Monday, October 26, 2009

40 years old

On this day forty years ago, I was born. The year I turn forty is 2009. The President is Barack Obama, and the country is at war with terrorists around the world. (Or at least we used to be). We also are in a global economic recession, some commentators say its the worst it has been since the great depression. I'm married to a chemist by training, executive by life's happenstance. He works for a French company as the Vice President of U.S. Operations out of our home. We have 3 kids aged 10, 8 and 15 months. We are getting ready to move into a bigger house. Overall, I feel blessed.

Turning 40 can be traumatic for some. On this day, it has put me into a contemplative mood and made me think about my female ancestors. What were their lives like when they turned the big 4-0? I decided to look at my four great-grandmothers and see what life looked like for them at my age.

Florence Martha Partridge Osgood
Florence turned 40 in the year 1915. The President was Woodrow Wilson. The world was at war, but the United States was not yet engaged. The Lusitania had been sunk in May of that year by Germany. Model T Fords were popular...the 1,000,000th was manufactured that year.

In Marion County, Kansas, Florence Osgood was busy. She was the wife of a hard working farmer Clark Osgood. This is a photo of the Osgood's, although I am not sure of the year.

At the age of 40, Florence was the mother of nine children. Her kids ranged in ages from 19 to 2. She was not done having babies--a year later she would give birth to my grandfather, Everett Harlan Osgood. She would go on to have an eleventh baby, a daughter, who would die at the age of five months. But at the age of 40, she would not know of this heartache. She was probably too busy!

Jennie Olivia Shipp Graham
Jennie turned 40 in 1921. Warren Harding began his short Presidency that year. Charlie Chaplin's famous silent move, "The Kid" opened in theatres. Babe Ruth was wowing crowds with home runs in baseball parks nationwide-he would set a record of 137 career home runs shortly after Jennie celebrated her 40th birthday.

Jennie was the wife of Guy Graham, a fruit farmer who had become an expert in horticultural affairs in the state of Idaho. During his career, he was the state horticultural inspector, the
commissioner of agriculture for the state, as well as a legislator in the state house in Boise. In 1921, Guy was also on the Board of the Idaho State Fair Association.

When Jennie turned 40, she had borne 8 children. One, a daughter, Dorothy, had died as a five year old. Like me, she had a one year old baby. This was Jennie's youngest child. Her oldest
surviving child was nearly 14. The family lived in Fruitland, Idaho.

The Idaho Statesman reported that at the end of July, 1921 (which was just a couple weeks after her 40th birthday), the family went on a short vacation to Payette Lakes with the Bossen and Bishop families.

It seems that life was full for the Graham family when Jennie was my age.

Alice Nerissa Dutton Shelton

My great grandmother Alice turned 40 in the year 1935. Bob Hope made his radio debut that year. Amelia Earhart was making records in aviation. The board game Monopoly hit the market for the first time. The country was in the midst of the Great Depression. Franklin D. Roosevelt was early into his first of three terms as
President. Life was hard, especially for farmers.

Alice was the wife of farmer Ira Shelton. Ira was employed as a farm manager. He managed a 200 acre farm for $1 a day and a place for his family to live.

Alice had her children when she was young. By the time she turned 40, her two children were nearly adults. Her son Richard had married the year before, and her daughter June was 15.

Alice was an extremely hard working woman. According to her daughter, she would pick apples in local orchards each morning. She could pick more apples than anyone, and then come back home at 11 a.m. to cook lunch for all the hired help.

The family's income did not allow for any extras--just money for basic needs, which the one dollar a day hardly covered. Her daughter June writes, "Mother never felt we were poor and did everything so we wouldn't feel it."

One entry in a journal that my Grandma June wrote is interesting to me, given my background: "If Dr. Reynolds came by and ask if she'd go to help deliver a baby, she'd grab a clean apron and go. Dr. wanted her to start a maternity home in Emmett but she didn't do it." It seems that my great-grandmother had some natural talent for midwifery, even if she did not have the formal training. (Actually, family lore says that Alice's own grandmother was known to be a midwife in the 1800's) Given June's perception of the midwife as someone who did not have any formal training and would just go with nothing but a clean apron, its no wonder she was a little concerned at my decision to have two of my three babies at home with a midwife!

I never knew Alice, but I think I would have liked her a lot. She died in 1959.

Lillie Pearl Sampson Fox
Like Alice, Lillie Pearl turned 40 in 1935. While Alice was in Idaho, the Fox family lived in Kansas. This photo of her was from her teenage years--I only have pictures of her at this age, or much older in group shots.

Lillie was the wife of farmer William Harrison Fox. The family raised hogs, chickens and sold graded eggs. She loved to bake angel food cakes, tend garden, and raise houseplants. She braided her waist length hair and wound it on the back of her head every morning. She baked bread and had wonderful Christmas celebrations at her house.

The year Lillie turned 40 was a year of heartbreak for her. She had to bury her youngest child, a son. William Wesley Fox died at the age of 10 months on March 17, 1935. She had buried her two other boys as well: John Delbert in 1915 (3 months old) and James Walter in 1929 (1 week old). I have a heart rendering note written by Lillie's daughter, Lucile, about William Wesley. Space does not permit in this post, but I'll share it soon. All in all, Lillie Pearl birthed 10 babies and raised 7 daughters to adulthood.

In thinking about the lives my great-grandmother's led, I cannot help but feel that I have it easy. While the world was different for each of them in 1915, 1921 and 1935, I can still identify with life's struggles, heartaches and joys. They all had to work physically so much harder than I do--they had to be extremely strong an resilient women. Knowing this, I feel fortunate to know that I hold a piece of each of them in me. On days when I think I have it rough, I can reflect on that and draw strength from it.

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