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Sharing Memories of Growing Up in the Ozarks

A tribute written by Nancy Hull, Rosa’s niece, and Sammy’s daughter

Born 100 years ago yesterday, Rosa Humbyrd Haskins Carvella has lived through a lot of history. Her first major journey took place in a 1926 Ford Model T; her most recent excursion involved a 2014 Ford Escape. But for legs that grow tired a little sooner than she would like, Rosa embraces life with a wry smile and a slow shuffle around her assisted living facility in Midland, MI.

Her first home was a log cabin built by her grandfather near Thornfield, MO. Her father, William Cornelius Humbyrd, was a farmer, and her mother, Ora Hargis Humbyrd, saw to the daily needs of Lennie (McIntyre), Leona (Hodges), Rosa, Ira, Sammy, and Lucille (Sanders). The family raised what they ate and sold cream to the local store. “If we wanted some tablets, they were 5 cents, and we’d get a tablet for so many eggs,” Rosa said. She carried those tablets to Thornfield School, a two-floor building, with the elementary children on the lower level, and the secondary students on the second floor.

When she was 13, her mother grew ill. Thinking that the northwest climate might be better for Ora’s health, the doctor suggested that the family move west. Rosa’s father was “always ready for an adventure,” and so he sold all the family livestock—chickens, cows, horses—and used the money to buy the Model T.

As they prepared to leave, Rosa recalled, a young woman in the community needed a place to stay with her two children. Neil Humbyrd opened the family home to the young mother. “She didn’t pay any rent,” Rosa said. “She kept the place up while we were gone.” And they were gone for two years

Traveling what we today would call the Oregon Trail, the Humbyrd family of six (Sammy was born out in Portland), made their way to Oregon via Colorado. Spending a year near Greeley, Colorado, they lived in a farmer’s bunkhouse. The farmer employed her dad, who helped to raise and irrigate the sugar beets. Though they saw lots of snow, they did not have rain like they experienced in Missouri.

In Colorado, they attended church—always, any kind. One time, while the family was at church, thieves stole the coils out of their car. The walk to the nearest garage was 15-20 miles on Colorado roads. After a year in Colorado, they moved on to Portland Oregon, where Rosa’s Uncle Jess got her father a job as a carpenter. There, they attended a Pentecostal Church and lived with her uncle. During the day, Rosa and her cousins would ride the streetcar—at no cost. They would jump on it at one end and ride all the way to the other—sometimes all day.

After her brother Sammy was born, the folks decided Oregon was not Missouri; neither of her parents wanted to stay. So they left daughter Lennie behind (she was out of high school and had a job), and they tied a little hammock to the inside frame of the model T and strapped Sammy in. And then they turned toward “home.” For 13+ days, they rolled back over the trail. Rosa has memories of sleeping out on the ground or on picnic tables, pushing the car over stubborn hills, and eating a lot of bologna.

Back in Thornfield, the family moved into the farm, and Rosa went back to Thornfield school. There, she met Leonard Haskins, a teacher in the elementary classroom. They married in 1932. Their first child, a boy named Bobbi Jean, lived only a few hours. They buried him in the Thornfield Cemetery on a cold December day. Three other children followed: Jack, Joe, and Betty.

When a change in leadership at the school forced Leonard to find other work, his cousins convinced him to move to Midland, Michigan, where a factory (Dow Chemical) was hiring. Soon Rosa and the children joined him, and they bought a farm, acquired a few horses, and settled into the humid summers and the snowy winters.

Occasionally, the family would return to Missouri for a visit. Sometimes, when Leonard had to work, Rosa and the children traveled by train through Chicago and down to Crossroads, MO. Once, during the war, she recalls traveling back to Michigan and boarding a troop train in Chicago. Surrounded by WWII soldiers on their way home or overseas, she was surprised when they insisted that a mother and her children take their seats while they settled down on the floor.

A woman ahead of her time, Rosa, early on, took a job outside of the home. For more than 40 years, she worked in the printing business, while managing a farm and family. Her brother Sammy and his family also lived in Michigan by this time, and she was faithful to keep up with their lives and to deliver large boxes of chocolates on Christmas Eve.

Several years after Leonard died of cancer, Rosa married again. Her second husband, Cecil Carvella, also loved horses and farms, and their life together was active as they traveled with friends and visited relatives in the South and in Pennsylvania. When Cecil died suddenly, Rosa continued to live on her own until she was 95. “While I can still make the decision myself,” she announced, “I am going to sell my house and find a place where I can get help if I need it.”

Today she is the matriarch of five generations: three married children, 8 grandchildren, 12 great grandchil­dren, and one great-great grandson. She has continued to amaze family members with clear memories of her 100-year life and the stories that permeate those years. She is a woman deserving of notice —born and immersed in a Missouri culture that prepared her well for the events of life.