Tag Archives: Vernon Tarbox Adams

Hazel Ethel Coleman

Hazel Ethel Coleman, born 7 February 1901 in Calais, Maine was my maternal grandmother, daughter of Hartwell Thomas Coleman and  Anna Elisabeth Jensen. I have written a number of past posts about Anna Elisabeth’s Jensen/Johnson family and the lengths to which I went to trace her family in Denmark.

Hartwell and Anna also had one son, Hazen Raleigh Coleman, born 5 February 1895, also in Calais, so they were two days shy of being born exactly six years apart.

I have no photos of Hazen and I don’t think I have ever even seen one. He died when I was a toddler so we never even met.

I also just today realized that I have no photos of Hazel as a child, but I do have many of her as a young adult and then in her later years. This is probably the earliest photo I have of my grandmother. It looks like she was high school aged, so would be around 1916 or so.

Hazel Ethel Coleman

The Coleman family had a comfortable life in Calais as Hartwell was a master mariner in an area known for lumber shipped by boat and for boat building. They didn’t live in Calais proper, but in Red Beach, down the road a piece as they say in Maine. Today, Red Beach is an actual part of the city of Calais.

I never thought to ask Hazel to tell me stories about her childhood, but I do remember two that she happened to share. Calais borders St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada with the international bridge connecting the two towns. Hazel said when she was young, the girls would walk across the bridge to shop in St. Stephen. On the way back, the U.S. customs agent would greet them and ask if they had purchased anything that day. The answer was always “no” as they just had a fun day window shopping. When they got home, they would unpin whatever small treasure they bought that day from under their skirts! Back then, it was a bit of harmless fun and no one had much money to spend anyway. In today’s world, that scenario would be viewed through very different eyes.

The second story she shared was of heartbreak and a memory seared into her brain. It was the story of the death of her mother when Hazel was just 15 years old. She said her mother had had some kind of stomach pains, possibly something like appendicitis, but she wasn’t sure. The doctor, who actually passed away not all that many years ago at almost 100 years old and who shall remain nameless.  called on the family at home, in the custom of the day. He told Hartwell that Anna needed surgery and proceeded to operate on her in the kitchen. Anna died during the operation. Hazel said she would never ever forget mopping up buckets of blood off the kitchen floor and said the doctor was a total quack. Anna died on 4 Mar 1916.

Life wasn’t the same for the family after that. Hazel stepped up and took over many of the household duties that her mother had done.  She never talked about her schooling. In the 1940 census, she reported having finished two years of high school. She and Vernon didn’t marry until Hazel was 19 so an early marriage wasn’t the reason for not finishing high school. I suspect that after her mother died and she had to take over the household chores, it might have been too much to go to school full time, too.

Two years later on 12 September 1918, Hartwell married Lydia Wilson, a young woman who also lived in Calais.

Lydia's Parents
Hartwell and Lydia on their wedding day

Lydia soon became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, also named Lydia, on 17 November 1919. Sadly, five days later, mother Lydia died from childbirth complications. Baby Lydia was raised by her maternal grandparents. Although I corresponded with Lydia through the years, I only met her once, in 1981, when I dragged my husband all over New England chasing cemeteries and distant relatives.

Lydia married Thomas DiCenzo and they lived in Calais. Thomas died in a small plane crash in the 1970’s. Lydia passed away on 1 April 2008, only three months before my mother. Thomas and Lydia had no children.

Although they were half sisters, Lydia reminded me a lot of Hazel in both her looks and mannerisms. I guess they both had the Coleman genes!

Lydia Coleman DiCenzo in 1978

However, Hazel married my grandfather, Vernon Tarbox Adams, on 19 July 1920 at his parents’ home in Calais.

Vernon and Hazel moved frequently, due to the fact that my grandfather worked for Western Union and he was transferred everywhere from Maine to New Jersey. They had three children, my Aunt Barbara, my mother, Doris Priscilla and my Aunt Carole, who was quite a bit younger than her sisters.

Hazel & Barbara     Vernon & Doris
Barbara, Hazel, Vernon and Doris Adams, c1933

Carole Adams, c1937

I have wonderful memories of Hazel, who was always called “Grandmother.” She was a no-nonsense kind of person and very musically and artistically inclined, which I now believe she inherited from her great grandfather, Johannes Jensen, the fiddler-drummer career soldier from Copenhagen. She also loved gardening and her backyard was beautifully landscaped with a healthy smattering of home grown foods, such as tomatoes and beans. In their later years, my grandparents took a liking to cruising in the winter to escape Massachusetts winters. I remember we went to see them off on the North German Lloyd ship, Bremen, which sailed out of New York City, maybe around 1960. What I remember most is someone from the ship coming around offering caviar to visiting guests before the ship sailed!

I often visited them at their house at 17 Paul Revere Road, Needham Heights, where they lived until my grandfather retired:

House on Paul Revere Road  Linda and Scott
Winter at 17 Paul Revere Road and Linda with her cousin, Scott at Easter 1958

In the 1940’s, my grandparents rented, and later bought,  a summer cabin on Little Sebago Lake:

Lake from the Boat
Cottage at Little Sebago Lake, Maine

My family spent two weeks each August until I was 16 at the cottage. It was there I learned to swim, picked blueberries and first got up on water skis. There was no running hot water, drinking water had to be collected from well water, heat came from the fireplace  and the toilet was outside, but I spent many happy years vacationing there.

When I went off to college at the University of Rhode Island, I took the train or drove up to Massachusetts to visit. My grandmother only lived about an hour and a half away. Whenever I came for the weekend, she had Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese and a vanilla ice cream soda waiting. Those were two foods I loved and only had when I visited Grandmother.

