By: Joe Mayfield
Happy Thanksgiving to each of you. This Thanksgiving, I encourage you to remember the people that have made an impact on your life, be it by good deeds, or through love and faith, have over come adversity.
I have just such a person to introduce to you, and most people living in Cullman County, Alabama, those over 50 years of age, will either know her, or know of her. She came from a far away land, (New York) over 58 years ago, and during those 58 years has been a mama to many, a helper to all that came in contact with her, and continued to strive for excellence as a business owner. She has set an example to her community, a community that loves her dearly, both because of her faith, and love for other people.
Her father Philip Dittmeier, 1881 to 1941, and mother Agnes Donovan Dittmeier, 1885 to 1935, both farmers, brought Margaret into the world December 14th, 1921. Margaret’s grandparents, on her fathers side were from Bavaria, and on her mothers side, from Donovan, Ireland, and hard work was just a way of life for her ancestors.
Her Grandfather Dittmeier opened a butcher shop upon coming to America, located in the Ridgewood section of Brooklyn, New York, having owned his own butcher business in Germany. Mr. Dittmeier later sold this business and moved to a farm on Long Island, then selling this farm to the U. S. Government, this land would become Camp Upton and used for training soldiers during World War II, it is now a government laboratory.
Grandfather Donovan worked as the Head Waiter for the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, in New York, then later moving his family to Manorville, Long Island, where their daughter, Agnes, would meet her future husband, Philip Dittmeier.
In the South, farmers that lived on someone else’s farm were called sharecroppers, and one half of everything they grew went to the farm owner, whereas in New York, they were called caretakers, and were paid a salary each month, plus the house to live in.
The Dittmeiers were caretakers, and their crops were cauliflower, and Irish potatoes. Margaret told me a few days ago that big trucks would come to the farm every day or so, to load up the fresh vegetables.
This farm was owned by a wealthy art dealer that lived in New York City, and he had a summer cottage built on the farm for his mother to live each summer.
While we talked, Margaret mentioned that although they had no electricity on the farm as she was growing up, they did have both hot and cold running water. I ask, how could that be, and she said there was a gasoline engine mounted on a 60 foot high water tower above the well. This engine would pump water up into a tank. From this 100 gallon tank, and the gravity from the height of the tower, there was enough pressure to send the water through pipes into their house, the cottage, and the barn. One of two pipes would pass through a heat box made from bricks that was attached to the wood, and coal cook stove, the fire from the stove heated the water inside the pipe, and the bricks would continue to hold heat even after the fire burned out in the stove. Once the water became hot, it went into a holding tank, and could be dispensed throughout the house, and even the barn.
Margaret started school at North Manorville at the age of five, in 1926, and continued to the eighth grade, then attended high school at Riverhead High School, graduating in 1939. After graduation she attended Beauty School in Brooklyn, New York, and normally this endeavor requires at least one year, however, after six months she went to work just down the street from the school, working there for one year. Then moving back to the farm in early 1942, and working in the Riverhead beauty shop.
Then one day she went by the post office, and while there met a soldier named Earskin Rice (B. October 24th, 1914 D. April 15th, 1968). This soldier from Alabama was over the motor pool of the signal corps at Manorville, Long Island, and one of his duties was to come to the post office each day and pickup mail for the troops.
Their courtship began, and in September 1942 Miss Margaret Dittmeier became Mrs. Margaret Rice. World War II was going strong at the time, and in January 1944 Earskin was shipped to North Africa, then later to Italy. Margaret was with child at the time her husband was sent to North Africa, and their son Pete was born June 14th, 1944.
Once Earskin was discharged from the military, they moved South to Alabama, and in November of 1946 opened The Imperial Beauty Shop & Barber Shop in Hanceville, Alabama. In those days there was no address for the business, but the deed says Schiaf Street, (probably named after Nick Schiaf who came to Gilmer, after the Chicago fire of 1871, and one of the first five families in the colony now known as Hanceville, Alabama).
The building was rented from Turner Steel, who had a furniture business next door, then in 1955 they purchased the building. In 1971, Mama Rice (the name I’ve known her by since 1960) sold the business to Barbara Cook Duckett. (Barbara’s first job after finishing high school in 1960, was working for Margaret.) After selling the business to Barbara she continued to work there for six years, then in 1977 went to work for Doctor Vouginte, which then was Caraway Hospital’s satellite clinic in Hanceville, then for Woodland Clinic in the Doctor Welch building.
In 1982, she moved from her home in Hanceville to the farm she and her husband had owned for many years on Prospect Mountain. While living there, she worked for Doctors Cole and Darnell, then the Gift Shop of Ave Maria Grotto.
There is something I have not told you, and I now tell you the following with Margaret’s consent. In 1945, while her husband was fighting World War II in North Africa, and her son Pete was 15 months old, she discovered she had polio, an acute viral disease marked by inflammation of the nerve cells. It affected her spine, and the doctors had to draw fluid from the spine to prevent the paralysis from reaching the brain. Her left side was paralyzed, face, arm, leg, and back. At some point the feeling returned to her left side, though she must take care while walking. Since then she has had to wear a steel and leather brace on her back, yet it never prevented her from taking care of her family, raising her son, and operating a successful business.
Three years ago, at the age of 80, she was using her riding mower to pull a 20 gal tank of roundup on her farm, when the hose from the tank became wrapped around a wheel and her leg. As the wheel continued to turn, the hose continued to cut into her leg, she had left her cell phone in the house, her words to me, Joe, you know, Pete was always telling me to carry the phone everywhere I go, but I had forgotten it. I knew I was hurt bad, I could see the bone and some muscle had come off. I had to get untangled before I could go for help. I don’t know how long it was, but once I became free, I crawled, and I crawled, and I crawled, trying to make it to a neighbors house, it was a very long way. At some point, I must have blacked out. I don’t remember, but the Lord carried me the rest of the way, because I know I prayed. Since that day she has had eight operations, and now lives in the U. S. A. Cullman Long Term Care and Rehabilitation Center, (Room 215) and over comes still more obstacles daily.
As I took notes of her words, she said, Joe, if you’re going to write about this, please, tell everyone that were it not for their prayers I could not have made it. There are so many people that are praying for me, I can feel it so strongly, friends and people of all ages, and all faiths, I am a very lucky person.
This Thanksgiving, as you bow your head to give thanks for the food you have, remember to say thanks for the blessings you have, as well as for those who have impacted your life, and if possible, send them a card, or give them a call.
Published in U S Legacies November 2005
From: Mayfields Corner
By: Joe Mayfield
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