This small piece of crocheted lace was made by my grandmother, Marie Erb Moeller. I don’t know when or why she made it. She was born on March 4, 1888. She emigrated to Philadelphia from Weiler, a farming village in southwestern German region of Swabia, around 1910. She worked as a maid for a German-Jewish family in a big house on North Broad Street until marrying a baker who lived in New York City. They lived in Harlem at first and she gave birth to her two children – my aunt Caroline and my father Walter – while living there. Then the family moved to Astoria, in Queens, where my grandfather Max started his own bakery. In 1927, when my father was five, Max died of alcoholism. Marie sold the bakery, moved back to Philadelphia where her father and siblings lived, and bought a house near 5th and Champlost in Olney. During the Great Depression, she took in boarders to make money, and my father grew up sharing his bedroom with a variety of German immigrant men. Marie lived to see her daughter run a successful business with her husband. She lived to see my father serve as an officer in World War II, receive a PhD, and become a history professor at Temple University. She did not live to see me; she died before my mother and father even met.
I am named after Marie. My father said she would have not only loved me, but would have enjoyed me. This small bit of crochet reminds me of her presence in a world that is past – of my immigrant working class heritage – and the tenacity of the women who came before me.