Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Lola's Journey

Yesterday was the final session in my third course of Life Writing classes. We'd been assigned to select an ancestor who had influenced us or in some other way (by immigrating to America, for example) changed the direction of our lives, then research that person and write about him or her. We were also supposed to include in the report some facts about what was going on in the world during that person's lifetime, but I forgot that part. (We all forgot that part.)

There are many people in my family history who were the first of their line to come to America. When I couldn't decide between them, I switched to focus on who had influenced me most. It didn't take long to narrow it down to three ancestors who had most affected how I turned out: my mother, her mother and my father (by virtue of his absence). Wanting to write a positive piece, I chose Mammaw, my maternal grandmother; any shred of positivity in my genetic or environmental makeup came directly from her.

It would be easier--and a much better story--to copy and paste here what I read aloud in yesterday's class, but privacy concerns tell me that's not a good idea. What I think I'll do instead is omit the warm and fuzzy story part of the homework piece and concentrate on the research part, information gleaned from family documents, genealogy websites and Internet maps, and tell how Mammaw got from where she was born to where she died. That means there will be approximately, oh, one person, my sister Judy, who will be interested. Maybe not even Judy. The rest of you have probably read as far as you'll want to, although you might enjoy the cool pictures, and you might learn something about the process of genealogical research.


First of all, here's a little map I've put together of where Mammaw lived over the course of her life. She started in Southeast Kansas and ended up in Southeast Texas:

Mammaw was born Lola Fern Elliott on July 8, 1896 in Scammon, Cherokee County, Kansas (the uppermost red star on the map above). She was the first child of the marriage between William Joseph Elliott and Dora Belle Hetherington.

William Joseph "Joe" Elliott and Dora Belle Hetherington Elliott
Wedding Day - July 18, 1895

Lola Fern Elliott - Age 2

By the time of the 1900 United States Census the small family had moved about 35 miles away to Shoal Creek Township in Newton County, Missouri, where they lived in a house next to Dora's parents, Anna and Alvin Hetherington. Joe Elliott was farming, probably on Hetherington land. This is where they lived when Lola's baby sister, Cleda Opal, was born in October of that year.

Mammaw spoke several times about her experiences while traveling with her family in a covered wagon when she was five. That would have been in the latter part of 1901 or the early part of 1902, when the family moved from Shoal Creek to Maryville, Nodaway County, Missouri. She told us her parents owned a store in Maryville. Two more children were born to Joe and Dora while they lived there:  a girl, Ruth Irene, in April of 1903 and a boy, Loren Lester, in December of 1905.

Dora Elliott with Cleda and Ruth at their home in Maryville, MO - May 1905.
(If you click to enlarge the photo, you can see that Dora was pregnant with Loren.)

Sometime between the end of 1905 and 1910 the family made another long distance move. The 1910 U.S. Census shows them living in Cullen Township on the edge of Waynesville in Pulaski County, Missouri. I don't know the means or logistics of that move, but I'm sure Mammaw would have mentioned it if there'd been a second covered-wagon trip.

Ruth and Loren Elliott - circa 1910

Mammaw completed two years of high school (according to the 1940 census) and reached maturity in Pulaski County. We know from a notation on the back of the next photo that she worked as a telephone operator in Waynesville in 1917:

Lola Elliott - Waynesville, MO - 1917

Two years later Lola was in Springfield, Greene County, Missouri, attending business college. She wrote about that in a letter to my daughter Kim in 1984, adding, "...a girlfriend ask[ed] me to doubledate with a boy just home from the army (WWI) and we went to a show, that was on the 10th of July and the 1st of Oct. we were married... ." That "boy" was my grandfather, Lewis Ames Saunders. They married in Ozark, Christian County, Missouri, on October 1, 1919, when he was weeks short of being 31 years old and Lola was 23. Lewis's sister Evelyn and her husband, John Barkman, were their witnesses.

Photo of Lewis and Lola's original marriage certificate,
which I'm fortunate enough to have in my possession.

