Bernice and Howard Tess, 1960
I finally finished transcribing Grandma Tess's 1994 tape, made for me as a Christmas present. This last section talks about something that can be a problem with researching family history, the issue of names, nicknames, and name changes. So now I'm off to have copies of the memories made, and the scratchy old cassette tape transferred to a digital format.
As far as names go, our family changed names quite often it seems. It started out with Mother’s sisters who changed their names off and on during the years. And their families changed their names several times, the girls in the family especially, but not the boys. So when I came along Mother thought nothing of changing my name from Anna Bernice Adams to Bernice Anna Adams. And that only lasted of course t three years, then she walked out on my father, in the first divorce that anyone had ever heard of around the city of Hillyard. That was considered a horrible thing to do in those days and she was a fallen woman so far as her neighbors were concerned. So much so that she took me and we left with McLains, and she went to work as a practical nurse and I was (inaudible). But in the meantime we landed out on the ranch, as I told you before, and my name was once more changed when I was eleven to Smith. And it came from Anna Adams, Anna Bernice Adams, to Bernice Anna Smith.
Carol: That was never done legally, was it?
This was never done legally. But for all intents and purposes I was Bernice Smith again. I never liked the name and I was very unhappy with the change. But I had nothing to say about it. Of course I changed it myself when I got married to my husband Howard. We had a nice short name, Tess, which I always liked. It was easy on the checkbook; you never ran out of room. Easy to spell and easy to remember; easy for other people to remember.
And we had nicknames. Sherry asked about that. Howard was called Howie, much to his distress; he did not like the name. And I was Neecy to my little brother for years. Up until the day he died I think he called me Neecy off and on. Partly to tease me and partly because it was sort of a love bond between us. When he was little he’d cry in his sleep for Neecy, and I always came and he always remembered that.
We were close, perhaps closer than a lot of brother and sisters. We were not half brothers and sister, but all through the years (inaudible). We only lived thirty miles apart. He lived in Racine and we lived in Elkhorn. And he had six children and had a hard time. He (inaudible) school paying for their clothes, and trips out to Elkhorn were expensive. But we’d open up our house on summers and he would come out with the six and his wife Appie, and they would spend two weeks in our house while we were gone on vacation, while they house sat. They had a wonderful time out there and loved it. They loved Elkhorn, and they loved being out close to the country because in Racine they saw nothing but sidewalk and dirty places. So that continued on all through the years. It was a wonderful thing to have a brother, but I always wanted a sister. And in a way Appie filled that spot, but not completely. To have a sister was my dream, but it never came true. Having a brother was the next best thing. We made the most of it.
Oh yes, I must tell you about when we were small, along with the name change. DuRell was christened James Lemuel Durrell. Durrell was his third name. And he went by the name of James and Jimmy, short, until he was two years old. He knew no other name. He didn’t know he had any other name. All of a sudden Mother decided he was going to be DuRell, not James. So we all had quite a time adjusting to that because I likes James better than DuRell and so did most people. But Mother liked DuRell, so he was DuRell. But he had his name changed the same as I did. It’d be very different in this day and age. You couldn’t change around like that, but in those days there were no papers to sign, no Social Security cards, nothing. People didn’t mind if you did things on your own, without going through a lawyer. A lot of people lived that way, so it was very commonplace and we didn’t pay any attention to it.
I’m just about running out of tape so I should make of and of it here. I want to tell everyone what a wonderful life I’ve had, with all its ups and downs. I’ve still lived and loved and a lot of happiness. Some tears, but a lot of joy. I am now 92 years old and this year is 1994. I have a family of five great grandchildren, six grandchildren, my two daughters, and myself. We all live very harmoniously and love each other very much, which is more than can be said of a lot of people. So I figure that I have had a very good life.
I am about to say goodbye to you now Sherry. You’ve been one of my very bright stars, and I want to thank you for the part you’ve taken in my life, and I have enjoyed it very much.
Good-bye for now. It was nice talking to you.