Friday, August 8, 2014

A Turnwood Girl – Remembering my Mom

Today's blog entry is something a bit more personal - remembering my mom, who would have turned 85 today - Leona Edwards LaFever.

Leona Edwards was born on August 8, 1929 on the family farm near the hamlet of Turnwood in the Town of Hardenberg in Ulster County. The farm actually overlapped the border with Delaware County. She was the last child of a family of seven children. At the time of her birth, her parents were considered old – her mom, Dulcy Banks Edwards, was 42 and her father, John Edwards, was 49. And she was a bit of a surprise – the youngest child in the family before her birth was 11, the eldest 21. Leona was underweight at birth and, at first, it was not thought she would survive. What saved her was catnip – her six siblings scoured the fields around the farm to find it.
Ma, around age 2

She grew up on the family farm and found herself heavily indulged by her six older siblings. Given their ages, several soon left the farm for marriage. Her eldest sister, Geraldine, better known as Gerry, married Bovina native Bob Boggs in the early 1930s. They lived in what later was known as the Jack and Barbara Hilson home before settling on the farm now owned by Dominic and Laurie Gullow. Leona likely visited her sister on the farm when she was a child.

In June 1941, when she was 11, Leona witnessed the death by heart attack of her father in the family home. She and her mom continued to live on the farm with brothers Stan, Cass and Francis. The next year, brothers Cass and Stan went into the army – Cass, due to a hunting injury years before, served in the U.S. as a guard in a POW camp in California. Stan did go overseas to Europe as part of the communications core.

Ma in a prom dress
Senior portrait
Leona was the first in her family to graduate high school, graduating from Livingston Manor Central School in 1948. By then, they had left the family farm – she and her mom had an apartment in Livingston Manor. After a few challenging months on her own after graduation, Bob and Gerry Boggs came to her rescue and brought her to Bovina where she started a series of jobs working as a ‘hired girl.’ One of her first jobs was helping Eleanor Archibald after the birth of Eleanor’s first daughter, Joan.

It was around this time that Leona met Charlie LaFever. During her childhood visits to Bob and Gerry Boggs, she was somewhat familiar with the LaFever family – they were next door neighbors to the Bogg’s, even if they were quarter of a mile away. But she had never met Charlie until they met at church. Charlie was just finishing high school, graduating about a month or so after they met. They dated for the next year and wanted to marry. Charlie’s parents insisted that he had to be 19 before he could get married, so two days after his 19th birthday, on August 29, 1950, Charlie was married to 21 year old Leona.

Wedding day
Within five years, they would have three children, daughters Susan and Diane and son Ray. Except for the first couple months of marriage, they lived their entire married lives in the same home. Leona mainly was a housewife in her early years in Bovina, though she was active in the Bovina Fire Department Ladies Auxillary and was a member until the organization disbanded.  She was also active in the Bovina U.P. Church, which she joined shortly after her marriage, eventually becoming an elder.

Probably early 60s

Bovina Ladies Firemen's Auxillary - Leona third from right.
The first few years after her children grew up and left home were a difficult time for her. After some stumbles, she took a part-time job and joined a new volunteer organization. She worked for a few years in the 80s and 90s as the back-up postal worker at the Bovina Post Office. It was her first paid job since before her marriage. She also joined the Bovina Rescue Squad, which involved considerable training and being ready for emergency calls.

One of Leona’s biggest crises came toward the end of her life when she was diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder called Wegener’s Granulomatosis - an illness that attacks blood vessels in the lungs and kidneys. Overall, she had been careful about her health, taking up jogging, bicycling and cross country skiing when she was in her 50s. What causes this disorder still is not known, but it is treatable. She kept a sense of humor about the whole situation as she had a couple of set-backs. Not long after she stabilized, she had to deal with her husband's diagnosis with colon cancer.

In January 2004, Charlie died, leaving Leona a widow. Her last two years were hard as she coped with being alone and with her health issues - but overall she coped well. By the winter and early spring of 2006, she was getting active again, rejoining the Bovina U.P. Church session as an active elder.

Then a week after Mother's Day, 2006, she woke up feeling tired and suffering what she thought was a rash. It turned out that due to her weakened immune system, a consequence of the treatment for her condition, she had developed chicken pox. Within a few days she was in the hospital and, as her situation worsened, she made the decision to stop treatment and let nature take its course. She passed away on May 28, 2006.

Leona spent over three quarters of her life in Bovina and grew to love the town, but she also was always partial to where she grew up in the Beaverkill. Interestingly, about a month or so before her death, on at least two different occasions during doctor visits, when asked where she was from she said Turnwood. I heard her say that on May 1. She was surprised by the response herself.  Given that she died later that month, an interesting response.

My sisters and I always will miss our dear ole Ma, but remember that she told us not to sit around moping because she was gone. And we don’t – our memories of Mom usually are accompanied by laughter.

1 comment:

  1. I've made a correction to this blog. Joan Archibald was Eleanor's first daughter but not first child. Joan has an older brother, Lee.