My Great-Grandmother Della Phillips Jones

The great-grandmother I know the least about is my father’s maternal grandmother, Della Phillips Jones. All I ever knew about her growing up was that she had been married before she married my great-grandfather, and her daughter (my grandmother) had a half-sister from Della’s first marriage who was quite a bit older than she was. I had the sense there was some scandal associated with Della, but whether it was simply that she’d been divorced or whether there was more to the story, I never heard.

Della died before I was born, so I never had the opportunity to meet her, or her husband (my great-grandfather) Tucker Jones, who also died before I was born.

I knew that Tucker Jones owned a store in Arnold, Nebraska, during the Depression. My father talked about how Grandpa Tucker gave credit to people who were down on their luck in those years, which caused him his own financial troubles.

My father must have known his grandmother Della, but he didn’t tell me any stories about her. I had the impression he liked Tucker, but might not have liked Della.

My grandmother never told stories about her parents either. I wondered whether she got her musical talent from Della or from Tucker.

I later met my grandmother’s sister, my half-great-aunt Ethel, who lived with her husband in Idaho, not too far from my parents’ vacation home in Coeur d’Alene, when I was in high school. We had a couple of lunches with them. Ethel was quite old when I met her, and she did not tell any stories about her parents. I think Ethel died just a few years after I met her.

And that’s all I knew about this branch of the family. I should have asked my father more about his mother’s parents.

So recently I went searching for what else I could find out about Della. “Jones” is not an easy name to research. But between family genealogy records and what I found online, I’ve pieced together the following:

Della was born on January 25, 1877, to James Martin Phillips and Martha Josephine Stevenson. I could trace Della’s father’s family back through several generations. They had come from Indiana, and from Virginia in generations before that. Her father’s ancestors came to America well before the Revolutionary War—one of her great-great-great-grandfathers, a Joseph Phillips (one of several Josephs) was born in Orange, Virginia, on July 16, 1706. I’d known I had pre-Revolutionary War relatives on my mother’s side (the Hooker family), but I hadn’t known my dad had such long roots in the New World until I researched Della.

Della’s mother, Martha Josephine Stevenson, was also from Indiana. She had six children and died in May 6, 1922, in Chicago.

Della’s first marriage license says she was born in Indiana, but her obituary says she was born in Nebraska. Her first marriage was to Glenn Johnson on April 12, 1898. Glenn was born in Iowa. He was twenty-six, and she was only seventeen. Their daughter Ethel was born in about 1900.

After my father died, I found a copy of Della’s divorce papers from her first marriage. Why my father had them, I have no idea. I don’t know whether his mother gave them to him, or whether they came with some genealogy records that his sister gave him. The papers made it sound like Della had been abused during her first marriage, but I don’t know if that was the truth—from my law school days, I know it was common to make such allegations to provide the cause necessary to get a divorce decree, in the days before no-fault divorces. I didn’t keep the divorce papers, so I don’t remember the date of their divorce.

Della’s second marriage in 1908 to Tucker Lon Jones, produced my grandmother, Kathryn Delores Jones Claudson, born February 12, 1911. Della and Tucker had no other children, though Ethel lived with them until she grew up, according to census records.

I know Tucker was born on June 6, 1881, in Grand Pass, Missouri, in Saline County—the same county my husband’s family is from, though I don’t think my in-laws knew of Tucker or his family at all. Tucker was four years younger than Della—possibly another reason for scandal in those days—he married an older divorcee.

Inside the T.L. Jones Mercantile store in 1914, Arnold, Nebraska

I don’t know how Tucker and Della got to Arnold, Nebraska. They may have moved there when they bought into a mercantile store in 1912. An article I found said that Tucker and Della operated the store in Arnold for twenty-eight years, starting in 1912, when they opened it with two other men. They bought out their partners in 1925 and renamed it the T.L. Jones Mercantile Co. According to the article, the store stopped selling clothing in 1928 and thereafter only sold groceries. At some point, Tucker and Della sold the store, and it was operated by others until 1944.

