In honor of Mother’s Day, and as an act of defiance against time and forgetfulness, I decided to hold a remembrance of some of the women who made my existence possible. My mother is the only one living, but all are present in the here and now.
Mary Joan Waid (née Dawson)
She is my mother and a huge inspiration. Born on a farm in the Flint Hills of Kansas, she comes from a long line of indomitable women—and is no exception to the rule.
One of the most formative events in her life was contracting rheumatic fever as a young girl. The illness was often fatal to children and it kept her in bed and out of school for long stretches. She survived, of course, and returned to school with a vengeance.
In junior high she was a cheerleader. In high school she served as Worthy Advisor (president) of The Rainbow Girls of Iola, Kansas. She was first cello in the orchestra, served as editor of the yearbook in her junior year and as editor of the school newspaper when she was a senior. When she graduated, she was class valedictorian.
She attended Wichita University, originally to get a degree in Commercial Art, but switched her major to Fine Art. Her parents didn’t find out about the change in major until she graduated and, wow, weren’t they surprised. “Appalled” is actually the word my mother uses.
In the face of serious childhood illness, every Donna Reed social expectation, and every person who told her in words or attitude that it couldn’t be done—my mother overcame painful shyness, moved to New York City, took up residence in SoHo, and pursued her life as an amazing painter. She still paints, is a Tai Chi instructor and very recently moved to Brooklyn.
Mary Elizabeth (Si) Waid (née Bledsoe)
Si (pronounced “sigh”) attended the Oklahoma Women’s College in Chickasha. She loved to dance and was the town pianist for silent movies. She earned her BA and masters in education and taught Sunday school. She was the Class C, state whistling champion of Oklahoma. Her big thing was warbling bird imitations to the tune of “The Glow-Worm.”
After marriage, Si was a grade school teacher at a tiny schoolhouse on the Apache and Kiawa reservation in Boone, Oklahoma. There, she and the rest of the family lived on the third floor of the schoolhouse. One of her jobs, for which she was paid extra, was to de-lice the children. When the family moved to Portales, New Mexico, she continued as a teacher there.
She and my grandfather bought a camper and used it to show me, my brother and our cousins an amazing amount of the United States. The appreciation she helped give me for the beauty of the southwest is one of the reasons I live in Arizona.
Grace Alice Dawson (née Jacobs)
Like my mother, she was born on a farm in Kansas. She had one year of college in the early 1930’s, but her parents didn’t have enough money for her to continue. After she married, her husband worked for the railroad, and during that time they lived in a railcar on the tracks.
Later, she and her husband owned two Firestone stores and bought a florist shop in Iola, Kansas. Like Grandma Waid, she was a musical person and served as director of her Methodist church choir.
By the time I knew her, she was an avid collector of antiques with a truly beautiful and varied collection. She taught classes on antiques and when she discovered I was interested, shared some of her vast knowledge with me. She got me quasi-obsessed with depression glassware, particularly the type known as Thousand Eye.
The Great Grandmothers
Elizabeth (Betty) Bledsoe (née French or Crandall)
Unfortunately, I never met her. She was named the State Farmwife of the Year in Oklahoma, although I’m not sure what year that was in. She developed Alzheimers and Dementia praecox before these diseases were named.
Ora Waid (née Preston)
I never met my great grandmother Ora, either, and know little about her, other than that she lived as a tenant farmer with her husband in Montague, Texas, before moving to Oklahoma.
Effie Mable Dawson (née Talkington)
She grew up in a house on the Kansas prairie. After marriage, she homesteaded in eastern Colorado, tough as nails. When her husband died relatively young, she worked as receptionist at a hotel in Emporia, Kansas, in order to get social security.
I remember her well, and we visited her house in Cottonwood Falls several times. It was filled with interesting bric-a-brac and my brother and I enjoyed exploring the place. She lived into her mid- to late 90’s and was a prolific quilter and maker of rag rugs.
Mary Jane Jacobs (née Horner)
Her husband was the Chase County Sheriff and they lived with their children in the building that served as the county court, sheriff’s office and jail, all rolled into one. In a scene straight out of the movies—but terrifyingly real—she and her husband once had to hold off a lynch mob that wanted to hang one of the inmates.
Like my Great Grandma Dawson, she lived well into her 90’s. When I was very young, I marveled at the fact that she made a daily breakfast which consisted of two strips of bacon laid across the bottom of a bowl and covered with cereal. Then she would pour black coffee over the whole thing and eat it with a spoon.
This bit of Mothers Day genealogy is brought to you by the eternally grateful David Waid. Perhaps next year, I will dig back to further generations.