Ninety-six years ago on November 14, 1928, Nellie Edith Emmons married Emmett Wilbur Colescott in Grand Junction, Colorado. Nellie’s sister, Gladys stood in as a witness. The minister, Franklin Fenner, apparently did not know the couple. You see, they lied to obtain a marriage certificate.
Edith and Emmett are my great-grandparents, the parents of my dad’s mom. Like all my family lines, they are colorful. My dad has shared stories with me that his Grandpa Emmett wrote down in his later years (he died in 1980). My own memories of him are fuzzy; nothing distinct.
Emmett began his story with the marriage of his parents. He writes, “Well as you can see by the enclosed Marriage Certificate, Mr. Edward “Scolescott” and Miss Belle Morse were united in marriage December 14, 1898. Witnessed by Dads Father and Eugene Rountree, one of the biggest drunks in Desoto, Kansas. The name Colescott probably misspelled by a drunk justice of the Peace.”
I did say, the Colescotts were a colorful lineage. The drunken marriage occurred between two teens a week before Christmas. I wonder how the holidays were that year? The Morse family was not like the Colescotts (a theme that often plays out in my family tree). Some families have a wild branch. Mine is the wild tree with the occasional upstanding branch hastily grafted to no avail. We are survivors of our own shit.
Emmet further explains, “Dad’s father was a little Wiry Irishman and an onyeyer [ornrey] little Devil never lived from what I can remember. Not mean in disposition but one who would fight a Buzz Saw at the drop of a hat over Politics, Religion or most anything else you might want to mention. He was a drinker and when he got on a tear you had better look out.”
He continues, “Dad’s mother from what I could ever gather was a Red Headed Scotchwoman and very pretty. I think she died in childbirth. Dad had a sister Maude who was a few years younger than he. Also he had a Brother John.” From records I’ve uncovered, it’s plausible that Emmet’s grandmother Mary Colescott died in childbirth. She was 29 years old and left behind four children, although my great-grandfather fails to mention Anna Colescott. She married a Rountree and was dead within three years, five years before Emmett was born. She slipped into oblivion, childless and unremembered.
It’s those graves that call to me the most when I explore cemeteries for stories. The graves of young women who nowadays would be of college student age often get left behind. Families move. Young husbands remarry. Later nieces and nephews grow up unaware of the young aunts no one mentions. Graves sink. No one places flowers or flags. What would my second great-grandaunt have studied had she’d been given the chance? Would she have voted had she lived longer? Was she redheaded and ornery, too?
Back to Emmett, the Colescott chronicler. He mentions the Morse family as “entirely different.” They, too, were Welsh. I wonder if Emmett knew his Grandpa Stark Morse fought in the Civil War as a Kansas Jayhawker? Even though the Morses were different and Caroline Winklman was raised in the faith of the Pennsylvania Dutch, I see a bit of the wild woman in his Grandma Morse. After all, someone of her faith married a Union Soldier at the start of the Civil War. What did her parents think?
Emmet recalls Grandma Morse (Caroline) hunkered down outside along the sunny side of their house in De Soto. According to 1915 Kansas census records, Caroline was staying with her daughter Belle and SIL Ed Colescott. Emmett was five. Why was Grandma Morse hunkered down outside? One explanation from her obituary is that she was an avid gardener, and the day before her death she was planning her next one. However, Emmet writes, “With her old brown shawl over her head and shoulders, she smoked her little clay pipe and made a hole in the dirt with a little stick to spit in. I used to love and set and watch her.” I think I would have, too.
Keep in mind, in 1915, Kansas was a blue sky state, meaning alcohol and tobacco were illegal. Grandma Morse may not have been all that different from the rapscallions of the Colescott clan. Perhaps young Emmet understood. My great-grandfather sums it up like this: “Well, as you can see this combination makes me Scotch, Irish, Welsh and Pennsylvania Dutch…Just Better say plain old American.”
He writes, “My earliest recollections are of the combination Restaurant, Soda Fountain and grocery store Ma and Dad ran in Desoto…Ma made homemade bread and pies and sold them and did most of the cooking. Don’t remember how much help she had but not much…Dad was a Booze fighting, woman chasing ringtailed humdinger and he loved to hunt and fish. Well our side of the Colescotts were simply not strictly law abiding citizens…Dad bootlegged Cigs from Missouri and also Whiskey.”
I grew up hearing stories from my Grandma Jean about whiskey in the sasparilla. The soda fountain in the restaurant and grocery store that her grandmother ran was a bootlegging front that eventually led to that side of the Colescotts having to leave Kansas. Emmett followed his father’s and grandfather’s ways in Colorado. All three men welcomed the Prohibition for the chance to make money bootlegging. According to family lore, but omitted from Emmett’s writing and as of yet unverified, something happened after the family moved west.
All Emmett has to say is, “I don’t know if we left Kansas by desire or request but I know we left when I was seven. Things get a little mixed up for me for a time.” He writes of hard times, of cattle freezing to death in Nevada, of a cousin trying to shoot his mother, of jackrabbits so thick, of being broke and eating tamales. Eventually, they went to Colorado and Emmett’s Dad found work, property, and continued to bootleg. According to family lore, his dad’s father was shot and killed in a raid. In 1926 Emmett married Edith.
My granduncle George was born in 1927 in Delta, Colorado followed by my grandaunt JoAn the following year. The Colescotts continued to live on the fringes of law-abiding citizenry and Emmet was arrested along with his dad for running alcohol distribution in 1928. It’s not clear if he did jail time but my Grandma Jean was not born until 1930. And, she was born in the Sierra Nevada mountains where I grew up because they were hiding out from the law. By 1935 they returned to Delta. I remember my grandma telling me about her earliest memory of living in Colorado. Her mother had the girls sing to their daddy outside the county jail. Grandma Jean sang and cried. A theme she’d repeat throughout her life. Yet, no matter where her monster of a husband drug her and the kids off to, some hidden Nevada ranch to escape consequences, she gardened and whistled like a songbird.
Emmet and Edith came to California permanently during WWII. They settled in an obscure area that remains remote today despite its proximity to Silicon Valley. Paicines. The old store where Grandma Jean took me to buy penny candy when she picked up her mail reminded her Dad of the store his family once had in De Soto, Kansas. Emmett stayed out of trouble thereafter. Edith must have been creative with a desire to perform. Small snippets of news exist to say she was in a play or won a poetry contest. I wonder what my great-grandma’s dreams were? She died at the age of 52 from the toxins she encountered as a fruit picker when the family fled to California for the first time.
So, the lie?
Emmett Colescott was not 21, nor was Edith 20. Nellie Edith Emmons was 22 years old and two months pregnant. Emmett was barely 16. I always knew that she was older than him, but I had no idea how young my great-grandfather was. When I think about how his life turned traumatic after leaving Kansas, I wonder what it was he sought in a relationship with Edith. Their early years of marriage must have been tumultuous with the bootlegging, raids, and children. California became a sort of peace, I think, though he lost his wife young.
November 14, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes a lie. What is the lie? It can be subtle or blatant. Who tells the lie and why? Is it an unreliable narrator? Go where the prompt leads!
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