Della Phillips Jones in 1914

I have only found one picture of Della. It was taken in 1914 inside the T.L. Jones Mercantile Co. store that she and Tucker owned and operated.

Della was one of the witnesses to my grandparents’ marriage on August 30, 1928, in Grand Island, Nebraska.

Tucker Lon Jones in 1914

Tucker Jones died in 1944 in Arnold Nebraska. Della died on December 17, 1955, in Plattsmouth, Nebraska. Plattsmouth is south of Omaha, right where the Platte River joins the Missouri, across the Missouri River from Iowa—a good distance from Arnold. Della was buried in Arnold with Tucker, so I wondered what she was doing in Plattsmouth. Her death certificate answered that question—she was living in the Masonic Home in Plattsmouth at the time of her death. The doctor who signed her death certificate stated he had attended her since 1947, so it appears she moved to Plattsmouth, possibly to the Masonic home, a few years after Tucker’s death.

And those are the only facts I’ve learned about her life and death. I still wish I knew more.

What do you wish you knew about your ancestors?

Random Photos: Going Home Again . . . A Vacation Remembered

My husband and I didn’t take too many summer vacations at my parents’ home when our kids were growing up. We saved our visits for every third Christmas. In addition, my parents visited us once or twice a year in Kansas City, and we sent our kids out to Washington State without us as soon as the airlines would let them fly by themselves.

But I recently pulled out a random envelope of snapshots my father had taken of one summer vacation we did take in Washington State at my parents’ house.

Kids swimming, one with water wings, and the other with attitude

I can’t recall exactly which summer it was. The pictures were taken at the large house my parents had in the Meadow Springs development of Richland, Washington. They owned this home between the summer of 1986 and about 1991. I know this wasn’t our first visit there—we’d visited them at this house over Christmas 1986. My daughter looks to be about three or four in the pictures, with my son about six or seven, so I’m guessing it was the summer of 1988 or 1989, but it could have been 1990.

Nanny Winnie supervising my daughter

The house had a swimming pool, which our kids loved. My daughter couldn’t swim yet, so had to wear water wings. My son could swim, and most likely lorded his wing-less state over his little sister. My mother’s mother, Nanny Winnie, visited that week also, and she loved to swim. She was always happy to supervise afternoons at the pool.

Mitzi doesn’t know whether to bark at my son or the pool skimmer

My parents had a Schnauzer named Mitzi. Mitzi wanted to be a part of the pool parties, particularly when the pool skimmer was operating. The dog could swim, but she couldn’t get herself out of the pool. Later, my younger brother taught Mitzi to paddle to the stairs so she could climb out, but at the time of our visit, she had not yet learned this escape route. One time during our visit that week, I had to dive in after her and pull her to safety. She didn’t seem too grateful, and scrabbled and scratched to get out of my helpful arms.

Husband and son canoeing on the Wenatchee River

On the weekend we were there, when my father wasn’t working, my husband, son, father and I went canoeing on the Wenatchee River. We drove through the lovely mountain town of Leavenworth, Washington, rented canoes from an outfitter, and put in on the river somewhere near Lake Wenatchee. Then we floated downstream through the alpine Wenatchee National Forest for a couple of hours. We stopped for lunch on a gravel bar, then took out where the outfitter had designated and awaited our pick up.

Lunch on the gravel bar

We had two canoes—my husband and son paddled one, and my father and I had the other. This was the first canoe trip I’d been on where I wasn’t in the same boat as my husband. I was used to relying on his skills to get us through any whitewater, but we decided our son needed a strong paddler more than I did. Our son was young enough that his paddling was more for show than power. (As was mine, though I at least had an intellectual understanding of what I should be doing.)

