This is what I know about my maternal grandmother — nearly nothing.
Elizabeth died young – 2 months past her 26th birthday –likely from deep vein thrombosis, as she she had been in the hospital lying in bed for 8 days after delivering a stillborn baby girl in Tracy, California, in August 1940.
My mother was only 4 at the time, and her only real memory of her mother was the day she came home from the hospital. Her memories, as she’s told them to me, are like snapshots: My grandmother was helping my mother wash up for bed when she slumped over; the next thing my mother remembers is her own grandmother, Hazel, yelling to her, “Go get your father!” And, finally, she remembers her father bringing her into the bedroom, where Elizabeth’s body was laid out on the bed, and was told to kiss her mother good-bye. She didn’t want to – her mother was so still, with her skin growing cool. It was scary.
And in the years afterward, no one talked about it. No one. Not her dad. Not her grandmother Hazel, who buried her only daughter. Not her granddad Charlie. Not her uncle Bill, or uncle Sonny, who survived their sister. That’s life, we can’t change the past, let’s move on. You didn’t know her, how can you mourn?
The mystery of my grandmother’s existence – what was she like? Who were her people? — was what drove me to genealogy.
Elizabeth May Holst was the middle child and only daughter of Charles and Hazel (Englehart) Holst, born on 25 June 1914, in Healdsburg, Sonoma, California. Her brother Charles Junior (aka “Sonny”) was 5 years older, and her brother William (“Bill”) was 9 years younger. There was a fourth child – a girl – stillborn in 1928.
Elizabeth’s parents referred to her as “Honey”; in her later years, her brothers-in-law would call her “Betty”. (“Betty” is how I think of her, too, since I knew my grandfather’s brothers, and never knew her as a grandmother.)
Betty attended Healdsburg High, graduating in 1932. I know she took Home Economics, as my mom has a bound set of handwritten notes and recipes Betty wrote down from class.
She may have taken music classes; in the above photo, taken in November 1930, she is playing the mandolin (third from right).
This is Betty’s mandolin, currently in my mom’s possession, on a rocking chair which belonged to Betty, and resting on a quilt Betty made.
She may have acted in school plays; she did so in grammar school.
Here is Elizabeth at 17, her senior picture:
And this is her high school graduation day. She is at the ranch off Dry Creek Road, near Healdsburg.
It was in high school that Betty met James Diamantini, a first-generation American, whose parents were Italian Catholic immigrants from the Marche province of Italy.
They got married on 22 November 1934 in Healdsburg. Elizabeth converted to Roman Catholicism prior to their marriage, and took the confirmation name of Catherine. The strong Protestant heritage of my grandmother was something new I learned in my research and may explain why my great-grandmother did not attend her daughter’s wedding.
After the wedding, my grandparents moved down to Tracy, California, in San Joaquin County, where they ran a gas station.
It was in Tracy where my mother was born about 16 months after my grandparents were married.
My grandmother got pregnant a second time in 1940; unfortunately, the baby girl was stillborn in August 1940 in Tracy. Sadly, my grandmother passed away a week after the stillbirth, the day she came home from the hospital. She was only 26 years old; my mother was just 4.
Elizabeth is buried in Oak Mound Cemetery, in Healdsburg.