Saturday, January 11, 2014

When You Make Your Move

Lummie Moore took a thirty minute daily sun bath at this patio in Phoenix AZ in May 1962
With a letter as filled with the basic disruptions of life as those Lummie Davis Moore was experiencing, sometimes you have to read between the lines to pick up further clues about the extended family.

In this brief letter I found among family papers, Lummie was writing to her brother Jack, following her unexpected fall after attending a bridge luncheon at a hotel near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. The two letters I’ve discovered so far indicate that fall occurred sometime around May of 1962. At that point, Lummie was nearing seventy six years of age. In contrast, her “baby brother” Jack was a mere sixty four.

Apparently, Jack and his wife, Ruth Broyles McClellan Davis, had managed to claim for themselves an early retirement. After each of their two daughters had come of age just after the war in the mid 1940s, Jack and Ruth had set to work to meet that financial goal.

At the time, the Davis family was living in Columbus, Ohio, where they had settled after leaving Denver, Colorado, sometime before the 1940 census. Twenty years of hard work brought the couple to the point where they felt they could claim their dream as a reality, and they packed up and moved to their personal paradise in Roanoke, Virginia.

I’m not sure why Jack and Ruth Davis chose Roanoke as their retirement haven, but I have some guesses. First, Virginia offered a bit more southern flavor than Ohio for these deep-South emigrants; it wasn’t exactly Florida, and it wasn’t Tennessee, but it most certainly was Southern.

Then, too, the city’s situation in a river valley close to the Blue Ridge Mountains would qualify it as scenic enough to satisfy Ruth’s penchant for taking long leisurely drives in the mountains.

For their grandchildren, however, the city of Roanoke created a few small problems. From my northern distance in far, far away New York, I, for one, was too young to figure out how to pronounce the city’s name, which provoked a universe of grief when it came time to perform on those obligatory thank you notes after Christmas and birthdays (and oh, how greatly this letter-writer would have preferred it if the city fathers had rather chosen to remain with the place's original name, Big Lick). I was eternally grateful that the Davises soon saw fit to return to Columbus—a name any grade school student was able to spell handily (well, at least until that era when Christopher Columbus’ monumental attainment became viewed as a politically incorrect blunder).

Discussions of their pending decision to move back to Columbus must have transpired between Jack and his older sister Lummie. Mentions of real estate transactions called to mind not only his former work experience as a real estate salesman, but his hope to invest wisely, should he purchase any land on his move back to Columbus.

I have no idea how long Jack and Ruth lingered over the possibility of retracing their steps and returning to Columbus, but Lummie’s letter provided a target time for the move by mentioning it in closing her letter to them from her convalescent hospital.

Sometimes, it’s the incidentals packed into the parenthetical phrases of mundane letters that provide the timelines—and the connections—we need to piece together our family history narratives.

I sit up now most of the day in fact all morning, can go all over [the] place in my wheel chair. At one p.m. I have sun bath, for 30” then good nap—am just coming along fine—but time goes slowly. Don’t worry about me have everything I need—Good food, wonderful attention. It’s just a matter of waiting—
            Let me know your new address, when you make your move.
                                    Love to all of you
Friends and neighbors are taking care of everything at home—


  1. I know plenty of folks who have retired in Roanoke too, but I don't know why. I guess it's rural enough AND city enough, best of both worlds.

    1. "Rural enough AND city enough"--sounds like where I am now, but I'm not sure I'd opt to retire here, either. I never did know why the choice was made for Roanoke. Maybe there was a retirement village there that they liked. Who knows. All I remember was the change in address to the new place--and then back again. Never saw the place. Not even pictures...

  2. Having been to Roanoke several times, I don't know why it would have any particular allure. It is a transportation hub... lots of railroads eent through town.. maybe it was a place they stopped over at and had a fond memory thst drew them?

    1. Now there's a thought, Iggy: railroads. That was the way to travel for this family. After all, Jack was a "railroad man."

  3. She is reassuring...she must have missed her brother:)

    1. It's quite a thought to think Lummie had missed her brother. After all, this is the woman who chose to travel far from home, and ended up living and working in a foreign country.

      Of course, perhaps their relationship as adults was molded through Jack's time working with Lummie's husband in Honduras.

      Then, again, who knows how many letters passed between the two families over the years. I'm amazed that these two letters--among the rare few--survived the watchful eye of two different housecleaning vigilantes between 1962 and 2013.


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