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 grandparent’s house on Lewis Road has many fond memories for me. Gathering raspberries from the bushes in her back yard into an empty margarine container. I remember there wasn’t much of a flat back yard to play in. I remember playing in the front yard instead. I also played in the house a lot. It was a very cozy Cape Cod house, but had a very scary (to me), dark and musty basement. When I was very little I remember my grandmother had an old fashioned circle drum washing machine in the basement. The basement was partially finished with a paneled sitting room and older furniture from the 1920’s or 30’s. That was the room where the oversized ancestor photos were hung on the wall. As a little girl those photos scared me to death. They were serious and scary looking to me.
My grandmother writes about her neighbor, Lil Coe, moving in to the neighborhood. I remember Lil. She was a very loving and affectionate woman who lived across the street. My aunt says Lil is the one who began calling my grandmother Jenny. Others began to call her that as well from that time forward.
This is also where we hear about my aunt meeting her future husband, Burleigh Wellington. Uncle Burleigh was a wonderful man with a great sense of humor. In my eyes he was so much more relaxed and warm than my Aunt Jean. My Aunt Jean was very prim and proper and always seems to be disapproving of one thing or another. She was a nice person, but I didn’t find her enjoyable to be around while I was a little girl. I got to appreciate and understand her manner much more as I became and adult. She was thoughtful and very family oriented. But my Uncle Burleigh was just easier to be around. He and my mother got on famously. They shared a somewhat raunchy sense of humor that bonded them. But Uncle Burleigh and Aunt Jean were devoted to each other and loved learning and traveling and later in life, antiquing.
The grammar, punctuation and any spelling errors are left as Jenny Shrum Willett wrote them.
“Mr. Folger offered up Lewis Road & began to build single houses. Phoebe bought the first one and we wanted to live next door to her but the plans didn’t suit us but the third house was just what we wanted. Harold sold a big policy & we took the $1000 & put in down on #34 & I still love the house. We took mortgage for $7000 and were very happy.
Our only vacations at that time were insurance conventions and I enjoyed the change & a little luxury living. We went to the Homestead, Greenbriar, Sky Top, Quebec, Florida, Porto Rico etc. Mother & Dad kept the girls. We were still recovering from the depression. One year Harold only made $1800 but we survived and managed to have some fun. Most of our friends were in the same boat so we had to make our pleasures inexpensive. Lil Coe moved into the neighborhood & her Sarah was born here. When she came from the hospital, Phoebe & I would go over & bathe & dress the new baby – What a doll she was. Jean was off to college and homesick. I went out to her initiation and what a thrill that was. It brought back memories of my college days and one of my classmates had a daughter initiated too. She only stayed a year – made freshman honorary society. She went to Simmons & then took a job at Gimm & Co. She had several boy friends but she met Burleigh on a blind date she said I’ve met the most wonderful man and if he doesn’t call me for a date I’ll never get over it. He did and they were engaged New Years day and married in May. I think it was her second date with Burleigh when I had a horrible experience. My hair actually turned gray the night of the Coconut Grove Fire & she had gone in town and met Burleigh, planning to stay over night at the Willetts. When the news of the fire came over radio I called Jeanette & told her to have Jean call when she got there. As the hours went by and she didn’t call I knew she was in the fire. Finally towards morning she called. They were at the Statler & because of fire near by couldn’t get out & she didn’t think I would know of the fire because I never listened to 11 o’clock news.”
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: