All content on this blog is copyright by Marci Andrews Wahlquist as of its date of publication.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Grammy and that Pig

In 1942 when Lillie and Lloyd Read lived in Portland, Oregon, near Mt. Scott Park, their son Carl and his wife, Dorothy, were given a pig that Dorothy and Carl decided to raise as a pet. It was a cute little pig, and then a couple of years passed and it became a big pig that couldn't live in the city anymore. They gave the pig to Carl’s mother to take care of. 

Here are Lloyd, second from left, and Lillie,
right front, in 1942. Margie is fourth from right 
in the back, sitting on the car.
Lloyd had moved his family a lot in the past few years. Up until 1940, they had been living on the McMinnville farm that they’d bought from Lillie’s daddy. Then Lloyd traded the farm for a house with a couple of old-fashioned gasoline pumps out front and four or five tourist cabins out back, on the highway near Canby, Oregon. Lillie was very sorry to lose the little farm, but Lloyd had thought it was too much work for her. Why he thought a commercial gasoline station and tourist cabins were less work for her was always a mystery to everybody. Lloyd was away from home most of every week, as he was a railway mail clerk. The Canby place lasted a very short time. Then they moved back into Portland, to a tall, narrow house on SE Ellis, near the corner of 74th where the park was. Then when the war heated up, Lloyd became nervous about the port of Portland as a possible target for Japanese bombs, and he moved the family out to a 20-acre lot near Stafford, where they had two houses on the lower level land, and most of the rest of the twenty acres was a steep wooded hillside.

The pig got there and they had to make a pen for it by the house. But pretty soon the pig got out of its pen and was wandering around the front yard. Lloyd was home and Carl and Dorothy were visiting, and he hollered for Carl to come help him round up the pig. Dorothy and her sister-in-law Margie, who was 14, began watching from the front porch. The men had sticks that they tried to swat the pig with to get it to head back into the pen. Every time they did that, the pig would turn around and charge one or the other of them and they had to dive out of the way. Dorothy and Margie started to laugh at the spectacle. The pig decided to run around the outside of the pen. The more the men chased the pig, the more fun the pig had dodging this way and that, leading them all around the yard and up the hillside, and oh, just everywhere. Dorothy and Margie were soon laughing so hard they were gasping for air.

Lillie, hearing the commotion from inside, came out on the porch and asked what was going on. The two girls couldn’t speak, they could only point toward the hill as the tears ran down their cheeks. Lillie frowned. She put her hands on her hips, drew herself up to her full height (4 feet 10 inches) and said in the most exasperated tone she had, which was a considerable level of exasperation, “Oh! for heaven’s sakes!” Dorothy and Margie were completely overcome.

Lillie marched right out to the pig, grasped it firmly by the ear, and led it straight back into its pen with no trouble whatsoever. She shut and wired the gate with a Look that made Lloyd and Carl, who were both more than a foot taller than she was, appear to shrink several inches. Then she marched back to the house and across the porch, tossing over her shoulder, “Come girls, we have dinner to get on.” Dorothy and Margie followed, still gasping.

Photo credit: Richard Lutwyche

For further stories about my grandmother and her adventures, see the lists on my Munro and Read genealogy pages.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

How Mrs Worsley Went to Oregon

The family story was that in the spring of 1863 Barbara Worsley and her five children and some workers engaged to work for her husband in the mill he was founding in Brownsville, Oregon, sailed from New York to Panama, crossed the Isthmus by mule, and sailed up the Pacific Coast to Oregon. But I was reading a David McCullough book, Brave Companions, in which one chapter treats the Panama Railroad, a subject that I definitely read about in his great book The Path Between the Seas, and only just now did the penny drop; I realized that because the railroad was finished in 1855, of course Barbara and her party did not ride mules across the Isthmus after all.

So I started researching online records and found some facts upon which to hang my suppositions.

Barbara Worsley left Trenton, New Jersey, in June 1863 with her children, 13-year-old William, 11-year-old Benjamin, 6-year-old Sarah, 4-year-old Joseph, and 6-month-old Laura. On June 13th they embarked on the SS America, a steamship on The People’s Line, under Captain Jeff Maury. The ship’s passenger list shows “Mrs. Worsley and two children,” which probably meant that she paid the passage for herself, for Sarah, and for Joseph, and baby Laura went free because she had to be carried. Either the two older boys went with their father overland the summer before this, or they were among the 300 “other passengers” not named.

