|Evelyn in about 1943|
On March 12, 1919, my mother was born. At that time in history, fewer people lived to an age where they suffered from Altzheimer's disease. Or perhaps people's diets and exercise levels were such that they were less likely to develop amyloid plaque in their brains.
Her grandfathers died of lung damage and tuberculosis after years of working in mines in Colorado. Her maternal grandmother died in 1929 at age 67, but her maternal grandmother lived to age 89 without any kind of dementia.
Here is a brief summary of Evelyn's life and the social and historical context into which she was born.
In January of 1919, life was difficult in Telluride. Fighting in Europe had ended just two months earlier with the signing of an armistice between the Allies and Germany on November 11. One in ten people in Telluride had died in the flu pandemic that killed one-third of the earth’s population. Serena Brown Gustafson was pregnant with her second child.
|Evelyn Frances Gustafson in 1920|
August sold the grocery store on West Pacific to his partner, Matt Lahti, because he couldn’t work. Then he had surgery to remove both his tonsils and his teeth, possible sources of the infection causing his arthritis. The arthritis subsided, and he wore false teeth ever after.
But 1918 was another bad year. In the spring August’s father Andru died of miner’s consumption at age 58 after spending many years in the dusty mines. At about the same time both August and his former partner were fearing the draft, and Lahti wasn’t successful in managing the store. He left town in the spring with all the money in the safe, as well as a large diamond, telling August to try to collect on the money owed to the store by local people.
While closing out the store, August also took a job as bookkeeper at the Black Bear Mining Company, where his father had owned shares. The mine’s portal stood about a mile above Ingram Falls in a small basin, and August commuted up to the mill located at the falls. He walked east to the Black Bear tram on the mountainside above the mill and then rode the platform up to Ingram.
In the fall of 1918, however, August came down with the flu and had to stay in a bedroom that Serena was told not to enter. She passed his food through the doorway. His uncle Henry Kangas died in Telluride in the epidemic, only 40 years old. Then in November Serena’s friend Olga Ostrom died of the flu contracted when she went to the American Legion Hospital in Telluride to give birth. As a result, the doctor told Serena that she had to have her baby at home.
The family hired a registered nurse from Durango to deliver the baby and live in for ten days afterward, caring for Serena and Evelyn. Serena’s mother, Martha Neeley Brown, also came to Telluride for a month to take care of Serena and her babies.
Later Serena’s brother Byron visited, having returned from the trenches in France. He had been drafted in 1917, and it took several years for him to heal from the shell shock of the Great War.
The day before Evelyn was born, Serena and August’s good friends Martin and Ann Wenger had their first baby, Martin Jr. They had “stood up” with Serena and Gus at their wedding in 1916; the couple’s parents were only informed of the marriage later.
Thus we have the cast of characters, beginning with 24-year-old Serena, her mother and the hired nurse. Did Serena have contractions in the morning and realize her baby would be born on that day? Did August stay home from work, or did he walk up to Ingram Falls to keep the books at the Black Bear? Had he completely recovered from the flu and from the earlier arthritis, or was he still coughing and feeling pain in his joints?
Years later remembering when Evelyn’s little brother Elbert was born, Serena commented that for August, “His business was always more important than his home. He had to tend to the store; me having a baby was nothing.” Evelyn’s arrival meant that at age 26 he was now supporting Serena and two children, and his mother had recently been widowed. Yet his grocery store was closed and within two years the Black Bear Mine would go out of business and be bought by the Smuggler-Union Mining Company, which had its own bookkeepers. He was given a job in the mill, but by 1922 he decided to buy back the store on West Pacific and return to the grocery business.
Was there a snowstorm that week, or was it sunny and cold with a spectacular view of the snow-capped mountains surrounding Telluride? At least the weather permitted Grandma Brown to travel from Mancos over Lizard Head Pass to Telluride. And was two-year-old Reynold running around the house as his mother went through labor and birth? His other grandmother, Minnie Gustafson, was living near Cedaredge, Colorado, with her brother Jakob Kangas.
We don’t know the details of what transpired that day, but we do know that both mother and baby survived. Evelyn cried a lot, however, and didn’t do well on her mother’s milk, in contrast to little Marty, the strong healthy baby born to Ann Wenger. The doctor advised using Eagle Brand condensed milk for the baby, but Evelyn refused that too. Serena reported, “I finally worked out my own formula, by studying baby feeding in the one magazine I took at that time.”
After the birth of her fourth child in six years, she worked out her own birth control too: abstinence. The year was 1923, and women now had the vote. Serena was not going to have a baby every two years for the next twenty years. August came home later in the evenings, often after playing card games with friends in the back of the store after closing.
In the story of Evelyn’s birth we see a young family that has been battered by illness and threatened by World War I. It’s a working-class family perilously close to financial ruin, trying to gain a foothold in the middle class.
This baby will earn the first college degree in either her mother or her father’s family, and she will have a life-long interest in health and nursing. Another world war will dominate the third decade of her life and postpone her child-bearing years.
She will escape the differing social value assigned to “tending the store” vs. “having a baby” by somehow doing both during the 1950s—producing four babies and a career in nursing. She will pass the difficult issues of work-home balance on to her children.
|Evelyn with her book|
Though epidemics and wars will still threaten their lives, her high-spirited perseverance will live on in family legend.
|Evelyn Frances, about six years old|
|A. R. Gustafson with Herschel, Elbert, Evelyn and Reynold|
|Kermit Eggebroten, Evelyn, and their first child, Anne|