Me with wet shoes, and son

My father was definitely not as competent at paddling as my husband. Still, he and I didn’t have much difficulty until we reached the take-out point. There, even with both Dad and me paddling as hard as we could, we almost didn’t reach shore. I finally had to step out of the boat to pull us out of the current just as we passed the gravel river access road where we were supposed to meet our ride. Dad may have gotten wet also—there is photographic evidence of my wet shoes, but he was taking the pictures, so there’s nothing to verify his actions.

I was happy to find these pictures and to remember that summer vacation back in my birthplace—Washington State, and Richland in particular. In recent years, I’ve only been to Richland for my parents’ funerals in 2014 and 2015. There’s no one left to bury in Richland, and I sometimes wonder if I will ever go home again.

What do you remember of visits to your hometown?

Great-Grandma Lillie: A Midwestern Pioneer

I was thinking recently about my great-grandmothers. It dawned on me that they all probably had very interesting lives—or at least interesting from the perspective of the 21st Century.

I never met any of the four women, and only one was alive during my childhood. That great-grandmother was Lillie Evelena Smith Claudson. She’s the great-grandmother I heard the most stories about, and yet I don’t feel I know much about her.

Lillie was born in Assumption, Illinois, on January 22, 1884. Her parents were Andrew Jackson Smith (an Ohio-born man who was the son of German immigrants, Jacob and Mary Schmidt) and Elizabeth Gertrude Ernst Smith (whose parents were George Jacob & Eva Elizabeth Ernst, probably also of German extraction).

This might be a picture of Lillie’s family when she was a child. But I have no idea which child might be her.

When Lillie was very young, her family moved to Nebraska. Other family obituaries state that the Smiths moved in June 1884, when Lillie would have been just a few months old. That’s consistent with the family stories I was told. The Smiths were one of the first families to settle on the Garfield Table in Nebraska. They farmed there for many years.

On October 3, 1901, Lillie married Luther Monroe Claudson, the son of a Danish immigrant Charles N. Claudson and his wife Elvira Sophronia Vaught Claudson (I know nothing about her background). My father always told me that Lillie and Luther were married in 1900 when Lillie was fifteen, but if the dates I found online are correct, the marriage was in 1901, and she was seventeen at the time.

Family lore also has it that Lillie and Luther moved into a sod hut when they started their married life on their farm and that the first two of her four children were born in that hut. (My grandfather Laverne Ernst Claudson was her second child.) But I can’t substantiate how long she lived in the sod hut, so I can’t verify where they lived when my grandfather was born.

As a child, when I read the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, I thought of Grandma Claudson’s life story. Wilder wrote about covered wagon trips from one Midwestern locale to another, and I pictured Lillie and her family traveling from Illinois to Nebraska. When I read Wilder’s accounts of moving into a sod hut on the banks of Plum Creek in Minnesota, I imagined Lillie as a new bride moving into a similar soddie on the Garfield Plain.

Lille and Luther moved into “town”—the tiny community of Arnold, Nebraska—in 1923. She would have been thirty-nine at the time—still young.

My father talked about his childhood trips to visit his grandparents in Arnold. He played with cousins and helped Grandma Claudson—as Lillie was known by then—in the kitchen, including watching her wring a chicken’s neck for Sunday supper. I got the clear sense from him that she took no nonsense from anyone—including a young grandson—but that he loved her and knew she loved him. I think he needed some discipline in his early life, and she provided it in healthy doses.

Luther died in 1947, and Grandma Claudson lived alone in her little house in Arnold until her death on November 21, 1973, at age 89. I’m told she mowed her own lawn until she died.

My father rarely visited Arnold after my parents were married, and my mother never met Grandma Claudson. Not meeting my dad’s grandmother was one of my mother’s regrets, since she hadn’t known her own grandmothers. Some of my father’s cousins told me that Grandma Claudson always appreciated my mother’s letters. My mother did write numerous newsy letters to relatives and friends. I was glad to learn Grandma Claudson was one of her correspondents.

