Victorine Dorval Munier Andris was the grandmother that I never met. My own mother, Ella Lorene Sullivan Andris fortunately planted and kept alive in my mind the memory of “Torienne.” I don’t know too much about her, but story telling and genealogical excavation have allowed me to reconstruct some of the story of her life. One thing is clear to me, though. If it weren’t for Grandmother Andris, I wouldn’t be here.
During the 19th Century the smallish town of Binche, Belgium was near factories where window glass was made. In those days the “small pot” method was used, and it required the services of professional glassblowers. It was a difficult and demanding, yet respected craft. A master glassblower would take up to 35 kilograms of molten glass from a pot in a nearly white-hot oven onto a heavy lead pipe. He would “start” the bubble by blowing into the pipe, which he constantly rotated and periodically returned to the blazing furnace. When the bubble was large enough, it had to be swung in a deep pit, so that the mass of glass became elongated into a cylinder. Eventually the cylinder of hot glass was swung back up onto a stone slab. It was caused to split down its length by a cold iron chisel and quickly flattened into a sheet of clear but wavy glass which could eventually be cut to fit into a window frame.
Victorine Dorval married two glassblowers. The first one, Jules Munier, died at a young age in a fall from their roof. At the time he and Victorine had one daughter, Julia. In 1895, Victorine married my grandfather, Arthur Louis Nicolas Andris. Arthur had also lost his first spouse, and brought two young sons, Arthur and Aimé, to the marriage. Things were not going well for young glassblowers in Binche at that time, and so in a few years, around 1902, Arthur packed up most of his family and travelled to Russia, where there supposedly was work to be found. There, Arthur’s mother died and had to be left for the neighbors to bury her, because the “Cossacks” were coming to the village on horses carrying torches, looking for “foreigners” who were taking jobs from the Russians. They barely made it across the border, but the Andris family escaped and returned to Binche, bringing with them infant, Louie.
In 1908, Arthur came to the U.S. and secured a job in a glass plant in Clarksburg, West Virginia. The rest of the family immigrated over the next three years, except for Arthur’s oldest daugter, Louise, who “stayed in the old country.” In 1909, first Arthur and Aimé came over, and then Torienne and her two small sons, Louie and Alphonse. Finally, Julia arrived in 1911. Things went well for a while, and Arthur, Jr. and Aimé helped papa Arthur. In 1992 I interviewed my dad, Fernand Andris, youngest surviving son of Arthur and Victorine. He had this to say about our family’s involvement in glassblowing:
“Amy (Aimé) was a strapper and Arthur was a gatherer. Dad was the blower. They had lead pipes this big (shows about 2 feet long), and they was heavy. They had a hole in the floor this wide, and it was deep. After dad got the glass (on his pipe) he would have to blow hard to get it started. A brain tumor killed my dad; blowing glass might have killed him. When he got the glass started, he’d swing it in the pit, and it would become a cylinder, maybe 8 or 9 feet long. Dad couldn’t do all the work, so Arthur would throw the thing. They had these horses and he’d swing the cylinder up on them. Alfred Bourmark (Julia’s husband) was the glass cutter. They’d cut the glass long ways, then they’d fold them over to make a big sheet. Bourmark would cut that sheet. The glass house was across the Putnam Street Bridge just beyond the College crew shed and on the left.”
Unfortunately, that work also dried up, because mass production of window glass had been successfully put into place, and the old small pot glass making technique could not compete with machine manufactured glass on either cost or speed. Fortunately, Mrs. Andris, my grandmother, was a resourceful person. Again, from my father’s recollection: “Torrienne bought 313 Greene St. around 1922 from Mrs. Morris, whose husband was dying of TB. she wanted to go back to West Virginia. She payed $900 for the (grocery) store.” From that time forward, grandmother Torienne took the reins of the family fortune and built a successful trade for her small family grocery store on downtown Greene St. Arthur, Sr. became less and less able to help and died in 1930. It is another story to tell, but Arthur, Jr. and Aimé went off on their own, while the three sons of Arthur and Victorine, Louis, Alphonse, and Fernand, remained and worked in the family business.
I have written on my genealogy website:
“In 1937 the family grocery store was hit by a flood. Various records show that the flood hit 55 feet on Jan. 23. This was nearly 20 feet above flood stage. According to my mother, it was a terrible tragedy. They had moved all the groceries and equipment up the stairs to the second floor, but the flood went to 55 feet, and was well into the second floor. When they were able to get into the building, everything was ruined. Mud was everywhere. Sacks of flour and sugar were ruined. Canned goods were rusted and the labels had come off. Mrs. Andris was devastated. Mother said that she would set for hours scrubbing rusted cans with steel wool and try to identify them for reduced sale. The anguish of the loss and the worry of financial ruin probably contributed in large part to her death on March 4, 1937.”
My mother, Lorene, told me the rest of the story more than once. My dad, Fernand and she were dating at the time. Mom loved Torienne, and they had a very good relationship, unlike the sometimes turbulent relationship she had with her own mother, Clara. Torienne had a heart attack around March 1, 1937. She was quite obese, and Fernand and Lorene half carried, half pushed his mother up the narrow stairway to the second floor of 313 Greene St., where she remained until her death a few days later. The doctor came to visit, but offered little hope for her recovery. While she was lying on her death bed, Torienne extracted from her future daughter-in-law a promise that she would marry Fernand and take care of him. “He’ll never be able to make it on his own,” Torienne said, according to my mother.
But Lorene wasn’t completely sure about this promise. Fernand had a habit of binge drinking, and he could be hard to live with when he was drunk. The problem continued into my adulthood. The night before Mrs. Andris died, my mother had a vivid dream about my grandmother. In the dream, Torienne was seated astride Lorene’s trunk, and she was pounding on her chest and screaming, “Lorette! You promised! Marry my Fernand!! Remember, you promised me to marry him!” Mom awoke in a pool of sweat, but the dream was so vivid that it convinced her to keep her oath. On August 16, 1937, Fernand and Lorene were united in marriage. Theirs was one of the last “bellings” that happened at the Lafayette Hotel. Over 500 people showed up to wish the newly minted family well and to party.
So Happy Mother’s day, Victoria Dorval Munier Andris, from the bottom of my heart. If it weren’t for you, that heart would not even exist to pay homage to you.