Monday, May 19, 2014

The oldest person I've ever known - my great grandmother Doris Denhof

In my last blog I highlighted my great grandfather who I was lucky enough to know for 18 years.  In this one I want to highlight his wife, my great grandmother Doris, who I was fortunate enough to know for 25 years and actually gave me some useful genealogical information.

Doris Lydia Colson was born 9/21/1903 at Bridgeton, Newaygo County Michigan to Charles Perkins and Freda Johnson.  Her birthdate was just a guesstimate that was established when she filed for Social Security as the courthouse burned down and she had no record of her birth.  I alluded to it in an earlier post but she literally had to prove she existed and have people testify and piece together when she was born.

On 3/18/1904 her mother Freda died of pneumonia, leaving her father with Doris and her older brother Milo (1901-1964).  For reasons nobody has ever been able to explain, Charles gave her to the next door neighbors and moved to the Lansing area with Milo.  Doris was now the daughter of George (1867-1943) and Anna Buskirk Colson (1875-1949).  In this photo taken in Bridgeton she's with George and Anna, their son James "Elmer" (1894-1974) and Anna's mother Lydia Baum Buskirk (1847-1924).  George and Anna divorced and George moved to the Muskegon area so although my grandma remembers her "grandma Colson" she has no recollection of her grandfather.  There was contact with "uncle Elmer" and my grandma had a good relationship with her cousins via he and his wife.  I know there was contact with Charles and Milo as my grandma's baby book mentions gifts from Milo and Charles' obituary lists Doris as a surviving daughter.

Doris at age 15, assumed taken at the home in Bridgeton.  Doris graduated from Conklin High School in 1920 and I inherited her diploma.  It's in a green felt sleeve with a class "souvenier" that has a class list and a statement written by their teacher "J.S. Hossler" and includes his photo.  Interesting to me is a student on the list with her, Charles Morey - I have several pictures of Doris and Charles and wonder if perhaps they were an item before she met my great grandfather.

Doris with Charles Morey.  Doris had a stack of photo albums that I used to go through, just to see the old photos.  I didn't go through the albums with her (I probably should have) but my grandma did so many of the photos were identified.  When she died I ended up with the albums.  In them were photos of her father and mother, her mother's mother and of course her children, etc.  There were about 100+ photos like this one with Charles from the early 1920s and many of them appear to be classmates and friends and aren't labeled, or only have names like "Beulah" on them.  I've got them in a separate album as I can't bring myself to throw them out but I'm sure they'll never be identified.  When her dementia got bad she used to go outside and pick leaves up and put them in her photo albums.  I wonder if any photos were lost this way. 

This is one of my favorite photos of her.  There is a certain elegance and beauty to the photo and the hat is just cute.  I wonder what the occasion was?

I'm unsure when this photo was taken but it's obviously a very old car.

On the left is Doris with her biological aunt Emily Johnson Fellows Lambson.  There was obviously contact with Emily as there were several photos of her in the albums.  There was also a brother Frank Johnson who lived in Fremont MI who has descendants that I communicate with and who stayed in contact with Doris.  Emily fostered several children but her 2 children died very young.  There was also an aunt Hilda Johnson McKenzie who lived in Presque Isle WI and Doris used to threaten to send her children there when they were "naughty".  Hilda had one son Milon which is interesting because my grandma has a brother of the same name (and it's not exactly common).

 Doris in her wedding gown from 2/6/1926
On the left is Doris with her daughter Devonne, on the right is a photo taken about 1965.  

The only job I'm aware of Doris having was at Herpolshimer's in downtown Grand Rapids.  Come to think of it, I'm not even sure what she did there.  I'll have to make a note to ask my grandma.  I know she drove as I saw her driver's license when it was expired (I think 1986-1988).  I don't remember her driving but I remember her yelling at Nick when I was riding in their 1983 Cavalier with him driving.  It was 1986 and we were moving to a new house.  Nick's driving wasn't great (he was 85) and he almost sideswiped a street sweeper!  I remember her yelling "Nick, look out!".  She sang (was in the "Grandmother's Chorus" in FL), she bowled until she was 88 on the "Bonnie Belles" at Northfield Lanes in Grand Rapids (with my grandma), she loved garage sales, knick knacks and cooking.  I remember her Dutch cookies that landed her in the Grand Rapids Press.  She also loved to crochet and had made an afghan for her 4 children, 10 grandchildren, 21 great grandchildren and 5 great great grandchildren (upon her death at the age of 98 - October 18th, 2001).  She tried to teach me but I just couldn't wrap my head around it.  The afghan she made me as a child is still in my possession and it's got several spots where I brought it back to her to repair holes that happened over the years.  She made me another one prior to her death and that one is in better shape but I refuse to use it (since she's not here to fix it for me).  She also taught herself to play the piano and played from memory.  She had music books on her piano but other than looking at them for ideas of what to play she never read the music.  I have video of her at 95 playing the piano in her home. 

In spite of severe osteoarthritis in her lower back and the onset of dementia around the age of 89 she lived alone after Nick's death until she was 96 and a half.  It ended up being unsafe for her and she was moved into Pilgrim Manor.   She ALWAYS had a smile on her face and when I'd ask how she was doing she'd say "I'm still kicking".  The summer prior to her move to the nursing home I used to go on the weekends and get her breakfast and medicine to her and then go back and get her dinner and medicine to her.  I'd sit and watch her eat and she'd occasionally share a story from her childhood.  Much of what she remembered was way back but in researching it seems pretty accurate.

When my 1st son was born I'd already lost both of my mom's parents (my maternal grandmother died 4 months before his birth).  I had my grandma get her out of Pilgrim Manor so she could meet him and we could get photos.  She was able to walk until the last couple weeks before her death so we were able to have her to my grandma's for holidays and her birthday.  I remember one Christmas my grandma and her sister in law each got her a shoe - she didn't have the complete pair until she opened both.  Her and my grandma also got matching oak toilet seats one year.  The last Christmas with her we all thought she looked odd.  It took about an hour to realize she'd grabbed someone else's glasses at the home!  Her vision was so poor that she probably didn't even notice.  In addition to her back and her vision issues her hearing was also very poor.  She ultimately died of a colon blockage that they'd have done surgery on if she'd been younger and in better health.  
This has to be my favorite picture of her.  I believe this was my son's 1st Easter.  She also attended his 1st birthday party.  I have (3) 5 generation photos with her, my grandma, my dad, myself and my son.

She was an incredibly quiet woman of deep faith, who maintained a positive attitude despite health issues I know I couldn't bear with that fortitude.  She was a great cook and amazing to all of her grandchildren and is deeply missed by all.  

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