Wednesday, January 8, 2014

An Unexpected Discovery From the Past

 This post is dedicated to my wonderful cousins—to Bruce, Dana, Julie and their families who loved and cared for Elsie until she went to heaven at the age of 101.

I interviewed my Great Aunt Elsie because she was 97 years old and I wanted to know what the world was like "back then".  Little did I know that a few years later, these notes would hold some valuable nuggets of information that I treasure today.

Elsie passed to heaven several weeks ago, and I found myself gathered with my cousins sitting in a hard pew under the stain glassed windows of a small church listening to the story of Elsie's life. My cousin Dana mentioned that Elsie wrote part of her own eulogy and it began, "I was born 9 miles north of Prescott, Arizona in the shadow of Granite Mountain."

My heart jumped. That was the exact spot in Prescott where Bill (Mozart) and I have been looking for a home.  Unless you've been to Prescott, one would not realize the significance of this, but in Prescott you can drive 30 miles and still be in Prescott. The town spreads out over rolling hills, flat prairies, lakes, valleys, and pine forest.

Granite Mountain
When I got home from the service I went through a stack of stuff and found Elsie's interview.  And there it was. She had mentioned Granite Mountain.

     "The shadow would look blue late in the day." She said the area was called Williamson Valley and the family owned a ranch—"a dry farm." She explained that there was no irrigation, they relied on rain.
     "Our homestead was 60 acres."  Her father was a carpenter who worked in the town of Prescott building homes and doing other carpentry work.  "He left the running of the ranch to my older brother and my mother."

  She was delivered by a midwife, Mrs. Simpson. But there was also a visit by Doctor McNalley and he was paid for his services in butter, eggs, chickens, and cord wood. "My caretaker was a collie dog named Boots." She remembers cornfields, chickens, horses and cows on the ranch. "We sold eggs and cheese." Their kitchen was a lean-to against the house. She remembers the ranch was lit by kerosene lamps and part of her chores included trimming wicks and washing glass shades.

She said that it was hard to make a living and they eventually lost the farm before Elsie turned five.

A few days ago Bill and I were in Prescott looking at homes in Williamson Valley, and during a lull in the looking, I set off on a hike in the area Elsie mentioned. (The two pictures above)

To continue with Elsie's story, she told me that after losing the ranch they moved to 100 North Montezuma Street, in town.   Here is how it looks today.
She drew a map and explained that they didn't live there long. Two years later they moved to 323 South Montezuma.
I took this picture last week.  The right-hand side of the building is 323.
"The kitchen in the South Montezuma house was a large room, and we also had a dining room. A wood stove sat out from the wall. We baked bread and canned our own fruit and vegetables. My mother made the most delicious mince meat." When I asked her what mince meat was, she listed the ingredients: Beef, apples, raisins, sugar, suet (fat) with a crust around it. "It was a dessert."

Her mother sent her to school at the Catholic School. "I had to walk to school and I remember the school was on a big hill.  It was good for toboggening." (The Catholic church and school are still there today — up on a hill.)

Now this a bit out of context, but Bill got the flu while we were in Prescott. I know, I know—its the pits to be sick in a hotel room (or anywhere) and I felt so bad for him. On the second day, when he was a little better I slipped out while he was sleeping and took a drive to Williamson Valley to walk the neighborhood where we are looking at homes. After my survey (and after seeing a wild Javelina in the bushes--that's another story) I ventured across the highway to "Williamson Valley Trail Head."  The trail headed toward Granite Mountain and I noticed the sun hovering above the summit.

I wondered what would happen when the sun slipped behind the mountain. Maybe I could watch the shadow grow and discover where Elsie's land was.  But the sun moved too slowly and soon I had to leave. But I knew I would be back.

 On the way out I wondered if Elsie ever snagged her skirt on a prickly pear cactus.

Or gathered the fallen berries from a Juniper tree.

I even wondered if she was afraid of wild Javelinas.

But I have come to the conclusion that she wasn't afraid of anything. She lived a long life full of twists and turns, ups and downs,  joys, and adventures. And she survived. Intact. She was made of strong stuff and she is an inspiration to me.

We made an offer on a house today in Williamson Valley-Prescott. I wish I could tell her! But somehow I think she knows.

1 comment:

Willow said...

Your photos of Prescott are making me want to visit there and explore!