Could quinine have caused more than just deafness? It may have cured you of Typhoid, but could it have caused some lasting emotional or mental problems also??
Henrietta was born January 19, 1902 in Williams, Territory of Arizona, eldest child to Edward Francis and Sarah Esther (Harris) Phelan. The family later moved to Needles, and then to Compton, California. Henrietta called her parents Ed and Eddie although Sarah was commonly known as Etta.
At the time of Henrietta’s birth Ed was working in one of his brother James’s stores in Williams. Her father who was about 15 years older than her mother had a serious drinking problem but he borrowed the money from his youngest sister Grace Elizabeth Phelan (Lockridge) and ‘took’ the Keeley Cure successfully. This time frame is unclear.
Before her parents marriage he was a member of an outlaw gang in New Mexico, when he courted her mother he promised to ‘hang up his pistols’, a promise that he later broke to protect his youngest brother John Phelan. Seeing her mother cry over this broken promise was very devastating to Henrietta.
Edward was severely hurt while training a young horse to pull a buggy; he had to have his severely damaged hip pinned together. Later he worked at Forest Lawn and there were other jobs as well but he had little education, started out life being born in a mining camp in Colorado where his father was a soldier in the Union army deployed to protect the miners from the Indians.
Her mother, who was born and raised in New Mexico, was very frail with a serious heart condition brought on by childhood whooping cough, as there was little money and none for hired help their home was not always clean.
Until the birth of her brother Lawrence when she was eight years old Henrietta had been her father’s pride and joy. Imagine her feelings once there was a boy in the home there was little attention paid to her by her father.
She often lived for long stretches of time with her grandmother Sarah Ann Harris (Simmons) who was to say the least not at all fond of her son-in-law. In spite of being a practicing Catholic, Grandma Simmons fought with the priests over birth control as she was a midwife and saw what numerous babies could do to families. She probably influenced Henrietta’s feelings toward her father. Henrietta maintained that she didn’t like him, yet took his middle name as her confirmation name and used it as her legal name. She was very ambitious for a teenager of her time and wanted an education. Her father said that girls did not need to go to high school, should stay home and help the family (unpaid maid). From this point on she didn’t really live with her parents as she moved in with a baker’s family so she could work very early mornings and was an usher at a major theater in the evenings. She did not desert her family as she contributed a lot of her earnings to them. She finished high school in three years, never making less than what is now considered a ‘B’.
By the time she was 19 there were four more children born to the family, Lawrence Emerson, Leroy Anthony, Virginia Elizabeth and Camille Florette (sometimes spelled Camelle). Henrietta was allowed to name both her sisters. She thought Virginia a wonderful addition to the family but by the time her mother was pregnant with Camille she was embarrassed (typical teenager?) and angry at her father as her mother’s health was rapidly failing. Camille was a 2 pound preemie and it was a wonder that she lived but due to their grandmother’s skill as a mid-wife she did. However their mother did not live long after the birth.
Her brothers remained with their father to grow up in a motherless home. Henrietta, following a promise to her mother, brought her younger sisters to Arizona. With the help of Aunt Grace caring for the two younger girls she attended Arizona State Teacher’s College and received her two year Normal School Teaching Certificate. After her graduation she taught school at Anita, Arizona a very small town near Williams, Arizona – it was described as a ‘whistle stop’ for the Santa Fe Railroad.
She maintained close ties with the Lockridge family and although courted by a very well to do but nameless Flagstaff man she was also courted by a handsome young friend of Sherman and Grace Moore, Aunt Grace’s oldest daughter. (James) Albert Smith, formerly of Cortez, Colorado and Henrietta were married in Flagstaff, Arizona when she was 23 and he was 24. At that time he was stationed at the Phantom Ranch, speaking fluent Navajo, as did all his siblings, he was at that time crew boss building and maintaining trails in the Canyon.
There was a very strange law in Arizona at the time of their marriage that a man teacher could be married but a woman teacher could not but through their gracious (and probably to their benefit) the school board allowed her to finish teaching until the end of that school year.
Friday evening the young bride would take the train from Williams to the Grand Canyon where she would walk to the Phantom Ranch by herself with her flashlight showing the way. Sunday afternoons she would ride her small horse Snowball to the top of the rim and return to Williams to teach until the following week end. The next ranger making the trip would return the horse to it’s pasture
Henrietta’s first pregnancy, a boy, ended in a miscarriage, her second produced their first daughter, Alberta Theodora, who was born in 1926 in Hollywood, California at the Simmons’s home where Great Grandmother helped save the child’s life as she would have strangled on the cord. Great Grandmother did not have a lot of use for doctors as she had seen so many make terrible mistakes.
Sometime after Alberta’s birth but before the birth of their first son they moved to Scottsdale, Arizona and tried cotton farming in partnership with Albert’s brother Jess. This was a failure not only financially, but Henrietta had to take Alberta to live in Flagstaff with the Claude Phelan family as she was not thriving in the terrible heat. Evaporative coolers were not invented until some time in the 1940s.
Returning to the Grand Canyon, Lewis Daniel Smith was born in 1929 at the North Rim; he was a large (10#) healthy child. Unfortunately, while he was crawling and still nursing Henrietta, Virginia and Camille, who was by then called Tommie, all contracted Typhoid from a lady dude. Virginia and Tommie recovered pretty well, but Henrietta was dying. A decision was made to overdose her with quinine in a last ditch effort to save her life even though the doctor knew and Albert was told that it would leave her totally deaf. Later the nurses showed her the hospital chart where the doctor had written ‘will not live until morning’. People were wonderful and helpful at this time and while she was recuperating in the hospital in Tuba City, Lewis was made a bed in a large cardboard box that was placed in the hospital kitchen. He soon learned to rock the box until it turned over and he would crawl down the hall to his mother’s room.
