Mother’s Day: Sometimes it’s not just about one’s own mother

Jeff and Betty Lou cropped

The writer pictured here with his aunt, Betty Lou Salisbury, at a family wedding outside Atlanta, GA in 1995.

Here’s to strong women in my life.

Some who were mothers.

Some who were not.

Some who mothered me.

Some who did not.

But each one taught me, willed me, genetically endowed me with what I call the three Ps of patience, persistence and perseverance.

Mary Adelaide Robinson-Hood – my maternal great-great grandmother who died in NW Michigan just weeks after giving birth to her daughter Violet. Leaving Violet to be raised by her father Dr John J Hood who a few short years later would die from pneumonia in Mancelona MI, falling ill after making a winter housecall and walking home in a snowstorm after his horse and carriage got stuck in a drift.

Violet Mignon Hood-Knudson – my maternal great grandmother who died in NW Michigan less than a year after giving birth to her daughter Gladys. Violet was raised by a stepmother, a wonderful woman, Letta Caroline Andrews-Hood from the Detroit area.

Gladys Adelaide Knudson-Harwood – not only did she break the pattern but her patient, persistent and perseverant godly Spirit lives on in me today, at least I like to believe so. Widowed in 1962 at age 61, she managed to learn to drive, earn a retail sales job in Howell Michigan never having done either in her life – never drove a vehicle – never worked outside the home and lived an independent life and opened her house for to the end of her life in 1977 to countless relatives of mine including her own children and grandchildren over those years, who need a “port in a storm” as the expression goes. Penny Bain-Salisbury were taken in by her and loved and cared for and mothered from January to June 1969. There are no words to describe her many kindnesses. A dedicated volunteer in her church and various community groups and clubs. For years and years worked in the church nursery and would bring her own cloth diapers to church where once children were dropped off, she would change each and every child’s diapers using her own cloth diapers just so she could put the “clean” ones back on before parents picked up their youngsters. Then she’d take the soiled diapers home, wash them in her old ringer-washer, hang them on the line to dry, fold and stow them away for use the next week. I doubt anyone ever noticed and certainly to no acclaim for such a small kindness until the her pastor told that whole story at her funeral service.

Lucy Bates Rowe Kyle Salisbury – my paternal grandmother who was orphaned and came to Detroit alone as a teen-ager via Canada in the early 1900s from Great Crosby, Lancashire UK (near Liverpool) along with her siblings too one by one – several sisters and one brother – enrolled in a nurses training program, met a young doctor William Kyle, who before he died way too young, was the father of her first child Molly. Affectionately called by me, Grandma Huckleberry – for a reason which escapes me – or just “Lulie” too along with most everyone else in my family. Never lost her Liverpoodlian accent and could do a rough and tumble cockney accent that mystified me as a youngster. Separated (okay abandoned) by her husband, my grandfather Charles Gibson Salisbury (a “rotter” my aunt called him) who’d forced her to “send away” little Molly when they married and either drove off, alienated or in the case of my father “stole him away” from her at age 11, nonetheless she did the best she was able to raise 5 children and lost another in childbirth.

Ardith “Ardy” Elaine Harwood-Salisbury – my own mother – who in many respects silently, quietly and silently fought emotional demons much her adult life – perhaps through childhood too – married, eloped with parental permission, my father (who was almost 22) at too young an age – just 8 weeks past her 17th birthday and only one month out of high school. But she was determined. Stubborn. Headstrong. Willful. Obstinate. Witty. Intelligent. A brilliant vocalist, pianist and even played the flute too in her youth. Loved tennis and wished she’d had the opportunity to play as an adult. Oh, and golf. Loved to watch and no doubt wished she’d been afforded the opportunity to play. Oh and a gifted writer too. I suspect she longed to go off to college but was simply too timid, shy and prone to anxiety and panic and mood swings to ever have done such at thing in 1942. My parents struggled in their relationship to be sure. They waited 6 years before I arrived in 1948. Then it was not until 1956 until my brother was born. And finally they separated for a number of years until the divorce decree arrived, dates on my mother’s birthday, May 11, 1967. But you know, my mother – with help from my incredible brother and her own mother Gladys, just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Got a retail sales job. Managed to buy her own car. Sold our home and started fresh. Albeit several times over the year – what with being one-step-forward and two-steps-backward at times – even late in life moving away from Michigan to North Carolina where she began to rebuild her life, at after the age of 60 trained as a physical therapist’s assistance and after volunteering at a retirement community received a humanitarian & volunteer of the year award from a local TV station where she lived. Ironically the retirement community actually became her final stopover so to speak for the last few years of her life until she died at age 89 in 2014.

