Elsie Naomi Twelker Wythe family history

Elsie Naomi Twelker Wythe family history

Elsie Twelker was born September 25, 1898 in Saint Louis, Missouri and died April 27, 1989 in Sandpoint, Idaho. She Married Joseph Wythe December 27, 1919.

Husband Joseph was born April 12, 1889 in Oakland, California, and died December 2, 1973 in San Jose, California.

You can read memories of Elsie's childhood on her parents' page.

ELSIE NAOMI TWELKER WYTHE high school years and later

by her daughter, Phyllis Karsten

Mother completed high school at San Diego High School. It galled her that she was not given credit for History classes that she had taken in Saint Louis but they did not seem to meet the California requirements. What made it particularly upsetting to her was that the St. Louis classes were much more thorough. In both of her high schools and in her two years of Normal School, she received a more extensive liberal arts education than I received after four years of college.

In high school Mother had four years of French, History and English as well as Algebra and Geometry, Physics, Art, Music, Sewing, and Manual Training. Both she and my father were thoroughly educated in a classic sense and could call upon this fund of knowledge at the drop of a hat.

While Elsie was in Normal school she was on a rowing team. They had large life-boat style boats that held a team dressed in proper white middies and skirts. There was a regular drill that they went through with a coxswain giving the orders. They raced in San Diego Harbor against other teams. I don't know if the teams competed against other schools.

Mother graduated from San Diego Normal School with an elementary teaching credential. She helped earn college expenses by being a live-in house keeper companion for a Miss Silsby. Miss Silsby was a proper Bostonian who appreciated Mother's love of books. She left her library to Mother in her will, but after she died all that remained for Mother to pick up were a photo album and an antique 1884 cook book, Mary Lincoln's Boston Cooking School Cook Book, Little Brown & Co. Mrs Lincoln had the first cooking school in the country. She later turned it over to her assistant principal, a Mrs Fanny Farmer! The early editions of the Fanny Farmer Boston Cooking School Cook book have some of the same steel engravings that are in the Mrs Lincoln book.


Mother's first job after graduation from normal school was teaching in a country school at Miramar. The Miramar School was a one room, first through eighth grade school, although there were not always students represented in each grade. When our family visited San Diego in 1931, we went out to Miramar and saw the school house. One of the interesting things about the place was that there was a cistern that caught rain water from the roof. It had a diversion valve so that the first storm water could flush the roof clean; then the valve could be turned to allow the water to fill the cistern. There was a neat chain and bucket arrangement that could be turned by a crank to bring the water up out of the cistern. Each little bucket held about a cup of water which could be caught in a tin cup or dipper for drinking purposes.

Mother boarded with the Clerk of the School Board in a cottage not far from the school. Mrs Vasey was from the south and frequently served corn meal mush, corn bread or corn pone. Mother could hardly bring herself to eat foods made of cornmeal afterwards.

Country schools were primitive by our standards, but those attending them often received excellent educations. A young earnest, well trained teacher could get a start for advancement in education by teaching "out in the county".

The teacher had to be prepared not only to teach the three R's but to be janitor, school nurse and handle any emergencies that might arise in an isolated pocket where there were no phones nor means of transportation.

One warm week in late spring, the class began to be distracted by a disagreeable odor--it seemed to be coming from under the floor of the school house. Mother told Mr. Vasey about it and asked him to go under the crawl space and remove whatever it was that had died there. He said that she should do it. Mother firmly drew the line--that was not one of her duties as teacher; and furthermore, if the source of the smell was not gone by the next day she would dismiss school until the matter was corrected. Well, Mr Vasey did crawl under the school and pulled out a rabbit that had been shot and had run into one of the vent holes where it died.

When the superintendent came out for his scheduled inspection of the school and of Mother's teaching, she asked him if she had done the right thing to make such a threat. She assured him she had every intention of following through on it. The superintendent thought that it not only was correct, but praised her for her putting the health and comfort of her students ahead of the possible loss of her job. (To her it was called "sticking to your guns.")


On weekends the family returned back home much to the delight of the dog, Fritz, who went off to stay with neighbors during the week but would also come home for the week end. This was the same dog that would try to drink the bucket dry before finally taking a deep breath and sticking his head all the way in to retrieve a ball. He was also the one that followed the family to church on Sunday and would wait outside the choir door for them.

