My grandmother, Jeanette Shrum Willett, left us a wonderful handwritten manuscript of her life which she wrote in the mid 1980’s. She was born August 4, 1897 in Bloomington, Indiana and died March 3, 1988 in Salem, Massachusetts. I have been transcribing her manuscript here. You can start from the beginning with Part 1.
My grandmother loved to tell the story about how she didn’t like my grandfather, Harold, when they were teenagers. She touches on it in this entry when she describes him playing “post office” with a girl at a party. For those who don’t know, “post office” was a kissing game similar to what Spin the Bottle would be years later.
I enjoyed reading about the Parson family. One member of that family, Estelle, grew up to be an actress and appeared on the sitcom, Roseanne. Estelle played Rosanne’s mother. The Parson and Shrum families stayed friends for many years. My mother and Estelle were the same age and they used to play paper dolls together when they were kids. Fast forward many years later to the 1990’s when Estelle appeared at Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT for a play there. My mother and I attended and afterwards, Estelle did a Q & A with the audience. My mother introduced herself to Estelle. Estelle was delighted to see my mother.
This entry sets the stage for my grandmother meeting and falling in love with my grandfather, Harold Potter Willett. They would end up being married for 53 years and she never stopped missing him after he passed away in 1973. Harold served in World War I and suffered mustard gas burns on his lungs during his time in the Army. My grandmother talks about his service, his battles, and his injury.
The grammar, punctuation and any spelling errors are left as Jenny Shrum Willett wrote them.
“Merah & I graduated from 9th grade Cobbett Grammar School and entered Lynn Classical High School which was new & we thought quite grand. It was for students preparing for college.
We formed a club our first year and had many good times together and still have some of the friends of that time. We had lots of parties & dances. I remember running all the way home one day to tell my mother I had been invited to the Junior prom by Jimmie Sullivan, a Junior. Mother and Dad had friends the Starr Parsons who had a son Eben, Merah’s age. They invited us every summer & some holidays, too, to their summer cottage in Wolfeboro, N.H. There I learned to swim and had a wonderful time . The families hoped Merah & Eben would like each other but it didn’t work out. When I was 14 I went to my first boy girl party – I wore my first grown up yellow taffeta dress. Harold was there, older and paid me no attention – He was busy playing post office with another girl. It was a year later that he asked me to a canoe party that his club was giving. After that he was a steady date. When he graduated he went to work in his father’s factory and when I graduated and went to Indiana U. he decided he would go too. I dated some that first year. One was Homer Hargrove who married Colleen Moore the actress.
In the spring Harold sent me an engagement ring. The war was going on in Europe but seemed remote from us. We took Red Cross courses and when we entered the boys began to leave college. At the end of Harold’s first year he applied for Officers Training and left for Plattsburg. He got his commission and I remember the day he came home looking very handsome in his new uniform. His father took us to the Copely Plaza for lunch. We had a short time together, then he went to Charlotte N.C. to Camp Greene and I went back to college. The war had made a lot of changes – fewer dances – mostly young boys – girls knitting all the time. In the spring Harold wrote he was going over seas, so I left college met his mother & sister in Charlotte and saw him a few days before he left. He went to school in Grondecourt in France for a couple of months before he went into the trenches. He was bent in 47th Infantry 4th Regular division. He went thru the battles of Meuse, Aisne, Marne offensive, Vesle river and the Argonne. He finally was gassed in bottle of Argonne and came to in the hospital at Lunoges where he stayed 5 mos and then was sent to Oklahoma with troops to be discharged. My father & I went over to N.Y. when he landed. Dad found he still had bad burns from the gas on his back and his lungs were affected. The day the armistice was signed Jimmie Sullivan came and took me down town to see the excitement. Flags were waving and horns blowering etc.”
Did you enjoy this? Click below to read Part 8!
I have joined an online challenge by Amy Johnson Crow to write about 52 ancestors in 52 weeks. I’m writing about the prompt “Diary.” I am hopelessly behind on participating, but Amy says there really is no “behind.” Writing at your pace and getting something out on the page is what is most important. You can join any time and find all the details here: