Saturday, 14 February 2015

Idella Edwards 1897-1976 (52 Ancestors #7) Theme: "Love"

Idella Edwards, known to her friends as Della and to my siblings and me as Grandma A, was my maternal grandmother. She felt like a kindred spirit. Neither of us was particularly demonstrative and we certainly did not spend a lot of time hugging and gushing over each other; in that, too, we were alike. We were both first-born children, both loved word games, cooking, baking, books, music, needlework and nice china and fabrics, and had both been teachers for a short while in our lives. Neither of us was fond of living on a farm, something both of us did for part of our lives. You wouldn't have wanted to take Grandma A camping; those who ventured out into the wilderness in a tent with me found out that I shouldn't have been taken camping either. Our temperaments were, I believe, quite similar. I loved her dearly.  

Della in the 1940's
Della was the first-born child of Charles Edwards and Mary-Jane ("Mayme") Wescott. They had been married the previous year and were living in Great Falls, Montana when Della arrived on the scene on 28 July 1897. The next year, Charles decided to seek his fortune in the Alaska Gold Rush and headed north but returned empty-handed within a few months. While he was gone, Mayme took baby Della to Wisconsin to stay with her family, returning when Charles came home to resume his regular work with the Great Northern Railroad. Charles went back to Alaska in 1900, but again returned within a few months with no gold to show for his efforts. 

Brothers and sisters arrived frequently: Everett in 1899, Marion in 1900, Ora in 1902, Grace in 1904 and Merton ("Chuck") in 1908.

Edwards Children: Idella on the left, Marion and Everett
Her younger years sound quite pleasant. Sister Marion Edwards Miller recalled on page 4 of her memoirs that: "They lived in Great Falls for 12 or 13 years and he (Dad) was home quite a lot of the time. He made good money and  they were able to afford a maid, or as we called them in those days a "hired girl". We had a nice home right across from the Longfellow School. We had passes on the railroad so Mother took us kids quite often to visit her people. Those trips stick in my memory, sleeping in the berths, eating in the diner, was really fun. She would have us all dressed up so nice. I can remember the trip when I was seven. She had made white coats for Ora and me and we had white embroidered hats. . . . Dad made a merry-go-round in our backyard and all of the school kids used it, as we were right across the street."

Oh, Grandma A, now some of us can see where we get "the hair"!
When Della was about 12, Charles moved the family to a small fruit farm near Kalispell, Montana, about 30 miles from the western entrance to Glacier Park. The children attended Cayuse Prairies School, three miles from home. Freight rates were high and Charles couldn't make a go of his fruit farm, so returned to the railroad.  When the Great Northern workers went on strike in 1914, Charles went to Canada to work for the CPR. That afforded him the opportunity to see lands available for homestead in Saskatchewan and he moved his family there once a home had been built. Della was just finishing high school at that time and stayed in Kalispell to finish her education.

Della Edwards 1918 in doorway of Wayne Valley School where she taught

By the Fall of 1916, Della had joined her family in the Lancer area of Saskatchewan and was teaching school in the area as a substitute until a trained teacher would arrive. When the school inspectors caught wind of this, she was sent a letter acknowledging the situation and granting her an interim teaching certificate until Christmas time, but advising her to then obtain proper credentials. She did just that by taking a three month teacher training course in Swift Current Saskatchewan in the winter of 1917. Until the end of the school term, she taught at Oroyo School near Beverly, Saskatchewan and then received an appointment to become the teacher at Wayne Valley School for the following school year. 

Della right rear beside her mother Mayme;
front are probably sisters Ora and Grace Edwards
Like his other ventures, the Saskatchewan farm was not a success for Charles, mostly because all the good land had already been picked up by earlier homesteaders and the Edwards parcel was of very poor quality. After their house burned down and Charles lost his land, the Edwards family returned to the northwestern USA.

All the family, that is, except for Della.  By then she had met a local young homesteading farmer named Ingwald Anderson, and, much to her parents' disapproval, had fallen in love with him and married him on 29 December 1919.  Della continued to teach until June of 1920 but remembered driving by horse and buggy the four miles to her school, leaning over the side with morning sickness. She was pregnant with their first child, Robert, who was born in December of 1920.

