What’s in Mrs. Hale’s Reciepts for the Million 1857?
Today’s my Nana’s birthday. She was born on March 6, 1875. When the West was the West. Her dad was a Civil War vet from Ohio. Her mother already gone west to Kansas at in 1862 when she was twelve years where her parents taught at Shawnee Mission.
Married in 1895, Nana homesteaded in Colorado, Indian Territory and eventually, Idaho where my grandfather had a job as auditor with Boise Power and Light. Electricity was a coming thing. By then she had three sons. In 1915, at age 40, she had my mom.
What Nana Gave Me
My mom was born and raised in Idaho, but went east to University of Michigan to study piano in 1933. She met and married my dad from there and never returned to Idaho. But my Nana came with her in story and pictures and in the gifts and letters she sent me as a girl. Some of those stories were about her own mother whom we called “Bongie” and life in Indian Territory in the 1890s, setting up home in Colorado and eventually to Boise.
It is quite remarkable to know someone who lived through pioneering times. She may be one of the reasons I love history so much. History, for me, has often been personal. When I was writing my college thesis for my degree in history back in the 1960s, I asked if there were any pictures that I might use as I was writing about Fort Sill and the Comanches. Mom said there were some down the hall. I found a treasure trove that I later shared with the Smithsonian Institute. Not long after, I got a letter from Nana. In that letter she wrote about her father going to Indian Territory and living on a claim where he got to know many of the Indians in the pictures. Her personal accounts of people bring color and life to their faces.
Nana had a love of her own history. As early as 1920, my mom recalls her and her aunt going over family records by lantern light. By 1955, she had traced her March family all the way back to 1638, when Hugh March arrived in Newburyport, MA. In 1959, Nana came out by train from Boise and we took her up to New Hampshire and Massachusetts to see the original tavern built in the 1670s and beautiful home of March’s grandson. I will never forget the look on her face when she saw that tavern and the monument on the village green in Newburyport. Mission accomplished. She had found her roots.
Though I met Nana in person only a few times in her long life (she passed away in 1974 at age 99), her handmade gifts of doll furniture and clothes, dresses for me and letters are with me still. Now that I am a grandmother, I think of her often and what she gave me. She is the model for my time. Though she was far away from me, as I am with my own young grandchildren, she cast a silver line of story and things made from her heart.
A few years ago, I wrote an essay about the dreams and hopes of four generations of women in my family. Here is what I wrote about Nana:
My Nana, another of Bongie’s girls, had dreams of home, of finding her Puritan ancestors in New England. After going to business school, she married and followed the railroad with her accountant husband across the West—Oklahoma, New Mexico, Idaho—before they were states. She saw it all: cow towns, mining towns, little towns on the edge of nowhere.
As my grandfather advanced his career, she sewed her own clothes, played her Spanish guitar and added sons until she had three. Once, she settled down long enough for her boys to play football for a deaf school, the only hearing players on the team. They would listen for the other team’s plays and then passed them onto their teammates in sign language. They always won. In World War I they were doughboys. Then at forty, Nana birthed my mother and settled down in Boise, Idaho for the next fifty-nine years.
I loved my Nana, loved the soft velvety feel of her cheek against mine. Loved the sound of her voice, soft with its Western lilt. “I went fer a walk up the crik,” she’d say. Or, “None of your beeswax.”
She dreamed of my mother. Did she dream of me?
I think she did dream of me.
Happy birthday, Nana!