For Thanksgiving 1988, my husband and I took our 11 month old son, Michael, from California back to Massachusetts to meet his great grandmother.

Four generations:

Doris, Linda, Hazel and Michael, Nov. 1988

Michael met his great grandmother one more time, in summer 1993, when he was 5 years old. It turned out that that was the last time I saw Grandmother, too.

Hazel passed away in her sleep on 21 April 1995, two months past her 94th birthday. She was buried at Calais Cemetery next to Grandfather Vernon.

Vernon Tarbox Adams, 1899-1968

One of the reason I first became interested in my family history was because of my mother’s maiden name – Adams – and the fact that my grandparents lived in Massachusetts. Family lore was that we were not directly descended from Presidents John and John Quincy Adams, but that we were part of that Adams family. As I researched the Adams name, I found that the presidential lines were from Henry Adams of Braintree, MA, but who arrived in Boston about 1632 or 1633.

I realized that my grandparents were both born in Calais, Washington County, Maine, directly across from New Brunswick, Canada. However, that didn’t deter me at all since I knew that many early Maine settlers hailed from Massachusetts and Maine was a district of Massachusetts from 1647 until statehood in 1820.

What did deter me, though, was discovering all the New Brunswick family roots that my Adams family had and learning about the Loyalists of the American Revolution. It turns out that my Adams family was descended from Edward Adams of Milford, CT about 1640 and, more recently, from Loyalist John Adams and his wife, Sarah Coley, of Fairfield County, CT. In the fall of 1783, they joined other Loyalist families on ships sailing from New York to Canada.

I don’t think my grandfather was aware of any Loyalist ties – I didn’t start working on the family history until about a decade after he died – and my grandmother was unaware of family history beyond his grandparents.

Vernon Tarbox Adams, my grandfather, was born on 3 May 1899 in Calais, ME to Charles Adams and his wife, Annie Maude Stuart.

Vernon was an only child and seemed to have had a typical upbringing for a young boy living in Calais. Much of Calais life revolved around the sea.

His grandfather and great grandfather were boat builders and fishermen. His father walked a different path, working in the local shoe factory. Mother Annie was ahead of her time, as she had her own store where fine ladies’ goods were sold. I have a photo of her in her store, which I love, not only because Annie is in the photo, but because of the sign posted in the store: “Please do not ask for credit.” Annie is the lady behind the counter, dressed in the dark clothes. Vernon likely was put to work helping out stocking the shelves when he was old enough.

Vernon attended Calais Academy, later renamed Calais High School, and that is likely where he met my grandmother, Hazel Ethel Coleman, who would have been two years behind him, being born in 1901. She lived down the road a bit in the area known as Red Beach. Her father, Hartwell Coleman, was a master mariner so the families may also have known each other through their jobs on the ocean.

By September 1918, Vernon was working for the Boston Western Union in Massachusetts. However, his World War I draft registration card gives his permanent address as the family home at 29 Calais Avenue, Calais, ME.

My grandmother told me a tidbit about my grandfather that was very interesting and I decided to try to verify the information. She said that he went to Harvard University, but didn’t graduate. I promptly wrote off to Harvard, probably about 1979 or 1980 when I first started working on the family history. I received a very nice reply back from the Harvard registrar’s office, stating that no one by the name of Vernon Tarbox Adams had ever been enrolled there. Hmmm. My grandmother was a sharp lady and other family information that she shared with me had pretty much been proven. So where did this story come from about Harvard?

On October 7, 1918, Vernon enlisted in the U.S. Navy.  One month later, the war ended with Germany’s surrender.

I found a listing for Maine Military Men on Ancestry. Vernon served at the Naval Training Unit at. . . .  (yes) Harvard University in Cambridge, MA until 11 Nov 1918 and remained on inactive duty at Harvard until 7 Dec 1918. Hazel was right all along – Vernon did “go” to Harvard, but he didn’t graduate!

Vernon and Hazel married back in Calais on 19 July 1920. I never heard my grandmother call my grandfather by his given name. He was always “Ducky,” but I never asked her where the nickname came from.

My grandfather had a long career with Western Union and the family moved up and down the East Coast. My Aunt Barbara was born in Malden, MA, my mother Doris was born in Calais and my Aunt Carole was born in Portland, ME. Aunt Barbara and my mother both graduated from high school in New Jersey in the 1940’s. After that, Vernon was transferred back to Massachusetts, where he and Hazel lived out their lives.

Vernon retired from the Western Union as a district manager in 1964. I was too young to attend the retirement party, but my brother, my two cousins and I all received a souvenir – a shiny new Kennedy half dollar, which I was told was given to my grandfather by Ted Kennedy.

Vernon and Hazel enjoyed retirement times for several years, taking several cruises to get out of the New England winters. In October 1968, my mother received a phone call from her mother. She said Vernon had had a stroke in September and was now hospitalized because he was declining more and more. Doctors didn’t know why. Fifty years to the day from his naval discharge, on 7 Dec 1968, Vernon died at Faulkner Hospital in Boston.

My grandmother felt something was very wrong with the initial diagnosis of stroke and requested an autopsy. When the results came back, there was a new diagnosis – Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a degenerative neurological disorder that is incurable and fatal. It was so rare at the time (only three diagnosed cases in the 20th century)  that U.S. Navy doctors came to interview Hazel about Vernon’s symptoms and and decline from the onset until his death only three months later. Today, CJD is more commonly known as Mad Cow Disease.