Notwithstanding her disappointment and disapproval of the marriage, Della's mother Mayme made a beautiful wool log cabin quilt for her eldest daughter and her new husband as a wedding gift. Although now somewhat tattered after almost 100 years, it remains a poignant tangible reminder of a mother's love for her daughter and that daughter's love for her new husband.

Other children followed over the next years: one more son and four daughters including my mother. My mother recently gave me some beautiful dainty handkerchiefs that had been Della's. Apparently Della had done a few days of substitute teaching years after her marriage and had bought these as a special treat to herself. The family was not well off and beautiful personal treats were not normally within the family budget.

Della and Ingwald and their family survived the Great Depression and the "Dirty Thirties" on the farm. Although their children made the best of it and have a lot of fond memories of their lives growing up, it must have been very difficult for the parents. Della was an excellent cook and seamstress and made do with what was available to provide food and clothing as best she could for her family. She was a stickler for good nutrition.

Della with her 3 oldest children, mid 1920's
Della did not like the farm. She probably should not have been married to a farmer and should instead have spent her life in a city with all its cultural facilities. In the mid 1940's, they bought a house in Swift Current and she ran it as a boarding house until the late 1950's while Ingwald continued to farm in the summer and live in town in the winters. My early memories of my grandmother are from this time and I remember her fabulous meals for her boarders and how she had them trained to return their dirty dishes from the dining room to the kitchen after they had eaten. I think she had us trained too.

Della Edwards Anderson in her boarding house kitchen 1950's
The apple-shaped cookie jar on her kitchen counter was always full of delicious cookies, mostly oatmeal or raisin. The only bad memory I have of staying with her was her insistence that I drink a glass of milk, something that I really detested. The same glass of milk appeared at every meal. There was no arguing when she said, "Eat your greens and drink your milk."

Anderson Family 1948: Ingwald and Della in rear
In December of my first year at school I was hospitalized in Swift Current for a serious ear infection resulting from red measles. (This was before the era of vaccinations and we had been snow-bound on our farm during my illness.) When I was released from hospital, I stayed with her for follow-up medical visits. She and I baked Christmas cookies and she gave me my own copy of Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty", a children's version that I played over and over again until I knew all the words. I think she had been horrified at the possibility of my going deaf without ever having heard good classical music. 

Grandma A was an opera fanatic. She had an excellent collection of records and was a faithful follower of "Saturday Afternoon at the Opera" on radio. We all knew that you did not phone her or drop in for a visit during her opera time on Saturday afternoons.

In the summer of 1958, my parents went on holidays and left us to stay with our grandparents at their farm. They were studying to learn how to manage a motel and I remember Grandma A learning to type because, she admitted, her writing was almost illegible. While we were there, Grandpa A took my sister along on a trip to the grain elevator with a load of grain and when he had driven the truck into the elevator, he had a heart attack and died. It was a terrible shock; he was only 65. 

Grandma A carried on with the motel plan, buying a place in Watsonville, California and moving there to run that for several years. She then moved to be near her sisters in Moses Lake, Washington where she worked in a flower shop. When she finally moved back to Saskatchewan, I was in high school and delighted to have her back.
Idella serving tea to her sister Grace (left) and friends in Moses Lake Washington 1960's
She was a woman of many interests. Her passion for knitting resulted in many welcome gifts to family members of hand-knit sweaters, baby shawls and hats, mittens and vests. She loved to read and was always up-to-date on popular culture. She would often have a Scrabble board set up in her living room for two players; she would place a word, score it and then the next time she entered the room, she would move to the other place and play that person's tiles. She was a creative cook, never falling into the trap of just making do with something from a tin for a meal for herself in her widowhood. Her recipes remain family standards. 

Della knitting, about 1970 (no, she never smoked - the ashtray would be for guests)

Della was never one to wear black or beige. In the late 1960's she asked me to select fabrics and sew her a couple of dresses with the stipulation that it not be any of that dark, boring "old lady" stuff! 

Della died 5 January 1976 at the age of 78. I was taking down the Christmas tree at the time I received the sad news and have never once taken down a Christmas tree since without remembering and missing this lovely woman who was my much-loved and much-loving Grandma A.


  • Province of Saskatchewan Death Certificate for Idella Marguerite Anderson, registration no. 76-07-001179
  • Robert W Anderson family history composed c. 1970
  • Delayed Certificate of Birth for Idella Edwards issued by the Montana State Board of Health File No. 5809
  • Marion Edwards Miller personal memoirs "My Memories"

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