In 1931 another baby boy was born to this young family, Jesse Russell Smith was born in Kayenta where Albert was now working for the Wetherill family, guiding and packing for dudes and archaeologists. There had been worries that this child might not be healthy due to his mother’s severe illness. He was thin and finally had to be fed goat’s milk due to intestinal problems, but basically was a normal child.
The final addition to the family, Barbara Jane (Bobbie), a second daughter and large and healthy (9#) was born in 1933 at the Tuba City hospital, although the family was still living in Kayenta.
Besides working his regular job Albert bought mules deemed unsafe for tourists, he broke them and traded them to the Navajos. He also worked sometimes in trading posts when the owners needed to be away. His sister Jane and her husband John Taylor owned one of these trading posts.
Albert at nineteen had a fall while riding a mule on one of the Bernheimer expeditions; they fell 30 feet from a trail. He didn’t think he was hurt other than a few scrapes and bruises but when he would have a variety of physical problems over the following years they were attributed to this fall. He was even examined by a well known eastern physician who thought there might be an undiagnosed back injury. Further diagnoses proposed practically ranged from A to Z.
Albert’s condition continued to deteriorate until he was bed-ridden for several months with total paralysis from his waist down. He was also having severe problems due to depression and probably the lesions on his brain from the undiagnosed MS.
Unable to hear Henrietta was lucky to become a cook for the Wetherill’s. Their two adopted Indian daughters, Betty and Fanny were her helpers. They had to work long, hard, hours, breakfast through dinner, to provide the kind of food to be served to the dudes and archaeologists. Some of the guests included minor European royalty, poets, authors and artists. Young Virginia had the total care of the three older Smith children, cleaning and cooking while Tommie was Bobbie’s loving caregiver.
Three months before Albert’s death he was taken to the Prescott area by his older brother Jess to see if there was any help for his medical condition. Unfortunately not, as he died at the age of 35 1/2 of MS. As Henrietta had to keep working to provide for her six dependants there was no way she could be with him during this time.
He was buried in an unmarked grave in Flagstaff’s Citizen’s Cemetery.
After Daddy died our family moved to Williams for a short while and then on to Flagstaff where mother first rented a small house and later, probably 1937 or 8, bought a small frame house on Cherry Avenue from the Lindemann family. This was a sturdy little two bedroom house with a wood burning heater in the living room and a wood burning cook stove in the kitchen. Mother always let the fires burn out in the evening as earlier in their married life their home on the reservation burned and they lost almost all their possessions. The house was so cold at night in the winter there was ice on the windows and never enough blankets to keep warm. The last time I was in Flagstaff the house was still there so it must have been well constructed.
Mother was able to buy the house with an insurance policy Daddy had but imagine her surprise when she discovered that he had borrowed on the policy to loan money to his brother Jess for one of his projects. She was very angry but never ceased to love her brother-in-law as he did his best always to help. She was very angry at her deceased husband as she felt he should have known better. She seldom remembered the good parts of their life and seemed especially resentful that I looked and acted just like my father, due to this fact when I misbehaved the beatings were even worse.
We all learned very young to chop wood and break up coal for our heating and cooking. Surviving was done one day at a time as Mother washed people’s laundry on a wash board, cleaned their homes acted as a server at their dinners and parties. I spent many miserable hours hanging out frozen laundry when I was just a tiny child. I vividly remember the wooden box I had to stand upon. The older children were at school and as this may sound like child abuse it was survival. I understood if we didn’t work there would be no food. There was never any extra food in our quite large pantry, no snacks for in between meals. I can remember my mother counting out seventeen cents to me and I would go to Babbitt’s grocery store where that paid for enough wilted vegetables and a knuckle bone so we would have hot soup for supper.
Mother never wanted a lot of children, if any at all, and it was unfortunate that her religion forbade birth control as she resented all but her first two pregnancies. Virginia and Tommie remembered vividly the fights by the young couple as she became colder and colder towards her young husband. Later she verbally blamed her younger children for being born during the depression etc. I can remember when I was a teenager I got tired of always putting my dad down and asked her why she married him. I’ll never forget that her answer was that she already had her two sisters to rear.
We were very good at hiding cuts and bruises and even fevers as mother would act as though we were deliberately making problems for her. If we were sick enough to complain we were put to bed in a cold bedroom and usually given a laxative (her cure all) or water with baking soda .How can I ever forget when my brothers accidently caused the sharp part of a trailer hitch to go completely through my foot? The treatment I received was very hot Lysol water–but it healed.
We learned never to be tattle tails as the punishment for that was worse than the punishment for the guilty person. She did not want to hear about our problems or troubles. If she found out that something bad had been done she didn’t try to find out who was responsible–we were all punished. When this happened it was seldom a whipping, we were grabbed by the hair and our heads beaten against the wall. Then we would get a long, long lecture about how we were going to be the death of her and then would be sent to an orphanage where we would really suffer.
Mother resented Tommie, the poor child was blamed for so many things along with the death of their mother. As a two pound preemie she had medical problems, had major surgery at five months and again at five years. Now she probably would have been diagnosed with one of the alphabet conditions. Mother was verbally and physically abusive to her, just as she was to all of us ,and the more abuse Tommie received the naughtier she became. Virginia was always trying to protect her. Tommie grew up to be a wonderful person, loved by all who knew her except my mother. She was cheerful, fun to be with and very outgoing. She eventually became a pediatric nurse and then entered St. Joseph’s Convent. She loved baseball and had several transistor radios taken from her as she would listen to games after lights out. When parents of her patients would hear about this she would be supplied with another radio. I have always felt that the unconditional love I was given by her helped keep me mentally balanced. My step-father commented to me more than once that the wrong sister became a nun.
Virginia was like a wonderful older sister but she had so much responsibility and work to do that she seemed like an adult at fifteen. She later married a wonderful man and had three great children to whom she devoted her life. As I was afraid of most men I was lucky to have her husband Lloyd in my life.
