Oral History: Interview with Grace Hartge

My Grandmother when she was in her 20's

To preface this interview, my grandmother is very frail right now, so it was very difficult to get answers to these questions. As I was asking, my mother helped quite a bit with her answers, and most of those are the ones that I documented.

What was your first memory of music

Her first memory of music is from Sunday school in Easton with my Uncle Edwin

Did you ever learn to play the piano or any other instruments?

She always wanted never learned piano but did study the violin.

Her brother, my Uncle Edwin, played the guitar and they often got together to play and sing with his friends, as that is who she hung around the most growing up. Her mother, my maternal great grandmother, played the piano and my maternal great grandfather played the violin. She believed that they used to do duets but Grandma never heard them because he died when she was an infant. (1919 influenza)

Did you own a piano?

They did not own a piano in the house, after the death of my great grandfather, her father, they could not afford many things let alone the luxury of a piano. She had two children under the age of 5, and women often did not work so she did not have a stable source of income. It was a different time and lifestyle it would have been strange for her mother to have gone to work.

Did grandpa own or play any instruments? (He died when my mother was a teenager, I never knew him)

Your grandfather played the violin but rarely for other people. My mother had never heard him play, and was unaware until now that he played any instruments at all. Her memory of him is that he often said, “I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.”

Have you known that we had a history of piano making?

My mom: I have always know that we had a piano making history.

My Grandmother: Yes, and Aunt Belle played from a young age. At 14, she was the regular organist at church.

(Aunt Belle is who taught me and my mother how to play the piano when we were little)

Did Uncle Robert always have a passion for music as he does now?

He was by far the most talented. Robert always showed an interest in music, from singing in the children’s choir and song on the radio. There was a friend of my grandfather’s whom we called Aunt Genevieve (but not a relative, just from South County.) She could play by ear and Robert loved to learn from her. He can now play almost any tune by ear after hearing it just once. My mom always found this incredibly frustrating as she would spend hours practicing prior to lessons with Aunt Belle, learning how to read music, yet once they arrived Aunt Belle would praise my uncle for his impeccable ability when he had never practiced once.

Was learning a musical instrument valued when you were growing up, did you impose that on my mom and Uncle Robert?

She wanted my mom and Uncle Robert to have a musical background, specifically piano, and her mother encouraged them to learn as well. (My mother’s paternal great-grandfather died before Robert was born and when my mom was 8 my paternal great-grandmother died — had been in a coma for a year before. So they were not an influence

She did not push the violin because she was told that she was a very mechanical player. She thought piano would be easier.

Who’s idea was it to buy and operate the boatyard on the Eastern Shore?

It was my grandfather’s idea entirely, she never wanted to own a business as it was too uncertain and they would not necessarily have a weekly paycheck. It completely depended upon the business as well as the season for their income. This is what inspired her to work for Mr. Goodwin as a paralegal (he was a lawyer I believe in Annapolis but this wasn’t entirely clear). After she began working she continued to work consistently until she was 84 when she retired. Her retirement was not her choice, my mother was too afraid of her driving. If it were her choice she would still be working to this day.

Do you know why we diverged from piano-making/woodworking

My grandfather’s father went into farming. This was a divergence from the rest of the family — she was not sure why they did this. My grandfather had no desires to farm so he decided to move to Easton at 16 and learn how to build boats from his cousin Dick Hartge. This is where he met my grandmother.

Did Grandpa know that his relatives worked in woodwork as well?

Yes, he did, Galesville where all the Hartge’s live is a very small community. He grew up knowing about the piano building and boat building — and knowing all of his relatives current and past. During World War II — he did not go into the service as he had had rheumatic fever at age 2 and had an enlarged heart. My mother was not sure if this kept him out. Instead he built boats for the Navy. He first worked at Philadelphia shipyard and then Thrumpys where he built boats for Russia during World War II. It was not long after the war that he opened his first boatyard in on Second Street Eastport and then in 1962 at Kent Narrows where my mother and uncle grew up.

Reflections on the interview

How does your tradition-bearer’s story relate to your community in both the present and the past? How does it relate to you?

My Grandmother is a person who not only saves every piece of history she can get her hands on, as you can see from all the photos and mementos she has collected over the years, she has also lived in Maryland her entire life. She was born here, and decided to stay and raise her family in the Annapolis area as well. Seeing a report card from the 1920’s from Anne Arundel County Public Schools, which is the county that I grew up in, was unique. My mother attended a school named Wroxeter Academy, which was then purchased in the early 2000’s and converted into a house. The family that bought the property had a son in my grade at Severn, and who was one of my closest friends in high school. I spent a great deal of time at the house where my mother actually had attended elementary school.

How did your perception of community history change, from before the interview to now?

I knew that my grandmother and mother had both grown up in the area, but until this project I was unaware of how they truly had almost the exact same community that I was raised in. This is something that is very special about Annapolis. There are countless families that have made their roots in the area, and the children often return to this area to raise their own family. I have every intention of returning to the Annapolis area to raise my family in the future, as the sense of community there is unmatched, in my opinion.

How did this project inspire you to learn more about your community?

I have always known that my family has stayed in the area for the most part, however I did not know that they have been in the same county for almost 200 years. This to me is incredibly special, and it truly reflects the caliber of our community and those that have been a part of it for many generations.

What were some of the challenges you faced during this project? What could you do differently in your next oral history interview?

The largest challenge that I faced during this interview was that my grandmother is currently very frail, and it is often hard to understand what she is trying to say. I think if I could redo this interview I would have picked a time when I was home rather than trying to do it over the phone. It was even harder to understand her through the phone than it would have been if we were sitting next to each other.

If the roles were reversed and you became the tradition-bearer, what stories would you like to tell?

If the roles were reversed I would most likely tell more stories of my father’s side of the family. The two people that I look up to most in life are my grandmother and my half brother on my dad’s side. I would tell them why this is the case. Growing up we spent the most time with my father’s side of the family and I definitely think that they have a story to be told as well. The reason I did not chose them for this project is because I knew very little from my mother’s side, and I knew that my grandmother had a lot of history that she would want me to carry on. I can not wait to tell my future children and grandchildren of the stories from my childhood.