To all who mourn in Israel, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory. Isaiah 61:3

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Because of These Ladies: Part 1...Nonnie

Hazel Prudence Palmer Chriswisser

People often ask me concerning my costuming, "Why do you do this?" or "How did you get started in costuming?" or "What is this obsession you have with the past and antiques?" or "Why mourning?".  Well, I would like to devote these next four entries in my blog to answering these questions and honoring the ladies who set me on this path of adventure because I did not arrive here all by my lonesome!

For my first entry, I would like to introduce you to my Great-Grandma Hazel.  Nonnie, as we called her, was my Daddy's Mother's Mother.  Hazel was born in Lincoln, Nebraska on July 23, 1898.  She loved the color pink, drank her coffee black out of fine bone china tea cups, made the best lemon meringue pie I ever tasted, smelled of Jean Nate, always dressed up in beautiful clothes, wore pearls, and was so incredibly fabulous.  Her house in Meridian, Idaho was pink.  That's right, I said pink.  It was made of some sort of stone that had a pink tinge to it and the mortar used to hold those stones together was pink.  Her bathroom was pink.  Her kitchen was pink.  The bedspread in her bedroom was pink.  I loved it!  I remember going to her house many, many times as my Dad loved her dearly and enjoyed visiting with her. The water that came out of her kitchen tap always had bubbles in it.  Her house was always immaculately clean.  Her homemade raspberry jam was always delicious.  Her flowers in her garden were always the prettiest.  I have so many memories of this wonderful lady.  How I miss her. 

Hazel Prudence with my Great-Grandpa, Herbert Chriswisser.  He was in the Navy and may I just add was seriously handsome!  They make a darling couple!  They went to high school together and my Mama has their Senior class picture hanging on the wall of the guest room at my parent's home.  Hazel and Herb opened many stores in Meridian.  An auto parts store and an Ice Cream Parlor to name a couple.  She also sold eggs to the ladies in town!

The items that set my antique obsession in motion.  

You know how Grandmas are.  You go to their house and they have gifts waiting for you.  A treat from the bakery, candy from the store, or a stuffed animal ready for you to take home and love.  Well, my Nonnie, for whatever reason, one day had these Indian Head Pennies setting out on her table ready for inspection.  I remember a stuffed rabbit and these aged, old, pennies.  Not shiny new ones, ready for the gumball machine.  Nope.  These had a lovely patina that only age and use can bring on.  She offered them to me and instantly, and I mean INSTANTLY, my heart was taken.  I don't know what happened, but in my mind I could feel something change.  No longer did I look at things in her house the same way.  Even at the tender age of 8 years old, I knew there was something special about these treasures.  Not quite 100 years old, these pennies had been held by so many hands.  "Seen" so many changes.  Were they used to buy penny candy at the mercantile?  Did some young girl get them from Santa in her stocking?  Nonnie couldn't remember where she had acquired them, only that she now had them and was offering them to me!  Oh yes, I was hooked.

Here is Nonnie with a friend.  I love that she had on Herbert's uniform.  How adorable!  I can just envision her being something of a scamp, but also a well mannered lady when the need called for it!

Nonnie and my Grandmother, Jeanne.  Jeanne was born in 1921, so this is probably around 1923-1924.  I am so loving the drop waist dress and cloche!!!

Nonnie and her brother Floyd and sister Madeline.  She also had an older sister, Bessie Mae and an older brother Frank.  What darling ancestors I have!

From Nonnie, I also acquired my love of all things mourning.  The young girl in the photo above is Nonnie's sister Madeline.  Madeline died very tragically in 1916 when she was 12.  The pot belly stove in their house was hot and Madeline reached up to turn the damper down.  As she did so, the red hot stove instantly caught her apron on fire and Madeline was engulfed in flames.  Later that day, Madeline passed away from her burns.  One day when we were at Nonnie's house, she presented me with "The Madeline Cup".  This cup is one of my most prized possessions.  I believe Madeline got it when the family was at a fair.  The papers in the floral frog contain some of Madeline's hair that was cut away from her after she passed away.  This was sent to Nonnie's sister Mae who was living in Nampa, Idaho with her husband Ray Clague.  So very sad and tragic.

Newspaper article detailing the tragedy that befell the Palmer family.

Palmer family photograph taken after sweet Madeline died.  You can see how the photographer edited Madeline into the photo for one last family photo.  Back row, l to r:  Bessie Mae Palmer Clague, Frank, Floyd.  Front row, l to r:  Hazel, Jesse E., Madeline, Ada (DeWitt).

My Nonnie was so incredible.  I treasure the time I had with her, learning about her past, her family, and our roots.  I love you Nonnie!!! 


  1. What a beautiful memory you have of your great grandmother. Heritage is a precious thing.

  2. She sounds so delightful and unique! It is wonderful to know people like that exist outside of stories!

    I understand the need for mourning, something to commemorate and celebrate the one that has passed. When my grandfather passed when I was in high school I was devastated for nearly a year, no one else in my family really understood and thought I should move on, so I had to hide it. I feel that having a proper mourning for him, with some aspects of mourning culture, might really have helped my grief. When I think about the Victorian mourning things- black trimmed handkerchieves, etc, I feel like something like this might have comforted me, and helped me show respect.

    1. Oh Laura, that causes me to be so sad for you! Had I been your friend in High School, I would have mourned with you! We all go through the stages of mourning differently and that is a shame that you had to hide your pain! I agree with you about the customs of mourning helping with dealing with the emotions that go along with losing a beloved person. Now a days it is just more convenient to sweep the whole event under the rug and move on too quickly...I lost my fabulous Grandad 13 years ago and I will start crying over the loss of him out of the blue, just because I miss him so terribly. There is something special about Grandads isn't there?

  3. I would love to have met your Nonnie, and visited her OMG! pink house! It reminds me of how I loved visiting and staying with my great aunt, Nannie, in San Diego at her Queen Anne house and this is where I got my first love of architecture.

    1. Val, I think you would have really liked her! And your Aunt Nannie and her Queen Anne house? What a wonderful experience! I love that our elder relatives can impart to us a love of things from their eras...What fun!!!