In 1863 the Panama Railroad had been operating for eight years, so Barbara and the children must have ridden the train from Colon to Panama City. The fare was exorbitant, $25 per person for first class, $10 per person for second class, with personal baggage costing 5 cents per pound. I don’t find that there were children’s rates or special fares, but there could have been something to mitigate the cost. Perhaps she had the money for the first class fares; I don’t know the Worsley family’s financial state in those years. The train ride took only four to five hours to cross the Isthmus rather than the four to eight days that the mule trains used to take (mules were used only for the final 20 miles of the trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific; the first part of the journey was in native dugout canoes navigating up the dangerous Chagres River). The railway, initially completed with nearly two hundred wooden bridges, had immediately been in the process of being upgraded so that all those bridges were rebuilt with iron. All the wooden trestles and all the pine ties had to be replaced with more permanent materials as well to withstand the tropical rains and heat. Passengers would have looked out on amazing jungle vistas in some places and in other places would have felt that they were traveling through tight green tunnels, so closely did the workers cut the vegetation so that the train cars barely fit. The noise, heat, clouds of mosquitoes and other insects, coal smoke, and intense humidity would have made their time in the tropics uncomfortable under the best conditions.

In Panama City they connected with the SS Moses Taylor, and in this ship they steamed up the Pacific coast, arriving in San Francisco on July 12, 1863. Despite their relatively short time down in Panama, Barbara was bitten by an infected mosquito and was incubating malaria. The disease can take from a week to a month before symptoms appear, depending on the health of the infected person and on the type of malaria it is. The CDC website says, “The shorter periods are observed most frequently with P. falciparum and the longer ones with P. malariae.” The malaria parasite infects blood cells and causes the production of substances that produce the fevers and chills that are the most common symptoms of the disease. Sometimes the infected cells no longer circulate freely but collect against walls of veins and cause other problems.

By the time they arrived in San Francisco, Barbara may have been suffering the first wave of the disease’s attack, with chills and fever, headaches and possible vomiting. These attacks classically recur every two to three days. She might have thought she had caught the flu and tried to wait until she was better. Otherwise, she might have still been symptom-free and could have immediately set sail for Oregon. As soon as she became ill, it must have become a nightmarish journey for her, trying to look after a growing baby and two small children. She would have had to rely on her six-year-old daughter Sarah to help as much as the little girl could.

She and her children arrived at the port of Marshfield in July or August 1863. Looking at the possibilities, I see that the Brother Jonathan was arriving in San Francisco from the northern ports every couple of weeks, which means it was regularly traveling back and forth; that could well be the steamer that let Mrs. Worsley and her children off at old Coos Bay. The mail would have allowed her to inform her husband of exactly when they were arriving, so he could well have met her at the city of Marshfield on the shores of Coos Bay. I hope he did meet her when they came off the boat!

(A sad note about the Brother Jonathan, in 1865 against her captain’s advice, by order of her owners she was overloaded at the port in San Francisco, and enroute to Portland, she struck a reef at Crescent City and sank with all 166 on board.)

To reach their new home in Brownsville, just north of Eugene, the Worsleys would have traveled by horse-drawn wagon. Today the drive is 142 miles; back then, it may have been about the same distance depending on which way the roads went, but of course what roads there were would have been quite primitive. Surely by the time they were in the wagon traveling to Brownsville, Mrs. Worsley was getting seriously sick.

Malaria had few treatments at that time and place. Quinine was known, but it was probably hard to come by in that area, if they even correctly diagnosed what was wrong with Barbara. The rigors of the journey surely sapped her strength, and without being able to rest and get better, she may have suffered from one of the common complications such as pneumonia or sepsis, or perhaps she had the more virulent form of malaria that attacks the brain and causes seizures, coma, and death. She suffered for several weeks at least, and probably for a little more than a month. By the end of the first week of September in Brownsville, she was dead, and the family was devastated.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Jessie Jane on Her Own Terms

This is a biography of one of my great aunts, colored by my imagination.

Jessie Jane Munro was born over in Oklahoma Territory, or maybe it was the State, she wasn’t sure ever afterwards. A strip of land along Oklahoma’s northern border had been sold by the Cherokee Nation to the United States Government for a price that of course was a steal on the part of the United States (and they didn’t even pay up until 1964). Jessie’s parents had joined a hundred thousand other folks charging into the territory on September 16, 1893.

