Saturday, October 3, 2020

Zela Trip: Day 2

Day Zero Here

Day One Here

Day 2

Prescott AZ to Albuquerque NM

We left late after a nice morning with Bo and Afton. We made it to Albuquerque but missed Timo. 

I should explain who Timo is. While the trip was mainly for us to visit Zela’s relatives, there were two stops for us to visit my mom’s side of the family. My mom had divorced my dad, Zela’s son, in 1966 – so about 18 years before our trip. My mom had been close with Albert, my grandfather, but not as close with Zela. Truth is Zela made excuses for my dad’s horrible behavior to everyone (except me). My grandfather had basically given up on my dad (for completely valid reasons) 3 or 4 years before he died. He had always loved my mom and considered her leaving my father validation that he was right.

My Grandmother had never said anything bad about my mom. (Okay - never said anything bad TO ME. My mother has typical Mother-in-law memories of Zela.) In fact, after I lived with my dad, she would have me write letters to my mom all the time. When I couldn’t think what to write, she would have me make drawings. It didn’t really matter to her as long as I stayed in touch. The fact we were going to see my mom didn’t seem odd to me at all.

My mom’s brother was uncle Tim – Dr. Timothy DeYoung officially. To me he was Timo. Timo was about 10 years or so older than I was. He and I had a good relationship given the distant. When I had trouble with the whole gay thing, I called him, and he was cool. Oddly we didn’t talk that much. I hated the phone and he hated writing. But more than a couple of times I traveled through Albuquerque where he lived and stopped by. I should have called and set it up, I know, but I never did and didn’t have a problem before this. This night he wasn’t there, so we stayed in a hotel.


On the way to Albuquerque, Zela and I talked about the relatives to pass the time. As well as talking about the people we were going to meet, we talked about other relatives that weren’t around. My favorite stories revolve around Smitty and her son, Bert and his wife, Jane.

Aunt Smitty was Grandpa’s mother’s sister. (Stick with me, this is good.) And Smitty was crazy mean. Zela explained a little about what happened before I was around.

Aunt Smitty, well her name gives you a clue. She was born Effie Rosetta Smith and was 1 year younger than my Great-Grandmother, her sister. Her father (a Mr. John Wesley Smith) passed when she was young, and a very few years later, her mom married Mr. Nipper. Well Effie was not happy in this and refused to treat Mr. Nipper well. I don’t know what “well” meant in this case, but Smitty was a stubborn woman so it could mean anything.

Rather than be pleasant to her new step-father, she decided to go by the nick-name, Smitty (from her last name, Smith). She left home at 12 years old as the new family started having children. She left and worked at Mrs. Brown’s Rooming House for room and board. She always thought of Mrs. Brown as her adopted mother, in fact called her Mother Brown when talking about her generosity. Zela snorted at that as she explained that “generous Mother Brown” had this 12-year-old work for room and board, but it was 1905, who knows.

This went well (fill in appropriate music of dread) until a wicked man, Mr. Lewis, stopped at the rooming house and swept an 18-year-old Smitty off her feet. What happens next is colored by my assumptions and stories.

Image 6: Smitty (Effie Rosetta Smith Lewis) at 16

 Apparently Smitty met and quickly married the first nutty sap to ask her, who was Mr. Lewis. He was a boozer (all the women in my family seem fatally attracted to boozers or crazy men, but more about that later). And, starting with the second night of marriage, he went out drinking to all hours. He did the seam on the 3rd night of the marriage. After 3 days of marriage, Smitty told him to go out and find work. If he didn’t, or if he started drinking again, she would kick him out.

Well, he left and told her to try and get along without him. He went out and stayed out all night. Smitty packed his bags, put them on the front porch and that was the end of that. Was it really 3 nights? Was it really 3 months? Who knows? But Smitty did kick him out and move back in with Mother Brown, to her old job.

Smitty had to find work because, it turned out she was pregnant. Burt was born and raised by Smitty and “Mother Brown”. As soon as he could Bert left both of them behind and went to California to find his fortune.

For a while here history is blurred. And the stories are all over the map. Everyone said that for a while he raced motorcycles, and he went to Japan with the circuit before WWII. Then after WWII, he bought a beautiful home in then-fashionable Culver City. Right next door to the house, one of the Mayer’s of MGM mother’s house.

Doing research later I found out some of the real facts. Not all, but some. Burt Lewis did go out to California. Smitty followed quickly, not so much for him, but because Mother Brown passed away and didn’t leave the business to Smitty. So Smitty came out to Los Angeles to do what she did best, run a rooming house in Hollywood. I am not sure whether it was at this time or a decade later, but Smitty began wearing nursing clothes and taking in boarders that needed nursing. She transitioned, later in the 1950s, from a rooming house to a nursing home proprietress. She never got a nursing credential, but in the first half of the 20th century, saying you were a nurse and changing bedpans made you a nurse.

Image 7: Smitty as Rooming House Owner and "Nurse"

Burt was always a fix-it guy. He was good with motors and excelled as a bicycle mechanic and into motor bicycles. Ultimately, he became an early Harley Davidson mechanic and went to Japan to be a mechanic on the Japanese racing circuit. He was a very large man, which must have come from Mr. Lewis since Smitty was tiny. Being that he was very big, he couldn’t race himself, although that is the story he told for years.

He was kicked out in 1937, as relations between the countries got heated. He was actually registered as a passenger on the ship Yokohama, one of the last ships to take Americans out of Japan. He came back and left the war with a large amount of money. I am assuming he used somehow in the war effort since he spoke Japanese. After 4 or 5 years there, he may have even read Japanese. There are no draft papers, so I think he was in the intelligence game.

In any case, he came out of the war much richer than he went in. Much of that was from war profiteering. The most polite explanation I heard was that he sold illegal petrol, but I can’t really find too much out about this. 

He defiantly married my Aunt Jane, a cigar girl from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, and bought a high-end house in Culver City next to one of the MGM owner’s mother. Culver City was quite crooked at the time. Apparently, he and a friend were found out after the war. The friend pleaded guilty, paid a fine and moved on. Burt fought the feds in court, ultimately prevailing, but losing most of the money he had taken.

More on my favorite Aunt Jane later.

1 comment:

  1. On a side note, Smitty was always very nice to me, probably just to
    irritate everyone else !!


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