Edward and Sarah Esther (Etta)
had five children - Henrietta Frances, Lawrence Emerson, Leroy Anthony,
Virginia Elizabeth and Camelle Florette (Sister Virginia Elizabeth - but
always called Tommie by family). There were 19 years between my mother
and Tommie. Tommie was 12 when I was born and was my little mother as my
dad was very ill and my mother had to work. My grandmother died
around the age of 40 not long after Tommie was born (something my mother
never forgave either her father or Tommie for). The real culprit was
both valves of her heart leaked due to childhood whooping cough and
she probably should never have had children. Virginia
was like a big sister/mother to us, she was 5 years older than
Tommie. My mother took the two girls and her dad took the two boys
to raise. My mother moved to AZ and with the sometimes help of
Aunt Grace (the last sister and the one born on the twin's 14th
birthday) had the two girls to raise, then married my dad and they had
four children. He died of MS when I was 1 1/2. My mother had
a 2 year degree from what is now Northern Arizona University but what
was then a teachers college in Flagstaff, AZ. That allowed her to
teach school but after her first 2 children were born she and her 2
sisters contracted Typhoid Fever from a dude on the Navajo Reservation.
She was about to die so was given an over dose of Quinine to save her
life knowing that it would leave her permanently deaf. I don't
know when my dad first started showing symptoms of MS but you probably
know they come and go and are not the same for everyone. He wasn't
diagnosed properly until shortly before his death in Prescott, AZ.
Illness and death always made my mother angry rather than kindly.
She had great plans for her life and felt very disappointed and didn't
care who she took it out on, mostly her family. We moved to Williams
from the Reservation and then to Flagstaff where she did other people's
laundry on a wash board, cleaned their homes and any thing like that to
make a living for us. It was a hard life for us. My sister
(Alberta, the oldest) was sent to CA to live with Great Grandma
Simmons. There was no SS to
help us out so we lived in poverty.
Later there was some sort of program that helped my mother go back to
school and she got a hearing that wasn't really very good. We
lived near Professor Tinsley in Flagstaff and I have a feeling he was
instrumental in getting her into this program. He and his wife who
I called Auntie Glad were very good to us. When I was five I went
to my mother's graduation and saw her receive her Bachelor's Degree.
After that she was able to teach small country one room schools and
our life was somewhat better but she received no summer salary and
always had to have summer work. Several years it was in the kitchen at NAU, her alma mater. During that time Virginia and Tommie went to
live with their brother Lawrence and his wife Pearl in CA so they could go
to school. My sister was in and out of my life then, she was
supposed to attend St. Joseph's Boarding School in Prescott but kept
running away. She caused so many problems that even after all
these years it is difficult to think about them. She was very
bright and pretty but now I think she was seriously mentally ill,
she didn't have even a slight bit of a conscience. When I was 7 my
brothers went to live with my Uncle Jesse Smith and really didn't come
back into my life until we were in High School. So you see we were
really a very dysfunctional family. I do have fond memories of
Claude and Willow Phelan and especially their son Jimmy who was about my
age. I spent quite a bit of time with them when I was quite small.
Claude was the twin Tom's son. I, also, remember Aunt Delphy and
the wonderful marmalade she made and how she would hold me tight between
her knees and French braid my long blond hair so tight I felt like
I couldn't close my eyes.
Tommie aka Camelle Phelan, pediatric nurse before she took her vows.
She had beautiful white complexion and bright blue eyes like her mother
and the beautiful 'Irish' hair that she got from both parent's Irish