Aunt Jane Taylor offered to adopt me when my father died, Mother countered with Berta as she felt at that time, since they hadn’t left the reservation, that it would help to have Berta with an established family where she could attend school. They never resolved this issue but they had never like each other so what was one more thing?
Berta was taken to Hollywood to live with Great Grandmother Simmons shortly after Daddy died, as stated above the rest of our family finally moved to Williams and then to Flagstaff.
Luckily our house in Flagstaff was next door to William and Gladys Tinsley, They had no children and were very fond of and helpful to us, he was a professor at the college and it was probable that he helped Mother obtain the grant to complete her education and obtain a very unsatisfactory hearing aid as they were clumsy and picked up on every noise. Her hearing aid was a bone conduction and if she wore it for a few hours she developed a horrible raw sore behind her ear that took days to heal.
Virginia and Tommie moved to California to live with their brother Lawrence and his wife Pearl and to receive some much neglected education. They had been like wonderful older sisters to us and were greatly missed. Tommie was responsible for almost all of my care from the time I was born. Their replacement was to bring Berta to Flagstaff in 1938, imagine the excitement of meeting the train that was bringing our older sister home only to find that she didn’t like one thing about the new arrangement especially me.
Another move in 1940 took mother, my brothers and me to Red Rock near Sedona as she was to teach in a small country school, with her handicap she was limited to a one room school. She owned no car and there were no school buses so Berta, with the help of the Catholic Church and the Lindemann family was enrolled in St. Joseph’s Academy in Prescott for her freshman year of high school. She ran away to Red Rock and was returned to the school at least two or three times during the nine months.
Uncle Jess came to visit now and then, always bringing us something even if it was just some peaches from their trees. We spent Christmas with them in Sedona and he bought us our first western boots and Lee jeans. I don’t remember Berta being with us for that Christmas but she probably was.
The Red Rock teacherage was a two room shack, no utilities, kerosene lamps, no bathroom, shared the two outhouses with the school. Water was obtained with a hand pump at the bottom of the hill. Refrigerator was a wooden box in the window covered with burlap that had to be dampened frequently. There was a battery radio that was only used for the news and if she was in a very good mood we children could hear the comic papers read on Sundays. Mother continued to get more violent with us but whether no one noticed or cared who knows? Corporal punishment was a way of life in a lot of families and it was also the way she was raised. Most of the adult relatives admired her for her hard work but had their own problems. She was too proud to ask for help. Apparently she was afraid she might lose her job if she didn’t present a perfect picture no matter how hard it was on her family. A vivid memory is her extracting an infected molar from Jesse’s mouth using an old pair of pliers, he was only nine years old, tried to be brave but finally screamed and screamed.
When we lived in Red Rock and any boy needed to be disciplined he was sent to the wood pile to chop wood. There were nine boys and two girls in the school, we girls were both second graders. My brother Jesse was bribed to be the mother in our Christmas play, his reward was a quarter. It was at that time he learned that making people laugh was a good shield. Even our mother laughed when he came home swearing in a Norwegian accent after following our neighboring farmer around.
In 1941 Jesse and Lewis went to live with our Uncle Jess and Aunt Lillian in Sedona as they had continually been in trouble in Red Rock. Surely this was due in part because there was no affection or attention given other than scoldings and whippings. Uncle Jess loved them but was too old to have the care of these boys. Aunt Lillian, an artist, did not want them at all and for the most part acted like they weren’t around. They often went hungry when Uncle Jess was at work in Belmont. They were expected from the young ages of nine and eleven to do a lot of farm work and also take care of their own clothes which were often ragged.
Mother and I spent part of that summer in Flagstaff with Virginia and Lloyd in their small house, she worked for the telephone company and he worked for Babbitt’s Ford. Mother was a wonderful cook and Lloyd especially loved her home made pies. They were good to me even though I was beginning to feel the attitude of being a fifth wheel and never quite fitting in wherever we went. Mother was not violent although still very strict; she always had the attitude ‘what will the neighbors think?’ She, also, had to spend a night in the Flagstaff hospital as she still had her tonsils and they became badly infected and had to be removed when the doctors decided it was time.
Uncle Leroy came from California to visit over the Fourth of July and took us to the parade and rodeo. My brothers came from Sedona and he bought them new clothes as the ones they were wearing were in terrible condition. I have to admit I was a little jealous as he bought them brightly colored ‘cowboy’ shirts. Even though we had lived in Flagstaff for several years we had never been to the rodeo before although we used to sit on the cement curb and watch the Indians, in their colorful garb, walk back and forth from the commercial area to the fair grounds. Sometimes old friends of my mother’s would come from the reservation to visit us.
Later that summer mother and I went by train to Kingman where we spent my first night in a hotel across the street from the railroad station. It was very hot and I remember going to the window where it was a little cooler. The next day we took what was then called the stage but was in reality a pickup driven by Dick Benagas from which he delivered the mail and other items from Kingman to Wickiup. I had to sit in the middle of the seat and was terrified the whole very long trip as nothing, as usual, was explained to me. (Years later when we were living in Kingman his young grandson had a terrible case of puppy love towards my oldest daughter.) We arrived at the ‘Big Sandy’ where we were met by Aunt Jo and taken to their farm. Uncle Ned was there and he was his usual teasing self and I felt pretty comfortable with him. Aunt Jo walked me around the farm and told me the do’s and don’ts. I was so surprised when she gave me a salt shaker and a paring knife and told me I could eat anything out of their garden any time I wanted. This, along with the wonderful meals she cooked, and all I could eat at those meals was a wonderful sensation. The adults worked hard the rest of the summer and the first time I could remember I didn’t have chores and had the freedom to wander the farm. My mother and I slept outside and the usual tension of being around her was not there. I could still feel the sensation of people being nice to the little half orphan but it was done in a much kinder way. There was a lot of affection and teasing between Uncle Ned and Aunt Jo and I really liked that.
