Friday, March 10, 2017

100th Anniversary of Mother's Birth

Today, March 10, 2017 is the 100th anniversary of my mother's birth.
She died in 1996, so didn't make it to 80.
For the last several weeks, my mother keeps popping into my head.
And I keep thinking how different her life would have been if she'd been born in 2017 instead of 1917.
Mother, Nancy Leah Swicegood, was born in the small Ozark town of Weaubleau, Hickory County, Missouri.

Fairly soon after she was born, Mom's family moved to Otis, Washington County, Colorado. Her father, William Earl Swicegood had gotten a lead on work from his brother-in-law, Clio Vanderford (husband of his sister, Pearl). According to local newspapers, Earl got quite a few contracts with the county for concrete work. The family stayed in Otis until at least 1922, but mother Fay returned to Weaubleau several times. In August 1918, Fay somehow spilled a pot of boiling water over Leah, then a tiny toddler. Fay's mother and sister came out to Otis and they took Leah back to Weaubleau to nurse her burns. In 1919, Fay and daughters returned to Weaubleau for the birth of a third daughter, Nina Lee (born November 1st). At the time of the 1920 US Census, the family was still living in Otis and Earl was working as a contractor on a bridge project. Leah was listed as "Leo F." a male. From the photo at left, it's not surprising that the census taker might mistake her for a little boy!

The family of five returned to Weaubleau by fall 1922 so that the eldest daughters, Dee and Leah, could start school. It's not clear whether they both started school that fall or just Deloris. By all accounts, Mom excelled in school. One of her first cousins often told a story about how they were in the first grade together one day and the next day Mom was promoted to the second grade. Unfortunately, she would not talk about her childhood. I know she was a very good debater in high school and apparently the smartest person in her small graduating class.

But by the time she graduated from high school on May 10, 1934, she was deeply in love with a man a couple of years her senior, L. Jay Thomson. She apparently turned down an all-expenses-paid scholarship to the University of Missouri in favor of working as assistant Postmaster to her mother at Weaubleau. She and Jay were married on October 12th, 1935, but I'm not sure where or by whom. Their license was issued in Camdenton, Camden County, Missouri, but was not returned there. A daughter, Elsie Ann Thomson, was born on February 11th, 1936 and died five days later. She is buried in the Weaubleau Congregational Christian Church cemetery in Weaubleau. Jay was not present at the birth, as the couple was already estranged at that time. Mom filed for divorce on April 14th and the divorce was granted on Nov. 16th, 1936 on the grounds of "unreconcileable differences." Jay clearly did not want the child and insisted that she either abort it or give it up for adoption. Mom disagreed, but never once talked about this phase of her life or even admitted to this marriage and baby.

As far as I can tell, Mom left Weaubleau fairly soon after the death of her daughter and filing her application for divorce. She spent time with her grandparents in Jefferson City (Nov 1936-Jan 1937), attended comptometry school in Springfield (Feb-April 1937) and went to work for the Soil Conservation Service in Columbia, Missouri (April 1937-April 1942), and lived for a short time with her older sister in Jefferson City. At the time of the 1940 Census, she was rooming with a family and two other girls who all worked as comptometers. She did not admit to being divorced or having had a child. Her salary was $1169 per year. Curiously, the 1940 Columbia City Directory shows her renting an apartment at 109 Price ave. (same as census address) with her younger sister, Nina, a student.

On May 21, 1942 the Women's Army Air Corps was authorized by the U. S. Congress to recruit 25,000 women in 62 occupations. Comptometry was not one of them. Mom went to Los Angeles to enlist on Feb. 3, 1943. Her favorite aunt and uncle were living in the L.A. area at the time, so I assume that's why she went to L.A. to enlist. On May 1, 1943 the Army announced a new program where qualified women could enroll in the WAAC and receive Signal Corps training as radio operators and repairmen. Mom was in the first WAAC Signal Corps class, arriving in Hollidaysburg, PA on April 3, 1943 and graduating on August 6th. She was sent to Camp Crowder in Neosho, Missouri as a radio instructor for about three months, then reassigned to Vint Hill Farms Station near Warrenton, Virginia (1 Dec 1943).

My siblings and I have been told different stories about where Mom and Dad met. Dad was also in the Army, serving in the Signal Corps. Unfortunately, most of Mom's records and about half of Dad's cannot be found by the Army records service. We know they were both assigned to Vint Hill Farms and to Fort Monmouth, NJ, but don't have specific dates. They were married at Fort Monmouth, NJ on June 24, 1944 and Mom was mustered out of the Army on Sept. 21, 1944 at Vint Hill "for the convenience of the United States Army."

For the next twenty years Mom was an Army wife, following Dad to duty stations in California, Eritrea, Virginia, Japan, Massachusetts and probably locations I don't know about. She had four more children and was a "stay-at-home" Mom until 1962, when she went to work at Penn State to qualify for dependent tuition reductions (allowing us to pay $25 per quarter instead of $100).

To be continued...