Today was a very eventful day in the way of house history research. I got a wild hair and decided to drop by and see Elsie Lucas, who is the widow of the first owner’s son. Her late husband, Calo, lived in our house from age 3 to age 14.
It was a scary proposition to just drop in, but I wanted to give it a try. I had spoke to her over the phone several months ago, but wasn’t sure if she would be open enough to speak with me in her home. It was a beautiful day out and many people were out walking, and it just felt right to give it a try. Also since our phone conversation, Jeremy and I had found a number of photos in the attic, so I packed those up with me to see what she thought.
I realized she lived in a condo within blocks of the Home Depot I frequent much too often, but I did find a brand new route to get there interestingly enough. I parked nearby and grabbed my bag full of historical goodies, laptop and notepad, and knocked on her door.
An elderly woman answered, who I confirmed was Elsie. I had picked peonies and roses from our backyard garden and brought a bouquet for her as well. She welcomed me in without incident, although she did seem surprised to have an unexpected visitor.
I showed her the photos and she validated my previous assumptions. She was able to validate the unknown baby photo that was a medium format negative was likely her husband as well. Elsie didn’t recognize anyone in the 35mm photos. I now am fairly sure the small 35mm negatives were likely swept under the floorboards by later owners. I would have to assume the second owners (Samantha and Lester Wilcox), as the location of the negatives could only have gotten there before the attic walls were enclosed sometime between 1930 and 1940.
We spoke for approximately another 2-3 hours about various things. She led the conversation for the most part, and continued to think of various topics to talk about long after I had ran out of my initially prepared questions. She was still very sharp for a woman in her late 80s.
The most mind-blowing coincidence that I found out was that the original owner’s wife, Jessie Palmer Lucas, was born in none other than Owatonna, Minnesota! That is where Jeremy and his family is from, a.k.a. NOWHERESVILLE. Who would think 90 years later and 1800+ miles away, two native Owatonnians would live in the same house. I don’t know, maybe it is just weird to me! :) It’s just that NO ONE ever knows where/what Owatonna is outside of Minnesota, and Elsie volunteered that information without me even bringing up where Jeremy was from. She mentioned that Calo visited Owatonna for some radio-related convention as sort of a trip to the motherland, and that he spoke fondly of it. However, the Owatonna from 1870 and 1970 were likely a stark contrast to each other. On our next Minnesota trip over Thanksgiving, I plan on visiting the local archives to see if I can find any info about the Palmer’s and Jessie’s birth there in 1871. Elsie also said that Jessie was a kind, loving woman who was good at everything she laid her hands to. She was an artist, seamstress and candy maker to name a few. How I wish I could’ve seen how she did the original interior design in this house.
The other big thing is that she pinpointed the location of the family historical scrapbook. She had given it to Calo’s daughter, Carol Trotter, from his first marriage to Paula aka Pauline Phillips. He had another daughter with Paula, named Phyllis, and Paula is in her 90s and lives with Phyllis today in Georgia. Phyllis also has three living children: two girls and a boy. Elsie provided me with contact information for both Carol and Phyllis, and I plan to track down the family scrapbook if possible. Carol currently lives in Wisconsin Dells, which is drivable from Minnesota, so that may be another road trip to take next time we travel to Minnesota.
Elsie also cleared up the confusion I had about her husband’s name about the various spellings. He was listed being born Caleb Lucas Jr. However, from what I understood, he had a hard time pronouncing the name (I didn’t clarify if there was an impediment or it just didn’t roll of his tongue). So when he had to register for the draft, he legally changed it to Calo. (I also should’ve clarified the spelling; his obituary is spelled Kalo… durr!) However, his close friends and family simply called him “Bill,” which is also the name of his and Elsie’s late son, William “Bill” Benton Lucas. Calo also worked in the Portland shipyards as his civil service and never was in active duty. However, his son William was accepted into the naval submarine service when he came of age, a fact that Elsie was greatly proud of.
