Just Keep an Ashtray Handy …

If there ever was a family member I would have liked to have known better, it would probably have been my great grandmother.

This week is a trifecta of sorts for Hile birthdays (actually, as we shall see later in the week, a bit more than a trifecta). January 17 was the birthday of son-in-law Aaron Baca. January 19 is the birthday of Jesse Doran Smith, my great-great grandfather. Born in Hampshire County, West Virginia in 1836 he and his wife, Josephine Lucretia McBride, moved west and lived in Illinois and Missouri. Among their five children was a daughter, Ella Hazel Smith Hile, my great grandmother, who is the main subject of the upcoming Westward Bound series. More on Jesse (and Ella) later.

January 18 is the birthday of my grandfather, Wilbur Vernon Hile. Born in 1908 in Hannibal, Missouri, the grandfather I knew was quiet and unassuming, a milkman for a local dairy who voted the way the Teamsters union recommended because they studied all those things, a man who would follow behind long-haul truckers on the interstate because they knew the best way to traverse the highway. Gramps was a guy who drove all the way from Long Beach to Nashville to see the Grand Old Opry but wouldn’t stop for the show because the line outside was too long.

These kinds of things did not always endear him to his wife, who, as you will see shortly, was indeed her mother’s child, but there was one thing to which both Wilbur and Bea were unwaveringly resolute: their love and devotion to their family and especially their two grandkids.

As the Westward Bound series gets going in the very near future, you’ll get to know Wilbur better, but for now we come to Daisy Dean Mills, his eventual mother-in-law and my great grandmother on the Bousman side. Also born on January 18 but in 1890, she passed away in 1961 when I was only five years old, so I didn’t know her long but Daisy was the kind of person you don’t forget easily. One day my dad came home from work and asked my mom where I was. “Oh, he went with Grandma Bousman to get something to eat,” she replied, which immediately gave rise to sheer panic on the part of my dad. I’m not sure what day of the week this occurred, but Daisy, it seems, believed that traffic laws did not apply on Sundays. Of course, it didn’t matter what day of this particular week it was, because she didn’t drive any different any other day of the week; it just made everything legal on Sundays. The situation didn’t improve much when I related that Great Grandma Bousman took me to a bar. Who knew at my age that there was a difference between the counter snack bar at the local Woolworth’s and that different kind of adult bar?

Daisy was not the kind of person to just sit around and wait for things to happen. She was a go-getter. If the service in a restaurant was slow, she was known to set fire to a napkin in an ash tray. That usually got the attention of the staff rather quickly. I also have memories of having gone to see her off on a cruise she was taking with a friend to Hawaii. Daisy was in her seventies at the time and her friend was in her eighties, and when the ship debarked in Hawaii Daisy headed for the airport, got on a plane, and flew home because all her octogenarian friend wanted to do was sit around while Daisy wanted to go dancing.

Life was not always kind to Daisy. In September, 1911, husband Reuben contracted typhoid, which required weeks of care. At the same time, 18-month old daughter Mabel Bernice (my grandmother) was stricken with a serious case of inflammation of the bowels that left her in what was described as “a precarious condition.” On February 4, 1915, the Bousman home in Monroe City, Missouri caught fire in the middle of the night. Reuben was away on business. Daisy and a family friend, a Mrs. Nesbit, were able to escape in their night clothes but in the confusion Daisy, standing in the cold until her feet were literally frozen, was not told that her two children (Mabel Bernice, my grandmother, and William Francis, my great uncle) had also been rescued. A faulty water plug (what we today might call a fire hydrant) inhibited the fire fighters and the home burned completely to the ground.

In 1917, Daisy gave birth to a second daughter, Helen Louise Bousman, who died from a heart condition on August 27, 1929 at the age of 12, and on February 10, 1937, on what would have been Helen’s twentieth birthday, husband Reuben took his own life.

One of the commonalities of the Hiles and Bousmans was music. Young Helen Louise was considered an accomplished violinist for her age. Wilbur Hile was a stellar trombone player and played in the pit orchestras of the silent movie days back in Hannibal. Bea Bousman played piano in honky-tonks back in Missouri and that was how the two of them met. My brother Gary is a collector of all sorts of stringed instruments and, much to the consternation of his, shall we say, less-talented big brother, was the lead guitarist in the band that won the John Enders Elementary School talent show for their cover of Credence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary.

I suspect there are a number of additional stories about Daisy that would give light to the character that she was — yet another strong, powerful, bad-ass woman that have come to make me and all of her descendants better people. But for now, we celebrate the birthdays and lives of Jesse, Wilbur, Daisy and Aaron (who is one incredible singer and songwriter himself). 

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January 18, 2022 2:22 pm

Daisy- what a powerhouse! Her setting napkins on fire to get the waitstaff’s attention is such an amazing visual. I demand a movie about her, please!