Not much happens in my friend Evelyn Elsbury’s world that she doesn’t note, jot, type and photograph. Her closets shelves display binder after binder chalked-full of photographs, letters, cards, clippings, and love. She has worked tirelessly to make sure she has collected and cataloged not only her life and history but has also created individualized binders for all her family members – including great grandchildren.
Born in Cook, Nebraska, on June 22, 1913, when Woodrow Wilson was President, Evelyn was the oldest of six children, three girls, and three boys. For the first 100 years of her life, she believed that her birthday was June 23, but one day while filling a prescription, it came to light that it might actually be June 22. After sending off for a certified copy of her birth certificate, she was surprised to learn that she was indeed born on June 22, 1913. It may be hard to imagine how it didn’t come up earlier, but it seems that there just wasn’t a lot of need to produce birth certificates during the previous century. Her Mother broke her leg just prior to giving birth to Evelyn, so the record-keeping may have had occasion to slip.
Her formative years were spent in Omaha, Nebraska, but in 1927, her Father packed up the whole family and headed to California. The journey would take them almost three months as roads were rough and they experienced many breakdowns and flat tires. The California destination was triggered by her mother’s asthma and the doctor had suggested they try living in a dryer climate.
Her father saw an advertisement that said, “Come to Rio Linda, raise chickens and get rich!” So they tried to make a go of it, but the ground was too hard to grow anything. Her Father had driven a street car in Nebraska, and in California became a streetcar driver for PG&E.
Her mother passed away when Evelyn was 22 leaving several young children to care for. Even though she had already met the man she was going to marry, Evelyn spent the next four years caring for her younger siblings. With so many mouths to feed, Evelyn did what she could to supplement the family’s income with a variety of jobs including babysitting and ironing. Her mother had been a housekeeper for a local doctor, and after the death of her mother, she took over that responsibility as well.
She married Bill Ensbury, the love of her life on Oct. 15, 1939, and was married 52 years until Bill passed away in 1991. They had one son, Richard who lives in Northern California.
Bill was a forest ranger. They lived in Sterling City while young Richard was in elementary school, but when he graduated the 8th grade, they moved to Chico. Evelyn was a housewife when they lived in Sterling City, but after they moved to Chico, she went to work capping toothpaste tubes to earn enough money to buy a Television Set. She also worked at Grants Department Store. After Chico, they moved north to Yreka, where she worked for the Welfare Department.
Evelyn has always been involved in church. While in Sterling City, they became acquainted with a pastor and his wife Bernard and Doris Johnson who were planning to go to Brazil as missionaries. Evelyn spent the next several decades creating hundreds of beautiful placemats out of recycled Christmas cards each year to send to the Johnson’s to brighten up their holidays.
Evelyn has shown that same industrious spirit in everything she turns her attention to. The history she has kept and preserved will continue to bless family and friends for countless generations to come.
Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.
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