Friday, November 13, 2009

Meet My Parents: John & Naomi (Davis) Holt

My father, John Childs Holt, had to have been a wonderful Christmas present for his parents, Frank Raymond Holt and Agnus Gertrude (Childs) when he arrived that cold, snowy, 23rd day of December, 1900 in Butler, Pennsylvania. The family didn't remain in Butler very long and soon moved back to their home territory, settling in Rochester, Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Fourteen months later, minus six days, on an equally cold and snowy day, the 17th of February, 1902, in Fallston, Pennsylvania, Jessie Virginia (Thornhill) presented her husband, Herbert Albert Davis, with a beautiful daughter whom they named Naomi Alberta. Can't you just see the pride and love in his eyes? After all, not only was she his first (and only) daughter, she was named for him.

According to Grandad Holt, Dad was always a very curious, mischievous, into everything, youngster. Even during his toddling stage he was a handful so it is incongruous to see him as grandmother dressed him for his 1903 or 1904 trip to the photographer. But I guess that was the way it was done. Grandfather was a very successful dentist those days and provided a comfortable living for his family. And, I've been told, Grandmother was one who always wanted things done "just right." As with all the Holts I've known, hunting and fishing was an important part of male family socialization as is amply demonstrated by this picture of Dad taken c1914.

Athletics played a large role with Dad in school. According to my Uncle Cleo Davis, who went to school with him, Dad was an outstanding football player. His kicking prowess was apparently legendary and he could, even under pressure, kick a football consistently + 70 yards in the air. His reputation was such that his picture and one of the footballs he kicked was still on display in Rochester High School in the 1970's when Uncle Cleo Davis visited the school.

Mother's childhood was quite different. The family moved constantly though staying within, roughly, a 30 mile radius of Beaver Valley where Grandmother's parents, John and Fanny Bell Thornhill lived. Mother's brother, Cleo, stoutly maintained that he had gone to twenty different schools by the time he entered Rochester High School. Because Grandad frequently had jobs in remote places Mother usely stayed with the Thornhills in Beaver. This picture of her in 1909 at 7 years old in first grade in Beaver, was taken one of those times. One of the many places the family lived that was fairly remote was Lime Kiln Hollow. The children attended school there for several years. In 1936 when Uncle Cleo and his family visited from California we visited then completely abandoned Lime Kiln Hollow School and took a picture of Mother and Uncle Cleo in its long-abandoned remnant.
One of the more permanent jobs Grandfather Davis had was managing the very large swimming pool at Rock Springs Park (no longer in existence) at Chester, West Virginia where the photo of him on the moon was taken. (see Blog # ) This is a picture of Grandmother and Uncle Cleo, the first two in the back row. in that pool. While living there the family attended the Christian Church and this picture of mother, 12 or 13 years old, was lifted from a group picture taken of her Sunday School class.

The family had moved to Rochester, Pa. by 1918 when Mother started her Freshman year in Rochester High School where she was soon glamor struck by the school's rising, athletic star, Sophomore, John Childs Holt. Two years later, the two eloped and married in Cumberland, West Virginia, Sept 15, 1920. Dad played football that fall but the two never completed their High School education.

My sister, Miriam Ruth, was born 2 1/2 months prematurely, 7 March, 1921. She lived just 2 months and 4 days and died 11 May, 1921. That was an exceptionally tragic year for the family, Grandmother Holt died of an aneurysm on September 6, 1921. Mother contracted pneumonia that fall and they moved to the farm where, on the family Doctor's orders, they slept outdoors for the next two years. My brother, John Childs Holt, Jr. (Jackie) was born August 15, 1924. Shortly after he was born, Dad left by train for Stanford, California, where, by invitation from legendary Coach Glen "Pop" Warner, Dad was recruited to play football for Stanford University.

I must add here that the Offensive line Coach at Stanford then, was Claude Thornhill, an equally famous coach, who had also been an All American football player at the University of Pittsburgh, was my Mother's uncle. Predictably, because Dad had failed to complete his High School graduation requirements in 1921, the Stanford Office of Administration officials informed him he could not continue at Stanford. By then Mother, and their new son, John Jr. ("Jackie,") had joined him in Stanford. John and Fanny Bell (Smith)Thornhill, Claud's parents and Mother's Grandparents as well as her parents, Virginia (Thornhill) and Herbert Davis, were living there at the time so the little family stayed with them until the following spring when they returned to Pennsylvania.

There is a tragic climax to this chain of events. My brother, Jack, while playing around a barn being built on the farm, fell and struck his head on the head of a nail protruding from a discarded board, and died that night, the 15th of August, 1924, of a brain hemorrhage. Dad completed his High School requirements in 1925 but never returned to Stanford. I have his High School Diploma.

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