In preparing for my trip to California next week I scanned and copied the family stories I had written. Most were published in THE STORY TELLING PLACE on Ronni Bennett's wonderful blog Time Goes By. In so doing I realized that I have written about my grandfather twice, his mother, and my mother. But I have not written about the woman who was the most influential in my young life, my maternal grandmother.
When I was born both of my grandmothers were living as well as two great grandmothers. There were too many 'grandmas' so I nicknamed my closest grandmother, 'Nama.' I had never heard of the Spanish name, Nana, for grandmother. I don't know where I came up with the name Nama, but it stuck and I still call her that, although she has been dead for 65 years. I shall continue to call her that in the following story. This story is for my children and grandchildren, but I am sharing it with you.
Her name was Carrie Amanda Spencer and she was born in Ashtabula, Ohio. Nama was the oldest of five children. She was an accomplished pianist and when her 13th birthday arrived she was given a choice of a new dress or another session of music lessons. She chose the lessons and went on to give music lessons to others when she became an adult. She played the organ and led an orchestra for silent movies in Colorado Springs. The entire family had relocated from Ohio to Colorado Springs in 1904 when my mother was two years old.
Nama saved the money she made giving lessons and playing in the movie theaters and with it she purchased a very large piece of property fronting on the avenue between Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. Manitou is a tourist town and the gateway to the mountains and Pikes Peak. It was a perfect location for renting cottages to tourists. Rustic cottages and a restaurant building existed on the property and Nama started a cottage court.
The Great Depression hit and she was in danger of losing the place so she leased it to a man who convinced her that he would make a success of the business.
<<<The following photos are 3rd generation copies from post cards. The top is the front facade of the Lodge building where I lived most of my childhood. The next one is the Lodge with the restaurant building in the background with Pikes Peak looming over it. The final one is the interior of the public part of the building where the dances in my story were held. >>>
I was probably five years old at that time and my mother and I lived with Nama and Grandpa. My mother was a single mom dating and living her own life. Nama was more of a mother to me during my formative years and Grandpa took my missing father's place.
Nama not only made the cottage court begin to show a profit, she further developed it. During the depression the farmer's from the dust bowl started a migration to California. (This migration is memorialized in Steinbeck's THE GRAPES OF WRATH). The cottages were soon full and platforms were built to pitch the tents on. (That was before motor homes were dreamed of.) Some travelers did have trailers and spots with electrical hook-ups were erected for them. The cottages, tent platforms, and trailer spots were full and Nama, an astute business woman, made the business a successful enterprise.
The people who were traveling to California stopped in Colorado Springs for as long as it took them to make enough money to move on. Some stayed overnight; others were there for months. Some were unable to find any kind of work and left owing for their rent. But they always told Nama their situation and she always told them that she knew they would pay when they were able. I am sure that every single one of them did pay. For years Nama, and later Mom, received checks from California from those people.
Nama had a passion. She had a fossil and semi-precious stone collection. It was housed in a glass show case that separated the office from the main lodge building. When people came to register they usually ended up talking for hours to Nama because she knew her collection well and explained it to visitors in such a fascinating manner that they couldn't tear themselves away. She had a fossil of the first tiny horse. According to Wikipedia it is named a Perissodactyla. Nama had a smoky quartz crystal that was very large and lovely shades of violet. How I coveted that.
About a mile from our place a cut had been made through a hill to make a street easier to navigate. Fossils were sometimes found there and the neighborhood boys were always searching for pretty rocks or fossils to sell to Mrs. Norris. One day two boys wanted to go to the movies and didn't have any money. They decided to see if they could find something to sell to Nama. After a fruitless search they gave up and, in disgust, one boy threw a plain brown rock at another rock. The rock broke open and he had his movie money. It was a lovely geode. I am the proud possessor of that rock and treasure it because of the story behind it. When Nama died my mother donated her collection to the Geology Department of Colorado College.
After my grandfather died Nama broke her hip and had to turn the business over to my step-father. He was not a good business man and ended up losing the property bit by bit over a period of about twenty years.
I always think of the courage my beloved Nama showed during those last years of her life. I never heard her complain, although from my recent experience I know how she must have suffered. In those days there was no hip replacement and she was told she would never walk again. Nama fooled the doctors though. With determination and grit she was walking with a cane before she died. She did it on her own; no physical therapy was available.
Nama was a renaissance woman; a successful business woman when women were told their place was in the home. I am in awe of, and have great admiration for my Nama and still love her deeply.