Cornelius Alexander Dugger (Neal) and Della Pendergrass Dugger were my Dad’s parents. They lived upstairs over Dad and Mom’s home when I was born. The house was on Pringle Street overlooking San Diego harbor and Lindberg Field (airport). I was the first grandchild. Mom felt the first labor contractions while cooking dinner and I was delivered at Quintard Hospital around 10 something at night. (Both Mom and I had relatively short labors, which was fortunate for us and I hope it passes on to other members of our family). Dad was, at the time, an English teacher at Hoover High School. But shortly after I was born he was promoted to Principal of Pacific Beach Elementary School. ( I used to tell him I brought him luck.)
We moved to Pacific Beach and lived at 1821 Reed for about a year. My grandparents lived nearby. When I was 13 months old, my brother Ellis was born in San Jose. He was a breach presentation baby and in those days the doctors told a family not to have any more children after a breach. We were living in Palo Alto at the time as we did every summer in the 30’s while Dad worked on a Doctorate at Stanford.
With a larger family, we moved to 1564 Chalcedony in Pacific Beach. Our Grandparents lived nearby and we all visited with them several nights a week. No one ever heard of television, so visiting was recreation, along with a few movies. We often visited friends or they visited us on Sunday afternoons. I remember how they discussed current events, and concerns over costs of living. The discussions were very intellectual and everyone had opinions.
Memories of visits with our grandparents stand out. They adored us. And Grandfather was retired. He would take us for walks and we’d look for “Doodle Bugs”. He would line up chairs and play train while we played parts of Engineer, Ticket Collector, Passenger etc. He always had chocolate candy for us over our parent’s objections. Grandmother fixed us oatmeal for breakfast sometimes with bananas, or bacon, or raisins.
Neal had run away from home (Iuka, Mississippi) at the age of around 14. He went north to Tennessee and Kentucky where he somehow concentrated on working and getting an education. He went to a Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Ky. But later became a Presbyterian Minister. He said he came by it naturally as his grandmothers had been strong Presbyterians. He met and married Della who was a school teacher. She had gotten her education at Berea College. They were married in 1900. Both Neal and Della had come from large families as was the custom in those days. Many infants and children died at early ages of diseases that now can be cured. And many wage earners helped support everyone.
Grandmother told me that early in her marriage she and Grandfather were sent out into the mountains of Kentucky to see if there were enough children to warrant building a school. Each day Neal went out looking for houses and people. For six months she never saw another human being to talk to. When it rained their roof leaked and they slept with umbrellas over their bed. Needless to say there were not enough children to justify the cost of a school.
The first child born to Della and Neal was a boy they name Benomi (from the Bible which means “son of my sorrow”). A young doctor attending Della had a date that night and so gave Della a medication to help the muscles stretch, but he gave her the wrong medicine which caused them to constrict. The baby was stillborn.
Their second child was my father, Ellis Dean Dugger, born on May 20, 1902. He was a healthy baby. In those days the hairstyle for little boys was a “little Lord Fontleroy” with longer corkscrew curls. Dad hated it and there is a picture in our album of it. Dad had natural curly hair as did my brother and neither of them liked it. Mom did too so I was the only one in the family who had straight hair and wished it were curly. (They all had dark hair too but I was blond until I was an adult.)
Nellie Josephine Dugger was the next child. She was born with some defects that were later believed to be from some damage to Della during the formative part of her pregnancy, like gas from the dentist. Nellie had many surgeries in her lifetime, mostly to her left eye which never grew. But Nellie was a beautiful person with many talents including a lovely, trained voice, and a teacher of music and of children who needed extra help. (tutor) She was Auntie to Ellis and me, and Elin and Jean, our cousins.
This past year, 2003, we learned that Nellie apparently had had a child in 1928. I still have trouble believing this. But I
participated in a DNA test and Bill Ekstrom was my first cousin. Nellie named him, William Joseph, and his father‘s last name was Hale. In pictures I thought he resembled Dad and Ellis, and Della’s brother, Brown. Unfortunately, Bill died about five days before we got the results of the DNA so I never got to meet him. I did meet one of his son’s families last August and it was very emotional for all of us. The son I met was a Prosecuting Attorney in Kingman, Arizona. His wife is a Chiropractor and their children, Hillary and Haden were all people to be proud of. I may tell the story of how this came about later.