Mother and I moved to Cornville the same year and Berta back to Prescott where she continued to run away until Mother gave up and let her live with us in the one room teacherage (shack) furnished by the school board. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t like it in Prescott as the couple of times I was there I thought the cleanliness, utilities, regular meals and individual beds were wonderful.
The summer of 1941 I spent with the Greenwell family in Cornville, it was the only time in my growing up years that I felt like I lived like a real family. They treated me just like their own and even when we got into mischief the punishment fit the crime and was never physical. There were never hugs and kisses just a great family atmosphere and I will remember Della Greenwell as the person I loved most in the world. She continued to be there for me through the rest of my school years. Berta lived with Ed and Priscilla Loy and their family and I seldom saw her. Our mother was an assistant cook at the Flagstaff College for the summer as teachers were only paid a nine month wage.
In 1942 the school board put sheet rock in the utility shed and that was a bedroom, unheated and again no utilities for the two of us, we had to share a one person cot, one at each end. Berta was able to go to high school in Clarkdale as a neighbor picked up several teenagers each day on his way to work. The physical and mental abuse to me got progressively worse although not even my good friend knew it, only one boy caught on and I acted like he didn’t know what he was talking about. There were some screaming matches between Mother and Berta when Berta did some things that I still don’t understand but they mostly got along surprisingly well. I envied their conversations as usually when I wanted to join in I was told I was being disrespectful. After living in Cornville for two years I was sent to my Aunt Virginia for the summer and I just draw a blank where my sister lived. In chapter three I will explain where my mother went.
I have never understood how my mother who had no concept of how to raise a family could be such a wonderful teacher. There were numerous occasions when she helped children when their parents didn’t provide some necessary hygiene products for them and many, many times she was the understanding, wonderful teacher who would encourage the shy or bewildered students who other teachers would have left behind. I honestly believe most of her former students loved her. Also how she professed to being a good Catholic but only used the hell and damnation towards her own family. She touted herself as being a good example in regards to her religious faith and it wasn’t until long after her death I finally noticed when looking at their marriage certificate that my parents were married by a Justice of the Peace. This example more than anything else I can write was really typical of the person she was.
It wasn’t until I returned from California to start the fifth grade that I learned I wouldn’t be going to school in Cornville. In fact my relatives put me on the train under the care of some strange lady and I learned I was going to meet my mother in Phoenix. The lady was so excited to see her family when we got to Phoenix that she expected me to find my own way and left me at the station with a taxi cab driver. He was really a nice man and after questioning me I remembered hearing my aunt say something about my mother becoming a social worker, at the time it meant nothing to me. With this scant bit of information he found the office where my mother was in training and after being reassured that they would care for me until she came in from the ‘field’ turned me over to the office staff. They were very nice and did their best to make me feel comfortable. She did return and although not happy with me for the trouble I had caused and gave me THAT look did explain to me that she wouldn’t be teaching any more and we would be returning to Flagstaff to live.
At five o’clock we went to the house where she was renting a room and we stayed there for a few days until her training was completed. It was never explained to me whether Berta had lived with her for the summer or where she was at that time but there were some of her clothes there including silver high heeled sandals and a beautiful ruffled cerise formal. I had never known her to have such nice clothes before. The few days I stayed there were very boring and I could tell her landlady resented me being there. The only nice thing was that she had date palm trees and would occasionally give me a handful of the fruit; I had never tasted them before.
When we returned to Flagstaff we had to stay with friends as the people who had rented the house for several years refused to move out. After being threatened with legal action they finally moved and we had a really dirty house to clean. They had cats that weren’t taken care of properly and I was the only one small enough to squeeze myself behind our claw footed bath tub and scrape up the dried cat manure. The only tool I had was an old table knife, wasn’t a pleasant job to say the least.
Being small earned me a quarter as my mother had an oil heater installed in our living room and I could squeeze under the house pulling the tubing used to deliver the oil from the oil barrel. The owner of the business gave me the quarter which was very nice as I wasn’t used to being paid for my work. Having that constant source of heat that winter was reward enough even though my mother worried about it all the time.
I wasn’t thrilled about returning to St. Anthony’s Catholic School as there was a lot of reverse discrimination there and I was the butt of a lot of it. Often it seemed like there were only the Hispanic kids, the Babbitts and me and the Babbitts did not get picked on. Also I had gotten used to the much more relaxed ways of country schools and made a lot of errors that were against the rules.
Things were much better between my mother and me, she never whipped me again and although she continued to scold me for every real or imagined infraction I was pretty well able to tune her out. I later wondered if her training to become a social worker was the reason for the whippings to end.
She bought an old Chevy sedan and learned to drive, but not well. How she escaped having a bad accident I’ll never know, she was too cautious and caused problems for other drivers. One time she actually took me on a trip with her to Fredonia where she had clients to interview.
Rarely but totally unexpectedly she would take me to a Mexican restaurant and maybe once a month out to lunch at the Monte Vista Hotel.
Every Saturday we cleaned the house thoroughly, did our laundry using a washboard, I ironed my school uniforms and then I took a bath, washed my long hair and was given a quarter to pay for my ticket and treat at the Orpheum Theatre.
At ten years old it was my job to chop enough wood and break up coal to keep our kitchen stove burning in the morning and evening. As she disliked any type of shopping she would give me some money and I learned, on my own, how to shop, this included managing the stamps that were still required due to WWII. I remember learning that one grocery store received their supply of bananas on a certain day and I was there in line in order to buy the three bananas we were allowed. Knowing little about nutrition our typical meal might be fried pork chops, fried potatoes and canned peas (my favorite vegetable). Mother disliked salads so they were not a part of our diet. My typical breakfast was a bowl of cereal topped with canned milk. Lunch on school days was a peanut butter sandwich and a thermos of cocoa also made with canned milk. However we quite often had fruit, a big treat, and on the weekend she frequently baked, she had a strong ‘sweet tooth’ which was not good for either of us.
