I never knew either of my grandfathers, but I knew my grandmothers. My father’s mother was the one I knew best. She was a singer, a schoolteacher, mother to three and grandmother to seven. She was actively involved with all of her grandchildren, including me, even though she lived 1,000 miles away. She taught me how to tie my shoes, how to bowl, and how to read the stock tables in the newspaper.
Today would be her 125th birthday.
Florence Tarbet was born February 24, 1891, in Logan, Utah, the daughter of Joseph Tarbet and Mary Ann Davis. Her grandparents were from England and Wales, and had been part of a wave of immigrants to the United States resulting from Mormon missionary activity in Europe. Despite this background, I don’t think organized religion ever played a very large role in Florence’s life.
In 1917 she married Cloyd Woolley and became Florence Tarbet Woolley. Together they had three sons: Cloyd, born in 1921, Joe (my father), 1923, and Dick, 1925. I am the second oldest of her seven grandchildren. We all knew her as “Grammy.”Florence was a small woman – probably under 5 feet tall – but a formidable personality. She knew what was right and what was wrong, and wasn’t afraid to confront anyone when they were out of line. She once made a Denver cop write a ticket to himself. But she was also patient and generous with her time and attention, especially for people in need. She enjoyed children, and didn’t mind letting us have the run of the house during our annual summer visits at her home in Denver.
On those visits, I spent a lot of time with my siblings and cousins playing in her basement. The basement was finished space, with a painted concrete floor, and divided into several rooms. It featured wonders like a wringer washer, a treadle sewing machine, and a beautiful (but non-working) console radio the size of a dining room buffet. There were also two or three large, glass-doored bookcases full of my grandfather’s extensive and wide-ranging collection of hardbound books, each with his custom-designed personal bookplate pasted inside the front cover.
Florence’s husband Cloyd ran a small advertising business. When he died in 1956, she was left with a small amount of money. She began to study the stock market, and lived comfortably for the next 33 years on income from her investments. She even managed to see much of the world by booking rooms on freighters.
My cousin Jane writes:
“A very bright woman, she was well read, had a knack for playing the stock market, and loved doing crossword puzzles and double crostics. Possibly the most formidable woman I have ever known, she once made a policeman write himself a ticket. She started the first women’s bowling league in Denver, and financed several men to start their careers in professional bowling. On her 87th birthday, I witnessed her bowl a game of 178, although she almost couldn’t walk straight enough to reach the lane. When she was 78, she booked passage on a freight ship for six months and traveled the world. She brought home a large package of Ceylon tea, which she shared with me whenever I visited her. It took a few years for it to run out, but we sure enjoyed it while it lasted! She was kind enough to live into a very advanced age, so I was able to know her well, and I really miss her.”
The photo above shows Florence flanked by her sisters Aggie and Millie, sitting on the porch of her red brick home on Eudora Street in Denver. This is how I best remember her. The photo is undated, but it’s probably from the early 1960s.
In 1978 Florence recorded her life story on a cassette tape. I’ve had the tape stashed away for years but recently I dug it out of storage. The tape is probably a copy of a copy, and there was a loud background hum that made it almost impossible to listen to. Some digital processing has improved the sound quality enough to make it listenable. Part 2 cuts off in the middle of a story, but I think that’s just where the tape ran out. As incomplete and flawed as it is, I’m very glad to have this recording of my grandmother’s reminiscences.
This recording is also available at EntireTune.com