Lewis and Lola Saunders - circa 1920

The 1920 U.S. Census shows Lola and Lewis living on Mt. Vernon Street in Springfield and lists Lewis's occupation as stock clerk in the retail furniture industry. Lola was not working outside the home. In November of that year she gave birth to their first child, a son they named Neale. Their second child, Wanda, my mother, was born in Springfield in August of 1923.

Neale and Wanda Saunders - about 1927

By 1930 the Saunders family had moved to a rented house on West Madison Street in Springfield and Lewis was a shipping clerk, still in the furniture business. According to census data collected that year, the family did not yet own a radio set.

A 1932 Springfield, Missouri City Directory shows the family living at 427 Ildereen Drive and Lewis working as a warehouseman at Turner Department Store. (Judy, remember? Ildereen is the street Mother asked us to look for when we visited Springfield in 1996.) Neale was 15 and Wanda was 12 when Lola learned she was pregnant again. The new baby boy, named Joe (after Lola's father) was born in January of 1936. Judging by the house number in the photo below, the family still lived on Ildereen as late as 1937 or '38.

Joe, Wanda and Neale - abt. 1937

By the time of the 1940 U.S. Census they had moved about 15 miles to the small community of Center, Missouri, still in Greene County, where they lived in a rented house and Lewis worked as a sharecropper on a nearby farm. (The community identified as Center in census records seems to have disappeared--or at least to have been renamed. There's another town in Missouri named Center now, but it's nowhere near Springfield.) Those were lean years. The family took in a lodger, a female abstractor named Ruby Reed, to help make ends meet. This is where the family lived when Wanda graduated from nearby Bois D'Arc High School on May 15, 1941.

Wanda's graduation announcement.

The facts get a little fuzzy now because the online city directories for Springfield are missing for the early 1940s. It's possible they didn't even print them during WWII. Anyway, I don't know for sure when the family moved back to Springfield. I do know that Neale enlisted in the Army in November of 1941, and Wanda married my father, Paul, in January of 1942. Paul lived in Springfield, but they eloped and married in Marshfield, about 30 miles away in Webster County. I was born in November of 1942, and Paul shipped out with the army three months later. Sometime in the early 1940s Lewis and Lola bought a two-story, five-bedroom house on East Madison Street in Springfield. That's the house I still think of when I hear the word "home."

City directories were back by 1947, and the one for that year shows that Lewis was working as a warehouseman for Martin Bros. Piano Co. My sister was born in January of 1947 and our parents divorced in July of that year. We moved in with Lewis and Lola, as did Lola's mother, Dora Elliott, who'd been widowed since her husband Joe died in 1933. Young Joe Saunders was still at home, of course. That left one upstairs bedroom available to rent to students attending nearby Southwest Missouri State Teachers College.

When 1957 rolled around, Lewis, Lola, Wanda, Judy and I still lived in that house. Dora had passed away in 1953, and Joe had left home around 1955 or '56 to join the Army. Lewis was retired by then. In the summer of 1957, Mother remarried and moved us to Texas.

I have a copy of a real estate listing showing that Lewis and Lola listed the house on East Madison Street for sale in March of 1960. They sold it about one month later and moved to Texas themselves, where they bought a small, single-story house a few blocks away from us in Orange.

Lewis and Lola Saunders in front of their Orange, Texas home - abt. 1960

Lewis, always known as Packy to us, died in April of 1964 following a series of strokes, but Lola lived in that house for 28 years, longer than anyplace she'd ever lived in her life. In May of 1988 my daughter, granddaughter, and I drove from Louisiana and visited Mammaw in her home. She was as mentally sharp as ever but mentioned that she was losing weight and had begun experiencing some pain in her side. Here's Lola on that visit with my granddaughter, her great-great granddaughter:

Later in 1988, some time after Mammaw had been diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer, she was given hallucination-inducing pain medication, required around-the-clock care that exceeded Mother's capabilities, and eventually entered a nursing facility. She died at the age of 92 on December 4, 1988. She was buried in Orange County--the lowest red star on the map at the beginning of this post. 


