My paternal great-grandmother,
Augustine Rapp Caussin,
She had the keenest intellect of anyone I ever knew and she could cuss like a trooper." These were the words with which my Uncle Louie, youngest brother of my father, described his maternal grandmother. Augustine, this paternal great-grandmother of mine, was born of French parents in England. She grew up and was educated in Spain, married a Frenchman in France, and gave birth to her only child, my paternal grandmother, in Naples, Italy. She and her husband, Jules Caussin, were in Italy at the time while Jules fulfilled a contract to teach glass-making to the Italians. Augustine also lived for three years in Russia where her husband taught the Russians the glass business and she died in the United States at the age of seventy-six.
The irony of this woman's life lies in the fact, that although she was born in England, an English-speaking country, and died in the United States, also an English-speaking country, she never learned to speak English. She spoke French, Spanish, German, and Russian fluently, read widely, and traveled extensively.
"As a small boy, I learned more from her as I stood on a chair beside the stove where she cooked than I ever learned in school," Uncle Louie continued. "She was a great cook and did a lot of the cooking for our family, when, as a widow, she lived with us." "I particularly enjoyed two of her specialties -- pate de fois gras, which was made with pork liver, and civet, a rabbit stew made with wild hare which had been marinated in dry red wine and spices for several hours before cooking."
Augustine was small in stature, only about 5' 3" tall, but she was buxom. Her only child weighed sixteen pounds at birth. She named the baby, Titania, after the character in Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream." While nursing this child, Augustine also served as a wet-nurse for another infant whose mother was unable to nurse her. (This practice is practically unheard of now, but was a rather common practice in those days.)
Uncle Louie recalled that during the time when he and his brothers were in their late teens and early 20's, his grandmother always waited up for them when they had been out for the evening. She would be reading as they trickled in one by one and then she would prepare coffee or hot chocolate and serve them each a piece of her special French tart.* Her grandsons always had stories to tell their grandmother and if some of them were a little racy, they always cleaned them up for her.
She was an avid reader and subscribed to two French newspapers, one from Canada and one from Lyons, France. In the early evening, most of the French immigrant women in Arnold, Pennsylvania, where they lived, would gather at Augustine's for her to read to them. The French newspaper printed continued stories and the French neighborhood women could hardly wait for Augustine to read the next chapter.
During the years when Augustine lived with her daughter's family, she especially enjoyed her son-in-law, John Baptist Stenger, who was as intellectually curious as she herself was. Uncle Louie remembered that as his father read the Pittsburgh daily newspaper in English, he translated it to French for his mother-in-law.
When my cousin, Jean (Uncle Louie's daughter,) and I went to the Union Cemetery in Arnold a few years ago to search for the burial place of this great-grandmother, the caretaker told us that the old section of the cemetery had been bull-dozed years before. Except for this ache in my heart, it is as if Augustine Rapp Caussin had never lived. No tombstone, no gravesite. But she was well-loved by her grandchildren who have also passed on and even by this great-granddaughter who never got to know her, except vicariously.
* Recipe for French Tart (sugar pie)
3 1/2 c. Flour
1 c. Butter (3 sticks)
3 t. Baking powder
4 egg yolks (fill remainder of cup with water)
Mix dry ingredients. Add well-beaten
yolks and water. Roll like pie crust. Fill with brown sugar and butter.
Bake @ 350 until golden brown.
Four generations: standing l. to
r. Titania Caussin Stenger; her daughter,
© 1996 Olga S. Hardman