Seventy nine years ago, two Amos boys were toddling around Lansing, very likely exasperating their poor, young mother. Meanwhile, across the lake in the Chicago suburb of Blue Island, a baby girl had just been born. Her name was Carol Ruth and the life she was about to begin couldn’t have been more different than that of those little Amos characters.
Carol was born August 23, 1933 to George and Ruth Larson. She was their first child and you can bet she came home to a house well prepared for a newborn baby. Three years later her sister, Judith, was born.
Carol’s father, George, was a quiet, gentle, family man. He was ten years older than Ruth and long before they married, had securely established himself as a bookkeeper for a Chicago meatpacking company.
After her daughters were born, Ruth devoted herself to motherhood and keeping house in the bungalow home she and George owned. She filled it with nice furniture and did wash on Monday and ironing on Tuesday.
On Sundays, the family went to church.
When the girls were old enough, they attended Timothy Lutheran School. They got together with relatives, many of whom lived in the Chicago area and were also church-going Lutherans.
Interestingly, in summers the family would take a trip away from Chicago, all the way to Imlay City, Michigan to visit their Larson relatives. Some of them lived on a farm and others in a small town nearby. George and Ruth found this simple life pleasing—so much so, they decided to take it up for themselves. Many decades later, Ruth, who is my grandmother, told me in a taped interview how it all came about.
“Grandpa (George) wasn’t feeling too well,” said Ruth. “He was having problems with his stomach and the doctor told him he shouldn’t be working in an office. He should be moving around more and get out of the city.
“Besides doing all the bookwork, he used to go around and pick up all the checks from these different companies that slaughtered with us. One of them was Oscar Meyer and Co.”
Anyway, in 1946, one of those visits to the Michigan relatives changed all that. According to Ruth, this change came “quite in a hurry.”
“They (the relatives) got the Flint Journal all the time and we looked in there and this grocery store in Henderson was listed,” Ruth said. “We drove out there and looked at it while we were there on vacation. I think that was over the Labor Day weekend. Grandpa decided he wanted that store.”
Let’s take a minute and look at this family portrait. It really sets the scene so very well. Here are the Larsons in 1946—this very proper Chicago family about to embark on an adventure that would completely change their lives.
And here is the store that prompted their adventure…
So, in October 1946, the Larson family left their big city life and moved to the small town of Henderson, Michigan … very small, as in less than 250 people. George traded keeping books for someone else to keeping them for himself and his very own store. The family went from living in their architecturally-vogue-for-the-times bungalow to an apartment above the store.
And Carol was 13.
Anyone who’s ever been 13 and a girl (or parent of one), knows this is not the most reasonable time of life. I wonder what it was like for Carol to leave all her friends behind and move to an unknown place?
Well, thank goodness for Coyla Jean McCargar, who we all know as Jeanie.
If you remember from this previous post, the Larsons shipped their furniture in advance (including a baby grand piano, according to Ruth). Really, if Henderson were like any other small town, it was surely abuzz with curiosity—including 12 year-old Jeanie, who was waiting on the storefront steps when Carol arrived.
Jeanie opened up a new world for Carol. She introduced her to friends, they rode the bus together to school in nearby Owosso and, most importantly, it was through Jeanie that Carol met Duane at Benny’s Drive-In.
In 1951, Carol graduated from Owosso High School. Look at Ruth’s dress in this picture—surely she didn’t find something so exquisite in Henderson or Owosso!
Ruth once told me that she and George would have sent Carol to college, however Carol said she would only go for the socializing. Maybe, by that time, the only studying Carol was interested in was Duane.
(As a child, I was always fascinated by her high school dictionary. The inside covers were completely filled with “Duane Amos,” and “Mrs. Duane Amos” and “Carol Amos,” all written in her distinct backhanded handwriting.)
On July 18, 1953, while Duane was on leave from the Navy, Carol happily became Mrs. Duane Amos (or Carol Amos, as we women would so independently identify ourselves today:-).
Being the early 1950s, America was involved in the Korean War and Duane still had another year left of his Navy deployment. Carol continued living with her parents in the apartment above the store and did office work for an Owosso business.
This picture is one of our favorites. It’s of Carol in her parent’s kitchen above the store. While she certainly didn’t dress this way all the time, it’s actually quite reflective of who she was as a person—very creative; a talented seamstress; an excellent cook; a perfectionist, yes, but one who could also let loose and enjoy life.
In 1956, Duane and Carol had their first child, and from there they just kept going and going. In all: Terri, Diahann, David, Cheryl, Jon, Rebecca and Joel. (Remember baby Jon? He was born with a congenital heart defect and died when he was only two months old).
In 1968, Duane and Carol started building their dream house out in the country. It was a project they would continue for the next 20 years. And during that time all those kids brought home animals, friends and, of course, chaos.
What about those tendencies of perfectionism?
Well, if giving in to one’s children’s pleas for a pony and hauling it home in a new car is indicative of setting aside inherent traits, Carol did just that. Yet, in all her involvement in her kids’ activities—school events, music lessons, 4-H, you name it—she still was there to offer a proper guidance.
When the first of her kids grew up and left home, and the youngest of her kids started school, Carol decided to get out and get a job. She enjoyed working in retail for several Owosso stores and was delighted to learn her creativity applied well to the marketing world. But then again, that was Carol. Everything she did, she made sure she did it well…very well.
Remember how close those Amos wives were? How they bonded the family together through the fun times and the sometimes not-so-fun? All through the 90s, the couples, who by that time grown from three to four, enjoyed traveling and doing great activities together.
And they took care of each other.
Here’s that distinct handwriting of Carol’s in a note she had written to them all. By then, Jeanie was suffering from breast cancer, and two years later, Carol was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Those were some of the not-so-fun times.
In 1997, Jeanie died from her cancer. On August 3, 1999, Carol died from hers.
Carol said she knew Jeanie would be waiting on heaven’s steps for her.
I’m sure she was.