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
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
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
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
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