The Munro family had come over from Arkansas on the east, and, not interested in staking a big land claim, Jessie’s daddy intended to open a cabinet and wood-finishing business in the little town of Newkirk, already laid out before the land rush began. He had learned the woodworking trade up north, in Wisconsin, and had come south to Arkansas when work turned scarce back home, but he hadn’t been finding things easy. There was also that little matter of his having deserted from the U.S. Army. He had to stay a step ahead of that thing.

Jessie’s mama had just discovered that she was expecting another little one when they had come over to get ready for the big land rush. She had had three children from her first marriage, but her eldest had died and her boy Sammy had run away from home when he was 10, unable to get along with his stepfather any longer. That left Annie, who turned 13 years old a couple weeks after the land rush started. Then there was Johnnie, her first with Jessie’s daddy; Johnnie was 9. The twins had lived only a few months, but then came Agnes, who was 5, May was 4, Claudy was 2, and Lillie turned 1 the week of the land rush.

It was exciting for Jessie’s mama and daddy to start a new venture. Daddy believed they would soon get rich. How could they not? All those settlers surely needed work-working done on their new homes and businesses. It was a perfect setup.

But the land rush was a huge disappointment in many ways for many people. To start with, there were many more settlers than opportunities. Many who tried to stake farm claims found the soil was thin and wouldn’t support what they wanted to do. Many who tried to start businesses based on settlers’ needs found that the settlers were dirt-poor and wouldn’t be in the market for anything remotely suggesting anything other than a dire need for years to come. Such was the finding of Daddy Munro.

Jessie was born in Newkirk six months after they landed there, and before another year passed, the family headed back to Little Rock, with Daddy hoping to get work back there, and if not, to be close to Mama’s sisters so they could help. He got hired by the railroad, finishing the passenger cars, and that paid pretty good for awhile. Their last daughter was born back in Little Rock on Christmas day 1895.

A year later when Jessie’s next-older brother Claudy died, she was still 2 and didn’t understand it very well. Claudy was playing with her and Lillie, and then he was sick and then not there anymore. Where was Claudy? Why couldn’t anyone explain to her?

Death came again the next year when Grandfather Munro died early in the spring. Jessie was almost 4, and she understood what Lillie meant when she said he had gone to heaven. Jessie went outside and looked up into the sky. Heaven was up there somewhere. She wondered if Grandfather were looking down at her and ran back inside just in case he remembered she had stolen his glasses that one time to play with, and they had broken.

Eleven months later Mama died. Everything was horrible after that. Annie moved out and got herself a job working in the Governor’s family as a servant. She didn’t like living with them anymore, even though Jessie and the other little girls loved her and wanted her to stay.

John was gone; he had gone blind from the bad pink eye and Daddy had enrolled him in the Arkansas School for the Blind in downtown Little Rock, and Johnny had to live there. Agnes was always arguing with Daddy, and he was always yelling at her. May did her best to take care of Lillie and Jessie and little Dodie, as they called Medora.

After Mama died, for a time Aunt Frankie took care of the little girls. They loved Aunt Frankie and Uncle George and Cousin Luther. Cousin Luther was Agnes’s age, but he played with them all and they loved him. They had to be careful what they said at home about Aunt Frankie’s house, because Daddy didn’t get along with her and Uncle George.

Jessie couldn’t help getting into trouble. It wasn’t that she wanted to, exactly, it just seemed like every good idea she had turned out to be wrong. It didn’t help that Lillie, just 18 months older, always seemed to do the right things. Lillie was truly good, and Jessie couldn’t understand how Lillie could continue to have faith and believe in prayer and things when nothing had helped Mama, or Grandfather, or Claudy before that.

Jessie (bottom right) and her sisters

When Jessie was 9, Daddy came home one day and announced that he had taken a job in Idaho and they were going there on the railroad. John was back home, cured of his blindness and with most of a high school education from his time at the School for the Blind. He wasn’t happy to leave their home, but he thought maybe he could get work too and help out more. He knew what a struggle their daddy was having. Agnes threw a screaming fit, declaring that she wasn’t going at all. But Daddy ordered her to get ready or get a whipping, and since by that time all the children were intimately acquainted with Daddy’s whip, she shut up.

The train ride was long, hot, and dirty. They arrived in Boise where Daddy bought a wagon and two horses for all their household goods. Jessie, Dodie, and Lillie got to ride in the wagon with Daddy, while May, Agnes, and John walked along beside as they went the ten miles further west to where the office of the Bureau of Reclamation was signing up workers for its Boise Reclamation project, which was building dams on the Boise River. Daddy and John were signed on and started work, just like that.

