Gram grows up
It was very likely a cold and damp November day when Gram was born in Flint, Michigan. Typical for that time period, she was born at the family home at 303 10th Street East, the seventh of 13 children (10 of whom lived to maturity) of Estella Jane Widger and Ezra Nahum Roberts. The third child, Gladys Mae died in 1902 at the age of a year and a half after being stricken with pneumonia. Ralph died in 1905 at just one month old. He was a twin to Ray who lived to adulthood. The 10th child, Arthur lived just six months, passing away in October, 1912.
Ezra was a mason by trade and worked in that profession whenever work was available, but he rarely had a steady income. The size of the family coupled with Ezra’s irregular employment, resulted in Gram growing up in a very poor family. She has told of many times when they had nothing to eat except beans or “mush,”, and that is what they would eat for several meals in a row. They never had a very new home, and lacked much in material goods, but apparently they were a very happy family, and Gram maintained a close relationship with her brothers and sisters through her adult life. Along with her siblings, Gram grew up spending lots of good times with her cousins as many of the Roberts extended family lived in Flint.
Gram left school after the eighth grade, no doubt to begin working and add to the family income. I have very few pictures of her as a child or young woman, but I suppose that pictures, professional or even casual snapshots, were a luxury that the Roberts family couldn’t afford.
Following her parents’ example, Madalene was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on 27 August 1916. She was baptized the same day as her younger brother, Alvin, having waited for him to be old enough so they could share that significant day.
As the family grew, the kids shared bedrooms, and often even shared beds. Gram told of sharing a double bed with two of her sisters when they were teenagers. In order for all of them to fit, they slept cross-wise in the bed. One night her sister, Nina, came home and was being so silly – giggling and carrying on – when they all went to bed. Gram could not imagine what was wrong with Nina, and it was many years later that she realized that Nina had been drinking and came home a little tipsy!
When Gram was not quite 20 years old, on 1 May 1926 her mother passed away from pneumonia . Gram was always a little bitter about her mother’s early death and felt she should never have died from an illness which even in the 1920s could be cured with good care. It isn’t clear to me if there was no money for Estella’s care, or simply not enough help and time for her to rest as she would have needed to in order to recover from pneumonia. Regardless of the reason, her untimely death was a terrible blow to her family.
Dying at just 52 years old, Estella left three young daughters ages 12, 11 and 9 1/2. In addition to the young girls, Gram had three older brothers still living at home, as well as a sister, 16 1/2 and a brother, 18. As the oldest daughter at home, the responsibility fell to Madalene to care for and supervise the young children as well as keep the household running smoothly. This would prove to be a nearly impossible task! In addition to her duties at home, Gram was working at the Flint Tile Company, and none of her older siblings was willing or able to help with family responsibilities. In fact, her brothers and sister often made the situation worse by insisting on living the way they pleased, keeping their own hours, coming and going at their leisure and generally ignoring Madalene’s efforts to be the mother of the family.
Just eleven months later, Gram gave up trying to take care of the family and agreed to marry Frank Pratt, my Pop.