As my brother Lewis was going to high school in Flagstaff, bused from Sedona, he often came to our house, which was just a few blocks from the high school, during the week and made himself a lunch, leaving somewhat of a mess behind. I seldom saw him unless it was a Catholic holiday.
After school I would usually make a quick trip to the grocery store then I would chop wood and break up coal, build a fire in our cook stove and start supper for the two of us. After supper I cleaned the kitchen while she sat in the living room and listened to the radio turned very high.
I had made friends with the neighbors and often baby sat their little boy after school, sometimes he would spend the night with us. I had the use of a friend’s sled and we spent many hours sliding down the River De Flag which was not far from our homes.
At the end of the semester, without an explanation, I was delighted to be sent to Cornville to stay with my friends the Greenwells again. It was nice to be in the one room country school where I had friends. In February my friend Patsy and I walked into her grandparent’s small grocery/gas station store where several people were sitting around drinking beer. Her grandmother said something to me about how did I like my new stepfather and then said other things which made the people laugh. I felt terribly embarrassed and just wanted out of there. This was how I found out that my mother had married Lindsay Loy, a man I barely knew.
I have to give Lindsay credit as he tried to make friends with me but was undermined by my mother as she wanted complete control. When he wasn’t around she harped at me that I must work hard, behave at all times, be seen and not heard etc. She emphasized that I was a step-child and that he had no obligation towards me and I should be grateful for every bit of food I put in my mouth. As I was already uncomfortable around most men her attitude made it impossible for us to have a good relationship.
She and I continued to live in Flagstaff; Lindsay visited some of the time. It was very confusing as I had developed into quite an independent person and then had to change my way of doing things almost weekly.
I don’t remember exactly when but Berta came home, to me it was without warning, I don’t know if mother expected her or not. She had no luggage and only the clothes that she was wearing. Some time later I learned she had been in a Catholic facility in Phoenix, as best I remember it was called Good Shepherd Home for Girls. I don’t know if she was released or ran away. Hindsight makes me think she ran away as she had no luggage, not even a hair brush.
By this time I was totally confused with a new step-father, my mother in a new job and an older sister who came home and acted as though she were the authority figure in my life. She did help with the cooking and housework and I was surprised by that.
Berta got a job at a small theatre down near ‘front’ street in Flagstaff so she was away from our house quite a bit. She never did buy very many clothes and had few friends. She used henna on her hair and spent a lot of time grooming herself. The Catholic priest arranged for a group of Catholic teenagers to stop by for her on their way to CYO, she would leave with them and then often not come home all night. My mother would wait up for her and the screaming fights would wake me up.
In August, not long before we were to move permanently to Cornville Berta came home from shopping with new clothes. She changed clothes and put her old clothes in a paper sack and told me to bury them under the wood in the woodshed. I did that and they were later discovered by my stepfather. She left that day without a goodbye to anyone; as far as I know she had no luggage with her other than a purse. As she would turn 18 in November it was decided by the authorities and our mother that it would be a waste of time to search for her.
The September move to Cornville was not easy in a lot of ways, leaving the one house that for years had been the only permanent structure in our very unstable life meant different things to family members.
Henrietta started teaching again at the small Cornville School located on the Loy property, she taught there for two years. At that time the school was closed permanently and the students were bused to Cottonwood.
Lindsay’s mother had died and as she had been much loved and respected not only by family but by the small Cornville community it greatly impacted everyone. In her much earlier life she had been a midwife to quite a few women in a rather large area, her father was the first civilian doctor in the Verde Valley and her uncle was one of the first dentists. Other than that she was a hard working wife and mother, always willing to help others.
There were not a lot of people living in Cornville in the 1940s and most people were very interested, sometimes too much, in the lives of others. There were also good sides to this such as the community wedding shower given to Lindsay and Henrietta. He had been a long time bachelor caring for his widowed mother and she had been a respected teacher for two years.
Henrietta was already good friends with Priscilla Loy, married to Lindsay’s brother Ed. As they were partners in a small cattle operation that was a good thing as their homes were on the same property.
The last thing you could call Henrietta was social, she was content with her strong friendships with a small group of people who for the most part were not connected in any other way. Evidently before her loss of hearing she had been much more gregarious but more than a few people talking in a room were just a lot of noise and confusion. She was quite good at pretending to understand what was being said to her, a quite common way of the hearing disabled. She was especially resentful if some friends of Lindsay’s came to visit with no prior warning and Lindsay justifiably assumed she would fix a meal for everyone. He certainly heard about it later. Maybe she just didn’t understand country ways. As there were only two telephones in the whole area people usually just assumed that they would be welcome when they came to visit. This caused an obvious tension and fewer and fewer people came to the house.
Lindsay, although generally, a quiet man, was quite community minded; he was used to being called on by neighbors and friends to help in various ways. Sometimes this caused friction between the couple as did her lack of interest in social life. She would usually take part if the social aspects were family oriented such as annual potlucks of the Loy’s and their relatives. Also she seemed to enjoy the annual Pioneer Picnic where there was a much larger group of people whose ancestors had pioneered the area. Often people came to these events from a distance and often she knew some of these from her past life.
While Lindsay built a new but very modest two bedroom, one bath house, designed by Henrietta, they continued to live in the unpainted frame house he had shared with his mother. This house had been upgraded with electricity and kitchen plumbing but still had an outhouse. Lindsay did most of the work on the new house with the exception of hiring an electrician. As long as someone else painted the ceilings Henrietta seemed to like to paint the walls. The outside of the house remained unpainted for years until it was finally covered by white asbestos shingles. The materials to construct the house were paid for by the sale of the small Flagstaff house. As this was not too long after WWII, there was a waiting list for a new electric stove so the wood burning cook stove was transferred from the old house. The same was true of buying a washbasin for the bathroom. Later he poured cement to build a back porch on the house but there was some disagreement between the two and it was never finished. She usually got her way but this was one time that ended in a stand off. The house was heated by an oil heater in the living room; the bedrooms were very cold in the winter. It could be sweltering hot in the summer as even after an evaporative cooler was installed in the window Henrietta was afraid to use it just as she was afraid of most mechanical or electrical devices.
