Hey! Velma here. If you read last week’s post, you’ll know I’m currently focused on the mystery of my Mitochondrial line. My mom, her mom, and her mom, and her mom, and her mom, and so on and so forth. I was able to map out 11 generations with names and dates, and I want to now fill in as much as I can about each of the women in my line. Today’s all about Nana.
Janice was born in her parents’ home on North Paddock Street in Pontiac, Michigan in the summer of 1936. And she left us at her home on Mary Sue in March of 2016. But there’s so much more to her as a person than where and when she entered and exited.
Think of all the historical events Janice lived through! She was born during the great depression of the 1930’s. Pearl Harbor happened when she was 5 ½ years old. World War II ended when she was 9. She was 75 years old when the towers fell on September 11th. She also lived through the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, and the more recent Middle Eastern conflicts. Nana had just celebrated her 33rd birthday 4 days before man walked on the moon.
For the sake of curiosity, I tried to determine what I could from records about my Nana. In 1940, Janice was nearly 4 years old, and was living at 172 Pike Street with her family. Her father, like so many during this Great Depression, had been unemployed for 4 weeks at the time that the census was taken.
Because Nana is a recent ancestor, the 1940 census, phone book records placing her residence in Clarkston, and her 1952 high school photo were the only other public records I could find. The 1950 census will not be public until 2022, so this is as far as she can be publicly documented. I could not find her birth record, marriage record, or her death record.
Around the time of her yearbook photo, Janice and her friend Pat started chatting with two young men on a party line. After a time, they arranged to meet them for a date. Pat was set up with a boy named Harvey Nicholson, and Janice with one of his friends. When they finally met up, they ended up switching and Janice and Harvey dated for nearly two years before breaking up for a short time.
Once getting back together, they wasted no time and got married on the 10th of April 1954. They had a small ceremony in the home of a Reverend in Pontiac, Michigan. Once married, Harv and Jan moved into an apartment, then a bought a small house on Drayton Road in Clarkston. In 1961, they moved into their long-term home on Mary Sue Street in Clarkston. Nana told me she moved around a lot as a child, and therefore loathed the idea of ever moving again. She simply could not understand why I kept changing apartments all the time. I think of her shaking her head at me every time I move.
When Janice was in school, girls were not encouraged to go to college. She was told that girls got married and had children. I remember having conversations about this as I was applying to colleges and thinking how different her teen years were from mine. As with these times, she quit school at 17, got married, and had 3 baby girls 3 years in a row. And 5 years later, a son. I am proud to say that as a grandmother of two, she went back and earned her high school diploma in 1977. Knowing her as I do, I think she would have done well in college.
Nana told me that when she was in high school, she got hired as a roller-skating waitress at a drive-in diner, but that her dad refused to let her work there. She ended up babysitting instead. She also worked at Kresge’s soda fountain as a teen. She was a housewife and a stay at home mom most of her adult life, but she wasn’t the type to just cook and clean, although she did those things. Nana was an experienced seamstress who made her kids clothes. She also designed and built her own deck. She could look at any craft type item and say, I can make that. And she would! During the Cabbage Patch Kids craze she made upwards of $1000 profit on all the tiny doll clothes she sewed. She also worked for a time at the deli counter at Meijer. I don’t think there was anything, Nana couldn’t do once she decided she would.
My Nana is the reason that this mystery solving researcher started working on her family tree. She did all the legwork within the family collect information. She needed me to do online research for her, because she did not like computers or the trust the internet. But Nana did appreciate the information I could find. We’d celebrate our breakthroughs, like finding Thomas Clark’s application for citizenship, the first Clark ancestor to come to America. Things like that. I still get the unction to call her when I solve a mystery, knowing she’d be just as excited as me.
I also miss playing Scrabble with her, even though she usually beat me by a wide margin. She was not the grandma who let kids win. She felt the fun was the playing, not the winning. Seriously. I played Scrabble against her from age 9 and did not win a game until the summer after I turned 19. I only beat her by 2 points, but I was so pumped. I jumped up, ran into the living room, and high fived Papa. Nana shook her head at me and said, “Missy, if this is how you’re going to behave when you win, I won’t play with you anymore.” I can hear her saying it and the look on her face, and it makes me smile. She had amazing skill playing games, and much luck with the lottery, BINGO, and playing the slots. Nana was good with numbers and could always do all the math lightning fast without a calculator.
I miss listening to oldies and dancing with her. She was so fun! At every wedding reception, she would put her fuzzy “bobbie” socks on over her nylons and head to the dance floor. The Twist. The Alligator. The Macarena. Polkas! All the dances.
Point to ponder while you wander…I want to take a minute to say that when you start researching into your family tree, remember that people are complex. They make good and bad decisions just like you do. They have hurts and broken places. They have loved and lost. They rejoiced and grieved. You may not be able to discern this from records, but it is the truth. You also need to consider that they are influenced by the time in which they lived and the prevailing thoughts of the day. Those we love are not perfect. No one is. Remember that.
As fun as our Nana was, she was also stubborn. Fiercely so. We did not always agree, and she could be completely unreasonable and cantankerous. But I always knew she loved and wanted the best for me, even when we did not agree what “best” meant. She would not quit smoking no matter what you told her about how bad it was for her. She just kept smoking those damn unfiltered cigarettes that wreaked havoc on her lungs, and eventually took her from us in 2016.
And yet, the things that stick with me the most, the things I chose to remember are the ones that make me smile, and sometimes cry. Bike rides. Her walking me around her yard for a tour of all her plants that were in bloom in the spring, and at different times of the summer. Sitting out on the deck she built visiting, dancing, or playing games. The week she spent expertly painting every square inch of my kitchen cabinets and walls before I moved into my first house. And laughing. So much laughter.
Point to ponder while you wander bonus conversation….party lines.
Party Line sounds a bit saucy, but back in the 1950’s phone lines were commonplace. To the left is an advertisement about them from around that time, explaining how they were less expensive and enabled more people to have a telephone. With everyone having cell phones now, it seems crazy to think that people had to share a line with 2-4 of their neighbors. I imagine it wasn’t easy to keep things secret if you had a neighborhood gossip with whom you shared a party line. But without those party lines my mom wouldn’t have been born, and neither would I.