I've changed my mind and will add just a couple of paragraphs of personal remembrances from yesterday's Life Writing assignment:

"Lola and Lewis, by then known to me as Mammaw and Packy, made their home ours. I grew up knowing that Packy was considered the head of the household, but it was clear from early on that Mammaw was the one who kept everything going. She was the one who cooked three meals a day, cleaned that five-bedroom house, did the washing on Mondays, the ironing on Tuesdays, shopped for groceries, saw that the bills were paid, tended her flower garden and potted plants, canned home-grown vegetables, made jellies and jams, crocheted and tatted doilies to protect the highly polished surfaces of her furniture, and hummed pleasantly to herself while she did all of it. She went to Sunday school and church every Sunday and took us with her. During the Christmas holiday season, she worked part-time at the Busy Bee Bargain Store to earn extra money.

Lola Saunders, 5th from left

"If she ever met anyone she didn’t like, she certainly didn’t say so. She was friends with all the neighbors and belonged to what she called a club, a group of ladies who took turns hosting lunch once a month in their homes. She was the kindest person I’ve ever known.

"Mammaw was our family’s rock. She was the caretaker of her own confused, elderly mother, the behind-the-ear scrubber of her six-foot-tall teenaged son, the calm after my mother’s temperamental storms, the one who tucked a sick granddaughter into her own downstairs double bed and tended her with hot tea and buttered toast cut into finger-sized strips. In the 1950s, when we teased Mammaw about the lyrics of a popular song, 'Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets,' she said, 'I always do get everything I want, but I always know just how much I can want.'”


Digging up old documents and photos of our ancestors helps us piece together the facts and the journeys of their lives. If you didn't already know--and if you've bothered to read this far--I hope this post has given you some ideas about how to put together your own family puzzles. The truth is, though, that facts like these tell only part of the story. The most important part is what the ancestors you knew personally meant to you and why. Write it down, people, while you still remember. 


  1. I loved reading it all. Thank you for sharing. I wish I had anything written down by my ancestors. I am the "baby" in the family and grandparents had passed away before I was born. I would love to just know what a normal day was like for any of them, see photos of their homes, especially their kitchens. My sister has done genealogy back for generations but other than names & dates that is about all I know. Everyone has a story, I wish I had my families' stories to read.

    1. Thank you, Betsy. The old photos and documents I have are among my greatest treasures. If you're really interested in learning more about your own ancestors--and are willing to dig through a mountain with a teaspoon--take the names, dates (and places?) that your sister has accumulated and start there. Ancestry.com is a treasure trove, of course, but the Internet is full of information that you don't have to pay for. Almost every little town now has a web page of its history; that's one good way to find out what was going on where your ancestors lived. Sometimes just Googling their name--especially if you add the name of a spouse or a location--will pull up information that will surprise you. I was helping a friend once when he'd hit a roadblock on his family tree and Googled his father's middle name. One of the hits contained a photo of a Civil War officer who looked remarkably like my friend and turned out to be a great-grandfather whose name he'd never heard. It's really fun if you like that kind of thing.

      You and I and other bloggers are doing our part for future generations by telling about our lives on the Internet. Let's just hope technological advances don't leave our words lost somewhere in the ether.

  2. Good morning, I saw your comment on Ronni's blog. I will be back and read more of your excellent writing and interesting stories.

    1. Thanks, Miss Dazey, it's nice to meet you!

  3. Linda- I am working on article about the "Great Waynesville Bank Robbery" that occurred June 24, 1917. The central office, where I believe your Mammaw worked, plays into the story- the bank robbers told Mrs Anderson, who was on duty, to "answer no calls". When the bandits blasted the safe a slab of steel struck the side of the central office and tore a hole through the wall- and broke a picture inside the building. To help illustrate the story, I would love to use the photo of Lola Elliott as it is was taken the same year that this occurred. I would certainly identify your grandmother in the photograph and credit you as the source. You can read an account of the robbery at: http://www.oldstagecoachstop.org/webgeezer/Gazette03/waynesvillebankrobbery.pdf. My email address is piagt71@gmail.com and I would love to hear from you. I was delighted when I found this photo- and enjoyed your post very much. Thank You for sharing!


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