Sunday, August 22, 2010


Carrie Amanda Norris
1864 - 1943

I recently wrote that I had been in touch with a relative who found me via the Internet. I have been filling her in on information about our family members. Rather than go into lengthy repeats about relatives that I had already written about, I referred her to the Story Telling Place on the wonderful blog, Time Goes By by Ronni Bennett. I had stories published about my cantankerous great-grandmother, her son, (my grandfather), and his daughter, (my mother).

When I told her to read these stories it dawned on me that I had not written a story about the woman who was the most influential person in my life, my maternal grandmother, Carrie Norris. And Now I intend to remedy that omission. This is for you, Judy.

Carrie was the oldest of 5 children born to an Ohio Civil War Veteran, George Clark, and his wife, Janette. Because Carrie's father had been severely wounded during the war he was never well after he returned. He had been taken prisoner by the Rebels and they thought he would not live so they turned him over to the Yankees.

George Clark had a hard time making a living because of his lingering weakness. To say that they were poor was probably an understatement. In spite of that, money was found to give Carrie piano lessons. When Carrie's 13Th birthday arrived she was given a choice of presents. She could have a new dress or another series of music lessons. She chose the lessons.

Carrie chose wisely because the money she made giving lessons and playing in the orchestra in later years provided the means to buy a very large tract of land on which 4 houses, a restaurant building and some cabins had been erected. The property was at the mouth of a canyon known as Red Rock Canyon. The frontage was on the main street, Colorado Avenue, on which tourists drove to get to Manitou Springs and to Pikes Peak. It was near the Garden of the Gods. You get the picture; it was strategically positioned to be a perfect place for a cottage court catering to tourists. This was a very farsighted purchase.

The property was further divided by railroad tracks that, at one time, went to the gold mines. When the mines closed the tracks were left in place. The houses were located between the tracks and the mouth of the canyon. The lower half of the property was divided by a creek that ran through the middle. A bridge connected the two properties. There was an additional side acreage that was undeveloped and could only be reached through the cottage court. T
hrough the years this area was rented to various men who planted vegetable gardens. At one time the grocery store owner across the avenue pastured his goat there.

Carrie moved her family into the largest of the houses and intended to develop the land when the crash of 1929 occurred. She was devastated and didn't know how she could get the money to improve the property. In desperation she rented the front half of the property to a man who assured her he could make a go of it. Instead he built a lodge building and skipped town owing everyone for the materials. Carrie had no choice but to move into the lodge, a building she hated to her dying day, and take over once more.

I call Carrie a Renaissance woman. She not only took over a hopeless situation, but made a successful business of it. More cabins were built, the restaurant was leased out and a camp ground was established on the back half of the property. This later evolved into a trailer park. (See my story on James Jones in the Story Telling Place on Time Goes By.)

I entered the world while all this was transpiring. I lived on that property until I was married and even lived in two of the houses for a short time in later years.

This is Carrie's story and now it becomes mine as well. Therefore, from now on I will refer to Carrie as Nama, a name I gave her. I can't explain why I named her Nama. Possibly, because I had 2 living grandmothers and 2 living great grandmothers when I was a toddler. Too many women called 'grandma' became confusing. Perhaps I heard a child call their grandmother Nana and I misunderstood and thought they said Nama. Or it is possible that Nama was an easier word to say than grandma. I will never know, but she was Nama to me until her dying day.

When my mother was 2 years old the family followed one of Nama's brothers to Colorado. He was tubercular and had to leave Ohio for a dry climate. Colorado Springs had a hospital for TB patients.

After arriving, Nama played the organ, leading an orchestra with her head, for the background music for the silent movies. She continued giving piano lessons and raising her two children, eventually buying the cottage court.

Nama was an avid rock collector and had such an extensive collection of fossils and semi-precious stones that my mother donated her collection to the Geology department of Colorado College after her death. I can remember listening for hours as she explained her collection to tourists who came in to register and ended up spending fascinated hours listening to her. One favorite rock in her collection was a very large smokey quartz crystal. It looked purple in some lights and everyone seemed to be entranced by it.

My father was an irresponsible playboy and Nama ended up supporting Mom and me. My grandparents bought a tour car to set him up in the business of driving tourists up Pikes Peak. He sold the car and left my mother for another woman when I was three years old. As a result, Mom and I moved in with my grandparents in the Lodge building. And that is where I grew up. Nama was more mother to me than my Mom. Mom fell apart after my Dad left and I had to turn to Nama. Then Nama set my Mom up in business and I was still dependent on Nama for attention. Until I was ten years old I really felt like Nama was my mother and my mother was like a big sister.