My father and several of his cousins were Grandma Claudson’s pallbearers at her funeral in 1973. I remember my father going to her funeral, though no one else in our family went with him. At the time, I had just started college, and I didn’t think twice about missing the funeral of a great-grandmother I had never met. But now, like my mother, I wish I’d had the opportunity to meet her at some point while she was alive.

Lillie and Luther Claudson’s tombstone, Arnold, Nebraska

I couldn’t even find a picture of Lille to post, though I bet there’s one somewhere in my father’s papers. My siblings and I kept some older photos with no identification of who is depicted—perhaps one of them is of Lillie.

The reason I find Lillie’s story so compelling now is that she was a pioneer. She connects me to settlers in the Midwest. I consider myself a Westerner, though I have now lived in the Midwest for two-thirds of my life. Remembering Lillie—Grandma Claudson, as I think of her, even if I never knew her—reminds me that I have roots in this part of the country as well.

And I can picture her as I write about pioneers to the West in my novels about the settlement of Oregon almost forty years before Lillie and her family moved to Nebraska. It’s still a surprise that the West Coast was settled before some of the Midwest.

What connections does your family have to pioneer days?

ADDENDUM: I found Lillie and Luther Claudson’s wedding picture in some files I took after my father died:

Luther & Lillie Claudson on their wedding day

And here’s a close-up of Lillie:

Lillie Evelena Smith Claudson on her wedding day, October 3, 1901. I don’t see much resemblance to my grandfather, but I do to Lillie’s daughter Effie Claudson Coleman, my great-aunt.

Amelia Earhart Day: Memories of Atchison, Kansas

July 24 is Amelia Earhart Day. The news recently has been full of speculation about her disappearance, because of a History Channel show suggesting that a photo might have shown her and her navigator Frank Noonan with the Japanese in the Marshall Islands after her disappearance on July 2, 1937. However, Japanese archivists found the photo in a book published in 1935, long before Earhart and Noonan left on their ill-fated flight. It seems her last days are still a mystery.

Amelia Earhart is a big deal in her hometown of Atchison, Kansas, about an hour’s drive from Kansas City. The town sponsors an Amelia Earhart Festival in July each year. For the past two years, my husband’s Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla has provided security on the Missouri River for the air show that is part of the festival. This year, tragedy struck the day after the air show, when one of the stunt pilots who had performed was killed (along with his passenger) in a post-festival flight.

My father was always fascinated by Amelia Earhart’s story. I think he thought of her as a neighbor because he had been born in Pratt, Kansas—a mere 300 miles from Atchison. He remembered her disappearance from his childhood. In addition, he was always interested in flying and took flying lessons when he was in his fifties.

Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum

On one visit to Kansas City, he and my mother decided to drive to Atchison to see the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in her former home. My daughter was three or four at the time. She skipped preschool that day to go with her grandparents to Atchison.

My parents had planned to have lunch at a tea room in Atchison after seeing the museum. But my daughter had her own plans. She’d been bored in the museum, even though she enjoyed being with her grandparents. When they got back in the car and drove toward the tea room, she started pointing at something and began talking excitedly about “meat libbers.”

Now, my parents had no idea what meat libbers were. But after several attempts to communicate, they finally realized their granddaughter was pointing at the nearby Pizza Hut.

My daughter made it clear that nothing would do but that they eat at Pizza Hut.

Of course, grandchildren generally win these arguments, so my parents took her to Pizza Hut. They sat and received their menus. Finally, my parents realized that my daughter wanted a Meat Lovers pizza. That was our standard order at Pizza Hut and both our children’s favorite restaurant meal.

My parents were disappointed to miss the tea room, but they recognized that their priority as grandparents had to be to keep their grandkids happy. They accomplished that goal on that day so many years ago.

Did your family have any favorite restaurant meals?

Fortieth Anniversary of a Speeding Ticket

I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that this year my husband and I celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary. We started dating in March 1977 and were married that November. We were apart for most of the summer of 1977, each working in different locations after our first year of law school. But he came to visit my hometown of Richland, Washington, where I had an internship with a local law firm, for a long weekend around the Fourth of July.