One very hot Sunday, the doors were left open to catch the breeze. Fritz sneaked into the choir just as the offering plates were being brought up to the alter. Papa was one of the ushers, and Fritz seeing Papa with a plate, ran over and sat up in front of Papa. This broke up the soloist who was providing the special music for the offering and embarrassed Papa who picked the dog up by the scruff of the neck and escorted him out the back door.

Elsie worked briefly for the Scripps family. Several members of her family worked for the Scripps, and that story can be found here.


Camp Kearney was near Mother's school at Miramar. Often the soldiers would stop at the school to get a drink of water while on training hikes. Also their garbage wagons went by the school on the way to the dump. Mother and her friends would pick up and read letters that blew off; which they considered lots of fun. Dad described the place as barren, God forsaken, dusty and only fit for rattlesnakes, tarantulas and jack rabbits. A look at the Miramar school and Camp Kearney views confirms his assessment.

Some of the soldiers attended the local churches or their young adult activities. Mother and her friends became acquainted with a number of them. They went to the local points of interest together, among the places was the beach at La Jolla. There were special parade days when they visited the camp.

Dad was among those who attended the church that Mother and Aunt Esther went to. It was there that he met Mother. I attended a few reunions of the 158th Ambulance Co. with Mother, after Dad died in 1973. Each member or wife was asked to tell something about his experiences with the company. Mother's contribution was about the entertainments that were put on at the church; how Connie Baker recited humorous stories and poems. He was a particular buddy of Dad's and it was through him that Mother met Dad at Miramar.


Dad was going with a San Jose girl when he joined the army -- Emma, or Em. In one of his letters to his Mother, he asked her to take Em under her wing while he was gone; but he also writes that they had several spats. Dad was puzzled about how to get along with the fairer sex, somehow feeling that the spats were due to his lack of understanding of women.

Then, according to Mother, Dad arrived in San Jose on his last leave before going overseas. He no sooner got off the train than Emma began to berate him over his appearance--"Look at you, you're always so rumpled, and that hat--it looks like you sat on it, etc, etc, etc,-----."

When she finally stopped, Dad threw his hat down on the ground, stomped on it and said, "You can keep it". And that was the end of that relationship and the beginning of the courtship of "the Twelker girl".


In those same letters Dad wrote to his Mother, he mentions Esther as well as Elsie at first. The pictures show five or six of Mother's group who went around with Joe and his friends from Camp Kearney. But by the time Dad left for France, Elsie was Joe's primary interest. I'm not sure if they had decided to marry before or after Dad shipped out. Joey states that Dad's farewell before leaving for France was a tender, "I'll remember." That he was careful there be no impression of a commitment, just in case he did not return.

Dad carried Mother's picture with him in France and they corresponded while he was overseas. He was particularly fond of Mother's long hair which she wore braided and wound around her head. Her Normal school portrait with her hair in this style was Dad's favorite picture of her. After they were married he had it framed and kept it on his dresser.

Mother's ready smile and enjoyment of good stories is a part of our heritage. But as she was always such a "lady", the pictures of her hamming it up in farmer overalls or acting flirtatious down on the beach in a daring bathing suit are startling to me. Just as seeing proper Aunt Esther wearing an army helmet and saluting in mock seriousness -- or catching a fox, much less skinning it out, adds a whole new dimension to their personalities.

Mother tried to teach us kids to swim, but she never wore a bathing suit or went into the water after we came along. She played handball against the side of our barn with us. Once, -just once- she let me try to teach her to ride a bike. She just couldn't get the feel of balance necessary, and her whoops of fear as I pushed and steadied her down our street brought the neighbors to their windows. About then we gave up. She valued being a good sport.


Elsie and Joe were married at the Twelker home on T Street in San Diego. Dad's father, Reverend Joseph H. Wythe, came down from San Jose to perform the ceremony. Mother's veil had an orange blossom wreath. Although I am not certain of this, I have a strong hunch that either Mother or Lily made the dress with its cut-work insets. Her shoes were white satin pumps with pointed toes and cute hour glass shaped heels called French heels. Dad gave Mother a cameo that could be worn as a pin or as a necklace. Dad's mother gave her the watch chain that had been worn by Dad's Grandfather Hills.

