Uncanny Valley

The Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania has one very important, indispensable thing going for it – Vassi’s Drive-In.

We found it completely by accident. My younger brother and I were kids, and we’d been cooped-up in the car going on thirteen hours on our way home from our annual summer trip to Louisville. We only had about an hour of driving left when my brother became seriously, ear-splittingly hangry. We were on I-78, a truly shitty stretch of highway, and had cleared the obvious turn-offs for food in Allentown. Once you cross into New Jersey on 78, there is nothing. My parents had to make a call – stop now or weather the storm for an hour. They pulled off at exit 67 in Hellertown and hoped for a McDonald’s. Instead, we found the greatest gyro joint ever.

Vassi’s became a ritualistic part of that annual trip. It was the last special thing before life got back to normal at home. It’s still the best gyro I’ve ever had. It’s the reason why I cut the yogurt in my tzatziki with sour cream (that’s how the guy at the counter told me they made it). Some people dream about Michelin-star meals. I dream about Vassi’s. And In-N-Out, because I’m a deprived east coast girl.

My point is, somehow this little piece of Pennsylvania obliges my family when we’re in need. We got our dog in Bethlehem and he is living forever (he’s 17 and full of personality). It even provided when what I needed was a soldier from the Revolutionary War.

My grandma had been sure, and she was right. I found her ancestor in the Lehigh Valley.

The line is as follows:

I. Me

II. My mom

III. Betty Ramage (Grandmother)

Grandma Betty in her early 20s with her parents’ dog, Candy

My grandma is the reason I starting doing family research. I wrote about her in my first post on this blog.

IV. Catherine “Kitty” Clader (Great-Grandmother)

Betty and Kitty in the backyard of the house in Audubon Park, 1950

Kitty Clader was born June 10, 1897 and spent her early years in Michigan City, IN. According to the 1910 census, the family moved to Chicago at some point. They lived at 51 E 100th Street in the Roseland community on the South Side. She became a telephone operator in her early 20s and kept working after she got married. She and Sy, my great-grandfather, rented an apartment at 11115 South Vernon Avenue near Palmer Park. My grandma was born in 1931 and Kitty kept working. The 1940 census lists her as a police dispatcher, which I think is pretty cool. She must have been a switchboard queen.

They moved to Louisville in the mid-1940s and lived in Audubon Park. I’ve driven past their house many times. Kitty sounds like the polar opposite of Lily May, my mother’s paternal grandmother. My mom and uncles like talking about their grandma and I believe she must have been as warm and kind as I imagine, because my grandma was that way. She made dynamite chicken ‘n dumplings (which reminds me, I still need a copy of that recipe). Sadly, she developed Alzheimer’s when my mom was in her teens. She passed away on February 25, 1985.

V. Alfred Clader (2x-Great-Grandfather)

Alfred Clader was born July 8, 1859 in Rolling Prairie, IN. He grew up on his father’s farm with three sisters. He married Elizabeth Cooney on October 18, 1887 in LaPorte County, IN. Alfred became a railroad engineer and the couple moved to Michigan City. Between 1893 and 1903, they had five children. When they moved to Chicago in the early 1900s, the Roseland community was a newer and more cosmopolitan neighborhood built around steel mills and locomotive manufacture. It had a nice shopping district on Michigan Avenue and neat, clean, red-brick apartment buildings. I wish it had been kept that way for the people who live there now. When Alfred died on March 21, 1930, I think he could say he did pretty well.

VI. Moses Francis Clader (3x-Great-Grandfather)

Moses Francis Clader was born January 29, 1832 in Reading, PA. At 19 years old, he was living in Lehigh County and working as a hired teamster. Between 1850 and 1860, he married Angeline Siegfried and had their first daughter, Hannah, in Pennsylvania before acquiring the farm in Indiana. Moses appears to have led a quiet life, tending to his farm and raising his family. He died on February 23, 1893 and is buried in Rolling Prairie Cemetery.

VII. Valentine Clader (4x Great-Grandfather)

Valentine Clader was born on April 14, 1801 in Bethlehem, PA. He had a farm in Hanover Township, most of which is now covered by the Lehigh Valley International Airport. He married Sarah Bortz and had at least three children. It appears that Moses was the only child to head west. Valentine became a widower in 1849 and spent his later years living with his older son, William, on his land in East Allen Township. In 1875, Valentine was admitted to the Nazareth Alms House. He is not listed as having any physical disability or mental decline and William was still alive and seemingly comfortable, so it is unknown why he left his son’s home. He died on February 25, 1884 and is buried in Howertown, PA.

VIII. Jacob Clader (5x Great-Grandfather)

We’ve arrived.

Jacob Clader was born on February 9, 1751 in Bethlehem, PA to Valentine Clader and Anna Busz, immigrants from the Palatinate region of Germany. The area was heavily colonized by the Germans, most of whom were farmers or tradesmen looking for new opportunities in contrast to religious immigrants like the Amish and Mennonites. The records of Jacob in the ledger of the old Christ Reformed Church in Schoenersville (now also under the airport) are written mostly in German.

Most of the information I have about Jacob’s service is from the Sons of the American Revolution application of Freeman S. Jacoby that was filed and accepted in 1964. Jacob enlisted on March 1, 1776 in the 2nd Pennsylvania Battalion. He was promoted to corporal on July 1, 1776. From 1781 to 1783, he served as captain of the 2nd company the Northampton County Militia.

Jacob is stated to have seen action in Canada and New York, which leads me to believe he was part of either the 2nd or 3rd Pennsylvania Regiment when the battalions were reorganized in 1777. If he was in the 2nd, he may have wintered at Jockey Hollow in Morristown, NJ – my hometown.

Captain Clader also participated in a campaign against Native Americans on the Pennsylvania frontier. During the Revolution, Pennsylvania colonists felt little obligation to honor treaties made with Native peoples under British rule. They aggressively attacked and dispossessed Native populations in the state. Using the old “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” philosophy, Native Americans and British loyalists in Pennsylvania began working together in the late 1770s to undermine the Continental Army. Captain Clader’s company was involved in a retaliatory campaign in northwest Northampton County. Jacob probably participated in this campaign with enthusiasm: Daniel Clader and Abraham Clader – possibly his two younger brothers – were killed by a party of Native Americans and loyalists in the Sugarloaf Massacre on September 11, 1780.

Somehow, this is easier for me to wrestle with than the actions of James Stiff. Maybe because it’s a legacy of shame that all white Americans share when our families have been here this long. It’s inevitable in a way that slave ownership is not. But it’s still nothing to be proud of, context be damned.

Like James Stiff, Jacob Clader directly profited from oppression. Most Native American settlements in Pennsylvania were destroyed by the end of the 18th century and the survivors fled to Ohio or New York, leaving an opportunity for a land grab. After the war, Jacob became an innkeeper in Hanover Township and eventually became a significant landowner in Northampton County. His first wife, Salome Scherer, passed away before 1790. Valentine was his son by his second wife, Maria Margaret Kolb.

Jacob died on March 25, 1832 and is buried in the old part of the Allentown Cemetery on Linden Street. I wish I could tell my grandma the whole messy story over a gyro.

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