My Mother: Viola Lillian (Root) West

In the family home on Root's Hill (now known as Todd Hill) in Mt. Carmel, Connecticut, in a bedroom on the second floor. Mother was born on December 30, 1874. It was so close to Christmas that her birthday wasn't celebrated much until we children were grown. Dad always gave her carnations, as he did on their anniversary.

Mother's life in Mt. Carmel was totally different than Dad's had been. She grew up an only child. (A sister, Nettie, died at the age of 12, and a brother Vernon, at the age of 6 mos, before mother was born.) Mother had everything she wanted. As a young girl she was very popular, going to all the Grange dances and having her programs filled by young men. I still have several of the programs. I've been told that she and a cousin, Sherwood Doolittle, were in love but because of their relationship didn't marry. Mother and Sherwood corresponded all of their lives. And shortly after Mother's death, Sherwood and his wife visited Dad here in Seattle. Their daughter, Gladys, and I later became good friends.

My grandparents sent Mother to the Mystic Valley Institute, a boarding school in Mystic, Connecticut. When we were on a trip around the States we stopped in Mystic and located the school building. Now it is a dilapidated old apartment building. In searching for records in the library in Mystic we were told about a Mrs. Kimball who was writing a history of Mystic. When we phoned her we were invited to her home. She had a number of the graduation programs of the old Institute and Mother was listed in them as playing a piano solo or singing. Mrs. Kimball let us take the programs to the library where we made copies. Thank heavens for copying machines!

When Mother was graduated and returned to Mt. Carmel she continued with her musical studies with a teacher who was a Yale music teacher so Mother and her friend were allowed on the Yale campus to take piano lessons. They were the only females there at that time, other than those on the faculty. They had student cards and used them to hear the Metropolitan Opera Company when they were on tour in New Haven. Of course they had to stand in line for hours for seats in the upper balcony. (The Moore Theatre in Seattle had one, high, high up, and wooden seats with wooden backs, like benches, very uncomfortable. I know, for Wilbur and I couldn't afford anything else at one time.)

I don't know whether Mother had asthma as a girl but I doubt it. Asthma was the reason she was advised to move to a different climate. This was after I was born. Perhaps her health deteriorated after a miscarriage. Her experience in the hospital made her decide never to go to a hospital again. Years later, even after being told that hospitals had changed, she refused to go.

While Mother was still recuperating Dad made arrangements to sell the home and auction most of the belongings. A number of items were sold that Mother and Grandmother didn't want to part with. Dad, Mother and I left for Defiance, Ohio, where Grandmother's sister, Orpha Bower, lived. Still Mother had asthma attacks there, so on to Montana we went. In spite of the asthma we lived in Missoula from 1910 to 1924.

Since a friend of mine died of an asthma attack I've often wondered what kept Mother alive. We always said a big wind could blow her away for she never weighed much over 100 pounds. Many, many nights she was unable to lie down and sat at the dining room table with her head propped in her hands, trying to get a little sleep. Added to her misery she had a severe case of eczema. Over the years doctors had tried all sorts of solutions, unusual diets and all sorts of medicines. Nothing helped.

As I look back I wonder if the asthma wasn't caused from worry and anxiety. Dad was out of work so much (he was a carpenter and in Montana during the winter there was not much building) and the bills piled up. One reason I think this is that at one time I was extremely worried about our son, Roger. Every morning I could hardly breathe. It was a dreadful feeling. All the way to Lincoln I wheezed and wheezed. The minute I walked into the back door and began thinking about the day's work, I could breathe normally.

Across the Missoula River from our home was Mt. Sentinel. I should say "is" for it is still there. At one time there was a lookout station at the summit above the U. of Montana "M". We had always wanted to climb there and finally, one day Mother felt well enough to tackle it. So the whole family climbed to the top. That was a red letter day to have Mother with us.

While we lived in McMinnville, Mrs. Bollen, wife of my speech professor, would visit Mother and we'd kid them about sitting with hot water bottles. Mrs. Bollen was never very strong, but she lived to be over 100.

Mother had fewer attacks as the years went by. Dad had more work in Seattle. I was married and that made one less at home. Our home was at 1324 Allen Place across from Lincoln H. S. and mother, on nice days, would sit on the front porch and listen to Carl Pitzer's Chanters, the orchestra or the band. She and Dad went to all the musicals at the high school because Vern was stage manager. Wilbur and I took her to plays at the Moore Theater and to concerts. I was looking forward to taking her to many other things but suddenly she was gone.

On June 1, 1930, Mother became quite ill. Dad phoned Dr. Guthrie (he was the doctor who brought all three of my children into the world) but he was unable to visit Mother as he was leaving for the East Coast for a doctors' meeting. After hearing the symptoms he prescribed a medicine but Mother refused to take it since the doctor hadn't seen her. Nor would she go to the hospital as he advised. Dad called another doctor who took a urine sample and sent it to the U. of W. lab for testing but it was too late. During the night Mother died of uremic poisoning. Dad phoned me and Wilbur and I went over immediately.

I was glad that Dad had phoned the business college during the afternoon and I had gone to see Mother between day and night school. She realized how ill she was for she insisted on giving Vern his graduation present then, a wrist watch.

After the undertaker had taken Mother away Vern, Myrtle and I crawled into bed together for we didn't want to be alone. Wilbur went home without me. The nextday, June 2, the L.H.S. Class of 1930 was graduated at the old Meany Hall.

We insisted on Vern participating because we felt that Mother would have wanted him to. For some reason while I was sitting there I realized fully what had happened and started to cry and couldn't stop. Up to that time I hadn't cried.

The funeral was at Wright's Funeral Parlors, corner of Broadway and Union. Dr. Mark Matthews conducted the service and Sydney Dixon, one of our church soloists and a radio singer, sang "Going Home" by Dvorak, one of Mother's favorites. Mother looked so peaceful and so beautiful. Because we did not have a recent photo of her Mr. Ralston of the Ralston studios took some of her. We decided we would rather have one of her while alive so he enlarged a snapshot taken at a picnic with her holding a bottle of dill pick1es. Of course he cut out the pickles. He made and framed one for each of us, free of charge because Vern had helped him so much when he had been taking the Totem Annual pictures at Lincoln.

We were fortunate to have had such a mother. All three of us loved her dearly and respected her. I should say four of us, for Wilbur, when he first came to Seattle, spent entire afternoons with her. Mother had a deep religious faith and it showed on her face both in life and death. She looked happy in death.

One experience she had in Mt. Carmel made her absolutely sure of an after life. She was very ill and the doctor had just left when Dad saw she wasn't breathing. The doctor was just driving away in his buggy but ran back and somehow got Mother to breathe again. Mother told Dad and her mother, and me, years later, that she heard this beautiful singing and saw a dazzling white light. It was an experience she wouldn't talk about for she knew it was real, and people wouldn't believe her.

1988/9 Life Story Class

MY MOTHER: Viola Lillian Root West.txt Page 3 of 3 01/18/01 11:24 PM