Every family has a month that’s filled with birthdays. For the Amos family, July is one of those months. This coming week marks the birth of a very special lady—Coyla Jean McCargar Amos Pfauth.
Coyla Jean. That’s such a beautiful name, isn’t it? Even though most of us knew her as Jeanie, a given name so pretty as Coyla Jean is one to be remembered, as is the woman herself. She’s the one who “twisted Bruce’s arm,” as he says, into getting married way back when and having their beautiful children Vicki, Shelley and Scott.
As Vicki and Shelley tell us about their mom, they do so with big disclaimers.
“This is what we think we know,” says Shelley.
“It’s harder to write this than you think,” says Vicki. “You wonder if what you remember is correct.”
Coyla Jean, or Jeanie, was born in Owosso on July 3, 1934, to Ira and Ruth McCargar. According to Vicki and Shelley, Ira’s family owned mercantile businesses in Owosso and Perry.
“Sometime during her pregnancy or right after Mom (Jeanie) was born, Ira fell in love with another woman and left Grandma. This was probably pretty scandalous in those days in small town America!” writes Vicki. “Not much was ever said about that marriage—our mom never really knew her father. She said she received two cards from him growing up—one for her 16th birthday and one when she graduated from high school.”
Later Jeanie would learn that her father remarried and had children. She wanted to meet them, but as far as Vicki and Shelley know, she never did.
When Jeanie was growing up she lived in the small community of Henderson with her maternal grandparents Phillander P (PP) Bishop and Ida. Her mother, as a single parent, worked and lived in Lansing and needed her parents to care for Jeanie.
“If all the stories were true, she was a handful for them…always curious, always on the go!” writes Vicki.
“Mom loved the farm animals and was always out in the barn or the pens with them,” adds Shelley. “When she would get into trouble with her mother she would go hide among the cows because grandma was afraid of them and mom knew she wouldn’t come after her. One time, when she was two (so the story goes), she climbed to the top of the windmill and then didn’t know how to get back down. Another time she tried putting kickers on a cow and the cow kicked her in the chin, making her bite her tongue almost in two. She lived on mashed potatoes, ice cream and other soft foods for several months while her tongue healed.”
When Jeanie was 12, something big happened in Henderson. It turned out to be big for her as well. One of the town’s two grocery stores went up for sale and a bookkeeper from Chicago bought it. He shipped his family’s fancy, big city furniture in advance, including a baby grand piano—can you imagine the buzz going ‘round this little town of 250 people?
Word also got out he had a daughter Jeanie’s age.
As the story goes, when the family arrived from Chicago, Jeanie was waiting there on the storefront steps. The daughter’s name was Carol, and from then on Jeanie and Carol’s lives were intertwined.
But let’s not jump too far ahead.
According to Shelley, when Jeanie was in high school she started taking the train to Lansing on weekends and would show up at her mother’s apartment. Her mother would send her back to her grandparents in Henderson.
Jeanie would show up again.
Finally, her mother let her stay with her in Lansing and Jeanie began attending Sexton High School. Is this starting to sound familiar?
“She attended Sexton High School where she met Bruce, who had been transferred there after being kicked out of Eastern for misbehaving,” writes Shelley “They started dating and would hang out with Bruce’s brothers, especially Jerry because he had a car and money, which the other two boys didn’t seem to be able to hold on to.”
Of course, we know the story well. We know how one night Bruce and Duane were cruisin’ Benny’s Drive-In when they spotted Jeanie and a friend. The friend turned out to be Carol. And that’s how Jeanie and Carol became not only best friends but also sisters-in-law.
Isn’t life fascinating?
Over the years Jeanie worked a variety of jobs, part time positions while her children were younger and full time when they were older.
“One job we heard most about was when she worked for WJIM TV-Channel 6, in Lansing,” says Vicki. “Another was when she worked with Grandma (Ruth McCarger Pierce) at the Michigan Hardware Association. She also sold real estate for a while. Before retirement she worked for the Michigan Road Builders Association for several years.”
Outside of work, Jeanie loved cooking, home decorating and was an excellent housekeeper. And she loved shoes!
“She had stacks and stacks of shoe boxes,” says Vicki. “Shoes for each special outfit.”
Vicki also says the very best gift her mother gave her was the ability to take a 20-minute nap.
“Mom had that perfected and those 20 minutes would keep her going through long days of work, gardening, canning and freezing,” says Vicki. “She used to can 52 quarts of dill pickles each year to keep Shelley supplied with pickles —one jar per week for a year!”
Perhaps one of the most special things about Jeanie was her way of bonding the Amos family. Remember how the Amos Boys’ wives set a precedent of getting along? Decades later, after 26 years of marriage, Bruce and Jeanie would divorce. But they too got along and cared for one other even when they both remarried.
“I remember when Dad and Shirley and Mom and Bob were all sitting together,” says Shelley of her parents. “Mom and Shirley were just chatting away. Someone came up to Mom and asked her what that was all about. Mom said ‘we like each other!’’
In 1991, when she was only 57, Jeanie was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“True to her style she didn’t tell any of us kids until she was positive of the diagnosis,” says Vicki. “Not until the end of her fight did we learn that the initial prognosis was six months. She fought a good fight for almost six years.”
Jeanie died on December 20, 1997.
The Amos family has a void without her. What a very special woman she was.