A blog by granddaughter P. Davidson-Peters
This month celebrates the 99th birthday of my paternal grandmother, Connie. Born in Barnes Co., North Dakota, her father, William Neagle, was the youngest son of Irish immigrants who came to the United States and eventually found their way to Livingston County, Illinois where he was born in 1870. Prior to their arrival in the Prairie State, the Neagles lived in New York and Momonth County, New Jersey.
William’s wife, Clara Anora (Danforth), was a native of Minnesota who was born in St. Charles in 1877. Direct descendants of Jonathan Danforth who served as an Ensign in the Billerica Militia, was a 1679 graduate of Harvard (and of the same family associated with the Salem Witch Trials), Clara's family was enumerated in the North Dakota Territorial Census and the family remained there until Connie and her husband, V.W. "Dave" Davidson, auctioned off their farm and came west to Arizona where they lived and worked at the dams.
In the fall of 1935 my grandmother arrived in Phoenix by Greyhound Bus, and it is my opinion that these years directly following her arrival, did much to strengthen her values and steadfast determination. As noted in chapter seven of “The Verde River: Bartlett and Horeshoe Dams” written by Gerard Giordano and published in 2010 by Arcadia Publishing as part of their Images of America books, my grandmother has maintained her humble bearing.
Only in more recent years have I realized the impact she has had on my life. Twice as old and no doubt twice as wise, I’m guessing she has journeyed through her life with an observant eye and a tight rein on all matters frivolous. She has endured the most difficult of times with dignity, and through her losses and heartaches has always picked herself up and found the best use of those circumstances.
Her experience in employment began on the North Dakota farm where she plowed behind a horse. At the age of twelve she was farmed out with the daily tasks which included carrying water, hauling wood, baking bread and often cooking for nine men. Despite working, she graduated early and went on to Normal School where she received a certificate to teach. After teaching at a one-room school house, she went on to clerk in a general mercantile store and at the age of twenty-one married a neighboring farmer, Dave, whom she'd known all her life. After two years of the 1934 and 1935 Dust Bowls, they left the bitter cold weather of North Dakota and traveled over 1600 miles to Arizona where her husband had found work at Carl Pleasant Dam. While living in tent or trailer, she cooked, canned, prepared meals throughout the day and (most notably) kept away the rattlesnakes with a whisk or whop of her broom.
After work on Carl Pleasant Dam (later renamed Wadell Dam), Dave and Connie lived and worked at Granite Reef, Horse Mesa, Tortilla Flats and Bartlett Dams. They saved and bought a filling station and two cabins west of Phoenix on what was known in the 1940 census as “Yuma Road.” While Connie kept the rental cabins and filling station operating, her husband Dave went to work about 200 miles away at Parker Dam on the Colorado River. When the scaffolding collapsed beneath him and he was injured from the sixty foot fall, Connie went to work at a luncheon diner in Phoenix to supplement their income.
Having learned to budget and balance ledgers while they had the station and cabins, Connie again kept the books when her husband became a licensed cement contractor. I personally do not believe her skills as a bookkeeper were so much learned as they were innate. She possesses the gift of not only stretching a dollar but making it last and multiply; and it pleases me to admit I have been gifted with this ability as well. Perhaps I learned it from my mother who was greatly influenced by my grandmother, but the financial discipline of both has been the blueprint of my simple life.
The manner in which my grandmother has lived her life has taught me much about her. It is her presence and demeanor which communicate loudly the opinions she does not voice. If her advice is sought, she will find a way to offer her knowledge in a most encouraging manner. She loves in the most loyal of ways, and as a humanitarian, she lives with a grace of kindness which can be seen in her selfless and volunteering spirit.
I could not begin to count the many formal holiday dinners she has cooked and laid out, and done so in such a seemingly effortless manner that her guests could always enjoy the multitude of dishes without feeling any sense of guilt as to how many hours she might have spent on its preparation. Always a perfect hostess, her skill at spreading a table for even an informal lunch and making do with what’s on hand has also become a skill which has served me well.
I never realized it until recently, but I am much like my grandmother in many ways. I believe that even if she had not gone through America’s Great Depression, she would still be very frugal and content with little beyond her needs. I greatly admire this, and live with the same similar principles.
Watching her ability to move forward with nearly one hundred years of change can only be described as admirable. As I fumble through our fast-moving technology and decry its rapid advancements, I wonder how on earth she has taken it all in and kept up.
In her lifetime she has seen significant events which have evolved into a history of their own. At the age of seven the 19th Amendment was written giving women the right to vote, and she has since seen women serve as "First" in many instances. She was not yet fifty when she heard of the assassination of President Kennedy as his motorcade moved through Dallas on that fateful day. Not only did she live through the rations and sacrifices of World War II, but she witnessed the horrific televised execution of Nguyen Van Lem in Saigon by NBC photojournalist Eddie Adams, the 24/7 televised War in the Gulf as well as the inner wars of America such as the Oklahoma City Bombing, Waco, and the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. She has seen our country at its brightest, our West in its infancy, and some of the most devastating earthquakes, tornadoes, and tsunamis have occurred in her lifetime. No doubt she has subscribed a place in her memory for each of these, and if called upon to recount them, could probably do so with little effort as her mind remains sharp to this day.
As man walked on the moon, invented computers, discovered DNA, and watched our phones morph from party lines and operators to Internet accessible mini computers, my grandmother has remained unchanged. She is a woman of great principle, pride, and humility; and her outlook and fortitude have taught me many things – much of which I am proudly passing down to my own daughter.
Of things never said, but held in great esteem, Happy 99th Birthday, Pompa. With much love and admiration,