Back to Neal and Della, their third living child was Marguerite Flora Dugger. She was born in Volga, Iowa which is near Strawberry Point. There were still no cars and people had to use horses and buggies to get around. There were still no radios, telephones, etc.
A fourth child named Donald was born to them but died of Whooping Cough at around ten months of age. He was buried in Wisconsin.
Grandfather was co founder of a College in Kentucky and I did see it written up in a book one of Dad’s friends had leant to him. I do not remember the name of the college but will add it if I can find it later.
Della and Neal served small town and country churches throughout their careers. Their churches were in Kentucky, Iowa, Wisconsin, Texas, and Arizona.
Neal had caught the flu during the huge epidemic early in the 20th century and it left him with Angina. He was born on June 10, 1869. He died in May 1936 of a heart attack.
That day stands out in my memory even though I could not comprehend the permanence of what occurred. Grandmother was in Arizona with Aunt Marguerite who had given birth to my cousin, Jean, by Caesarian Section which was extremely serious in those days. Grandfather was staying with us. Ellis and I were getting ready to go on our daily walk with him when he told Mom he wasn’t feeling well. He lay down on my bed in my bedroom. Mom made him some kind of an orange milky colored drink and then called Dad at school. He must have called the doctor as they both came to the house.
Ellis and I played outside for a while and I could see the doctor in his brown suit sitting by the bed as was Dad. At some time later we two were in the hallway when they sent Mom out to make some black coffee. She always thought they sent her out so she wouldn’t see him die. Almost immediately afterward Dad and the doctor came out and told us he had died. Mom took Ellis and me and we walked to our minister’s home to use their phone to call Grandmother. Then we walked back as they were loading Grandfather into the back of the doctor’s car. I still didn’t comprehend what death was and figured he’d come back when he was better.
Grand father’s body was to be shipped to Phoenix for burial. We packed up and left that evening to head for Peoria. We stopped at the funeral home in La Jolla on our way out of town and Dad went in to be sure everything was taken care of. When he came out, I asked him if he had seen the star that came down to take grandfather up to heaven. He said that he had. I asked its color. He said gold. I remember being so disappointed because I wanted my grandfather to have a pretty star like blue or red or green.
There was a lot of activity in Peoria and on the morning of the funeral a lady came to baby sit the four of us, his grandchildren. I was almost 5 years old and I have always felt like I should have been allowed to attend the service and burial but that wasn’t done in those days.
Grandmother lived on to the age of 89. She was born November 18, 1879 and died June 6, 1968 of intestinal infection which had to do with a chronic gall bladder problem she’s had for years but refused surgery.
Grandmother was a wonderful part of our lives. She and Aunt Nellie bought a small home at 1135 Beryl St. in Pacific Beach, within easy walking distance from our Chalcedony Street home. She taught me how to knit, crochet, and embroidery. I had a very poor history teacher in Junior High and thought I didn’t like History. She told me she loved History and helped me to love it too.
Later Grandmother had glaucoma and could no longer do the crafts she loved because of blindness.
When I was in college I remember asking her how to know if a boy you liked, liked you. This was when I was pining for Jim in a mail romance during my last year of college in San Diego, and his first year of graduate school (Seminary) in Chicago. Grandmother said that in all probability he felt pretty much the same. If not he wouldn’t be writing every day and saying the things he did. She was right and it did bring me some comfort.
Sometimes when I was younger, she paid me to do special jobs for her. I remember cleaning the chicken coop a few times and once I laid bricks to form a walkway across her back yard. The clay soil would hold them in place. These things were fun to do.
I do remember that grandmother had only three or four dresses. She just rotated them. They were purple, wine, navy, and blue with a red and white pattern.
She made wonderful grilled peanut butter and jam or cheese sandwiches. And she often served sweet rolls for breakfast. She made a wonderful ham loaf and candied yams with marshmallows. She also baked apples with red hots which were absorbed by the apples and tasted sooo good of cinnamon.
When Jim and I were newly married she taught me how to iron his dress shirts. And she taught me to make meat loaf which was a favorite of his.
One of the things I remember about Grandmother was that she always had a twinkle in her eyes. She always seemed happy around her grandchildren.
Our grandparents were a very large presence in our lives for which I am very grateful. I aspire to be the same for my grandchildren and great grandchildren. A loving family is one of the nicest things to happen in life.
[Next I will write about my Mother, Prudence Estelle Scott Dugger]