I digress. This is Carrie's story. The Great Depression hit when Carrie was trying to save her property. Colorado was the pathway for the dust bowl farmers leaving their destroyed farms for California. Colorado Springs was in the middle of that migration. The back half of the cottage court became a sea of tents. Some were only there for a night as the families pushed on, but others were there for weeks as the men hunted for work to provide the funds to continue on to California. Many families did not have money to pay for their tent spots and my grandmother never pressed them for payment. She told them that when they got to California and back on their feet they could send the money. I honestly don't believe that a single person failed to send the money back. My mother was still getting cards from the people Nama befriended long after her death.

While we were better off than many families, I never felt that we were. Nama knew that many of our neighbors were hungry and she gave parties in the lodge every Saturday night. They were always potluck and people brought what they could. If they could not contribute anything they were always welcomed and never made to feel guilty. The parties had different themes. A costume party was called a 'tacky party' because no one had money for costumes. They all had old clothes, so there was a surfeit of hobos at those parties. There was always dancing after dinner and Nama was the pianist accompanied by anyone who could play an instrument. This was probably the best meal that some of them had all week and the only entertainment for most of them.

To say that Nama was beloved by all who knew her would not be an exaggeration. There were two exception's, because no one is perfect. My father and step-father were not her best fans. I know it was because she provided for their families and their guilt was responsible for their resentment. Funny how that so often happens.

Carrie Norris, was a remarkable woman and I was so lucky to have her for my grandmother, mentor, and comforter. Thank you, Nama, for your loving care.
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Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

A beautiful story about a beautiful woman. Thank so much for that, Darlene - and for sharing her photograph!

Love and Peace,

Tom Degan

One Woman's Journey said...

A beautiful story. Thank you for sharing with me and your children.
How else will they know if you do not document. I love reading your stories. Have a good rest of the day.

Darlene said...

*Tom Degan - Thank you, Tom, for your kind words. I hope you read the previous post on our mutual rant on the mosque that is not a mosque.

*One Woman's Journey - Thank you and I hope your day in the woods is peaceful.

Looking to the Stars said...

I LOVE this story and the picture. I didn't know part of your family is the Norris's. Your grandmother was a very strong pioneer and more stories should be shared about them!!!!

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this :)

Xtreme English said...

What a beautiful, inspiring story, Darlene. I never knew either of my grandmothers. They died long before I arrived on the planet. Thanks for sharing these memories. I especially love that she wasn't born into great wealth and had to find her own way more than once. I'll think of your Nama often.

kenju said...

Such a great story!!

Darlene said...

*Looking to the Stars - I have written several stories about my grandfather. You may not know my Mom was the first Queen of the rodeo and I donated her buckskin outfit to the Pioneer museum.

*Xteme English - Nama was certainly the inspiration of my life, but I probably failed her miserably in trying to emulate her.

*Kemju - Thank you.

Rummuser said...

There is character written all over that stunning photograph. I also see quite a bit of resemblance between her and you.

In almost all cultures that I have been exposed to during my wandering days, I have repeatedly come across great stories about indomitable women in the 'good old days'. Much more than about men. True struggle was on the shoulders of women more than the men. The stories one does here about men are about what wasters or scoundrels they were. While I am sure that there must have been good men, there are not many stories about them that get written.

Thank you for a lovely story.

Joy Des Jardins said...

Beautiful...what an exquiste lady Darlene. I just recently posted something on my paternal grandmother, who played a role in my life as your maternal Nana did. We do miss them don't we Darlene? Love the picuture of Carrie. ~Joy

Nancy said...


You have done a wonderful thing for posterity by telling Carrie's story.

If we don't document the lives of the extraordinary women we have known and loved we are failing our children and Grandchildren.

I always have the feeling that when an old person dies it's like the library burned down.

When we get to the age we are,we are probably the only people on Earth who know these stories and we owe it to those who come after us to tell them about their ancestors and their accomplishments.

Keep writing, Darlene. You do a wonderful job and I just know that someone will be telling the story of Darlene in the future...

Darlene said...

*Rummuser - You couldn't have given me a nicer compliment than to see a resemblance between and my Nama. Thank you.

*Joy Des Jardins - Yes, important people in our lives are never forgotten and are sorely missed.

*Nancy - My library is emptying slowly. I have written my Memoirs and my Bio and of the good ancestors I loved. I am not writing about the bad ones. ;-)

Thank you for your kind words, but I doubt that I will be of any interest to future generations.

naomi dagen bloom said...