Jessie and Dodie sometimes were left in Lillie’s care as Agnes and May started in to set up housekeeping for the family. The older girls were only 15 and 14 and did their best, but Agnes resented everything and soon found a boy willing to listen to all her complaints. She was often absent when she was supposed to be home in charge of everything. May took up the slack, but she got pretty impatient with her little sisters who could be a handful, especially Jessie. Lillie could nearly always get Jessie into a better mood by telling stories, and Dodie, 7 years old then, was avid for any and all stories anybody could think up.

May was left to manage the household accounts, because if Agnes had charge of them, she spent every penny on herself regardless of consequences. May was often at her wits’ end to know what to do to buy food for her hungry sisters. Once she hit on the bright idea of disguising pennies as dimes by coating them in mercury and getting Dodie and Jessie to spend them for a few pieces of candy so that they could get the bona fide change. Daddy came home and found out his daughters were engaged in quite literal money laundering. Everybody got a whipping. May figured she’d better be more careful when she got any more bright ideas.

A very difficult year passed. Daddy couldn’t seem to hang onto any job. The next time Christmas rolled around, the only resemblance to the gift-giving season anybody got was Daddy packing the wagon with all their things. They were going to Oregon. He was sure he could get work there. Once more Agnes rebelled. She was going steady with a boy named Bill and she couldn’t and wouldn’t leave him, no matter what Daddy said or threatened. There were terrific fights, and on Christmas Eve, Agnes ran away with Bill.

Daddy, tight-lipped, went about finishing their preparations to leave. He and John tied up the wagon tight and hitched up the horses. They had an additional saddle horse, and John rode it while Daddy drove the wagon. Mostly the girls walked, but sometimes one or another of them got a ride up behind John on the saddle horse, and sometimes they also rode in the wagon.

They had gotten ten miles past Vale when they realized they needed some crucial supplies that they would have to buy back in the town. Daddy had everyone help set up camp, eat their noon dinner, and then he took the saddle horse to go back to town for the supplies, telling John and May to keep the wagon horses carefully hobbled and to watch over everything. He left his big revolver with John.

As soon as he was out of sight, John and May took the hobbles off the horses and had a glorious ride on them. They made Lillie promise to stay in the tent and tell stories to Jessie and Dodie. Jessie was furious. She wanted to go riding too. She didn’t see why she had to stay. She hated hearing the constant refrain, “You’re too little.” She was 10, nearly 11! Why couldn’t she go riding up behind John or May? That one of her sisters would have had to be left behind alone if they doubled up on the horses didn’t seem to register. In the end, John simply said, “No.”

But Lillie was telling good stories, and as usual, Jessie calmed down and entered into the spirit of things under Lillie’s influence. They had a wonderful afternoon. When the big kids came back, they had their supper all together in the tent and and sang until bedtime. Daddy would be back in the morning.

When they rose the next morning, John was aghast not to find the horses anywhere! He woke up May, and they began a furious argument over whether they had or had not hobbled the horses correctly. “Maybe it was thieves,” suggested Jessie. Nobody had heard anything. The worst thing hanging over them all was what they were going to tell Daddy. John and May made the younger girls all promise not to tattle on them about riding the horses.

Daddy got there midmorning, and the first thing he saw was that the horses were gone. He was pretty sure the children had disobeyed him and had ridden the horses around and not hobbled them correctly afterward. He didn’t really believe the story they told of silent thieves in the night. All of the children got a whipping on general principles, but they stayed loyal and nobody tattled. Then John and Daddy spent a fruitless full day looking for the horses and spreading the news of horse thieves back as far as Vale.

The weather had been pretty good, but it turned cold as they left. Daddy and John and May sorted all their goods and left behind everything they deemed unnecessary because of the weight. They hitched the one remaining horse to the wagon and Daddy drove it, but nobody else got to ride because of the weight. It was just as well, because walking kept the girls warm. There were a few places up in the McKenzie Pass as they climbed through the Cascade Mountains where Dodie had to ride because her short little legs couldn’t get through the snow. Daddy got down and led the horse in those places. Jessie wished she hadn’t grown so tall; she would have liked to have had an excuse to ride. Down they went on the western side, landing at Marshfield on the side of Coos Bay.