She had it cut into sections for each of her daughters, or daughters-in-law, for wedding presents. Mother wore the cameo on this chain. When her granddaughter, Ruth Mosac, married Jack Bornstedt, Mother passed the cameo and chain heirloom on to her.


After the wedding, Elsie and Joe drove up to San Jose to establish their home in the old family home on Minnesota Ave. Before Dad's mother died she had given some of her furniture to various members of the family. When Aunts Charlotte, Harriet, Anna and Blanche began to compare notes, they discovered that some of the pieces had been given away several times. On the way up to San Jose, Dad announced to Mother that they may very well have to sleep on the floor their first night.

It seems that before he left for his wedding, Dad gave the sisters the key to the house and told them to settle among themselves who was to get what and to have their items out of the house by the time he got back. Anything left in the house by then would be his. Happily there was quite a bit of furniture left in the house to start housekeeping; including dining table and chairs, sectional bookcases, bed, dresser and a lovely French Victorian parlor set.

Their honeymoon trip was the drive up from San Diego to San Jose. It was late at night when they arrived at the house in The Willows. They drove into the driveway and around to the back of the house, where Dad had Mother wait in the car. He got the key from its hiding place, went into the house and turned on some lights. He then got back in the car, backed out of the drive and parked out in front. He opened the car door, assisted her from the car, and with a gallant sweep carried Mother over the threshold of her new home.

A Little Side History

The house on Minnesota Ave. belonged to Dad's mother who had inherited it from her father, Miles Hills. He was one of a group of settlers who came to San Jose from the Midwest. They named the main street "Lincoln" to honor their sympathies with the Union, and they named the cross street "Minnesota" in memory of their home state. This was one of the first houses in Willow Glen. The lumber for it came around the Horn from New England and was hand sorted at the docks in San Francisco by Dad's Grandfather Hills. The original homestead was 100 acres on this corner. After the turn of the century, Dad's father donated a large parcel to the Methodist Church to be subdivided into small lots for retired ministers. The two streets that were created, Brace and Richards, were named after Methodist bishops. Originally this area was called The Willows, as there was much low lying land with lush groves of willows.

Dad was given the house with the proviso that his father would be able to live in the house as long as he desired. Mother loved Dad's father--she called him a kind old gentleman who always had a twinkle in his eye. He stayed in the home with Mother and Dad until he remarried and moved to Los Angeles.


Some of the interior furnishings will be recognized by Joey, John, Martha and myself. The wicker rocker and the dining room chairs were moved at least as far as the ranch at Santa Anna Valley. The sectional book cases have been divided up amongst us children. I don't know who has the silver plated coffee pot, but Martha -- look carefully; is that your dresser next to the book case?

Such a gracious old home. After we moved to Hollister, the place was sold. It went through several changes of ownership. At one time, some years after they were living in Hollister, Mother said she revisited it, and was saddened to see how it had been abused by lack of care. She said the hardwood floors were all gouged by shoving furniture around.

Sometime in the late 1950's or early 1960's, the house was torn down to make way for a parking lot behind the stores that fronted on Lincoln Ave. Dad just happened to be driving by at the time and rescued a rooting of a tree-peony shrub that had been brought from China by his mother's house boy, Ah Sing. I have an off-spring from that peony in my own garden here in Evergreen. It's a lovely pink lavender color that blooms right about Easter time.

Dad was a farmer with an orchard on Los Gatos - Almaden Road in the Union district. He also did contract tractor work on various ranches in the south of San Jose area. Mother learned to drive by taking a lunch out to Dad wherever he was driving tractor at the time. Some of the locations are still place names in urbanized San Jose: the Union District has been incorporated into the City of San Jose or the Town of Los Gatos, and its name now only refers to the school district. Los Gatos Almaden Road is a major thoroughfare, and Blossom Hill and Snell Roads are now called Avenues.

Dad taught Mother how to drive after they arrived in San Jose. It gave him great glee tell about one early driving experiences where she drove over the Mission San Jose Pass. This was a fairly steep, winding road at that time. On the way down, coming into Mission San Jose, she did not have a low enough gear and the car started to run away on her. Her ride was a wild one; and according to Dad's telling of it, with her beautiful long hair streaming out behind in the wind.

I have heard many other tales of high adventure with their cars. There was one called the Clover Leaf Overland, and also the Wire Wheel Overland. Could one of these cars have been that famous one?


