Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Dollmaker

The second ancestor in my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project is my maternal grandmother, Bonnie Mae (Lambertson) Wright.

Bonnie was born 18 February 1924 in Elwood, Madison County, Indiana at home at 1906 North F Street.  Her parents were Clemon Beals & June Kirk (Gilliland) Lambertson.  She was the third child of four and the oldest daughter.

Though her birth certificate clearly gives her middle name as "May", Bonnie used the alternative spelling "Mae" during her adult life.  I've found no evidence of a legal change, it was apparently a stylistic choice.

Ruby & Bonnie
Bonnie grew up in the house she was born which was just south of Callaway Park and the pool.  Bonnie and her brothers & sisters all spent a lot of time there working as lifeguards.  City directories show that they were living in that house through 1938.

In the 1939-40 period the family moved from Elwood to near Greentown in Howard County.  Bonnie's grandparents, Charles & Pearl (Beals) Lambertson were living near Greentown and that is likely why the move.  In an interview with Bonnie's sister, Ruby, she mentioned that her dad liked to have space for a garden, as the new place had 3 acres.

1938 freshman photo

The family moved back to Elwood, and Bonnie graduated from Elwood High School in 1941. The story I was told was that during the time she moved to Greentown, she took classes that put her ahead when she returned to Elwood and she was able to graduate in 1941, rather than 1942.

A newspaper story from 1938 mentioned a Halloween party that Bonnie attended with her future husband, Bill Wright.  I do not know if that was the first time that they met, but aunt Ruby told me that she would double date with her future husband, Bob.

Bonnie and Bill were married on 7 June 1941 in Elwood at the First Baptist Church by Rev. Sage.  Shortly afterward, they moved to Alexandria where Bill's family was from. At the time of their marriage, Bill was a factory worker and Bonnie had to have parental consent to get married, as she was only 17.

Her first child, my uncle was born in the spring of 1942 when they were living at 610 West Broadway in Alexandria.  The war was on and my grandpa enlisted together with my great-uncle Bob on 19 January 1944 in the U.S. Army, determined to become pilots.

A heart murmur kept grandpa from becoming a pilot, and instead he became a radio instructor.  One of my first genealogy interviews when I was a teenager was listening to grandma tell me about all of the various Army bases that she travelled to with grandpa with my uncle in tow.  I need to track down the notes, but I seem to remember her saying one time in Biloxi they were scared - must have been a fight between locals and servicemen or something.

Grandpa was always state-side during the war, and after his discharge he returned home and was soon employed at the local post office and Bonnie settled into being a housewife.  By the winter of 1946, they were a family of four when my mother arrived.

Bonnie and Bill were socially active in events in small town Alexandria with groups such as the Elks, the First Christian Church and school parent committees.

By the time I came along, Bonnie was 44 years old, and I was her second grandson.  She lost my grandfather 5 years later, becoming a widow at 49.  I cannot imagine how painful that loss must have been.  One of the ways she dealt with grief was the therapy of doll making.

Bonnie made a Raggedy Ann doll for her niece Vicki for a graduation gift. When Ruby took it to Guide Lamp in Anderson to show it off, people started putting in orders to have Bonnie make one for their kids and for nursing homes.

The dolls were 25 inches and each strand of hair was tied on by hand so that when the dolls were washed they wouldn't come apart.  She  made an estimated 500 of the dolls.

Bonnie enjoyed making dolls and couldn't stand to see a doll without clothes.  She loved to sew and would make matching clothes for my mother and her dolls when she was a girl. My mom still has examples of her handiwork.

As a youngster, I spent more time with Grandma Bonnie than my other grandmother because she lived closer. I can remember going shopping into downtown Alexandria at stores such as Danner's and going to the bakery to get one of their famous caramel rolls.

I remember walking over to her house after playing baseball at the Babe Ruth diamonds and hanging out. One story I remember was that she had a case of Bloody Mary Mix that she didn't want me to tell anyone about because she didn't want them to think she was a drinker.

One time she made me popcorn and I complained that it didn't have any butter on it.  She promptly went to the kitchen and brought back one of those squeeze bottles of butter and coated that popcorn so much so that it wasn't edible.  I learned a lesson that day not to complain.

When I started working on genealogy, I interviewed her about her family history for my Boy Scout merit badge.  She told me what she could about her heritage, and got me started on tracking down the mysteries on her mother's side of the family.

When I was a sophomore in high school, she became really sick with cancer.  I went with my mom & grandma to many of her visits at the Bluffton clinic.  She eventually became so ill that she had to move in with us.

Bonnie died 9 April 1984 at our house at R.R. 4 Box 328, which was rural Monroe Township, Madison County, Indiana.  I remember her passing like it was yesterday, though it was over 30 years ago.

I was glad I was able to spend some time with her asking her about her relatives.  I wish I could show her some of the things I've found that she probably didn't know about her heritage.

The 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge was created by Amy Johnson Crow of No Story Too Small blog.  The premise is to write once a week about a specific ancestor – whether it be a story, a biography, a photograph or a research problem.

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