Henrietta became interested in planting some bushes and flowers in the yard. The hard labor of clearing the mesquites and rocks and tilling the ground was done by Lindsay. This was quite an improvement to the yard but as most things were planted in rows it almost looked like a vegetable garden. The trees consisted of just one large old mesquite tree and a volunteer peach tree.
There was very little in the way of what would be considered family activities, no family jokes that become a way of life in a loving family, no obvious signs of affection, not much in the way of visitors. She liked some of Lindsay’s relatives and would go out of her way to be pleasant to them. Usually at Thanksgiving some of her family members would visit from California and there was a completely different atmosphere in the house. The only strain was between Henrietta and her brother Lawrence as they had unresolved problems stemming from the time of their Grandmother Simmons’s death.
Before the marriage when the men had to be away Priscilla and her sons tended to the outside chores such as feeding the horses and milking the cows. Henrietta said her ankles and wrists were too weak to do these chores.
Henrietta was much more than a competent cook and as long as she had help in preparation and clean up she prepared very good meals, especially desserts. She loved candies and desserts herself so wasn’t just being generous.
Sometimes the marriage seemed to be a compromise of sorts and sometimes the couple seemed to have an affinity for each other but as time went by Lindsay quite often slept on the living room couch.
She always seemed to be glad when Lindsay had to be away from home as that gave her much more time to read her books and do as she pleased.
In the spring of 1946 her brother-in-law Jess Smith and her sons Lewis and Jesse arrived totally unexpectedly. For quite some time she had seldom had any contact with her sons even though when she drove through Oak Creek Canyon to Flagstaff she had to pass through Sedona where they had lived for several years. This was not a pleasant visit as it was explained that for quite some time the boys had been involved in misdemeanor acts. The most current was that they went joy riding in some one else’s vehicle. The victim and the marshal, knowing the boys personally, came to the conclusion that if they would be relocated there would be no criminal charges filed.
Henrietta and Lindsay were not happy to take on the responsibility of her two sons as they had felt they would be with their uncle until grown. There is a strong doubt that Lindsay had even met the boys. After some very acrimonious discussion it was agreed that they would allow the boys to remain in Cornville with the agreement that Lewis would join a military service when he turned 17 the following July and that Jesse (grudgingly) would be provided a home as long as he shared in the work on the ranch and continued his high school education.
There was really no place in the two bedroom house for Lewis and Jesse to sleep so a sort of bunk house was prepared for them in a room above the water well which had been used as a storage area. There was electricity in this room but no heating or cooling. This was not an ideal situation as it allowed them to slip out at night unobserved whenever they felt like it.
Lewis joined the Air Force after his July Seventh birthday; he reenlisted several times before being asked to resign due to alcohol and gambling although he became an excellent mechanic. While stationed in Hawaii he married a young woman named Carrie who had previously been married and had two sons. This was a further cause of friction as Henrietta felt that the woman being some older, divorced and mixed race was totally wrong for the son whom she had literally abandoned for years. They had eight more children and finally he abandoned his family and they never saw him again. Most of this very large family and their descendants live in the Phoenix, Arizona area.
Jesse was enrolled in high school where he was quite popular but did little school work. He was very resentful that he was not allowed to participate in extra curricular activities or drive his mother’s car. Typically some of the step family were very good to him and some treated him as a black sheep step relation. He finally enlisted in the navy when he turned 17 in 1948. He was there for four years and then went into law enforcement in California where he still makes his home. He married his wife Mae, who was divorced with two children, whom he adopted, and they had two children of their own. They were never divorced but when their children were older they lived apart most of the time.
Henrietta continued to be a ‘homemaker’ the rest of her life, she never held a wage paying job again although she finished some correspondence courses through Northern Arizona University.
When Henrietta decided to retire she cashed her retirement account and purchased the first vacuum cleaner she had ever owned. Up until that time cleaning was done with a broom, dust pan, scrub brush, rags and a mop.
Her life was the easiest it had ever been as her husband was a conscientious provider and she delegated almost all the laundry, house cleaning and outdoor chores to me and she constantly reminded that I was ‘lucky to have a roof over my head’. She did some of the flower gardening but the vegetable gardening was left up to Lindsay and me. When she cooked I served as the prep cook and clean up crew. She did like to knit and crochet and usually gave the items away as gifts.
She had surgery on her left ear that was completely without hearing and it was marginally successful. The doctor encouraged her to have surgery on the right ear that had a small amount of hearing but she was too fearful and never took the chance. Improvements were made over the years in hearing aids but not enough so that she seldom enjoyed going where there were a number of people although when a drive-in theater was built she enjoyed that as she could hold the speaker right up to the hearing aid located on her chest and enjoy the movies.
After her children were all adults she became an avid fisherman and this was something she and Lindsay enjoyed together. They also, occasionally, drove in and out of state to visit some friends and relatives.
Henrietta visited me and my family in Kingman; she always wanted me to take her fishing on her visits which wasn’t always an easy thing to do with four children to care for.
In the mid 1960s Lindsay had a severe heart attack; he was placed on a strict diet and a regimen of exercise so that he eventually wore a size 15 shirt after wearing a size 17 for many years. It was time to sell their small cattle operation to Richard Loy, Lindsay’s nephew and they moved into Cottonwood to be closer to the hospital as there were no emergency services available.
The three bedrooms, two bath house that they purchased in Cottonwood was nicer than, if not constructed as well, as their Cornville home. It also gave Henrietta the opportunity to move into her own bedroom and they never shared a bed again. She did do some of the yard work but continued to expect Lindsay to do the hard, physical part.
