Scads of Fun

5 Mar

When my great-grandmother Emily died, we had to clear out her house. They lived on a farm near Garden Plain, Illinois–15 minutes drive from where I grew up. But this exercise gave us a glimpse into her life, a world that disappeared a hundred years ago.

My grandma Emily was the youngest daughter of Harvey, the owner of the bank in Albany, Illinois (the bank only recently merged with another). Her mother died in childbirth (1899), which meant that her older sister, Olive, ended up raising her. Not the greatest start, but they were the upper class of their small town, so she didn’t want for anything. However, she grew up, went to the local high school (a bit unusual for 1912), and performed very well. Emily and her girlfriend saw a list of all the boys in the high school and decided to work their way through the (short) list, dating all of them. Emily took the end and her girlfriend the beginning… but apparently decided to stop when she met Lee.

They were a pretty steady couple, but her father didn’t like the idea of his daughter marrying a farmer, so he sent her off to college. She visited Blackburn College, which by modern standards is a six-hour drive, but in 1916, that would have been closer to 12. Emily sent a postcard to Lee saying that “the kids here live in Pullman cars and have scads of fun!” In retrospect, she was taunting her beau. She ended up going to Campbell College, a women’s college in Mount Carroll, Illinois (much closer to Albany), and stayed their a year until she got married a year later in 1917.

Now us grandkids were always confused why Harold eventually let her daughter marry someone so below her social standing, until Emily’s funeral. That’s when my cousin Tim made the connection–when he looked at the program which mentioned the birthdates of all of her kids. Great Aunt Josephine was born six months after the stated date of their wedding. Whoops. So apparently, Lee and Emily had a shotgun wedding, which finally removed all opposition to Lee marrying her baby girl, and knowing how smart Emily was… she may have planned it that way.

Lee missed the WWI draft by being married and having a kid, putting him up in a higher tier. They rented a farm for a while until they could get enough money to buy their own. (Which is still in the family, owned by my uncle and aunt.) They ended up having four kids, including my grandfather, John Wesley. (Lee’s father was Wesley.) They all grew up on that farm, and their kids got married, making sure to visit their parents with their kids twice a week (the other weekend was for the spouse’s parents).

Lee lived until he was 91, Emily 97; she died ten years to the day that her husband died. I didn’t know my great-grandma that well while she was alive, but going through her things, allowed me to see the world that she lived in… and that brought me closer to her. Have you ever had this experience? Have you been able to connect with a dead relative through some letter or picture you found? Let me know about it in the comments below!

One Response to “Scads of Fun”

  1. Jane Tawel March 5, 2021 at 2:34 pm #

    A good chunk of my childhood was lived in Monmouth Illinois. This was a good read and I liked the pictures. Thank you.

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