A Photographic Journey through the life of:
Arthur Francis & Mary Alice Reasoner Pillsbury
Melinda Pillsbury-Foster, their daughter
Mom and Dad were married at the home of Dad’s father, Arthur C. Pillsbury, on Keith Avenue in Berkeley, California on Saturday, June 24th, 1933.
The bride and groom had known each other only a few weeks, having met
at a party given by a mutual friend. Mary Alice was then a senior at
Berkeley majoring in Math and Arthur Francis was just finishing
Up his Engineers degree at Stanford University.
Mary Alice’s mother and father did not attend
because they were then living in Hawaii, where Mary Alice’s father
was designing traffic lighting systems.
Mother had three brothers. Her youngest brother, Charles
Lafayette Reasoner, was her only relative who attended the wedding.
The two newlyweds snuck out while no one was paying attention
so that they could avoid being the object of unwanted attentions.
This was Arthur’s idea.
Their honeymoon was spent in a tent pitched at the various locations
all over California where Arthur’s first job took him. That job was designing projects for the Civilian Conservations Corp., the busy work response of the US government to the market failures that were rippling through the economy.
The old tent, smelling of ancient events and mildew, was still with us on Colby Avenue. It had an umbrella pole in the center that was heavy enough to be made out of mahogany, although I am sure it was not. We kids used to set it up in the back yard on Colby and camp out back there when we were little.
Arthur’s second job, beginning just as summer wound down to autumn, was working for the
University system. Sometimes the official record is slightly different from our memory. Here is
what the memorial on the University website says:
"Art received a bachelor's degree in 1928 and an engineering degree in 1930. His thesis was
entitled, "Water Resources of the Santa Clara Valley" and his entire professional career was
devoted to making the water resources of California beneficial to municipal, industrial, and
Art worked briefly as an assistant engineer for engineering firms. Then in 1932 he was
appointed a junior irrigation engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, Agricultural
Experiment Station. In 1939, he transferred to the Los Angeles campus as an assistant irrigation
engineer. A year later he received an additional appointment as assistant professor of irrigation Mary Alice, Anne & Carol
and soil science in the UCLA College of Agriculture. By 1952 he had advanced to full professor and irrigation engineer. For six years he was chairman of the Department of Irrigation and Soil Science."
Clearly, the writer missed the year as the booklet, marriage certificate, and newspaper clipping firmly stated '1933.'
The first child, Anne AEtheline, was born the next year, 1934. Anne was the subject of a new generation of Pillsbury Christmas cards. At first Dad evidently made these up as post cards with the picture of the family being only a tiny part of the artwork. Later they occupied more space.
Anne was obviously the apple of their hearts although she remembers Dad as being distant.
Anne came down with Rheumatic Fever when she was very young, soon after Carol was born,
and spent him in the hospital in a ward with what she describes as old men. She said that
Mother did not visit very often. A young child’s perspective is very different from an adult’s
so I have no way of knowing how long she spent there. Anne said it was a year. I am uncertain.
Here is Anne at 14 months looking very cheerful in the
sand box. They were not a stay at home couple. They had
friends, most of them originally Dad’s, and went out to
events and took hikes with little Anne. Here is Mother
with little Anne with a rather nice background. The young
couple were very affectionate with each other, writing
notes and letters back and forth. Those written
by Father had not survived because Mother burned them
so that we could not read them. But hers to him were very
affectionate and romantic. I found a small container of
these early notes and gift cards from the early years
in an old leather container that Father kept with him.
Included here is the leather wallet that he must have carried with him, containing these
pictures of Mother and Anne.
I reproduce it here so you will get a sense of how it looked. The leather is very brittle and I
am now starting to put these items in non-reactive plastic for preservation. Another picture of Mother was tucked behind the first one of her. It is very faded. I thought about removing the damage but thought it gave you a better sense of how it looked when I found it.
Mother and Father were from very different backgrounds, how different
and what those differences actually meant was a reality that it not seem to
dawn on either of them for a while. One enlightening experience came early.
