My mother, Emmajane Smith was born on April 25, 1919, in the small rural town of Napoleon, Missouri. She was the youngest of 6 children born to John Pleasant Smith (1882-1968), and Ella McGowan (1888-1921). Two of her siblings died before she was born. Her family had a small farm just outside of town and her dad worked in the coal mines. Her mom died when she was 2 years old and her dad married a second time when she was 7 years old.
Napoleon is situated on the Missouri River about 30miles east of Kansas City and in 1920 the population was 156 residents. When Emmajane started school in 1925, there were about 20 children that attended the one-room schoolhouse. Her two oldest siblings where aged 19 and 20, so they no longer went to school. Only her and her slightly older brother Gene were in school. Growing up, my mother didn’t talk very much about her school years, but what she did tell us was she loved to read.
In 1987, my husband and I took a trip to Missouri and while we were there we visited my Uncle Gene. He was more than happy to fill us in on the life of my mother. I found out that had always been a hypochondriac, even as a young girl. However, it seemed as though she would use it to her advantage. When it was time to do any work around the house or farm she would always be sick. As soon as the work was over, she would make a astounding recovery. This is also how it was in school.
According to my uncle, my mother really did love to read! She would take a new book home every week, and she would spend all her “recuperating time” reading them. Reading was the only thing she excelled at and by 3rd grade she was reading anything that was available. When the Nancy Drew series began in 1930, she read each one as they were published and this is where she got her love of mystery novels.
My mother is in the second row, the girl with her arms crossed. My Uncle Gene is in the back row on the far left.
The few stories that I remember her telling us were ones that most kids of that era would tell. The winters were cold, and they would have to walk to school in the snow and each child had to bring a small bucket of coal for the furnace. Since most of the men in the community worked in the coal mines, that was not a problem. My mother told us that she never owned a new dress, or any new clothes for that matter. Everything they wore was second hand, but this too would have been a normal occurrence since she attended school during the Great Depression.
My mother got married when she was 16 years old and that was the end of her formal education. She was a very smart woman in spite of her mental illness. I do thank her for one thing and that is she passed on her love for reading mysteries to me.