Daddy and John went out looking for work every day. Most days they were able to be hired somewhere, doing anything available. On days when they didn’t get work, they came back to camp and worked on improving it. Daddy got old scrap lumber and laid a board floor first thing, because the girls first of all wanted out of the mud. Later he put up walls to replace the tent sides and got a piece of tin for the roof. May and John wanted to go to Portland. There would be far better opportunities there, but Daddy put his foot down. Agnes had run away and it made him worry no end about the rest of the girls. He didn’t want them in any big city with all its temptations, especially while that World’s Fair (the Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1905) was going on.

As soon as the Fair closed, Daddy was more than ready to agree to go to Portland. Agnes and Bill came and joined them there. Daddy took Bill and John with him looking for work. Often they would ride the rails, legally or under the cars, looking for work, sometimes not returning home for a few weeks at a time. Agnes bore two babies that died; then her third, a girl named Mary Agnes, came in August 1907 and lived. Thirteen-year-old Jessie was thrilled with the baby and happy as could be to take care of her, at least at first.

Eighteen-year-old May, in the midst of preparations for her marriage to Paul Rieboldt, was too busy and frankly tired of being saddled with yet more unwanted responsibility. She and Paul married in the fall of 1907 and she took on her own set of responsibilities, which were more to her liking.

Lillie had finished the 8th grade and got a job cleaning houses. She didn’t have time to take care of a baby full time, but after she finished work each day she took her turn.

Dodie was still in school, but Jessie was thinking she would quit. She would take care of the baby, she thought. The reality set in quickly that it wasn’t very easy. If Agnes were home, she bossed Jessie around, and Jessie resented it. But Agnes was increasingly not at home; she was looking for work. Her marriage to Bill was coming apart, and she knew she was going to divorce him as soon as she could find a job. Jessie was interested in boys, even more than Agnes had been at her age. She ditched school as much as she could, at first claiming she was needed at home, but increasingly Dodie and Lillie realized they had to take care of little Mary somehow between the two of them, because they did not know where Jessie was all day. They prevailed on May to come to the rescue, so she had Jessie come live with her some of the time.

In 1910 Agnes was divorced and living in a boarding house while working as a waitress. That fall Lillie got married to a very nice, very handsome young man with a lot of wavy black hair and beautiful blue eyes. May and Paul had a cute baby daughter. Dodie was going to high school and keeping house for their father. Jessie spent her time partly with May and Paul, helping with their baby, and partly at home, and partly running around with the boyfriend of the moment.

Then Jessie found a permanent boyfriend, Frank Allen. He thought Jessie was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. She really was beautiful, taking after her father’s side of the family with a long oval face, a classic nose, level brows over tilted almond-shaped eyes, and a full-lipped mouth. She didn’t look like any of her sisters who resembled their mother with round faces, large round eyes, and flat noses.

As soon as she turned eighteen, Jessie and Frank took the ferry across the river to Vancouver, Washington, and were married and away on their honeymoon, which consisted of a weekend in a small hotel and a quick move to a cheaper boardinghouse. Jessie loved being married. She loved escaping from the drudgery of the work she had had to do for her family. It was different doing chores with and for Frank, somehow. They always had fun together.

Their first son was born almost exactly a year later. They named him Cecil. Nineteen months later they had little Frank. Just a day short of exactly two years later, they had their first daughter, Thelma. Their second daughter, Hazel, was born 22 months after Thelma. Their third son, Gerald, came eighteen months after that, and their third daughter, Beatrice, followed in another 22 months.

Having six children in less than nine years was a lot of work for Jessie. They had lived in Vancouver where Frank worked at various manual labor jobs, then they had moved up the river a little ways to Camas where he found work in a paper mill. After the Great War (WWI) they had moved back across the Columbia River to Portland where Frank found work sometimes on the docks, sometimes in the mills, and sometimes with various building contractors. The money was tight and Frank wasn’t a steady provider. Jessie grew restless.

Jessie made friends with a man named Timmons, and it led to a divorce from Frank around 1923. She married the Timmons man, but the relationship was fleeting. They were divorced shortly, and Frank tried again. Jessie agreed to remarry him in 1926, and they went to a preacher in the little town of Stevenson, up the Columbia River Gorge from Vancouver about 45 miles, across from the Cascade Locks. Their witnesses were Frank’s younger brother, Roy, and Jessie’s sister Dodie’s sister-in-law Gertrude Copeland.