That is reflected in the naming of their children.
Father came from a family tradition that gave the names of living relatives
to children to honor significant figures in their families.
Middle names were frequently the last name of the mother or grandmother.
Ernest Sargent’s name, for instance, was a combination of the last name
of his great-grandmother, Mary Jane Sargent.
Ernest is a mystery to me. It was a very fashionable name and the name
Harlin, while a family name, was not fashionable any longer at that point in
time. The name Arthur also pops up in many of the New England families at
the same time, making it a common name for them then.
No one in Mother or Father's family was ever named for Darling Daisy. However, their first son, Charles Arthur, was given a combination of the names of Mother’s father and Father’s father.
Anne was named for Aunt AEtheline, a woman Father loathed, I am sure out of respect for his father. But there is no Anne on Mother’s side of the family so she might have simply chosen it for a friend. They had several friends named Anne. Carol was named for Father’s mother, Sylvia Florence Ball.
The Depression had not been too hard on the family in some ways although they moved around more than you would think usual for the family of a college professor, mostly renting homes whose owners were also faculty but on leave or sabbatical.
They were living in Hemet when Carol was born. The birth took place in Riverside. During World War II they were living at 10234 Calvin, near Century City. It was a two story house and the girls loved it. It is the one with a lighted bird house on the roof that was left on during an air raid warning while Father was serving as the local Air Raid Warden. An embarrassing moment. This is the one with the bird house on top. It was a very nice house.
From there they moved to 1999 Greenfield and from there to a house on Aiken, which was around the corner from the Wannells. Anne was in the 4th grade. They were close to the Wannell’s for years after they moved, going back to play with Donnie and then Bonnie when she was little before Anne married. From there they moved to 1911 Gobel. Anne was in 6th grade then. That house is no longer there because it was in the landing path for LAX.
In September of 1948 they moved to 3266 Colby Avenue just in time for the birth of yours truly.
It seems as if Dad took fewer and fewer photos as the years went by, a normal but annoying behavior since you and I came at the end of their reproductive line.
Mom told me that she cried all over me in early November of the year I was born because her candidate had lost the election. That was probably a sign of things to come.
At work things were going pretty well. The Depression had been kind to academia and the war had not been too disruptive to those who were, like Dad too old for WWII and too young for WWI. Uncle Chuck was away serving in the Pacific Theatre, as an officer in the Army Corps of Engineers and came home weighing 120 Lbs. The colleges were about to feel all kinds of stresses in the aftermath of the war, however. Dad’s wages stayed steady but no one in the academic world got raises that reflected the steadily rising cost of living. Life on Colby Avenue was a good time for them in many ways. They were not doing well financially, but the neighborhood was nice and its proximity to the No. 8 bus line meant that in need Dad and later Anne could take the bus to work and school if necessary. This is the first of three photos taken before they moved to Colby at a picnic put on for the Department. As I mentioned, I got scans of the photos from an old friend of Dad’s. In this first photo you can see Carol squarely in front and smiling while Mom, very pregnant with me, moves across the table to appear nearly invisible in the third.
See Mom, sitting on bench to the left of Carol, center stage. Cappy is between them.
Those appearing in the shot are, starting at left back, Maris Leech, George Ford, Anne Pillsbury, Mrs. Hood, Cappy, on Dad’s shoulders, Pearl Ford, Mrs. Halma, Dave Weems, Mantel Hood, - then back to the left again, Carol Pillsbury, Mom, behind the head of a lady the photo’s owner did not recognize, Charys, For, Mrs. Eleeling, Shirley Hood, and another Eleeling. The man next to Dad is Dr. Halma. A happy crowd of people from UCLA. Growing up on Colby Avenue meant we had lots of people to play with. It meant long summer nights when we might have dinner at someone else’s house – like Susan did with us. I remember climbing the house when I was round 18 months old and thinking how neat it was to be able to feel the wind in my face and see people without them seeing me. I felt very big and powerful when I did that.
