Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Mystery of Ernest Jefferson West. Solved.

My grandmother, Lila Clara Graham West

Ernest Jefferson West is my maternal grandfather.  But I know very little about him.  We lived in California and he lived in Florida as I was growing up, and I only remember meeting him once.  He and my grandmother, Lila, divorced when she was still a relatively young woman, and he went on to marry someone else, have other children, create another life.

By the time I knew that Grandma Lila's mother had been tried for murder, Grandma Lila had already left this earth, so I could not harangue her for information as I did my mother.  One thing she did not have answers for was this:  How did her mom (Lila) and dad (Ernest--whom Mom is named after) end up in Detroit?  Lila was born and raised in rural Missouri.  Somehow she was in Detroit in the early 1920's, running a boarding house... which is why she sent her young daughter Ernestine to live 'back on the farm' in Missouri, so she would be "safe" in the country from all the dangers of the big city... which is how Mom came to be there the day her grandmother was arrested for murder.

A lifetime later, I tried to track down the history of Ernest Jefferson West (as did my genealogy-loving sister-in-law), but to no avail.  I wanted to know where he came from, how he met my grandmother, why they ended up in Detroit.  For years, I had no answers.

On my last trip to Missouri, I told my dear friend Marc Houseman (Saint Marc, at this point) everything I knew about Ernest West, and I asked for help in finding him.  Marc spent hours researching and and any other place he could think of.  And he found him.  He found him.

Now I know that Ernest Jefferson West (the son of Andrew Johnson West and Artie Miss West, nee Kelly) lived in Iron County, Missouri, some distance (but not too far, apparently) from the county in which Lila grew up.  They were married in 1914.  As Marc shared with me the information he had found, he pointed out that the 1920 shows the young couple living in Detroit, with Ernest working in the auto industry.  Makes sense, right?  And it's a universal, American Dream type of story.  The youngsters left the rural mid-west, hoping to build a future for themselves.  Sadly, they divorced several years later.  Lila was on her own, and she sent her only child back home to live with her mother.  Little did she know what would transpire over the next few years.

So now I know.  I only wish my grandma were still alive.  It never occurred to me when I was a kid, then a young newlywed myself, to ask her how she'd met her husband.  If I had, I might have been privy to their reasons for leaving Missouri.  Now, I can only conjecture.

I do know how my mom met my dad, so for posterity's sake (and because it's my mama's birthday today--Happy Birthday, Mom!), here it is:

My mother was a singer during the 1940's.  She did not sing on the radio nor did she have a recording contract.  What she has told me is that she traveled around the mid-west, occasionally staying in towns she liked.  She would find a nightclub, and if she liked the band, she would convince them to let her get up and sing.  She made tips and traveling money, as she put it.  One night, at a club in Highland Park, Illinois, a man from the crowd approached her after her set and asked to give her a ride home.  She declined.  He offered again, but somewhat belligerently.  When she declined again, he became obnoxious.  Sitting nearby was my father, who gallantly stood and said something like, "Didn't you hear the lady?  She doesn't want a ride home."  Their brief conversation ended in my father punching the guy in the nose.  My dad wasn't a policeman yet in those days, but he was a taxi driver, and he did take my mom home that night.  Good call, Mom!

My mom and dad, circa 1947


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