Monday, June 15, 2015

This Week Is for Mother--Day One: Bernice Evangeline Grenfell (1902 - 1980)

This Wednesday, June 17th, will mark the 113th birthday of the woman who raised me and is my emotional mother, Bernice Evangeline Grenfell, so I've decided to dedicate my posts over the next several days to her.*
[From my personal collection]

Bernice was born on a farm near Whitewood in Lawrence County, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, that her English paternal grandfather had bought a year after his arrival in the United States in 1881, and was the second child** and only daughter of William R. and Mary A. (Grant)*** Grenfell. In June 1902 when the midwife was summoned to assist Mary with the birth she broke a smallpox quarantine to do so and the mother and baby caught the disease. Although both survived, that probably contributed to Mary's lifelong antipathy toward her only daughter.****
[Map Of The Black Hills Of South Dakota And Wyoming With Full Descriptions Of Mineral Resources, Etc. By Samuel Scott, M.E. Custer City, S.D. 1897 ... (on verso) Copyrighted 1896 By Samuel Scott, M.E. E.P. Noll & Co. Map Publishers No. 9 N. Sixth St., Philadelphia, Pa.
Source: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.]

Along with the other children on nearby farms, Bernice, Gilbert and Richard attended the tiny one-room schoolhouse down the road. In none of the surviving photos does she look happy.
[Bernice in dark dress in front row]
[Gilbert, Bernice and Richard at schoolhouse]

[Color slide of old schoolhouse taken during out trip to South Dakota in 1953]
   Nor did she appear to enjoy family picnics.
[Grenfell family, undated photo from my collection]

This situation didn't go unnoticed in the community and in 1912, when Bernice was 10, the local doctor took her father aside and told him that if he wanted his daughter to live to be an adult, he had to get her away from her mother. His solution was to take her to his recently widowed mother living in La Playa on Point Loma in San Diego and he bought train tickets for their journey.

A very unhappy little girl's life was about to change for the better.

(To be continued)

*Most of the information about her life before I arrived in it comes directly from her.
**Her older brother Gilbert was born the preceding year and the baby (and favorite) Richard came along two years later.
***Mary Grant was an obviously unstable woman who probably came from a family with a history of abuse.
****Mother recalled hiding as a child and overhearing her mother confide to a neighbor that it sickened her to even touch her daughter. She also said that when in a rage her mother tried to kill her more than once but that her brothers would pick her up and run with her to keep her away from her mother.

© 2015 Copyright, Christine Manczuk, All Rights Reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Your poor mother! I did not remember that although after reading your post I think you did tell me long ago about it. South Dakota to Point Loma sounds like a good move.