One hundred years ago, a baby girl was born in a place called Iosepa, a small town in Skull Valley. Skull Valley is in the high desert country of Utah in the United States of America. The baby girl’s parents looked at her, counted her fingers and toes, welcomed her into the world and named her Leoma Nesta Dallas. Her middle name was in honor of her Aunt Nesta, her Mama’s sister. Leoma was the seventh child born into the family, though three more would follow in the years to come.
It was April 28th of 1920. The great war had ended and Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States. It was a time of optimism and prosperity, but Leoma’s father was a trapper and a hunter. He was paid for each fur he brought in and that is a hard way to raise a large family. Her mama, Amy Hovey, was raised in the Mormon religion but left it behind to marry Walter Dallas.
In September of that year, the first home radio was available to purchase. The first broadcast from a commercial radio station was the results of the presidential election – Warren G. Harding won.
The Roaring Twenties had just begun, but that happy carefree time, full of Jazz music and flapper dresses, did not reach into the wilderness of Utah.
Automobiles, moving pictures, and electricity in the house for the city folks were just some of the major changes that the decade brought. Baseball stadiums began to be built around the country and Leoma would be a fan of baseball for her entire life.
By the time Leoma was ten years old, Wall Street had crashed and the Great Depression had begun. The Dallas family had moved to Jerome Prairie, Oregon where Leoma’s dad was mining for gold. Herbert Hoover was president of the United States.
Mickey Mouse was created, Pluto was discovered, prohibition came to an end. In 1935, President Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification bill; by 1939 twenty-five percent of rural households had electricity, but indoor plumbing was still in the future for the country folk.
When Leoma was sixteen, her family had been hit hard by the depression. They were traveling around California, following the fruit harvest as migrant workers. Leoma was living in Grants Pass, Oregon with her oldest sister and her family. She tried her hardest to stay in school, but the chores got to be too much and she found it too hard to go back.
She was nineteen when she married a man named Rolin Clay Simmons. Rolin worked in the mine with her brothers and the sparks flew when the two met. This same year, in a country far away, a man named Adolph Hitler hatched a plan to take over the world. Two years later, the United States joined in World War II. Leoma’s Rolin had arsenic poisoning in 1941 from working in the mine, so he was not sent off to fight.
Leoma’s brothers went to war. She had five babies in five years time, the last one coming by cesarean section. Her brothers all came home from the war. One brother contracted polio and would walk with a cane the rest of his life.
The Simmon’s family moved to Elgin, Oregon. The country prospered after the war ended. Rolin and Leoma started a hardware store, a construction company, and became landlords.
The first atomic weapon is tested in the mid 1940’s; the sound barrier is broken for the first time, and the television and microwave oven are invented. Casablanca wins an Oscar and Frank Sinatra became one of the first teenage idols. The Diary of Anne Frank was published in 1947.
In the next decade, the 1950’s, a vaccine for polio had been found, the first kidney transplant was completed successfully, and the Korean War began.
The first Peanuts cartoon strip was published, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, and segregation was ruled illegal by Brown vs. Board of Education.
Science proved that cigarette smoke causes cancer, Walt Disney opened a park, and Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Elvis Presley scandalously shook his hips on television, the Soviet satellite Sputnik was launched, and Dr. Seuss wrote “The Cat in the Hat.”
The Simmons children grew up, married, moved away, and went to war. Grandchildren were born who adored that baby girl who was born in Skull Valley so many years ago. They called her Grandma.
John F. Kennedy became President of the United States. The country went to war with Vietnam. John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The fight for civil rights was being fought on United States soil. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Hippie’s were growing their hair long and practicing free love.
Leoma and Rolin were running their hardware store and building houses, playing with the grandkids and growing a garden. Washing paper plates and never throwing out the leftovers – a habit leftover from those hardscrabble years.
A man walked on the moon, the fight for equality went on, there was a worldwide oil crisis, gasoline was rationed, and President Nixon resigned. Bell bottom pants were the rage.
In the early 1980’s, the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh took up the local Oregon headlines with this cult commune. A recession hit the logging and farming community hard where Leoma and Rolin lived. They sold their hardware store and many of their friends and neighbors, and some family members, were forced to sell and move. Rolin passed away in 1982, making Leoma a widow at the age of 61.
The space shuttle Challenger crashed, grandkids began to marry, and great-grandbabies were born. The Soviet Union was dissolved, the United States entered another war, The Gulf War, and Dolly the sheep was cloned from a cell.
Leoma lost one of her daughters and a child should never die before a mother. She began to have heart problems and memory problems. When the grandkids would visit, she would ask for them to take Grandpa his lunch down at the worksite. Whose to say that her mind didn’t need to go to that happier time, when the people she loved most in the world were just down the road, building a house, or working in the garden?
Leoma Nesta Dallas Simmons left this earth on January 27th of 2004. She was 83 years old and had lived through so much, seen so many changes in this world of ours. “This too shall pass” she often said, because she knew that it would.
(Leoma is my maternal grandmother)
“How can you have been gone so long when I still see your sparkling brown eyes light up in teasing. And that soft chuckle or intake of breath before saying “Good Night!” Not wishing someone slumber, but expressing exasperation. Or the softness of your cheek as you hug me close. So many ways you will always be with us. Happy Birthday Grandma.” – Susan Sannar Pawley
“The softness of her cheeks is what I remember most ❤.” – Brittany Sumpter (Great-Granddaughter)