In more recent years though I would be remiss if I did not mention the strong women in my life as well.

My wife Penny Bain-Salisbury‘s mother Carrie Ann Konopaski. As strong-willed a woman as one would ever encounter. Between Penny’s Polish/French Canadian mother and Scottish/English father it’s clearly where Penny derives her own willful nature. And I mean willful in the most positive sense. There was not an obstacle Carrie (“Ma” to me) couldn’t or wouldn’t overcome even if one might say the obstacle was partially if not wholly of her own making. She was a Pisces in terms of birth sign and they are known to either swim mildly, gently with the current or lash and flash and bash back and forth against it. But in either or any case or situation Carrie was a fighter. My imagination pictures her as a child as I have seen images of Shirley Temple in movies – stubborn, obstinate, almost defiant against all odds and forces, hands on hips, chin out, head slight tipped up and a stern expression as if to say, “Oh no you don’t world! Oh no you don’t!” I know that look. It runs in my family.

And my wife Penny Bain-Salisbury has donned the expression in any number of circumstances in her life from childhood marred by loss of her nuclear family at age 8 to myriad other obstacles in her life – personal, business, family. Nothing stops her. Nothing. Not once she’s made up her mind to the contrary. Fiercely loyal to family since as she says, “…at the end of the day, you may gain and lose friendships throughout your life, but your family is always going to be your family. They come first!”

Which brings me to my daughter Shelly Salisbury Whitley and my daughter-in-law Jill Buchanan Salisbury (whose own mother Judy Buchanan is a marvelous wife, mother and retired healthcare professional as is my daughter’s mother in-law Nancy Reed Whitley ) — so I would be utterly remiss if I didn’t mention how each of their mothers, Shelly and Jill’s, were so devoted and so dedicated and so determined that these two women become the best helpmates and partners and parents and persons they could be in their own lives. And they are and their children, my grandchildren are simply blessed – truth be told I am envious – to be in their loving care and instruction and guidance.

My own sister too, Jenny Salisbury Norvey I know by all accounts to be a devoted and dedicated mother to her two children and they are just as blessed to have her in their iives as is their father Larry.

Finally I’ll touch on – last but not least – the woman who while not being a mother herself – never gave birth to her own children – never even married – but who touched my life in so many ways as most mothers do – the best ones anyway – – my dear sweet Aunt Betty Lou Salisbury (pictured above with me a number of years ago) – a constant and present (especially the final years of her life when she came to Wayland to live) force in my life – she mothered me even when I didn’t realize I needed mothering. I miss her every single day. And she was then and remains now the most remarkable woman I’ve ever known. Devoted daughter who lived with and cared for Lulie all her adult life – “Rosie the Riveter” during WWII at the Willow Run bomber plant – music store manager – vocalist – model – world traveler – Newspaper Guild labor leader at the Detroit Times at a time when women rarely got so involved especially at the bargaining table – later worked at the NY Times’ in the business office – travel agent for Northwest Airlines for many years – visited every state in the US and numerous foreign countries – made friends literally all over the world – her holiday and birthday card list was a mile long. And she extended remarkable kindnesses to others without any expectation of a favor being returned almost literally to the end of her days.
One story  I will share in closing — not long before she died she longed to be able to return to NYC one last time to visit some of her favorite cafes and restaurants. One evening she was feeling especially melancholy and called up one in particular. She asked for a maitre’d she’d known who as it turned out was working even though it had been many years since she’d been there. She asked him all sorts of questions about how he was doing. How business was. And on and on. Then before she hung up she asked, “Who’s there tonight? I’d like to buy someone’s dinner. Look around for me. Do you see a person alone or a couple perhaps? I want to buy someone’s dinner. Really I do.”
He put down the phone and when he came back he replied that yes, in fact, there was a rather young couple who didn’t seem to quite fit the normal clientele. They might do, he explained. All right, Betty Lou said, I’ll buy their dinner. Take down my credit card information. But you’re not to tell them.

And he agreed.
She thought.

“Guess what Jeffrey?”
Weeks later Betty told me received a lovely card and note which she let me read, from a young lady who on behalf of herself and her husband were the recipients of Betty Lou’s kindness and she expressed in glowing remarks how much it meant to them as they were really splurging and the restaurant was not someplace they would normally dine.

Strong willed women. Each and everyone.
Their children and friends and family members and other loved ones were fortunate to come to know them one and all.

And I am the better person for sharing their gene pool and being in their lives. I am what I am because of each of them bestowing in some way shape or form the three Pillars of my life… Patience – Persistence – Perseverance.

Happy Mother’s Day to one and all of them and to you and your mothers too because sometime Mother’s Day is not just about one’s own mother.


The “Other” Photo Illustrator – Tonnesen’s Contemporary, L. Goddard

[Update: 12/6/2012: The portrait at right is of Leonora Woolfenden. It belonged to the late Betty Lou Salisbury, daughter of Woolfenden’s first cousin, Lucy Bate Rowe Salisbury, whose granddaughter, Elissa Ball Hamlin, found it this week among the family heirlooms. She photographed it and emailed the image to her cousin, Jeff Salisbury, who forwarded it to me. At some point, Betty Lou Salisbury added important identifying information to the back of the portrait. What she wrote further confirms that the woman who began life as Nora Hudson became Leonora Woolfenden, known both for her work at the James Arthur Studio in Detroit and as the woman behind the acclaimed illustration art pseudonym “L. Goddard.” Salisbury’s message, so helpful to today’s collectors, states: “Nora Hudson Goddard Wolfenden; Chosen one of the ten most Beautiful Women in the world – Photographic Convention- Paris 1910 (I think). James Arthur – PhotographerDetroit and ‘friend’.” Many thanks to Elissa Ball Hamlin and Jeff Salisbury for providing this image and its accompanying information!

The prints signed L. Goddard are probably the best known examples of the technique of photo illustration produced during the Golden Age of Illustration, about 1900-1940. In fact, it was because I was familiar with L. Goddard’s art, reportedly a collaboration between Detroit-based photographer Leonora Woolfenden (1877 – 1955) and Chicago-based artist Rudolph Ingerle (1879 – 1950), that I first began to wonder if some works by artist R. Atkinson Fox (1860 – 1935) might have resulted from a similar collaboration with photographer Beatrice Tonnesen.

[slidepress gallery=’goddard’]

Of course, since then, we’ve learned that, not only did Fox sometimes paint from Tonnesen’s photos, Tonnesen, herself, sometimes painted from them. And so, over the years, I’ve found myself wondering to what extent the same was true of Woolfenden. An advertising blurb found on one 1920’s calendar does indicate that she sometimes painted from her photographs, but it is unclear as to which works she painted or what signature she used. Collectors have been frustrated by a lack of information about how and where she worked, as well as about her personal life. Though Rudolph Ingerle’s life and career as a Chicago- based landscape artist was well-documented, little was known about Woolfenden, except that she worked with the James Arthur Studio in Detroit for decades, becoming instrumental in its continued success following the death of James Arthur in 1912.

Awhile ago, I spied a Tonnesen model in a print by Goddard and it re-awakened my curiosity about Leonora Woolfenden. Did the model commute between Detroit and Chicago, I wondered? Did Woolfenden? So, over the past year, I’ve been trying to track Woolfenden on and other online archives. To make a very long search into a (relatively) short story, here are the highlights of what I found: (Note the many variations on her first and last names which complicate matters!)

In the 1900 US Census, Lenore Goddard , born November 4, 1877, can be found living with her widowed mother, Mary Jane, age 46, and her brother Walter, age 11, in Detroit. Lenore listed her occupation as “artist.” A 1901 city directory indicates her employer was “James Arthur.” (The spelling of “Lenore” is my best guess after viewing the original record. It might also say “Lenor” or “Lenora.”)

The 1910 US Census finds Lenora married to George R. Wolfenden and living in Detroit. She lists her occupation as “artist” employed by “photographer,” and states she was born in England.

The 1920 census lists her as Leanore G. Woolfenden, still living in Detroit, but divorced from George. Her occupation is listed as “Commercial Artist.” Interestingly, she lists her age as “40.” The 1920 Detroit City Directory lists her as Mrs. Eleanora G. Woolfenden, department manager at the Arthur Studio.

By 1930, again as indicated by the census, she had moved to Highland Park, Michigan. She is listed as Leonora G. Woolfenden, age 52. She lists her occupation as “Artist” and states she came to the US from England in 1887.

The 1940 US Census finds her living in Chicago! She is listed as Lenora Woolfenden, a 62-year-old divorcee, born in England. Her occupation is listed as “saleslady” and her field as “cosmetic wholesale manufacturers.” Woolfenden is listed as the head of household, living with her “partner”, Irene Shaw,” age 30, a “retail mail order buyer.” Respondents in the 1940 census were asked to state where they lived in 1935. She replied that she had been at the same address in Chicago. So, we now know that she left the Detroit area for Chicago sometime between 1930 and 1935.

With the discovery of Woolfenden’s apparent retirement from the field of art, the only thing left, I thought, was to determine her date and place of death. But that’s where things got interesting! I found a California death record for Leonora H. Woolfenden, who died April 25, 1955. The record states she was born November 4, 1877 in a country other than the US. Her mother’s maiden name was Watkins and her dad’s surname was Hudson! Throughout my research, her mother’s maiden name had been listed as either Watkin or Watkins, and Woolfenden’s birth date was consistent. So, this had to be the right Leonora Woolfenden. But where did this “Hudson” person come in? And, if Woofenden’s maiden name was Hudson, where did Goddard come in?

Enter Jeffrey and Penny Salisbury and their family tree on! Using the Hudson name in my searches, I located a birth record in England. A “Nora Florence Weate Hudson” was born in Aston, Lancashire England to Mary Jane Watkin and John Hudson on November 4, 1877. Using that information, I found the Salisbury’s family tree. Nora Hudson was listed, and her parents were listed as Mary Jane and Richard Goddard!

Since then, I’ve talked and emailed with Jeff Salisbury. He confirmed that family lore has it that Nora became a successful artist in Detroit. That pretty much confirmed, for me, that Nora Hudson and the Leonora Woolfenden of L. Goddard fame were one and the same. It seems that, shortly after Nora’s birth, her mother left for the United States, leaving Nora with her maternal grandmother. What became of her father is not known, but Nora’s mother eventually married Richard Goddard, brought Nora to the US, and settled in the Detroit area. Nora, at some point, apparently, became Leonora – the name does turn up in family documents – although details of the change are not known. Nor did the family know of Leonora’s marriage to George Woolfenden, or of her work as L. Goddard.

Jeff has incorporated this new information into his family tree, and has shared some family stories with me, for which I am very grateful. Here’s an account of one family member’s recollections of “Nora.”

“I remember Nora driving up to our house on 13th Street in Detroit in a big chauffeured car – bringing us Christmas presents…We had a dog named Jack – wire hair terrier. Nora had Gladys bring Jack and she took pictures for advertising purposes…At the time Nora worked for the Arthur Studios in Detroit.”

L. Goddard produced beautiful art prints for calendars and other items of home décor from roughly the 1910s through the mid-1930s. Goddard’s subjects, like Tonnesen’s, included happy families, beautiful flappers, and Indian maidens. In addition, Goddard produced images of exotic Egyptian scenes, and pirates and gypsies. The slideshow at upper right shows a small sampling of Goddard’s work.

© 2012 Lois Emerson

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