The gate in front of the Sherman house was like Fort Apache, which is what we called it when we played cowboys and Indians.
Stephen joined the Pillsbury family on November 22, 1950. He was not well and cried constantly. Soon after his birth he had surgery for a hernia but later we learned he had a serious condition that made it necessary to have several very painful operations in the course of his childhood. Life brings us what it will. Stephen was incredibly stoic through it all.
The first church I remember attending was a Congregationalist church on Westwood Blvd. It had great play equipment. Then for a long while we attended the Little Church on the Hill, another Congregationalist Church close to the house on Colby. It was there that Stephen and I graduated from Sunday preschool and received our very own Bibles, dedicated to us on the front page in Father’s very nice printing. Carol was married in that church. Carol was very anxious to get away from home and had chosen to get married as the readiest means of accomplishing that goal. Carol and Anne were very different kinds of people. Carol was not obedient and Anne told me she was arrested briefly while staying out over night when she was fourteen. I knew she hung out with inappropriate people. Certainly Gary was one of those. I was a flower girl at the wedding and Stephen was the Ring Bearer, weren’t you? It was a fantastic event from my point of view. I had a craving for butter mints which I rarely got and there were bowls of them, unmonitored, on every table at the reception. I ate them all and threw up under the last table. I did not know or was not aware that Mother and Father were very opposed to her marrying anyone, let alone Gary Holbert. Carol was smart and should have been heading for college instead of secretarial school. I know she resented being compared to Anne, who was admittedly a hard act to follow, being brainy through diligent studiousness and obedient to a fault. Anne always did what she was told; did not date if it interfered with caring for us younger children and working nearly full time all the way through UCLA to a math degree. The two sisters had been close but that ended when Anne became engaged to Paul Gripp. Mom and Dad had not liked Carol marrying Gary but they were distressed when Anne married Paul because he was so unkind to her. Paul was one of Father’s students at UCLA on the horticultural side of the agriculture department. Paul was a gentleman sailor, an officer who was paid to sail around after college for a couple of years. When he was home he made Anne, engaged to him then, cry. I disliked Paul intensely. Carol wrote Mom and Dad a lovely note to thank them for the wedding. Dad had it in his little leather case of precious things. It made me tear up when I read it. Carol could be very nice – like when she let us ride our bikes over to visit her, and when she bought us treats. When she died on February 12, 1974 she never received the Valentine card I had mailed her. Sometimes I was angry with her but mostly I missed her. I was looking forward to being sisterly
and getting to know her better as an adult.
Here is a picture of Anne, Alice, and Mom and Dad at the
side of the garage in the backyard of the house on Colby
Avenue. You can just see behind the garage where you and
I built out house for Cats, called the Cat House. We were
going to become rich caring for cats when their owners
needed to go away, remember? Dave Brew, always a sharp
dealer, offered to build it and provide all the materials for
$1.00. We paid up front and he tried to renege until Cappy
paid him a visit. He is still complaining about that.
Anne married in 1957 but I don’t have a picture of the event.
I tried to stab Paul with a fork just before then. I knew he
was going to make her cry a lot and he did.
This is the back yard on Colby and someone, might be me,
leaning over. The avocado tree is still pouring out fruit at all
times of the year, according to Helen Angwin who lived next
I always thought Anne was beautiful when she was younger,
even though she made me take ballet, though only once
because I cried when I could not wear my guns to class and she
made me put on the horrifying leotard, with pink ruffly thing. It
was a very bad moment.
And so we grew up. Stephen, Cappy and I got our first kittens
at Dave Brew’s incredible carnival down the street. Dave is a
presence that has become legend with my family and with other
people we get to know.
Halloween was celebrated with those rituals now dying in America in many places. Kids went out to trick or treat for candy feeling very safe and happy and never questioning that everyone would be happy to see their costumes I remember Stephen's Cub Scout troop and my Brownie Troop. Mom was Stephen's Den Mother and my Brownie Leader.