Wednesday, January 07, 2009

My Grandmother

Clara Belle Sheldon Barnes
February 28, 1866 – January 7, 1942

My grandmother’s life spanned the years from the Civil War to World War II. Born in Marshall, Michigan, she married a traveling salesman from Missouri and moved to Kansas City. William Gregory Barnes was born in the Ozarks, but left his humble beginnings and brought his bride to a house near where the Plaza was later built. Today H&R Block world headquarters is on that spot.

After four children were born, the family moved to the “Big House” in the Valentine Road neighborhood. My grandfather died in 1928 and Gramma lived the rest of her life as a widow. The Big House was a home for my parents, my sister & me, and my Uncle Phil. It was the style called “Shirtwaist” and had three sprawling floors, a front and back staircase, servants quarters, and the scariest basement a little girl ever saw.

During the early years of my life in that house, my grandmother was in her 70’s, the very age I am now. It’ hard to imagine now as she seemed ancient at that time. She rocked me and sang me lullabyes and I’m sure she gave my mother lots of advice that started with “I’ve raised four children…” She had a circle of lady friends who met weekly for tea and bridge. I still have many of the tea cups she used for those events.

She was involved in the building of the World War I Memorial and is commemorated there with a brick with her name inscribed. After my Uncle Phil was injured in that war, she spoke out against war. That was a very unpopular stance to take when Pearl Harbor was bombed!

She was a strong willed woman, a matriarch in the true sense of the word. She loved politics (Harry Truman was a frequent visitor), knitting and reading. [Sound familiar?] She was very formal, always dressed in flowered silk dresses with jewelry, even at breakfast. She dropped dead of a heart attack at the foot of the curving staircase with the telephone in her hand. We never knew who she was calling.


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