Aunt Nettie was actually my Great Aunt Nettie. We called her that because that’s what our mother called her. My mother called her that because she was her mother, Alta’s sister. She was, in fact, Alta’s eldest sister. Her full name was Nettie Rosella Haynes. I thought I knew the facts about her life around the times of the First World War, but as I am writing this, I am researching her and finding that I have had things mixed up all this time!
Aunt Nettie lived next door to my Grandma Alta (Haynes) DeLancey on Doctor Street here in the town of Manchester, Iowa, as I grew up. Their houses were one block from my elementary and junior high school. They were both farm girls who moved into town later in life. I think my Grandma D (as she will be referred to from here on) moved into town long after her sister Nettie did. (I have found through the US and state census records that this is in fact true)
Their houses seemed very different to me but were both ranch homes, but different versions thereof. I liked Aunt Nettie’s house a lot more though. It had long sloping gables that faced the street and backyard, and a breezeway separating the garage from the main house that was later enclosed. The breezeway had indoor/outdoor carpet and lead to a patio off of the back of the house. I recall that on that patio was a terra cotta flowerpot about 30” tall. In it were what we call “Hens and Chickens,” a small spikey succulent type plant that spreads along the ground as it grows. The pot had openings here and there down the sides where more of the plant was allowed to grow. The siding was vertical and painted a dark red. But the prominent gable on the façade of the house was a contrasting white, as was the trim and doors. Inside, the living room was in front facing the street with the kitchen behind it. These together created a “Great Room.” There was a hallway just off of this large space leading to the bedrooms and bathroom, thus keeping with the Frank Lloyd Wright “Tadpole Design,” which later became the “Ranch House.” It was built by her eldest child Virgil who was a local contractor. Judging by the home movies I’ve scanned I’d say it was built in the very early 60s I always loved going over there, but we rarely did, it seems to me now. Enough about her house.
Long before I was born, Nettie married a man named Tom Corll who was a transplant from Pennsylvania. He was mustered into the war on May 25th, 1918. They were married on February 11th, 1920, after he had returned from the war (I thought they married before the war). They had 2 children, Virgil in 1922, and Evelyn in 1924 (I thought Virgil born before the war shortly after they married). When Evelyn was only months old, Tom passed away. (My recollection was that Nettie was left with her son Virgil to fend for herself after her husband Tom went away to the war) As you can see, I had things wrong.
Tom died as a result of wounds he suffered during his service in the First World War, or so I thought after I read his obituary. “While with the American forces in France, the young man was wounded three times and suffered shellshock. After recovering from the wounds, he was released from the hospital and was about to join his company at the front when the Armistice was signed. Soon after his return to the United States, he commenced to suffer from shell shock, from the effects of which he could get no relief. His condition grew more serious as time went on. Since last July he had been confined to his bed suffering intensely.” (1) This was taken from a newspaper clipping that was in one of my Grandpa DeLancey’s scrapbooks. I have discovered that on his death certificate, it lists Encephalitis lethargica as the cause of death. “The disease attacks the brain, leaving some victims in a statue-like condition, speechless and motionless. Between 1915 and 1926 an epidemic of encephalitis lethargica spread around the world. Nearly five million people were affected, a third of whom died in the acute stages. Many of those who survived never returned to their pre-existing “aliveness.” (2) I had no idea!
Aunt Nettie was left with their two children, Virgil & Evelyn. Virgil was 2 and Evelyn was 7 months. This was a tragic turn in Nettie’s life for sure! I know nothing of what happened during the immediate years after his death while she was a widow, but I know that 2 years later, she married a man named Donald Cramer Corll, her first husbands’ younger brother. They remained married until his death in 1979. The wonderful house was sold to her niece and her husband and she moved to Florida to be with her daughter Evelyn. She passed away in 1980.
I recall how, when I heard of how she came to marry her first husband’s younger brother, I thought it was scandalous, however, now I do not. This was her “fresh start” that I intended to write about this week, but through the research I have conducted to prepare for this post, I have found that most of what I thought I knew was incorrect. I know that her marriage to Don was a new beginning for her, but I don’t know much more than that. Therefore, this post has become one of facts, and a few of the memories I have surrounding her. That’s just fine with me.
Perhaps that’s what this is all about…the journey, and not the end.
Aunt Nettie, I would love to spend some time with you now to ask you questions and listen to your story as you rock in your star-based swivel rocker, making that clicking noise with your mouth here and there during our conversation. And Aunt Nettie, I still make your Cucumber Salad every summer!
(If anyone has memories they would like to share or corrections to make please leave them in the comments below. I would love to hear them!)
- Scrapbook of Donald W. DeLancey, “Release Comes to World War Veteran,” Newspaper clipping”
- Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encephalitis_lethargica