Jessie’s sisters Dodie and Lillie couldn’t understand her inconstancy. They both had married steady men and stayed married to them for a very long time. Agnes understood better. She had admittedly made a mistake in running off with Bill when she was only sixteen, and she had had a few rather wild years looking for happiness; but then she had married a man she truly loved and they had had eight happy years together before he was killed in a tragic train accident. She had married a third time a few years later. May too, had had three marriages because she had been widowed twice. Paul, her first husband, had died of a fever, and so had her second husband, a merchant seaman in far-off Japan. John, their brother, was rather out of the picture by this time. He had married a truly snooty woman from Scotland who fancied herself a society woman, well above and better than her sisters-in-law. They tried to keep in touch, but Margaret wanted little to do with her husband’s family.

Lester Munro (center) and his daughters and their children, 1917
Left seated: Agnes; left back:May; center back: Lillie; right back: Jessie,
holding her daughter Thelma and son Frank standing in front
of her (son Cecil is on Grandpa's lap, left); right seated: Dodie.

Jessie’s youngest child, Beatrice, was four when her parents remarried. The marriage didn’t last; within two years Jessie was marrying a Hungarian immigrant named Alexander Kiss. Alex was divorced from his first wife and was working as a laborer in Vancouver while Jessie had been living in Portland. They were married in Vancouver by a Christian minister, with Jessie’s sister Lillie as one of their witnesses. Lillie was hoping her sister would settle down, but it didn’t work out that way. Jessie and Alex were soon divorced, and Jessie’s choices of men became increasingly worrisome.

The Munro sisters were intensely loyal to one another as grown women. During the 1920s and early 30s they met often at their father’s farm near McMinnville and had huge annual picnics there that lasted three or four days. Their children constantly visited their cousins back and forth. Nobody ever was sure how many of the cousins were going to gather at any particular sister’s house for Sunday dinner. It was a fun time, when they could all be together often.

Daddy’s bones ached in the winter, and May convinced him to move south with her and her husband. They settled in San Diego, and Lillie and her husband bought the farm and continued the picnic traditions.

Jessie met a man named George Downing whose children were of a similar age to hers. They were married in Yamhill County, most likely at the McMinnville farm, or else at the home of a nearby preacher. Jessie and George’s life together was as rocky as any of her previous marriages, but somehow she was past the age when she wanted to look elsewhere, and so was George. They fought and stuck together for over ten years.

It didn’t help that George was decidedly a dicey character. Born George Edgar Putnam in Kansas in 1888, he and his parents had moved slowly westward, and he was working as a lumberjack in Washington when he had to register for the draft in 1917. He married a girl named Edith Grace Welch two years later, and they had a number of children. They lived in Canada for a year, then they moved to southern California, and within another year they moved back to Washington. After their last child was born in 1928, George sort of disappeared and resurfaced six years later with a new name, George Arthur Downing, divorced, with the same children as George Putnam. Very curious. One corroborating piece of evidence is his daughter Edith’s marriage record. It clearly states that she is the daughter of Edith Grace Welch, and the record shows that she was born the same day and place as the daughter of George Putnam. But her marriage record states that her father’s name is George Downing, even though her name is Edith Lorraine Putnam. Why George changed his name is a mystery.

Jessie’s children had begun to marry and to give her grandchildren. In 1940 when Jessie and her youngest two children, Gerald and Beatrice, were living with her and George Downing and several of his children, Jessie had four grandchildren: Barbara Jean, age 2, Cecil’s only child; Susan, age 3, Frank Jr.’s daughter; Richard F King, age 4, and Jessie Marie Dakin, age 1, Thelma’s two children.

Jessie, flanked by her little girls in about 1947
In the early 1940s Jessie’s two younger children grew up and moved away. Five more grandchildren were born in the 1940s. Jessie had her granddaughter Susan living with her, and then she took in two young women she knew who had both become pregnant. Both bore daughters in early 1945 and left them with Jessie to rear. The girls were often dressed as twins and called Jessie “Mama.” When one of the mothers of these girls asked for help a few years later, Jessie took the little girls to California to help out. In early September she enrolled the little girls in first grade at the local school and watched over the little boy still too young to go to school. But Jessie’s health had been deteriorating steadily for some years by then. On September 26th the girls came home from school to find their mama dead at the kitchen table.

The parents of the one little girl kept her with them. George Downing came down and took the other little girl back to Washington. She stayed in Thelma's home for awhile. Then she was delivered to Jessie's sister in Oregon, the one Jessie had asked to take care of the girl if the need should arise.

