Sunday, March 8, 2015

Leta of the Laughing Blue Eyes


Leta Lavina Murray was born on 8 March 1881 at Salem, Dent, Missouri. Her parents were John Lewis Murray and Esther E. Thornton. Her father was an iron miner in Salem.

Leta had an older brother named William who was born in 1879, and did not live long. After Leta's birth, there were two other girls born to the family; Lota Esther who was born 12 January 1885 at Fort Worth, Tarrant, Texas; and Nelle Agness who was also born in Texas on 17 August 1887, in Alvarado, Johnson County. She also had two other siblings who did not survive named Mollie and Johnnie. Betty remembered, "I never really knew Aunt Lota. She and Mother had a falling out when I was very small and never saw or spoke to each other again. Aunt Nelle I knew quite well. She was a happy-go-lucky, fun-loving, frivolous member of the family. She was that way all of her life. My mother was the hard-working, practical one. She and Nelle loved each other dearly."

In About 1888, the family moved to Willow Springs, Howell, Missouri. Leta remembered being in a wagon train and peeking out of the back of the wagon to see the men talking with Indians. Esther died just after Johnnie was born, and they were both buried in the Old Baptist Cemetery in Willow Springs. In a letter, Nelle said that the three babies were all buried next to Esther, but we only found Johnnie there.

Leta was just nine years old when her mother died, leaving her father with three little girls to raise. As the oldest, the burden of the home fell upon her. That might be why she became the "practical" one. Her father remarried quickly on 25 June 1890, to America Lovan, in Willow Springs. "Mec", as she was called, was from a large Willow Springs family. She was was 32 years old when she married John and took on the family of three little girls. Leta said about her that she made them work around the house, but she was good to them and saw to it that they had the things that girls wanted and needed. This is a family photo of John L. and America taken in about 1903, with Fred sitting between them. Fred was adopted by the family. From left to right, the girls are Lota, Nelle, and Leta.


On the 1900 census, they were temporarily living on a farm in Clinton, Douglas County, but returned to Willow Springs after that. Leta's father liked to buy and sell. He was a trader. He'd buy an old house and move his family in and when it was just getting nice, he'd sell it. Leta remembered going with him on one job that was away from home. She was his cook while he was away. When she agreed to marry Art, she told him that she wouldn't make "biscuit" as she called it. She said she'd had to make biscuits for her father each day for breakfast and hated it. She remembered going to the market to purchase "a bit of pork and a bit of beef" to make the breakfast.

Leta graduated from high school in Willow Springs. One of her classmates was her future husband, Arthur Boucher. Leta is the girl at the lower left, and Arthur is at the left of the back row.

After she graduated from high school Leta taught school in Willow Springs. A teaching contract of hers states that she was a "legally qualified public school teacher", for which she was paid $30 per month. She thought teaching was a noble profession and encouraged her children and her grandchildren to be teachers. In her later life, Leta had problems with her feet; she had bunions. She always attributed it to boots she wore that were too small. She walked to school in them one whole winter.

In a letter to the editor in the Willow Springs paper that was written 13 April 1962 this appeared, "the fourth grade was Miss Leta Murray, who had the brightest, blue laughing eyes and a sweet smile (when we were good)." Leta was about five feet tall.

In 1903, Leta became engaged to be married to Arthur Boucher. Someone told her that it was a mistake because they didn't think he would live long. They would be surprised to know how long he lived! Art traveled to Tacoma, Washington to work on the Northern Pacific Railroad. Leta arrived a year later by train, with his mother, Rossea. Art and Leta were married at Tacoma, Pierce, Washington on 20 April 1904.

Back home in Willow Springs, Missouri, this appeared in the local newspaper--
Cards came this week announcing the marriage of Mr. Arthur Boucher and Miss Leta Murray, at Tacoma, Washington, Wednesday, April 20th. When Miss Leta went to Washington we knew what the next word from her would be, but we waited for the official announcement before mentioning it, and that did not come until this week. Mr. Boucher has been away from our vicinity for several years, holding a good position, but he still has many friends here and always will have. Miss Murray has been in our midst most of her life, and was a friend to old and young. She has been a successful teacher in our public school for the past two years and probably would have been the coming year had she not desired a change in occupation. We join with friends in extending congratulations and best wishes to the happy couple so many miles away.
Art and Leta set up housekeeping in Tacoma, with his mother Rossea, who spent about 17 years in their home. Their first three children were close together in age. They were Wanda Erma, born on 17 January 1905; Russell Murray, born 5 November 1906; and Dale Vern, born on 9 September 1908. They were all born in Tacoma. Tragedy struck the little family on 10 April 1913, when Wanda died suddenly. About Wanda, Betty said, "The family had taken a trip back to Missouri for a visit. Although they had no relatives back there (Mother's family had all moved west), they had many friends who they had grown up with and with whom they corresponded all of their lives. I never met any of them but the names were familiar to me. I suppose that is those days people did not travel as much as they do today. It was more difficult. On the return trip from Missouri, Wanda became ill on the train. She died shortly after they got home of tubercular meningitis. My mother always told me that Wanda was such a good child; almost too good. I know that Dad worshipped her and he grieved for her for many years. I was never told much about Wanda. I suppose it was because Mother and Dad didn't want to be reminded. Mother did tell me that I took Wanda's place with Dad. There were no other girls in the family. Just Wanda and myself."


