Healing Through Family History

11:59 PM

I am fortunate to have many strong women in my family. These women are my grandmothers, sisters, mothers, aunts, cousins, daughters and nieces. They come in all ages and generations. There is one aunt in particular whom I feel extremely grateful to in this moment of my life. Her name is Zera Diane. She was named after her father. He was a rough, sheep-herding, Idaho bred cowboy who had a heart of gold. It is fitting that she would be named after him since in my opinion, she is so much like him - a tough cowgirl with a heart of gold.
My Grandpa Zera Griffith hugging his mother, Mary Jane Sharp Griffith Lyons

My Aunt Zera Diane.
She was named after her father Zera.
My Grandfather, Zera Griffith .

I remember that as a child I would hear stories about her from my father or see pictures and I was mesmerized. She was like a female super hero to me. My dad was her younger brother. He often told us about the times that he was being bullied at school and that is how he learned to be a high school track star. He learned the Forest Gump way, by out-running the bullies. 

One day a group of ruffians had finally caught and cornered him and were taking turns at kicking and hitting him. When all of a sudden a screeching noise accompanied by a flash of a dark hair catapulted over the fence behind my father. My aunt landed between the bullies and her little brother. She began taking each one down quickly with her fists flying. A few boys ran away terrified before she finished off the pack of bullies. This story blew me away. I couldn't even imagine a girl taking down a gang of boys. She was a fearless, tough young woman. I tried to imagine what it would feel like to be that brave. 
L-R Siblings - Jaci, Zera Diane (my aunt and hero), and James (my father).

Zera Diane is still as intelligent, and beautiful, as she is brave. She knows how to ride, rope, train, and show a horse. I remember visiting her at her ranch in California where she successfully raised and trained pedigree poodles and also taught belly dancing lessons. Yes, she was an exotic beauty and when she danced the ancient dance of the Middle East, I felt like I was in the pages of Arabian Nights. She was Jasmine before Disney even had a Jasmine. 

As a child I didn't have many individual interactions with her. I knew her as Aunt Diane. We lived in Utah and she lived in California. When we did have family get-togethers I was always with the rest of the children playing, or observing her from the sidelines with my mouth agape while she did something spectacular. There was one time when I was about 10 and I had her to myself in the kitchen of her ranch house in California. We were visiting and I had served myself a much too large heap of potato chip casserole which I was refusing to finish. Everyone else was long gone and I was sitting stoic and stubborn at the table. She looked me in the face and sternly said, "You will finish this before you get down from this table!"  Well, that settled it. I slowly started chewing the soggy chips as I watched her finish cleaning dishes at the sink. There was no way I was going to cross her. I knew what she was capable of and I highly respected her strength. I felt strangely proud that no one but my Aunt could get me to eat that casserole because that was pretty much the same as winning.

My aunt is an incredible mother of three. Her children are her life. As a young mother, she included them in all she did. My cousins knew how to ride horses, train and show poodles, and they even danced with their mother. They were an integral part of her everyday life: A life rich with talent, success, and sorrow. 