Jessie Jane Munro Page Timmons Page Kess Downing was just 57 years old when she died.

She had one more granddaughter born after she was gone.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Times Fails Thomas S. Monson

Never did I ever think I would agree with Donald Trump on anything major, nor on anything I thought was silly, such as his constant criticism of the New York Times. But my Church president died last week, and when I read his obituary in the Times, I was shocked to find that I felt that the obituary’s writer and the editorial staff in charge of such things had failed the standards of mainstream journalism in favor of sensationalism. Could Donald Trump be right? Yikes.

President Thomas S. Monson, late prophet and leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was known internationally as a humanitarian figure. Yet the obituary in the Times takes 21 paragraphs to highlight the failures of the Mormon church and its leader to ordain women and to accept same-sex marriage, before the obituary even begins to mention the vital facts of the man’s life. Someone on Twitter mentioned that this obituary was not nearly as kind to its subject as was the obituary for Fidel Castro. What a concept!

There’s a scripture in Isaiah that says a time will come when the wisdom of the wise will fail and the understanding of the prudent will be hid, and things will be turned upside down (see Isaiah 29). This is what I think about this obituary: that a fundamentally good man is treated as if he were the evil one, and his good works, while not precisely hidden, are not mentioned until paragraph 25, well below where one would expect a fair and impartial journalist to balance his article with their placement. I wonder if those kinder paragraphs are even included in the print version. I bet they were cut because of space issues. So all that people reading the print version would see were the controversy. Maybe it sells papers, but it is not fair and balanced journalism.

But even as late as he mentioned Thomas Monson’s regular visits to 85 widows and weekly letters to 23 servicemen serving in Korea while a bishop in the early 1950s, the writer of the obituary included only one other solid fact of humanitarian service in paragraph 27: “Awaiting his turn for the presidency, he embraced humanitarian causes with Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups supporting homeless shelters, food banks, nursing homes and disaster relief efforts in the United States and abroad.” I take exception to the modifying introductory clause, “Awaiting his turn . . .”, since it is misleading. Thomas Monson was not waiting to be president of the LDS Church. Without getting into a lengthy explanation of how presidents are chosen in this church, let me just say it’s not a sure thing that anyone will be president, even the so-called second in line. So he simply lived as he thought he was supposed to: in service to humankind. That is another fact that this sentence in paragraph 27 hid: that most of Thomas Monson’s service was personal, one-on-one, not part of multi-faith group efforts as though he couldn’t be bothered to start anything himself nor do anything himself. Where is a mention of his nearly daily visits to people in hospitals? Where is any description of the countless humanitarian works that *just* the LDS Church did under his leadership?

My own Thomas S. Monson story is that when I worked for the Church as an editor in charge of various pieces of curriculum, I was doing a project to produce a welfare booklet one time, and Thomas S. Monson was the advisor. I had final say over the design, the text, and all the aspects of printing, but he would give approval from the ecclesiastical side. The designer worked with me to come up with the colors and graphics, and we thought we had a lovely piece at the end of all our work. But President Monson’s word came back to us: “No, this won’t do.” He was concerned about the colors and about the audience of the text. He said that elderly people with vision problems wouldn’t be able to read colored print on even light-colored background easily. I looked into it and of course he was right. Readability does deteriorate with less contrast between words and background, and the greatest readability remains black text on white background, with a serif font. He asked us to redesign, which of course we did, and we were impressed that he was so concerned with the minority of the target audience who might have vision problems.

In my interactions with him (and others in the highest leadership) I was personally impressed with his personal goodness. Thomas Monson sincerely loved the Lord and wanted to do what He wanted him to do, as best as he could.

I never was treated as less than an equal by any of the highest leadership when I was working there. A few in lower positions were annoyingly backward for the times, but they were paid employees, not ecclesiastical leaders. It’s a slow thing to effect blanket social change, and to change a religion is fraught with difficulty, especially when the religion relies on actual revelation. We get personal revelation all the time, but for the entire church, the revelation has to come through the prophet. Those of us who are faithful and believe wholeheartedly in this truth wait for the Lord’s timing, and His timing is different from the world’s. I don’t know what will happen about gays and about women in leadership, but I do know that the Lord is ultimately and absolutely fair, and when we get to the other side of mortality, we’ll all say, “Oh, so that’s how it works. I see. Right!”

