When I grow tired and weary of the pandemic stress we’re going through ~ when things look like they won’t get any better … I try to remember what this little girl went through in her life time and it puts it all in perspective.
The little girl in the cute “big” hat was Eunice Ann Reed – she was my grandma. The little boy she’s holding hands with was her brother Bobby who was a year older. She would have turned 116 today.
They were born in 1903 & 04 in a small town called Lamont just after the Cherokee Land rush in Oklahoma, which was 14 years after the Sooners came and 2 years before an Irish-born cook named Mary Mallon went to work for a wealthy Banker in New York City… and people started getting sick. Her name would forever be known as Typhoid Mary.
When Eunice was nine they moved to a bigger town in Oklahoma where their father Alpheus Scott Reed partnered with an Uncle in a lumber business in Eufaula. The population was about 474. They lived up over the office until their Father could build a house. She and her brother loved climbing over stacks of lumber and digging into the tar barrels and chewing it! When the house was finished it had a lovely yard, a garden a barn with a cow and lots of chickens that she loved to feed. But after a year and half her Father realized he was not meant to be a farmer, so when her mother became ill, they left dry dusty Oklahoma and moved west to the cooler shores of Coronado California.
Her father worked in a small grocery store and her mother taught piano lessons in their home, even doing so from her lounge when she was sick. Eunice learned to sew and cook under her mother’s guidance even though she was bed ridden most of this time.
Life became lonely there especially since she wasn’t allowed to go out by herself and her brother was gone most of the time helping after school in the grocery store. They were able to have a woman come in and help with the house work once in a while, but most of the time 13 year old Eunice did the bed making, dish washing, along with a lot of the cooking and cleaning.
In 1916 when Eunice was 12, polio invaded the U.S. It not only crippled bodies but also minds with paralyzing fear. This was just about the same time that she was sent to a boarding school in St. Louis Missouri. It turned out to be a sort of detention home for wayward girls so her pleas to her father along with the threat of this awful disease, brought her back home after just a few months.
The U.S. entered WWI that next year, followed closely by the Spanish Flu in 1918, which killed more than the war did. Coronado became a hub of activity during this time. When the Naval Air Station at the northern end expanded its operations building a tent-covered compound known as “Camp Trouble”, it was time for the Reeds to leave. They moved to Prescott Arizona, once home to one of the famous Earp brothers and Doc Holliday, where Eunice finished high school.
The 1920’s came “Roaring” in with folks going wild celebrating the end of fighting along with the end of quarantine. Prohibition began and we were introduced to men like Al Capone and Eliot Ness. The 20’s also gave women in the right to vote!
By this time Eunice had completed courses at Arizona’s Normal School in home economic and English, intending to become a teacher. But all that changed one day at the post office entry when she and her best friend Ruth literally ran into a man coming up the steps named Gene Phelan. He was tall and very handsome with flirty blue eyes, and best of all … he had a car (!!) and offered them a ride home. Her world definitely took another direction!
They married on January 1st, 1924 and though incredibly happy, talking both their families into accepting it had not been easy. Hers thought Gene was not suitable since he was 13 years older, but the worse opposition was from his family of staunch Irish Catholics. Since Eunice was non-Catholic, they had not been allowed to marry in the Church, so they married in the rectory parlor instead, which proved a great disappointment to both families.
Gene became a Deputy Sheriff in Flagstaff and Eunice became a mother that next year. Emily Anne was the first of 7 children and the only one born in a hospital. My mother Ruth Genevieve, named after her best friend and favorite song title, was born the next year. Gene Scott was born two years later which put my grandma in the hospital for several days after a hard delivery. Robert Francis came next in 1930 then a set of twins – Thomas Andrew and Patricia Lue in 1931. The doctor was scrubbing up when my grandpa yelled “Doc I caught the first one but you’d better hurry – there’s another one coming!”. William Edward came early one cold December day and was put aside in a shoebox on the warm hearth, while they were busy saving my grandma who had almost died. They had been so busy with her, probably packing her in snow to stop the bleeding, that they had neglected the baby who was so small that they feared he wouldn’t make it and were startled by his sudden cry. Surprisingly that tiny baby boy later grew to be over 6 foot 6 inches tall! There was a final set of twin girls born in 1940 but was too painful for them to talk about due to the babies not surviving.
Grandpa referred to all the boys as his ‘Pards’ but had special nick names for Ruth and Pat known as Mickey and Pinky. During this time of family growth there were layoffs and financial uncertainties due to the crash of 1929. Granddad took any job that was available … he was a game warden, an undertaker and a night watchman for the Santa Fe. Grandma was very frugal and knew how to stretch whatever they had to make ends meet. She canned, made rhubarb, snapped peas and churned butter. She sewed all their clothes and saved every scrap of fabric to braid into colorful rugs. She once told me when making the girl’s clothing … she ‘loved’ the color RED and granddad was ok with the girls wearing it – when they were young, but NOT when they were teenager and definitely not on his wife! Red was for hussy’s and he didn’t want to see it on any of his girls.