These seemed to be the best years of their lives together. They bought a motor home and enjoyed traveling to a number of places in the southwest, once to Montana to visit old friends. One of their favorite places was Page, Arizona. They liked it so well that they purchased a vacation trailer and spent much of their time there fishing and boating. She didn’t like the boating all that much as she was deathly afraid of water but tolerated it as it was a way to go to good fishing spots… While they were home in Cottonwood the trailer was struck by lightning and totally destroyed.
There were a number of grandchildren born over the years, some of them were treated very well and some of them were almost totally ignored, similar to the treatment of her own children. They only saw the first four children who belonged to Lewis and Carrie once or twice; they were sent an occasional gift. and Carrie was nice about writing letters. They never knew that her oldest daughter Berta had married and had two sons. Henrietta didn’t mention her often but when she did she said she thought that she was deceased.
They sold their boat as Lindsay felt that he shouldn’t be traveling when so many members of his family were getting older and he felt a great responsibility towards them and wanted to be available. Henrietta still traveled occasionally with a good friend until they decided to sell the motor home. She continued to enjoy fishing for a number of years but didn’t travel far away from home.
In 1984 I decided to relocate from Kingman, Arizona as I felt that it would just be a short time until they wouldn’t be able to care for themselves and would have to go into assisted living instead of spending the rest of their lives in their own home. I felt Lindsay would only live a very short time if he couldn’t have his garden and his little dog and that Henrietta would never fit into such a facility. This was a very hard decision on my part as I had four grandchildren and I really enjoyed being a part of their lives.
I was able to get a job that was comparable if not even better than the one I previously had, that was very meaningful to me. I was able to travel back and forth and took as much part in my children and grandchildren’s lives as I could.
While holding a full time job I took on the responsibility of shopping, cleaning gardening and small repairs and not so small such as painting the outside of the house twice in ten years by myself.
Lindsay lived for four years after I returned to the Verde Valley and during that time we became better friends than we had ever been. I took him for frequent Sunday drives and he enjoyed telling me stories about his family history and his younger years.
I never thought I would feel sorry for him but time after time I saw Henrietta deliberately start an argument with him, then turn it around to make him feel guilty and he would end up apologizing to her. All I could figure was she did this out of boredom.
Unfortunately, as neither one of us liked to dwell on unpleasant topics, it wasn’t until the last four days of Lindsay’s life, where he lingered in the hospital, that my childhood was mentioned. He begged me over and over to forgive him for allowing my own mother to treat me as she had done. His only excuse was that he didn’t know how to raise children and my mother was determined to do things her way. I spent most of the four days and nights in the Intensive Care Unit with him. Henrietta only visited him for a few minutes once, as she was leaving she told him that she loved him and his answer was that he hadn’t heard that for years.
I bought a captioned adapter for Henrietta and attached it to the television and she then enjoyed many years of television. She continued to read a wide variety of books and especially enjoyed Tony Hillerman’s mysteries with the setting of the Navajo Reservation.
Henrietta lived for ten years after I started taking care of her; she had not been in a hospital for forty years until near the end of her life. I had to admit her to the hospital for a diagnosis as she was failing over a period of several months and finally couldn’t do anything for herself. She spent the last few weeks of her life in a nursing home and she regressed to living again in the 1920s in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Her personality changed completely the last few weeks of her life; she became affectionate and nice to everyone. Was this who she really was?
|Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise|
|The story I’m about to tell you is one of the strangest I’ve ever heard. The strangest thing about it is that it’s my story. Maybe it won’t seem all that interesting to you – maybe I’m making a big deal out of nothing – but it’s made the last year or so very odd to live through. Please keep in mind that some of it is speculation, and, like so many things in life – like life itself, I guess – it’s “a work in progress”.|
Last year, like many of her age and situation, my wife Cathy got interested in genealogy. Her maiden name is Zike, and there had always been speculation in her family about where it came from. Some thought it was English, a variation on Sykes, others thought it might be Dutch.
It turns out that the name is German, and came here to America attached to an extremely intriguing fellow named Jacob Zeuch (that’s pronounced “zoik”, for you non-German speakers), a slave-warrior from the principality of Hesse who, with his fellow Hessians, got loaned to George III by one of his cousins to help put down rebellious American colonists.
The conditions under which the Hessians served were absolutely miserable, and, at some point, Private Jacob (and his colonel!) decided to desert. They spent a period as prisoners of war, and then, having been promised land as a reward, they defected to the American side. It must have seemed like heaven to be paid to fight and to be free men afterward. Jacob survived the war, married an American girl, settled in Kentucky, and had a big family. He has many descendants today.
With a little more research, and a little imagination, there’s probably a novel in Jacob’s story, and it’s more than likely that I’ll take a leave from science fiction to write in sometime in the coming decade.
But that was only the beginning.
It was a natural development that, with my encouragement, Cathy would employ her new-found genealogical talents to investigate my forebears, my mother’s side of the family in particular. There were a lot of questions there that I was interested in finding the answers to.
My mother died a couple of years ago, having lingered for a long while after an extremely debilitating stroke. Following a cataclysmic argument with her own mother, she had left home and severed every connection with her family, in 1945, at the age of 18. As long as she was alive, she resisted, almost hysterically, any effort to look into her background or try to contact her long-lost relatives. I thought I knew the reason for it, but as it turns out, I didn’t know the half of it.
Although my mother was born, or so she said, in Los Angeles in 1926, she was brought up, at the height of the Great Depression, in northern Arizona, near the Four Corners, around Tuba City. Her name was Marie Louise Coveleskie. Her mother, Henrietta Phelan Coveleskie, taught school in a one-room, multi-grade rural schoolhouse. Her father ( my grandfather, Albert Coveleskie) was a Grand Canyon packing guide and Indian agent on the Navajo reservation. He had two brothers, Jesse and Ned, who were rugged western ranchmen of some kind.
My mother always said she came from a big family, including five older brothers and a single younger sister. The only brother whose name I can remember is Roger, after whom my own brother is named, and who died in submarine combat in the Pacific theater in World War II. Another of her brothers was in the Army, assigned to go from camp to camp instructing soldiers so they could avoid being taken by card sharks.