Meanwhile, rest in peace, Thomas S. Monson, and may your grieving family be blessed with peace.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Images

My sister-in-law taught me the art of decorating a Christmas tree with all the ornaments possible for a tree to hold. I have three large apple boxes of ornaments and all three boxes are stuffed full. Everything in them goes on my Christmas tree every year. I used to have a nine-foot tree (we bought an artificial tree after years of real trees that were increasingly dried out, and we decided that contributing to the growing and cutting of real trees, especially when they were cut as early as midsummer, was not a good thing). The ornaments used to fit comfortably on that tree.
That tree wore out after almost twenty years and the tree we bought to replace it is seven feet tall. I still put every ornament we own on it. Here is what it looks like, basically, from a few years ago. Pretty full, huh?

I love taking out the ornaments and looking them over. Each has a memory attached to it, whether it was something from my childhood, from my husband's childhood, or was given to us by one or another of our family members or friends, or was made by or for one of our children, or was one of the ornaments I used to buy every year from a special store we used to visit each Christmas season, I go through all those memories as I decorate the tree.
Shell fish from Auntie Vi

Some of our many nativity-themed ornaments

Swan from that glass-blower in Scotland .  .  .

Glass violin from 75 years ago

The tree my mother made, and the figures that
remind my husband of his years in Germany

Ho ho ho. Here I am in the Harlequin ball

My teapot collection

The train collection because my son loved trains

Another nativity, and all those apples my daughter loved

My sister-in-law gave me lots of gold things, such as this
Noah's Ark. My mother and I attended a Christmas party
thirty-some years ago in Oregon where I got a set of these
Renaissance angels

Look out, you mice, that cat is watching

One of my mother's nativities

This was from that Christmas shop

Because every tree needs a glass pickle

The partridge from the Christmas shop,
with his expensive gilded pear

The last set of glass ornaments I gave my parents the year
that we had to move them to my house and they didn't get
to be home for Christmas even though their tree was up

The set of drums is about 80 years old now

I put the oldest glass ornaments inside the tree for safety

My sister-in-law always has a live tree. Her friends from Montana used to go out and get her a tree and bring it all the way here. Those friends have since died, and one of the children still runs a Christmas tree lot locally every year. I think they still get her a tree, but it is never as fresh as in years past. Here are a few of her things from the tree last year.
The 2016 tree

She collects stacking dolls

An interpretation of the
partridge in the pear tree

Nothing like a carriage drawn by horses

Her tree is always full of pretty things

Every Christmas she fills the shelf above the piano with stacking dolls, about thirty sets or more I think. Many of them are Christmas themed, but a few are out all year. The largest stand about a foot high, and the smallest are smaller than a grain of rice. Because I love her stacking dolls, I want to include some of them here.
This is the largest set
A cute take on Father Christmas
Winter ladies and one of the tiny sets
The tiny set, close up
One snowman set, with a pen for perspective
Here are the two snowmen sets, with the smallest of each the size of a seed
You have to see those smallest snowmen magnified!
Understandably, my sister-in-law gets very nervous when the younger relatives come over and want to unpack these snowmen. She is sure somebody some day is going to lose the littlest members of the set. She herself never unpacks them anymore; she says her hands are no longer steady enough.

Now here are some of the sets she has given me over the years.
Not the nutcracker. That was from a friend. She gave my son the Irish-
themed Father Christmas set the year he chose Ireland for us to visit.
These are first set she gave me, and they are all wooden bells.

Another Father Christmas set.

Well, Santa has nine reindeer, but who is here besides Dasher, Dancer,
Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen?
Surely Rudolph would not disguise his nose?

She found this Jim Shore nativity set to add to my collection.

I appreciate Santa and Father Christmas figures for the gift tradition that is tied to the religious Christmas story, but since I am religious myself, I like best to have Christian nativity figures as decorations all around my house. My mother started me collecting nativities (some people call them creche sets), and now that she lives with me, together we have dozens. Here are few images of our sets.

I love Christmas. I love to think about the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who came into the world as a tiny babe, willing to undergo all that mortality entailed in order to fulfill the will of the Father in all things. Because He came, because He completed His full mission, including the Atonement for our sorrows and sins, He knows how to succor us in all our trials and troubles, and He can heal us from everything we suffer in this life. Nothing can be outside His experience; we literally cannot get beyond His grace unless we simply choose to separate ourselves from Him. He will never interfere with our ability to choose. I choose Him, and though I am inevitably flawed, I know that in Him I have a chance to realize perfect happiness. Therefore, I wish you a happy Christmas.