During the 1930’s the Depression sent many men west seeking work, most catching rides on freight trains rolling from Chicago to Los Angeles. One of Granddads jobs was to keep the hobos off the trains, but he had a real compassion for them also. My grandma knew that any time there was a knock at the back door that he had sent another one to do some chore in exchange for a bowl of soup and crust of bread. The children were all taught to be respectful but also stay at a distance. Granddad told them the hobos were mostly good men, just down on their luck. At night you could sometimes hear the bantering and songs from their camps down by the rails, with the sweet mournful sound of a harmonica as they sang songs like Woody Guthrie’s –
Go to sleep you weary hobo
Let the towns drift slowly by
Can’t you hear the steel rails hummin’
That’s the hobo’s lullaby
I know your clothes are torn and ragged
And your hair is turning gray
Lift your head and smile at trouble
You’ll find peace and rest someday
Now don’t you worry ‘bout tomorrow
Let tomorrow come and go
Tonight you’re in a nice warm boxcar
Safe from wind and snow
So go to sleep you weary hobo
Let the towns drift slowly by
Listen to the steel rails hummin’
That’s a hobo’s lullaby
While living in Seligman grandma was pregnant with her youngest son when Black Sunday’s Dust Storm of April 14, 1935 hit the middle of the country. And even though that storm didn’t reach her family she remembered many other sandstorms that did, and talked about how she would have the children tie wet gunny sacks around their face to help keep from breathing in the fine sand or having it burn their eyes. After the storm they look like ghost with skin covered in white dust and they had to use a shovel to clean it out of the house.
New prosperity came to the country in the late 1930’s with the paving of Route 66. It employed thousands working on road gangs, opening the way for small motels and cafes to spring up providing comfort for all the weary travelers. They had hope that things would soon be looking up.
The 1940’s brought the U.S. entry into WWII along with the first test of an atomic bomb in Alamogordo, New Mexico, just a short distance from where they were living in Winslow Arizona. It also brought the death of their first-born son when he was just 12 years old. He was hit by a car and killed riding his bike working at his first job delivering groceries. The tragedy was compounded by the couple driving the car was on their honeymoon and Gene Scott dying on Father’s Day.
After Gene’s death grandma needed a change so granddad took her to his hometown of Albuquerque to get away for a while. She ended up loving it there, so he put in for a transfer. Their 2 oldest finished high school at St. Vincent Academy … this is where Emily met and became intrigued with the nuns. After graduation in 1942, she left to live with her dad’s sister Grace in Wichita, hoping to work in an airplane factory so she could afford college. But as always, life has a way of interfering at times. Instead of getting a job she was introduced to the Sisters of Charity and decided to join the order to further her education at their convent. When hearing this grandma promptly sent granddad and daughter Ruth to go fetch her home. A feat they sorely failed to do, for after 78 years – she’s still there!
The Santa Fe transferred granddad to Goffs, a tiny railroad town in California with little there except for a critical water stop for the steam engines. Housing for the rail families was very minimal with no frills, but grandma could always ‘make do’. When the heat became oppressive, she’d hang wet cloths over the windows and run fans to help cool the house and keep the dust down … but sheets wouldn’t keep the critters out so the kids were forever watchful of those that might wonder in.
The 1940’s brought about the winds of another change for the family. Ruth was very lonesome without her big sister, but one-night granddad brought a young Santa Fe engineer home for dinner named Bob Dewsnap, who completely swept her off her feet. They were married on June 13th, 1946 in Las Vegas.
Grandma’s life was never easy especially with all the moving and my granddad away a lot. When he went to Kingman for Police training with the FBI in May of 1947, she was left to take care of the 4 youngest alone out in the middle of nowhere. So as he became a Special Officer for the Santa Fe, she moved the family to Needles where the kids could go to high school. Robert, who had had rheumatic fever when he was younger, was now “feeling his oats” and running wild. Granddad thought joining the service would be the answer … which Bob did but took his younger brother with him, which devastated grandma. It was 1950 and the Korean War had just started. Bob served in the Navy and Tom in the air force.
When they safely returned home 2 years later, a young man named Elvis was just getting going and would soon issue in a new era … he was later to be known as “The King of Rock and Roll”.
They settled in the Reno area and shortly after Bill joined his brothers, so grandma’s house was now empty. Tom met a sweetheart, got married and had a baby girl … but he soon got sick when he developed Hodgkin’s disease. He was suffering greatly when the family rallied at the hospital. Tom was just 28 when he asked for Bob to come into his room … just a few minutes passed when he came out letting them know Tom had died. No one knows for sure, but all suspected that Tom had asked for help in ending his suffering.
Grandma also saw her last son suffer, dying when he was only 58 from prostate cancer. Her youngest daughter was stricken with cancer also just a few years later and ended up dying at 59 one week after my grandma.
So yes, my grandma saw a lot of hardship and strife, but she was forever and always making lemon-aid out of lemons and never crying over spilt milk as she used to say. She always wore a smile and wasn’t afraid to try anything. If ever she had ridden a roller-coaster, she would have been in the front seat with her arms held high!
They got their first color TV set in 1968 – Jackie Gleason’s “The Honeymooners” was one of her favorites along with “I Love Lucy” and she never missed a Saturday night with Lawrence Welk.
She saw the KKK and Civil Rights movement.
She saw a President assassinated and one resign.
She saw man walk on the moon and later saw her son make valves for one of the Apollo missions.
She lived through the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War.
She was 64 before taking her first airplane ride.
The first movie she ever saw was The Sound of Music with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in 1965, the second and last was Camelot with Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave when her granddaughter Suzi took her in 1967.
She saw 10 grandchildren born and held one up so high she feared she’d fall off that pedestal … I was that child and tried to balance her on that same high platform.
When granddad became sick needing to live in a convalescent home, grandma would cook supper for him every single day. On September 25th 1976 she walked into his room greeted by a sparkling smile as he reach up to give her a kiss, said “I love You” … then died in her arms. A beautiful end for the love of her life.
After that she started wearing Red! She was buried in a red dress on the first week of January in 1990. At her funeral there was a Priest, a Cardinal and a Bishop officiating. That’s pretty darn good for a non-Catholic!!