As he got off the plane in the desert, he said, “You poor kid—you grew up here?” And his opinion of Richland never improved.

When I had visited his hometown the month before, we’d toured some of western Missouri. So I returned the favor in July, and took him around my favorite haunts in Washington State. We waterskied on the Columbia River with my younger siblings. We took a day trip to Mount Rainier, where we hiked in snowfields—we shivered in our shorts, which we’d worn because of the heat in southeastern Washington around Richland; I’d forgotten how cold and gray the Cascades could be even in midsummer.

See the brown land between Richland (upper left) and Walla Walla (lower right). The Whitman Mission is near  Walla Walla.

And one day we drove to the Whitman Mission—the day trip of my childhood. My husband-to-be drove my parents’ Capri through rolling hills covered in brown wheat to the mission near the town of Walla Walla. On the way home, back through the wheat fields, he climbed a hill and sped down it. Not that fast, but above the speed limit.

Flashing lights and a siren behind him. A cop. A speeding ticket. A silent ride back to Richland.

My law-abiding fiancé was mortified. There he was, driving his future father-in-law’s car, and he got a ticket.

But my father was very good about it. He didn’t give my fiancé a hard time at all. Hubby-to-be paid the fine, and that was that.

At the Whitman Mission. If we’d been in a covered wagon, we would not have exceeded the speed limit.

Through the years, my father brought it up every so often, chuckling when he did so. But he didn’t mention it any more frequently than my husband did. All in all, they had a good relationship, despite this rocky beginning.

The only beef my father really had with my husband was that Dad wanted my husband to call him “Tom” instead of “Mr. Claudson.” My husband never relented.

That day trip in July 1977 was the last time I went to the Whitman Mission, though the site and Narcissa Whitman played an important role in my novel Lead Me Home. In later years, our family passed through Walla Walla on our way to ski at the Bluewood Resort in the Blue Mountains, but we never stopped at the mission. And my memories of that last visit are lost to me—all I remember of that day is the speeding ticket.

What memories do you have of traffic stops and tickets? Or of similar embarrassing events during your courtship?

Different Forms of Grieving

I did not plan to write this week about losing my parents—that’s a subject I’ve covered many times in this blog (see here and here for examples). But this week is the third anniversary of my mother’s death, and the topic is on my mind. Three years sounds like a long time. I’ve published two novels and drafted a third in those three years. And yet at times it feels like yesterday.

My parents at their wedding, 1955

I am bothered sometimes because I do not grieve my parents in the same way. My father’s death just six months after Mother’s was a raw wound—sudden, at a time when he still had plans for the future. He was an interesting and interested companion and conversationalist until the day he died. His death made me and my siblings orphans, and it thrust me into becoming the executor of both parents’ estates, which at times was overwhelming even for someone with a law degree. My life changed in the middle of the night when I got the call that he had died, and his passing left a gaping hole in my life.

By contrast, my mother had been declining for years as a result of Alzheimer’s. I had lost her piece by piece for several years—at least since her diagnosis in 2010, and in retrospect as far back as 2007 when I first noticed symptoms of her cognitive decline. In many ways, her death was a relief. And yet my feelings of relief provoked guilt, though my rational self told me that they should not. Her quality of life was poor, and she had been suffering physically as well as mentally.

When my maternal grandmother died in 2003, also from Alzheimer’s, I told my mother I was sorry she’d lost her mother and tried to console her. “I’m all right, Theresa,” Mother said to me. “I’ve already done my grieving.”

My parents in 2005 on one of the cruises they took, after 50 years of marriage

I understand now what she meant. I, too, did much of my grieving for my mother before she died. I remember returning home from one visit to see my parents and bursting into tears as I walked into my kitchen after the flight from Seattle to Kansas City. “I don’t have a mother anymore,” I told myself out loud. At that point, she was no longer capable of sharing her wisdom and experience, of mothering me in any meaningful fashion. Instead, when I was with her, I was her caregiver, as she had been mine in my childhood.

