Julie and Louie Mehay
As I think about sharing family stories, writing them down, and passing our family heritage stories down to the next generation, this is one family story I couldn’t resist sharing with my readers. I would like to thank my cousin, Julie Dyer, for giving me permission to share her family story.
Written by Julie Dyer
The Titanic was headed from France to the United States on April 10, 108 years ago. It was said to be unsinkable. The great vessel had only traveled four days when 400 miles from the shore of France, she hit an iceberg…and thus began filling up with water. It took the ship two hours and 40 minutes to completely sink on April 15, 1912. There was a loss of over 1,500 lives and only 706 people survived.
My great-grandma was Julie Mehay. She had two tickets to board the Titanic. One for herself and one for her 15-month-old daughter, Simone, my grandmother. They were to join my great-grandfather, Louie Mehay, in Sullivan county, Indiana. He was working in an underground coalmine. For some reason, Julie Mehay was confused about the departure time, and once they arrived, the Titanic had already set sail. They had to wait a few days for another ship.
This story was always told to us from my grandmother’s viewpoint. She was only a baby when she came to the United States and wasn’t able to fill in the inconsistencies of their travel. So, I’ve never been sure what ship they actually boarded. I do know Julie was seasick the entire journey and other people in nearby rooms brought food for her baby, my grandmother, to eat. I’m unsure how long it took for them to arrive at Ellis Island. But once they did arrive, Julie heard the tragic news of the Titanic. All the while, my great-grandfather thought they were on The Titanic.
It took a couple of days for Julie and her baby daughter to get checked in to Ellis Island. I remember Grandma said the biggest problem was head lice. If lice were detected, that person would have to go back to their country of origin. My great-grandma Julie Mehay could not speak English, so I can only imagine how she felt trying to find her way to Indiana.
It took days, possibly weeks, to find transportation. But they finally found their way to my great-grandfather. Julie Mehay never saw her family in France again. They wrote letters, all written in French. We still have them. I’ve always wondered what happened to the tickets to the Titanic.
My great-grandfather, Louie Mehay, was a happy soul. He learned to speak English by reading newspapers. He had a distillery in his basement where he made and sold moonshine. People drove from miles to buy his moonshine. Back then, it was legal. He also had a grape vineyard to make and sell wine. After Grandma Simone died, we found his bottles of wine on a shelf in her closet. Grandma never drank. I’m sure she wanted to keep them after her father passed away. I will always remember my great-grandfather playing his squeeze-box and stomping his foot to the beat of his music. He always “drummed” his fingers on the table or any surface as if music was playing and he was keeping the beat. He had a deep, throaty laugh that came from the depths of his belly. He was always so jolly, so happy!
And I will never forget the old beat-up truck he drove and how it looked like a hoarder’s paradise. I was named after my great-grandma, Julie Mehay. She died when I was six. It saddens me to not remember her. She always stayed home, cooked French meals, and crocheted doilies. She kept a clean house but didn’t feel comfortable going out much because she didn’t understand English. She did make friends with her neighbors, and Romany, her German neighbor, was my favorite. My father told me every time we saw Julie Mehay, she would cup her hands around my face and kiss my cheeks and nose while whispering Julie, Julie, Julie in French. I wish I could remember that.
Grandma Simone was one in a million. She was bullied in school, but she never let it get her down. The kids called her “garlic snapper” because strands of garlic hung on their front porch to dry. She changed her name to Bertha in junior high school. I still smile over that. A few older friends still called her Bertha later on in life. But her name was Simone and she was love to me. She was my EVERYTHING. She sure had a story to tell. And I’m sharing this family story for her and for that ship that sank so many years ago.
Thank you, Julie, for sharing your family story. (As a side note, I remember meeting Julie’s maternal grandmother, Simone, when I was a young girl.) You can find Julie on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/julie.dyer.98
I would love to hear from my readers if you have memorable family stories to share. When your stories are posted as a blog on my website, they can serve as a documentation for your family history! Just hit the “Contact” button at the top of my homepage if you would like to contribute your own family story. Here is the link: https://beckyvanvleet.com/contact/