Sunday, August 1, 2010

The House that Jessie Built

                                    Meeker – Chapman
Friends in this city have received announcements of the marriage in Chicago of Miss Jessie Alice Meeker to Dr. Winthrop Chapman.  Miss Meeker was the efficient nurse who took care of Representative Weiser during his recent attack of typhoid fever.
Miss Meeker is a charming young woman and all who knew her will wish her happiness.  The marriage took place June 8 and Dr. and Mrs. Chapman will be home in Raymond South Dakota after July 20.
My grandmother, Jessie Alice Meeker, died on my fourth birthday, so I did not have many memories of her.  My clearest memory is of snuggling up to her in her hospital bed in the dining room to watch the Ice Capades on television. (The bed had been put there so she would not have to climb the stairs to the bedrooms.) I probably remember this because it was rare that I got to climb into her hospital bed as she suffered from a heart condition. I was also impressed because she told my father to “shush” and allow me to stay up late for once.  Wow, someone who could tell my father what to do!
Otherwise, my grandmother was a legend to me.  I heard about how she got disowned by her family THREE times, once for appearing onstage in a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado (she was one of the three little maids from school). Another time she was disowned for daring to attend nursing school (something that a genteel lady of good breeding did not do). The last time was for marrying my grandfather (he wasn’t good enough for her according to her family). 
My grandparents’ romance must have been grand.  They met while he was interning at Chicago’s Lying-in Hospital and she was a nurse.  The nurses were cloistered on the top floor of the hospital in which they worked and my grandparents would rendezvous on the back stairs.  I guess the reason her family thought he wasn’t good enough for her was because his father was just a newspaper editor in the small town of St. James, Minnesota.  In contrast, she was from an old, influential family.  I was told she received some fame for nursing a senator through typhus and was written up in the newspaper for having done so and that this connection was the source of my grandfather’s idea to go before the South Dakota State Legislature to get them to provide an education for Tad.
I have found the newspaper clipping (transcribed below), but it does not say the politician was a senator, rather that he was a representative. I have not been able to find the politician’s complete name or even which state he represented.  The clipping has had the name of the newspaper trimmed off of it and the city is not named. I know that my grandparents lived in Bismark, North Dakota briefly when their sons Tom and Tad were young (before Tad’s 4th birthday). I Googled “Weiser” and “Representative Weiser” turns out there was an influential Weiser in North Dakota during the approximate time period. Considering my uncle Tad was born in 1915 and his brother Tom was two years older than Tad, I’m guessing they got married between 1910 and 1913. Considering I was told by my mother that my grandmother said that all it took for her to get pregnant was to hang her panties up next to my grandfather’s pants, my best guess for their marriage is 1912.  I have not been able to find a Representative Weiser in the early 1900s that could have been nursed by my grandmother. However, whoever he is he did my family a great service by suggesting they use the State Constitution of South Dakoka’s clause to provide for Tad’s education. 
Some things in life seem like the children’s story “The House that Jack Built” – bit by bit, one thing leads to another and they don’t seem directly connected to the final result and yet it takes all the parts to reach that final result. If my grandmother had not been headstrong and insisted on becoming a nurse, and if she hadn’t nursed the Representative, and if she hadn’t married a doctor who also happened to be the son of a newspaperman would they have been able to cope with Tad’s illness and the results of that illness in the same way and with the same success?