So my parents’ deaths affected me differently, and I have grieved them differently. This week, my realization is that grief comes as it comes, in the form that it takes, with each loss meaning something different. And that is all right.

Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is “[a] time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” But Ecclesiastes doesn’t promise these times will occur in a linear fashion, just that “[t]here is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens.” Eccl. 3:1. (NABRE)

Another thought that comes to mind this week is that the meaning of each loss I have suffered is likely to evolve for me as time passes. But it may take many more years before I can internalize that idea, before I can see the larger patterns of weeping and laughing, of mourning and dancing in my life, and how these patterns have changed over time.

What have different losses meant in your life?

Sleepless in Kansas City

One of the disadvantages I’ve found in getting older is not sleeping as well as I did in my youth. Ever since childhood, I’ve had trouble sleeping during times of stress, but now I hardly ever sleep for eight hours straight. Most nights I wake up once, but some nights I can’t fall asleep, and other nights I wake up around 1:00 or 2:00am and lie awake for an hour or two.

Rarely do my dreams wake me up. In fact, I don’t remember many of my dreams. I used to, but this seems to be another age-related change. Or else most of my dreams now are boring.

I do still dream in color. In the 1940s, most people reported dreaming only in black and white, but now 80% of people say they dream in color. There is some speculation that the shift is related to the development of color television.

My husband read somewhere that monophasic sleep (solid sleep for a single period each night) is actually a modern phenomenon. People used to have biphasic sleep, in which they slept for two periods in a 24-hour day. That, apparently, is where the practice of naps and siestas came from.

Some experiments have found that when people have no regular sleep schedule imposed on them, they gravitate to two four-hour periods of sleep separated by a couple of hours. Many of my nights follow this pattern. Since I learned this factoid, I’ve tried not to worry when I lie awake in bed. After all, I also read somewhere that just lying quietly gives one 80% of the benefit of sleeping (though I doubt that.)

Older generations in my family also had wakeful periods at night. My father went to bed around 8:00pm whenever his schedule permitted. He would often get up again around 10:00 or 11:00, drink some Pepsi and go back to bed. Then he was ready for his next day to start at 5:00am.

My mother, by contrast, liked to stay up reading until 11:00 or so. But she often fell asleep on the couch, until my dad woke her up. In the morning, she would stay in bed well after he was up—or at least that’s what she did once she didn’t have kids to get off to school.

When I visited my paternal grandparents as a small child, my bed was usually the living room couch with a chair placed next to it so I wouldn’t roll off. Sometimes I woke in the middle of the night and saw my grandmother sitting in a chair nearby, smoking a cigarette. She sat with one leg tucked up under her, the way I still sit whenever I can do so without opprobrium. I don’t smoke, but I think of her whenever I move around my house in the dark and whenever I curl my feet up in a chair.

My husband’s grandmother also used to walk the halls when she couldn’t sleep. She would move from bed to bed trying to find a restful spot—some nights she spent time in all three bedrooms in their house.

Ereader in night mode

Using an ereader doesn’t help my sleeplessness. I know it’s a bad idea to have that light shining in my face when I’m trying to sleep, but what else is there to do at 2:00am? I use a blue filter to minimize the brightness and I turn on the night mode in my reading apps. With these adjustments to the screen, reading often lulls me back to sleep.

Before I began writing, I used to try to distract myself in the middle of the night by making up stories in my head. Some of the ideas for my novels developed during these nocturnal musings. But now that I’m a writer, that’s work! I still do it sometimes, but since I now want to remember any good plot points I imagine, it’s not as restful as it used to be.

So I read newspaper headlines instead. The Wall Street Journal is delivered to my email inbox shortly after midnight, and The New York Times headlines come in the wee hours of the morning. Trying to focus on economic and international news is usually enough to put me to sleep. If it doesn’t make me mad.

What do you do when you wake up in the middle of the night?