The family moved to Spokane when Art received a transfer. Then, after many years, Betty Jane was born on 20 April 1921, Leta's wedding anniversary. Sixteen months later on 21 August 1922, Bill joined the family, and it was complete. Both children were born at home in Spokane, at 2924 Standard. They sent Grandma Rossie to stay with Art's brother, Luther, until Bill arrived. She never returned to the family, having died at Luther's house.

In the summer the family drove their Model T Ford. The rest of the year they rode the street car. Art would put the car "up on blocks" for the winter. Art had a big garden and Leta kept chickens.


In 1931, they returned to Tacoma to live. They bought a house at 4332 South Bell Street and lived there for many years. During World War II, Betty bought the house next door to them. When the war was over, she and her husband Ray built a house next door to her brother Bill and his wife, Frankie. Art bought the lot next door to Betty and built a one bedroom retirement home for them. The address was 8422 East B Street. It had a long hallway that was covered with snapshots of family and loved ones. Their kitchen was yellow and contained a large, black wood stove that made the best toast in the world. Leta also had a wringer washer machine in her small laundry room off the kitchen. She still kept chickens and they had a large vegetable garden. Leta was particularly proud of her azalea plant in her front yard. Our yard and hers ran together.

In their later years, Art sat in his rocking chair with his feet up, pipe in his mouth, hat on his head, listening to the radio. Leta sat in her little rocking chair and did embroidery or made crocheted rugs from old clothing. Art wasn't much for going places, but Leta had her social outings and rode the bus. Leta would take the bus to town to attend church socials and to shop. Sometimes she would take one of her grandchildren with her. The highlight of the trip was a stop at the soda fountain at Woolworth's. When it was my turn, I always had a chocolate soda for the price of a quarter. Then we would ride the bus home. She always said that if we weren't good, she would pinch us to remind us. But I don't remember ever receiving a "pinch".

All of the children on our little dead end road called her Grandma. She was the grandma for the whole street. The children would all come to the back door and she would pass out sugar lumps. Her small front yard had a little patio made of cement squares which we girls used to play hopscotch. In later years when she no longer raised chickens, she donated half of her shed to us for a play house.

Because my mother worked, having Leta and Art next door was an important part of my life. If we needed anything, we knocked on our window and she would see us from her kitchen window and come over. When school was out at the end of the day, her house was my first stop, where I spent happy hours talking to her while she did her hand work. When I practiced my piano playing she would sit and listen with her hands folded and a smile on her face as though she enjoyed what I played. It was usually hymns.

Leta taught me to memorize scriptures. When I weeded a flower bed for her and she paid me a dime, she always included an extra penny for me to give to the Lord. I realized, as an adult, that she taught me to pay tithing. She was a good, Christian woman. She wanted all of her granddaughters to be school teachers and encouraged us to gain a good education. She was a strong personality who said what she thought.


On 20 April 1954, Art and Leta celebrated their Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary. All of their family gathered together to honor them at a reception held at the Plymouth Congregational Church where the family attended church together.

When Art died in 1967, Leta lived with her daughter, Betty, for about nine months. She was grieving. Then one day she got on the bus and went to town. She found a place for herself in a retirement complex and moved back out on her own. Her natural independence came to the surface.

Leta remembered when the first car came to Tacoma. She remembered driving up to Mt. Rainier and having to wait while the allowed number of cars drove to Paradise and back. She bought an old treadle sewing machine from a man who had three on the back of a wagon. She told us not to slouch because it looked terrible to be a bent over little old lady. She stood as straight as a stick, making use of every bit of her five feet. And she always wore shoes with a thick high heel, probably to give herself as much height as possible. She always wore dresses, and many of them she made herself.

We remember her sayings like, "a fool and his money are soon parted," "chickens come home to roost, " "a penny saved is a penny earned," and one I tried to live by, "learn to keep still." She always said, "hush," and never anything that might sound rude, like "shut up." If we forgot what we were going to say, she said "it must have been a lie." About doing hand work on Sunday, "sew a stitch on Sunday and pick it out with your nose on Monday." She said to never say a bad thing about a girl or boy. She deplored waste, having lived carefully all of her life. She encouraged us to remember the children in Korea when we didn't want to finish our food. She even sifted her garden soil to get the rocks out and waste not a grain of precious dirt. She was strong and good, a true matriarch in every sense of the word.

This four generation photo was taken in 1971 when Leta was 90 years old, probably at Thanksgiving. She is pictured with her daughter Betty, granddaughter Judie, and great-granddaughter Amber. In the last year of her life, Leta lived in a nursing home and didn't like it at all. As a strong-willed, always independent woman, she resented losing the freedom to do what she wanted; but she needed the help she got there. She died on 4 January 1973 at the age of 92, and just two months before celebrating another birthday. She was the pivotal person of my childhood, and I gained much of my attitudes and goals from listening to her. For me, she was everything wonderful.

1 comment:

A Girl Called Dallan said...

What a touching post. I'm glad I got to read it. It is a beautiful tribute to your grandmother and inspires me to be the best grandma I can be to my little treasures.