Elsie still remains a devout Episcopalian, and adopts some of the more liberal Episcopalian views that the church has embraced in recent years (most notably, gay rights). She also held no qualms about the use of birth control (as she believes the world is already overpopulated) or issues of divorce, as was frowned upon when her and Calo were married. She has attended St. Barnabus and St. Stephens Parrish for a number of years.
She explained the reason for Calo’s divorce from his first wife, Paula/Pauline Phillips. I guess Paula wanted him to convert to be a Seventh Day Adventist, but he refused as a devout Episcopalian himself. So she moved with their two daughters, Carol and Phyllis, to California for a short time and got together with another man in the Seventh Day Adventist church. I guess that didn’t work out, so she moved back to the Portland area and filed for divorce. Elsie believed that Paula was married a total of three times.
Elsie was a neighbor and family friend of Calo and supported him during his divorce. When it was final, they yearned to marry, but the divorce stigma with their church at the time and impending gossip, made a local ceremony less appealing. So Calo and Elsie went up to Longview, Washington and were married in the Longview Community Church, who accepted them with open arms. After the marriage, they returned to make their home in Portland for the remainder of their lives.
Calo didn’t have formal custody arrangements with the two daughters from his first marriage, although he supported them and saw them often. Elsie mentioned that Phyllis wanted to call her mother, but Elsie insisted she didn’t because her own mother was still living. Elsie longed to have children of her own with Calo, but she had fertility problems. However, she had a great doctor at Good Samaritans hospital that helped her conceive their only son William. She said her labor was very mild, just menstrual type cramps, and that she was very lucky in that regard. William was a much loved child and participated in Boy Scouts, was an altar boy, and attended many church-sponsored activities through his childhood (vacation bible school, youth bible camp, etc.) They all lived together in SW Portland where William attended Collinsview and Benson High School.
Calo was well known before retiring as an amateur radio operator and business owner of Portland Radio Supply until he sold his interest off in the 1970s to his partner. The business didn’t thrive well after the sale, and the ever increasing decline in radio popularity with newer media outlets emerging as years progressed. Unfortunately, Calo died in 1986 from Prostate Cancer.
Elsie still currently has an amateur radio license and full radio set-up in her living room and uses her middle name when talking to others, “Jean.” She says she spends much of her free time communicating to others around the world. She also mentioned that was Calo’s main hobby and interest. She helped school me a bit on how it works, but said it definitely is not as popular as it once was now with e-mail available. :) She has a computer and uses it for e-mail only she said. :)
Their son, William was married three times. He had two children with his first wife of around 10 years, Kathy, named Jennifer and Jesse. Elsie couldn’t recall the name of his second wife. He married his third wife, Beth, in 1999, but Elsie had only briefly known her. Sadly, William died of Alzheimer’s complications in 2004 in his late 50s. He had worked at Lowe’s in Troutdale until the disease advanced too far.
His daughter Jennifer (Calo and Elsie’s granddaughter), had her fourth child only about a month ago with her husband who works in the banking industry. She has 3 girls and 1 boy, if I remember right (good thing I’m dictating this all now before I forget what I didn’t note). From photos Elsie had, she is strikingly beautiful and in her early 30s. I am declining to post online photographs of her and her brother Jesse, as they didn’t give direct permission and are still living.
Elsie and Calo’s grandson, Jesse, currently lives with his mother Kathy. Kathy, in her early 60s, is Elsie’s most direct support in town, and works at the Grotto. She runs her weekly errands with Elsie due to rising gas prices. Elsie still seemed fairly mobile, although she was complaining of a viral infection that had kept her from attending church for the past few months. She joked that she took her late Pekinese dog, Suzie Q, with her to church every Sunday without incident.
Other notable information Elsie provided was about her own parents who immigrated from New Zealand before Elsie was born. Elsie visited New Zealand about 25 years ago to visit family there. Elsie also spoke of a trip to London where she attended a prayer service in Westminster Abbey.
I left around 8 p.m. and asked Elsie if she minded if I call or drop by to visit again and she happily said yes. I shook her hand and she held it strong for longer than I expected. I hope that I brightened her day as much as she brightened mine! All in all, it went better than I ever dreamed!