Being Polish on the Coveleskie side, and Irish on the Phelan side, the family was raised in the Catholic church and my mother attended a Catholic girls’ school, although I’m not entirely certain where. My mother’s younger sister became a nun. They also had a grandmother or a great grandmother, I’ve never been certain which named Etta Phelan who lived in Los Angeles and always sounded like Tweety Bird’s granny.
When my mother was seven years old, around 1933, her father died. He had always been subject to periods of paralysis. He would collapse and would lie out in the sun which seemed to heal him somehow. He would enjoy a period of remission, and then collapse again. In my mother’s mind, this was linked with a 300-foot fall he’d taken as a young man, from one of the winding Grand Canyon trails into a bed of sand.
The last time that Albert collapsed, they hauled him away to a hospital and my mother a frightened little seven-year-old girl never saw him again. Nor was she ever given any kind of explanation. Some local country doctor wanted everybody to think that Albert’s condition was due to a venereal disease, which nobody who knew him believed, and it always sounded to me like undiagnosed muscular sclerosis.
For the next decade, my mother was forced to live with a woman her mother who always reminded me, in Mom’s stories, of the Wicked Queen in Disney’s Snow White, or of Maureen O’Hara at her absolute bitchiest, but with no John Wayne around to give her a well-deserved spanking. At some point, the widowed Henrietta married a wealthy rancher in the area named Lindsay Loy. My brother’s middle name is Lindsay.
Apparently Henrietta was a screamer and a slapper (my own mother inherited some of that, and I had to fight it myself when my daughter was young). On more than one occasion, she struck my mother with a concho belt. For those of you east of Kansas, a concho is a decorative silver disk, sometimes as large as a silver dollar, with slots so it can be laced onto a strip of leather. Among southwestern Indians, it was a repository of wealth, and may be again, as the economy melts down.
There was also an incident in which my mother’s head was smashed against a cast-iron woodstove because she’d let the overnight coals die. (Living conditions in the Four Corners area during the Depression were primitive; Mom had lots of stories about the many uses of canned milk.) In any case, after one particularly horrible fight, she left home ordered by her mother never to darken her doorway again and went to Los Angeles, where I believe she had already been working as a private secretary to the famous novelist and screenplay writer Frances Marion.
She was married to a Navy flier (I never knew his name) for only a few weeks before he, too, was killed in the Pacific war. She met and then married my dad, on R&R in San Diego after spending a year as an involuntary guest of the Third Reich. I was born about nine months and thirty seconds later, in 1946. They were together until Dad died in 1991.
I hope that I haven’t bored any of you with all this stuff. It’s interesting to me because it’s the story of my family, a story I’ve lived with all my life. I never met any of my mother’s people, but they have always been like characters to me, some good, some bad, in some old, warm, familiar, well dog-eared novel. The trouble is that, when Cathy went looking for them, none of my mother’s story made any sense.
To begin with, there was nobody and I mean absolutely nobody by the name of Coveleskie in northern Arizona during the Depression. No grandfather Albert hence the “disappearing grandfather” in the title no Uncle Ned, no Uncle Jessie. Coveleskie, especially that particular spelling of it (which I’ve been told represents Catholic Poles with delusions of aristocracy) is not exactly an inconspicuous name, especially in a place as sparsely populated as Greater Tuba City.
Henrietta Phelan (who apparently did come from Los Angeles) was married in the late 1920s to somebody named Albert Smith (imagine my surprise) and despite the possibility that Albert Smith was a Mormon (imagine my even greater surprise) they had a relatively small family together, no more than two or three kids. There was no Marie Louise born to them in 1926. Instead they had a daughter the same age, named Alberta.
Was my mother’s real name Alberta Smith?
The rest is a truly confusing mish-mash. Some of the names that my mother ascribed to brothers and sisters belong to uncles and aunts. I don’t know where all of the tiny, extremely consisent details like Uncle Ned’s half-wolf dog named “Police” came from. Guess I got my talents as a novelist for which read, “professional liar” from her.
There was a Lindsay Loy, and an extensive Loy family, into which Henrietta married. I mean someday to look them up and compare notes. I don’t know if anything Mom ever told us is true. (I often wonder if she didn’t steal her name from a Catholic school classmate.) Except for meeting my dad in Los Angeles, it appears my mother made it all up large swatches of it, anyway and every bit of it may have been a lie.
And I haven’t the slightest idea why.
My mother was a rather fearful woman all my life, a sort of “don’t run with scissors” kind of mom, but on steroids. It could be she was just afraid her evil, violent mother would find her (according to the northern Arizona phonebook, Henrietta lived into her nineties). Until we found that there were no Coveleskies, I often wondered why none of her brothers ever looked for Mom. She had periods of agoraphobia (so do I) and always kept heavy drapes drawn on the street side of the house. She was remarkably kind and generous, she adored my wife and daughter, but she would talk your arm off (I worry that I do that), and had whispered conversations with herself when nobody else was around.
To a certain extent, of course, none of this matters. I’ve never met my mother’s people, Nor do I ever expect to. Nothing about them, whoever they are, has anything to do with who or what I am, with what I’ve done, or with what I will ever do. The whole thing reminds me of Lazarus Long’s story about meeting “a little lizard who claimed he was a tyrannosaurus on his mother’s side”. The fact is, Americans remake themselves every morning when they get up. The Japanese (among others) often sneer at us for having “no history”, but it’s one of the things that make us different as a people, and, I think, perhaps a little better.
Yet in another respect, it’s like being right-handed all your life only to awake one fine morning to discover that you’re left-handed and always have been. At the very least, it’s like taking that last step down the stairs in the dark, only to find, with a jolt, that it isn’t there.
Life is strange, and it gets stranger the longer you live it.
So I’m Irish, not Polish.
It explains a lot.