a lot in real life, but never for the camera, as far as I know.

In #1b we see her in her “good clothes” (including a hat) for some special occasion, in #1c in an everyday housedress. The thing in the background in #1b is an outdoor stove/oven, for cooking food on a wood fire. The thing in the foreground is a pump, one of several on the farm that drew from a spring in a springhouse. (The farm lacked ordinary running water, as well as indoor plumbing, electricity, and gas. At least at the beginning, the place was truly rustic.)

All three of the grandparents I knew spoke English as a second language, with pretty heavy German accents. My parents were monolingual, but spoke with a noticeable PDE (Pa. Dutch English) accent. My English is Philadelphia-area, with some PDE traces.

Side story: when I taught for a term in the People’s Republic of China, in 1985, my Chinese sponsors were obliged to investigate my “class background”. There was some possible distress over the fact that my parents had owned a store (a small costume jewelry shop), which would make my father a member of the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, my dad then went on to work for the state (as a public health officer for various counties of California), which would put him in the cadres.

Then they asked about my grandfathers, and great pleasure ensued. A friend later told me that the Class Background line on the form in question was filled out (in Chinese): Peasant and Worker. Which was, in those days, a very good thing.

In American social-class terms, my parents moved from working class into the lower middle class (while preserving a number of characteristics of their working-class backgrounds), and I then moved, hesitantly and very imperfectly, into the upper middle class. My parents’ lives were markedly different from their parents’, and my life has been markedly different from my parents’ lives, but I think we all maintained respect and affection for one another.

Three generations of Zwicky men.


On the left, my grandfather and grandmother in informal dress. She’s smiling. The little kid is me, age 3 or 4.

On the right, my dad on the pier at Goleta CA (next door to Santa Barbara), happily displaying some of the claws he and I have just extracted from crabs we caught. (Not dated, but some time in the 1970s.)

Return to the Alps. In a slowly unfolding series, more plates from the 19th-century botanical handbook Alpen-Flora (which my dad picked up on a visit to Switzerland in his 20s). The actual book title is Taschenflora des Alpen-Wanderers, listed as

nach der Natur gezeichnet und gemalt [drawn and colored from nature]

von Ludwig Schröter, naturwissenschaflicher Zeichner [scientific illustrator],

mit kurzen botanischen Notizen in deutscher, französischer und englischer Sprache

von Dr. C. Schröter, Professor der Botanik an der Eidgenöss. Technischen Hochschule in Zürich [the Swiss Technical University in Zürich (now ETH Zürich)]

The illustrator is Ludwig (also known as Louis) Schröter, 1829-1907, with notes by the distinguished botanist Carl (also known as Karl) Schröter, 1855-1939, apparently Ludwig’s son (another father and son for the holiday).

Today’s plates: two on plants in the ranunculus, or buttercup, family, one on plants in a subfamily of legumes:




The names of the plant (sub)families are of some interest in themselves.

The name of the Ranunculaceae in German is either a direct adaptation from the Latin, die Ranunkeln, or the German compound Hahnenfussgewächse, literally ‘cocksfoot plants’, though Hahnenfuss is usually translated into English as ‘crowfoot’ or, from its denotation, ‘ranunculus, buttercup’.

Then Schmetterlingsblüthler (German ‘butterfly plants’) or Papilionacées (French). From Wikipedia:

Papilionaceous flowers (from Latin: papilion, a butterfly) are flowers with the characteristic irregular and butterfly-like corolla found in many, though not all, plants of the species-rich Faboideae subfamily of legumes. Tournefort suggested that the term Flores papilionacei originated with [the German physician and botanist] Valerius Cordus [1515-1544], who applied it to the flowers of the bean.

The illustrations include trefoils and clovers.

2 Responses to “Father and grandfather”

  1. lkunz930 Says:

    Hi- Any relation to the Melchior Zwicky involved with Anna Goeldin in the 1700’s?

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      I should post separately about Anna Goeldin/Göldi, the last person executed in Europe for witchcraft. A Dr. Melchior Zwicky figures in her story. It all takes place in Canton Glarus, where the Zwickys come from, so surely a family connection. But you might be surprised to hear that there were dozens of Melchior Zwickys in the canton in the 18th century — and hundreds of them, at least, over the centuries, down to my grandfather. There probably are some in Switzerland now, but it’s hard to search for them, because AG’s lover swamps the searches.

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