Your Nama's photo might have been a distraction for me. For a long time, absent ancestors, I've collected photos found in vintage shops--particularly women and families.

Nama looks out at us in such a direct way that matches your description of her as a hardworking and generous person. It is hard to imagine what it must have taken to be such a survivor. One of the reasons that women's studies has been so important to me is that untold stories like Nama's come back into historical accounts that children read in school.

Thanks for taking the time to do this. You are a worthy heir to her legacy.

la peregrina said...

Love this story, thanks for sharing, Darlene. Next time I am in "The Springs" I'm going to drive by where your Nama's property was just to fix the place my mind.

BTW- I also spotted the family resemblance the instant I saw the photo. :)

Darlene said...

*Naomi Dagen Bloom - Thank you for the compliment. I am not sure it is deserved, but it made me happy.
Women had to be strong in those days due to the hardships imposed on them.

*la peregrina - I am so sorry to have to tell you that you wouldn't find it. A Safeway store now stands where the Lodge building stood. The City bought the land and filled in the back half and the RR tracks to make a new road up Ute Pass. I got sick when I saw this for the first time and I never want to see it again. Thomas Wolfe was right; you can't go home again.

la peregrina said...

A Safeway store now stands where the Lodge building stood. The City bought the land and filled in the back half and the RR tracks to make a new road up Ute Pass.

Darlene, that is indeed a loss. (Sigh) Progress.

la peregrina said...

Oh my gosh, I just realized you are talking about that monstrosity the Midland Expressway! No wonder you were sickened by it the first time you saw it. I was too. What were the city planners thinking?

Darlene said...

*la peregrina - I didn't know the name of the expressway. It did bury my home, though. Our property address was 3221 W. Colorado Avenue. If you are on that avenue and in that block you will see all that remains of my home; an old Safeway store. Sob!

Ronni Bennett said...

Wow. What a story, Darlene. Someone asked me today if I had a role model. Carrie would be an excellent one.

Darlene said...

*Ronni Bennett - She was certainly mine.

Freda said...

Wonderful story and the picture is superb, she looks so sensitive as well as strong. What a heritage!

Darlene said...

*Freda - Thank you. I do believe that she was a very strong woman,but you are right; she was also sensitive. Not always a combination in people.

tnlib said...

Gosh, what a lovely story about you grand-mom. So much of it reminds me of mine. But she never did anymore than visit Colorado while I had the privilege of living there and am familiar with that area.

I wish our paths had crossed there or in AZ. But I appreciate you sharing your Nama's life with us.

Darlene said...

*tnlib - I wish we lived closer so we could get together and compare memories of Colorado. Maybe you can visit Arizona again someday and we can make that happen.

Lydia said...

She was such an amazing woman that reading about her gave me goosebumps. It is such an interesting story (much more interesting than the average family tale) that I wish it were a book...or a movie even! She was also striking and I think you have her smile.
The part about her rock collection still has me shaking my head. What a remarkable woman.
So glad you wrote about her, Darlene.

Darlene said...

*Lydia - Thank you for your very nice comment. I also think, that for the age that she was living in, that she was remarkable.

Hattie said...

What a life! She did right by everyone around her, didn't she. And there are plenty of women today who are following in her footsteps, holding everything together while the men run and play.
What a heroine!

Darlene said...

*Hattie - I should have made it clear that my grandfather was working as a telegrapher during the bad times, so she did have the benefit of his paycheck to meet their personal needs. He did not put any money in the cottage court, though, and she did that all on her own. It was my father that was the 'jerk' playing around. My daughter is the one who is holding it together since she is going through a rough divorce (going on 2 years now) and raising 2 teenage girls with not enough income.

Beverly said...

Such an interesting story. Your Nama was one strong woman. I also can tell she was loving to you. Thank you for sharing her remarkable story with us....

joared said...

Such a well-written memoir about your heritage. Can picture the Red Rock area from visits there in years past.

Darlene said...

*Beverly - Yes, Nama was strong and a loving grandma just as you are.

*Joared - I'm glad you saw the area and can picture it. Thank you for your kind words.

Vagabonde said...

Darlene, what a great story – I really enjoyed it. What you say at the end is so true: “she provided for their families and their guilt was responsible for their resentment.” I think that happens often – you do something for someone and they resent it instead of being grateful. .

Darlene said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Darlene said...

*Vagabonde - Guilt does funny things to the weak.