There are chapters of great loss and sorrow throughout my Aunt's life story, which are her own moments containing details too sacred and personal for anyone else to share but her. However, I need to mention only that they occurred in order to explain my deep respect and admiration for this woman. This respect for her became fuller and more profound when I learned and watched her deal with great adversity. She was a widow at 27 with two young children. She lost two of her children in tragic car accidents just 4 years apart from one another. Codi Ann Ekins was only 20 when she passed away and Dean Griffith Ekins was 29 at the time of his death. She has experienced betrayal and divorce. She is a true survivor!
Diane and Paul Ekins (Paul passed away leaving Diane a widow
 at 27 years with 2 young children)
Recently I had the opportunity to visit my Aunt Diane in her little island home off the coast of Washington State. She is a proud grandmother now and even though she recently turned 76, she is just as beautiful as ever. Despite painful and debilitating arthritis, my aunt always has a kind word for someone and a smile on her face. I loved every moment we spent together talking, as she shared story upon story about our family history. She is our family historian and has assembled documents and photos during countless hours of research throughout the last two decades. She turned her sorrow and loss into a quest for knowledge and information about our ancestors and inadvertently healed herself by doing family history. 
Me and my Aunt Zera Diane during my trip to Washington State 2015
She told me many stories on that trip, but there is one in particular that I cannot stop thinking about. It is a story about a mother and her daughters. The mother in the story is my great, great-grandmother Ella Belle Peck. Ella was the wife of a wealthy surgeon in Michigan. She was known in social circles and her comings and goings were often mentioned in the local paper. Despite wealth, education, and the best medical care available in the late 1800’s. Ella and her husband Walter were only blessed with one child for many years. Her name was Flora and she was named after her mother's sister. 

Dr. Walter Scott Jones, Flora Jones, and Ella Belle Peck
In 1894 and at the age of 16, Flora unexpectedly died of a stomach ailment (which we now know was probably appendicitis). Her parents were devastated. Her mother beyond consolation and in her grief, built a mausoleum to house the body of her beloved daughter which she entombed in a glass casket. Ella would visit daily her daughter's body at the cemetery. She would take the horse and buggy and read the bible sometimes by candlelight to her daughter. 

This is the mausoleum in Michigan that Dr. Walter Scott Jones and his wife Ella Belle built to house the body of their beloved Flora. Her name is etched in the large, white, rectangular slab of cement above the arch. This is where Ella came and read her bible daily after the death of her daughter.
Two years after Flora's passing, Ella and Walter were blessed and surprised to find they were expecting.  In 1896, Ella gave birth to another little girl, whom they named Evah Belle. This little girl was my great-grandmother. She was a miracle baby born to her aging parents and brought them joy once again.

Ella Belle Peck Jones and Evah Belle Jones 
Little Evah would soon come to know sorrow herself and at a very young age. Her father Walter died when she was just eight years old and her mother Ella passed away just three years later from consumption, which she most likely contracted from the damp cold hours she spent in the mausoleum. My great-grandmother Evah was an orphan at eleven and shipped off to live in an orphanage in California. She married very young and then struggled to raise four children  (Eva Veatis, Mary Lou Anno, Pearl Loraine Anno, and Charles Edward Anno) on her own during the Great Depression. She lived a much different life than I am sure her wealthy and educated parents had envisioned for her.

While my Aunt related these stories to me in detail and how she uncovered them bit by bit through newspaper clippings and family documents, she became extremely emotional. She explained, with tears streaming down her face, how connected she felt to her maternal great-grandmother Ella Belle. She said, “I knew exactly the pain that she was feeling when she sat by her daughter's body and felt that great loss that only a mother that has lost a child can understand. I knew the questions and concerns that she was searching to find answers for in the bible."

She went on to explain the connection, empathy, and love she felt for this woman and as she spoke, I felt it too.

I also felt this extreme sense of strength, respect, and responsibility. I felt strong knowing that I come from a long line women who can rise above devastating sorrow and pain.  I revered them for their strength and tenacity and I felt extremely responsible to somehow tell their stories.  I knew I needed to document my Aunt's words and stories and share them with my family. I wanted my daughters and nieces and sisters to know. I wanted my entire family to know these stories and so that is why I am starting this blog, A Blog for My Ancestors. This blog will be a place where their voices may be heard and their faces seen and their lives celebrated!
Evah's Daughters and Ella Belle's Grand-daughters 
- Eva Veatis, Mary Lou Anno, Pearl Loraine Anno (My grandmother)

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  1. Wow! Wonderful stories! Wendy, you are an excellent writer. Thanks for sharing.

  2. This blog is amazing! Thank you for sharing. I look up to you in so many ways and I love reading where you get your strength from...it's obvious you've been taught well by example!