Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Car Wreck and A Will

"As for a man, his days are like grass, 
he flourished like a flower of the field; 
the wind blows over it and it is gone, 
and its place remembers it no more." 
--Psalm 103:15

The car wreck that killed Grandma Mary’s Uncle George and Aunt Willie Wagner happened on a Saturday when they were on their way home from the grocery. It was April 1, 1939. Their car collided with another vehicle at an intersection. I’m not sure which car was at fault (still can’t find the article, but I’ll do my best to recall what I read a couple of years ago), but Willie was thrown from the car and killed instantly. A few days later, George died from his injuries.

On a warm day in May just one month after they died, George and Willie’s personal property was sold at auction. Can you picture the rolling Missouri hills, the first leaves of spring turning the countryside a clean, new green? The fresh morning air fills your lungs. Dew is still wet on the grass. Standing in the yard of the Wagner home you watch neighbors and friends meandering among tables laden with jars of home canned goods, pots, pans, dishes, empty canning jars, a skillet, books, pictures, baskets of miscellaneous. The grass is lined with rows of larger items: a plow, a rake, a hoe, a scythe, hay forks, an ice hook, barrels, baskets of soap, buckets, a churn, a quilt frame, a ladder, shovels, and more. Looking at the list of personal property is like peering into the barn or into the kitchen or into the cellar where all the canned goods were stored. Can you imagine buying jars of tomato preserves or peaches or apples or meat? The auctioneer's chant echoes across the hills. A couple's lifetime accumulation of worldly goods is carted off to the highest bidders like poofs of dandelion seeds scattered to the winds. 

One of our family stories was that Grandma Mary, being George’s niece, received $500.00 from his estate. Of course, I wanted evidence. That seemed like a lot of money. I wondered if other nieces and nephews received as much. My sister Verna lives near Liberty, Missouri, so recently, I asked her to go to the Clay County Court House to get me a copy of George’s will, which she did. Thank you, Verna!

In his will, George had left everything to Willie, but she was gone. His only child was long ago deceased, as well. Consequently, his estate, which was rather sizeable, went to his siblings and half-siblings, and in the case of deceased siblings, to their children.

George had written and signed his will on 9 July 1921 leaving everything to Willie. A man 24 years older than his wife doesn’t expect her to die first. He added a codicil on 8 October 1927 leaving $200.00 in trust to the Board of Deacons of the Mount Olivet Christian Church for the care of the cemetery located near the church.[1] George and Willie were buried in that cemetery. Find A Grave memorial.

Photo courtesy of Find A Grave contributor, Rob Beun.

Photo courtesy of Find A Grave contributor, Deb.
Photo courtesy of Find A Grave contributor, Rob Beun.
Since George’s brother/Grandma Mary’s father Eli was deceased, Mary did, indeed, inherit $500.00, as did each of her siblings, plus Gordon’s son James, since Gordon was also deceased—that is, if I understand the will correctly. The children of George’s other deceased siblings, Elias, Missouri Alice, and Amanda V. received an inheritance, as well. There were 26 heirs, all told, and although the amounts and language of the will are a bit confusing, at least the nephews and nieces named below seem to have received $500.00. Readers, please correct me if I have interpreted this page of the will incorrectly.

A page from George W. Wagner's will.

© 2014, Z. T. Noble.

[1] Clay County, Missouri, Probate Record Book M: 457, George W. Wagner; Office of Probate Department, Liberty.

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