As well as his place in the Union District and his contract tractor jobs, Dad worked with his brother-in-law, Ransom Rideout, at the Rideout ranch on Trimble Road, San Jose. They had apricots and spinach. He got his first truck in 1920, a Fagol five ton. His first loads were fire wood at the Rideout ranch. There were neighboring ranches that raised sugar beets. Dad convinced these ranchers that he could get their beets from the field to the railroad cheaper with truck than with mules.

During the war, someone had recommended to Dad a young man, Rudy Hoerler, as being good and reliable to work the Union District orchard for him. After the war Dad hired Rudy and Rudy's brother, Elmer, to help work the Rideout Ranch. There was enough work that Mother's brothers, Vernon and Walter, came up to drive trucks too.

Dad said that the sky was the limit on what could be hauled on those early trucks. These photos attest to that notion. Also a weaker place in a readily accessable location (such as the drive shaft) was built in by the manufacturer. This place would always be the first to break. This concept was called a "fusable link". The only problem was that the truckers would reinforce the link in order to get bigger loads, thus defeating that neat idea. Those early trucking days were filled with heady optimism.


In 1922 they spent a summer hauling railroad ties out of the Butano redwoods to Boulder Creek. (Two of my uncles), Vernon and Walter were among the crew of drivers. Two men would take the truck over the logging road, called the China Grade because it was so steep it almost went to China. When they reached the loading area they had to load the ties onto the truck and crawl out in low gear with their huge load.

This was so slow going that the men could walk along side the truck and jump up on the running board from time to time to steer. On the way down they also kept it in low, but needed to use all the brakes they had to hold the load back. They even put old hot water tanks on the running boards with lines to the back wheels, so they could drip water over the brake drums to keep them cool. The brakes were only on the back wheels in those days.

At night the headlights on the truck were acetylene lamps known as Presto Lights. The men also carried kerosene lanterns. When they came to switch-backs that were too sharp to get around, the helper would walk down the road with the lantern and the driver would back the truck down toward the light until he reached the next turn where he could then drive on in forward gear. As they crossed the bridge just outside of town they started honking the horn to waken the team for the next shift.

The crew was Dad, Rudy and Elmer Hoerler, Dad's brother-in-law Ransom, and Mother's brothers Vernon and Walter. They worked three eight hour shifts every day but Sunday, which was the day they relined the brakes.

They lived in a house that had been a brothel. It had three living rooms--Living Room A, Living Room B, and Living Room C.--as well as bed rooms and a kitchen. The house was located just on the southern outskirts of Boulder Creek, overlooking the lumber yard and the San Lorenzo River. In 1984 the house was still standing.

Mother and Aunt Charlotte were the cooks and house keepers. Aunt Charlotte also had the care of her two year old, Ernie. Aunt Esther also was up there at least part of the time. If for some reason there was no loads for the day, they would enjoy hikes and picnics in Big Basin. An especially favorite spot was a canyon in the Butenau (their spelling) which was covered with five fingered ferns.


(Uncles) Walter and Vernon also helped Dad fix up the house at the Ranch in Santa Ana Valley, near Hollister. Mother was pregnant with John. She took Joey with her down to San Diego to stay until the baby came. Dad could get the place fixed up while she was gone. The house had been used for grain storage and was over-run with mice. The men set about getting rid of them by having a trapping contest. They each put a dime in the pot and whoever caught the most mice over night, got the pot. There were lots of stories of the trap jumping tactics and other happenings while the men were "batching it". Years later we still had mouse traps with Vernon and Walter's names on them as reminders of those days getting the ranch started.

We kids called Santa Ana our paradise. We had the whole valley as our play yard; we could hike in the hills, play on hay piles, climb the pepper trees in our front yard, make believe we were driving the tractor --it was a time of complete freedom. We had a dog that could help us bring in the cow. We had chickens and numerous cats that lived in the barn.

We used to play a hide-and-seek game called "follow the arrow". One person was "It" and laid out a trail with arrows marking the spot where the trail turned. We used chalk to mark on the fences or a power pole, and scraps of wood if there was no stationary object to mark the trail. When "It" got near to where he was going to be hiding, he would make a double arrow like the one on the back door in the snap shot. Mother was really angry with us when she discovered we had defaced the house, the wood being so dry that the mark could not be erased.

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