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.
In 1922, My grandmother was 25 years old and expecting her first baby. She and my grandfather lived in Hermosa Beach, California at the time. My grandfather was a traveling salesman and would be away when the baby was born, so my grandmother decided to travel back home to Massachusetts to be with her family when the baby was born. It is interesting to read my grandmother’s thoughts about how different my aunt and my mother were. My mother’s personality was much more like her father…high spirited, adventurous and a real social butterfly. My aunt Jean was serious, studious and reserved. She was very similar to her mother in those ways. I feel badly for my mother that my grandmother praises my aunt so greatly in one sentence and then in the next writes what a challenging and fussy baby my mother was. As my mother was growing up, I think my grandmother didn’t quite know what to do with her. She loved my mother totally, but Mom was a handful…especially when she became a teenager.
The grammar, punctuation and any spelling errors are left as Jenny Shrum Willett wrote them.
“Jean was born July 16, 1922 and Harold wrote he had given up his job & wanted to return to New England. We found a two family house near my family and started to buy furniture. Harold started his insurance career. Jean was a joy, a perfect baby in every way. Her grandparents adored her. She was such a smart child and learned so quickly. Baby foods had just come on the market – Gerbers had glass jars of soup sold at the drug stores. None of my friends were married but a group got together to hem diapers for Jean and it turned into a bridge club that lasted for many years. The girls met every 2 weeks and once a month we met for dinner with husbands. We dressed up in long dresses and made quite a thing of it. When Jean was 3 we moved to Swampscott on Orchard Circle. The next winter she got diptheria. My father got antitoxin for her immediately and fought to save her life.
Two nights I never took my clothes off but sat with her and worked to get her fever down. It was not long before she was well and no effects of her illness. Then I found I was pregnant again. Martha Lee was born Jan 31st 1928 a cold winter afternoon. Merah was in the hospital with her second son Mark born a couple of days before. My father sensed immediately that something was wrong with my baby. She would nurse a few minutes, turn white around the mouth and and then throw up. Then she would cry until the next feeding. She had partial stenosis but since a little food passed thru they did not want to operate. I fed her every 2 hrs day & night for 3 mos and it seemed to me she never kept any food down. She would cry until exhausted. I had to put her on a bottle and finally she outgrew it. She was so different from my first baby. Jean started school at the old Palmer school just a block away and everything came easy for her. The new Stanley school was completed and she moved to that. When Martha Lee was 2 yrs old she started with rheumatic fever and my father insisted they take out her tonsils even if she had a fever. Soon after the operation the symptoms of the fever stopped. We moved into a single house on Humphrey St – and then the depression hit and we found cheaper rent on Lewis Rd . There we had fun when the Kunkels moved in downstairs. They have remained our very close friends. I often went to the Cape with Phoebe.
Her father had a big house & he let her rent rooms in the summer. We would sleep in the attic and had lots of time to go to the wonderful beaches there.”
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: