Celebrating a Unique Life

Last Friday, March 13th, my Grandmother passed away. Saturday morning I headed home. Sunday afternoon was the visitation at the funeral home and a Monday morning service at the Church.

Dad and his brothers asked Mom to write a few notable things about Grandma and read them at the funeral. Here is what Mom and Uncle Bill came up with:

I am Patti, wife of Dick, the 5th of Alice’s children. The Wilson family asked me to write and deliver some stories about Alice, so you might know her a little better, and celebrate her life with us.

It is safe to say that Alice Wilson lived a unique life, and died a unique death. Not many of us will pass away on our birthday. That kind of twist was not uncommon for her, she often had a surprising word or act that kept most of us entertained.

Alice was born in a sod house near Odessa.  Early in life, she remembered the family keeping a bull snake in their soddy.  The family pet kept rodents away, and would often lie above the top of the door frame during hot weather.

Early in the 1900’s, childhood disease was controlled by quarantine. It was during one of these outbreaks that the Wood children were confined to their home for an extended time.  Alice and her sister Pearl were known to bicker relentlessly, and did so until they nearly drove their mother insane. In order to quiet the girls, she gathered up a pile of burned matches from a tin can near the kitchen stove. She grabbed a piece of paper and, looking out the window, saw the family’s buggy horse sticking his head out the barn door. She began drawing, and in the end, she created a beautiful portrait of the horse, using burned matches.  When it was done and the fidgety girls had been quieted down, she wadded up the paper and threw it in the trash.  Alice later went to the trash and dug out the drawing. She smoothed out the paper and pressed it between books. Only about 10 years ago, Alice had copies of this drawing made for family members, so we all can see the handiwork of Great-Grandma Wood.

Later on, transportation was hard to come by at the Wood farm. Great-Grandma Wood wanted her children to have a religious affiliation but couldn’t get them into town.  Traveling preachers roamed the country at that time, and when one appeared at the Wood home, the children were herded down, on foot, to the Platte River to be baptized.  Alice was old enough to remember the experience. No one knows exactly what faith the minister was connected to, but the path that Alice took from that point on led to the Methodist church.

Later on when Alice and Tommy were married, they made their home on a dead end road east of Kearney.  The old Air Base was located nearby. Air Force personnel, young men who were off duty, would often head into town about noon. They did more than eat. About dark, they would head back to the airbase, mostly drunk, and get lost. Inevitably they would wind up at the dead end that housed the Wilson family. Alice sometimes found them the next morning, sleeping in their cars. Sometimes they came into the house, unannounced, and fell asleep on the floor. Alice would sober them up, feed them breakfast and send them on their way back to their barracks.

Kearney was still a frontier town in the early 1940’s. You probably all know where Anderson Wrecking Company is, it’s only a half mile to the northwest of the Wilson place. During that time, the area was a huge open space, used for camping and circus entertainment.  When second child Bill was only two years old, a band of Gypsies came through Kearney, and camped at the Anderson Wrecking site.  They traveled by horse and wagon, and moved through the neighborhood mostly inconspicuously. Shortly after the Gypsies arrived, Tommy and Alice noticed their son was missing. He cannot remember the incident, but he was frequently reminded that his frantic parents headed straight for the Gypsy camp and didn’t leave until they had found him. He was on the cusp of being made a Gypsy, himself.

Alice was a prolific quilter, being a member of the Kearney Quilters Guild for over 40 years.  She had a unique artistic ability, especially for putting together colors. Her handiwork was meticulous. Each member of the Wilson family has their own quilt made by Grandma.  The quilting was not without incident, however.  Back around 1947, Alice had a quilt in a frame, and was tying it. For you non-quilters, that means the back and the front of the quilt is held together by crochet thread, little bits of string, tied on the front of the quilt with little knots. Bill, being an inquisitive 5 year old, thought gee, it looked like fun for mom to tie those knots. It must be just as much fun to untie them. It is a good thing he was short, he waited until Alice left the room and untied all the knots he could reach.  He later was made to retie them all, no small task for a kindergarten kid. Bill reports that this was his last attempt at quilting.

Alice drove for 70 years without a traffic ticket or incident. At the age of about 87, she was driving her car near the Kearney Police Station and failed to yield the right of way on a corner. She was hit. By a  police officer. Alice maintained until her death that this was not her fault, and she should not have been ticketed.

Various family members were recruited through the years to take Alice to the Wood Picnic, a family reunion held each August in North Platte.  It was a highlight of the year for her. It was hot and miserable for the rest of us. Wood relations come in to Bill Cody Park riding in wheel chairs, pushing walkers and leaning on canes. They bring food, and lots of it. It is a remarkable fact that no one yet has died of food poisoning. The elderly folks have three or four hours each year to return to their youth, remembering the dirty 30’s and discussing World War ll.  Alice was always the last one to leave.

Do you remember the TV miniseries, “Roots?”  Leon and Alice watched it together, and it turned Alice into a genealogy expert. She attended classes and meetings, learning about the uncovering of one’s own roots. Her granddaughter Becca Wilson is now carrying on that tradition.

The Wilson family would like to extend a special thank you to Jim and Teri Wilson for giving Alice lots of time and care in her last years, and enabling her to live at home for such a long time.  Thank you also to the nursing staff and hospice workers at Wellco in Kearney, your compassionate care was noted and appreciated.  We would also like to thank all of you who attended Alice’s Celebration of Life.

It was good to see many family members that I have not seen for a few years and meet the children of my cousins. Thank You to all who have shared your condolences to our family.

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12 Responses to Celebrating a Unique Life

  1. So sorry to hear of your loss. Your gramma sounds like she was a heck of a lady.

  2. Kim says:

    What a great tribute to your grandma! It’s always hard to say goodbye to a loved one, no matter how long we’ve enjoyed their company. Hugs and prayers, Robyn!

  3. Buttons says:

    Oh I am so sorry Robyn your Grandma Alice sounds like she was one strong woman. I think these are traits that have continued through your family. This is a lovely well written tribute to an obvious well loved amazing woman with an full amazing life. Sending hugs my friend. Hug B

  4. Darcy says:

    Sorry for the loss of your grandma – but the tribute your family put together was wonderful.

  5. Laurie says:

    Very sorry to hear of your loss Robyn. What an individual Ms. Alice was and what a life. The tribute was wonderful.
    My maiden name is Wood. I wonder if in her search to find her roots, they made there way to north central Missouri?

  6. Alica says:

    I’m sorry for your loss! It sounds like your Grandmother led a very interesting life! A bull snake for a pet! Wow…they were brave! (said the woman terrified of snakes!) 🙂

  7. Dick says:

    Grandma was proud of all of her family. I am proud to be the son of depression era parents. We are not likely to see their kind again. Robyn’s Dad (Dick)

  8. Cheri says:

    Sorry about your grandma. She sounds like a wonderful woman. And the pet bull snake! Ha! That’s awesome. 🙂

  9. I am so sorry for your loss. What a wonderful story your mom wrote, one to pass down to descendants! Prayers for you and your family.

  10. CountryMum says:

    I am so sorry to hear about the passing of your grandmother Robyn. What a life she has lead, a wonderful tribute. Thankyou so much for sharing it.

  11. Your grandma sounds like she lived a wonderfully interesting life, Robyn. Your mom did a great job!
    I’m sorry for your loss.
    I had a friend go missing on the 13th, he was found the 14th and I had visitation and funeral services to attend this week too, finishing on Friday. Quite a week.
    I found that sharing and story telling was very helpful to all.

  12. What an awesome lady. I’m sorry for your loss. I’m glad you get to remember her this way though!

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