Sunday, September 22, 2019

Aunt Smitty (Effie Rosetta Smith Nipper Lewis)

The Tale of Aunt Smitty

Aunt Smitty is a woman who needs more than one Monday. But we will start here.

Let me set a bit of the scene before we dive in. I did say previously that Grandaddy Green lived my Grandparents Zela and Ham for a decade or so before he died. 

Well, after Grandaddy’s death and my grandfather’s death – with a tiny bit of overlap – Aunt Smitty became an occasional tenant of my grandmother, Zela.

As long as I knew her, Aunt Smitty was a crazy old lady nurse. Kind of like Nurse Rachett, but old and meaner.
 My grandparents used to take me camping all the time when I was young, and a frequent stop was in Fresno where Aunt Smitty ran a nursing home.  This was emblazened in my mind by the presence of Aunt Fanny, who lived in the nursing home and had a name a 8 year old could NOT forget.

Fresno was a horrible stop for a child.  You are 5 hours from Los Angeles, still two hours to go to Yosemite or Sequoia National Park. It is (was?) always hot and dusty. And, as the cute little kid, I was in demand by the old shut-ins who were all kind of relatives, but not really.  Aunt Fanny smelled of powder and Aunt Smitty smelled of disinfectant.

Smitty didn’t like children, which set her apart from most of the adult relatives from the mid-west. But, Aunt Smitty didn’t really like anyone anyway, so it seemed kind of normal. I didn’t find out many of the other details until I was older and could put the multiple stories together.

Let’s start with her name, Smitty. Aunt Smitty was born Effie Rosetta Smith in 1892, the youngest of 3 daughters. My Great-Grandmother (Roxie Gertrude Smith Mitchell) was her older sister. Her father (my great-great-grandfather) was killed in Somme, France but by that time her parents had separated (I assume divorced, but I don’t see any evidence of this).

In 1902, when she was 10 years old, her mother married a Mr. Nipper. Apparently Smitty did not like Mr. Nipper. She didn’t like him so much she did 2 things:

1) She started going by the name Smitty, which was a diminutive of Smith – her father’s last name. She refused to deal with her step-father Mr. Nipper.

2) She moved out of the house (at about 10) to live with "Mother Brown", who she told people treated her like her own child.

This second point is true if one has their own child cook and clean for others. You see Mrs. Brown owned a boarding house. Where Smitty worked and lived. This boarding house is also where Smitty became a “nurse”. Apparently in the early 1900s you became a nurse by putting on the outfit and bossing people around.

Smitty (middle back row) with Her daughter in law Jane (much more later!!!), her son Bert. Below her is my grandfather HAM and I, then my grandmother Zela and my Aunt Martha. BTW, this is 1 of 2 pictures I have with her smiling.

At some point in very early 1911 (Smitty would be 18 or 19) a flash-talking dude name Mr. Lewis breezed into Mrs. Brown rooming house and left with Smitty’s heart. Mr.Lewis swept her off her feet and into a very quick marriage. But 1911 was the age of temperance and Mr. Lewis liked a drink or two after a day or looking for work. Not “Working” apparently but pretending to look. Smitty told him this was unacceptable.

The third time she told him (sometime in the first week of marriage) she said she would not tolerate such behavior. He told her he would do what he wanted to do and left. Smitty went to Mrs. Brown, and they put his few belongings outside and Smitty went back to work for Mrs. Brown. Mr.Lewis was never welcomed back. This incident would probably be a side note except there was a Baby Bert Lewis approximately 8 to 9 months later.

Smitty and Bert lived with Mrs. Brown until her death sometime in the very early 1930s. Mrs. Brown left Smitty a bankrupt boarding house in Cairo Illinois in the depression. She and her son moved to Los Angeles.

A note her about her son. Although their mothers were estranged, Bert and my grandfather Ham (Henry Albert Mitchell) were about the same age and great friends as well as cousins up through the end of World War II (more about that later).

She lived in Los Angeles, which was a boom town. And Smitty did have a skill in this boom-town. She knew how to run a boarding house. She ran at least one, maybe more, in the then western edge of Los Angeles – now near MacArthur Park (yes, the one that is melting with all the sweet green icing flowing down).

A more normal Smitty look, annoyed with my Aunt Martha who was Downs Syndrome

Once in Los Angeles, she ran the boarding house and young Bert working on small motor repair. And thus all was well until about halfway through the 1930s. We will rest here and return later. At this point in our story, Smitty is now her forties, looks like she is in her sixties – and her son, always spoiled, is beginning to come into his own.

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