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Mary Trulucia White and Wilford Albert Alberti

Mary Trulucia White - born 28 October 1886 in Independence, Missouri - died December 30, 1940 in Independence, Missouri

Mary Trulucia White (Alberti)

My grandmother died in 1940, three years before I was born. My older brother, Dale, was only eight when she passed, but he remembered visiting his grandmother at 1410 South Main in Independence, Missouri. His most vivid memory was of the small neighborhood lake that was visible from a long bay of windows on the second floor. He also remembered a large picture of stampeding horses on the wall just inside the entrance of the home. My two older sisters (Judy and Sherry) were very young, but have memories of the horse picture, and the stairwell leading to the large open room upstairs.

My mother would take Dale, Judy and Sherry with her while she attended to her mother, Mary Trulucia, who was dying from breast cancer. I found in “the box” of memorabilia a beautiful tribute to Mary Trulucia written by my mother titled “Grandma loved Christmas.”

Quoting directly from my mother’s tribute:

“The cancer did slow her down. At first she could sit in a chair. Little Sherry would sit at her feet and hand her what-ever she needed – her cane, her pocketbook, etc. Mama tried carrot juice and grape juice, and asked the doctor if they would help. He said to her, “You haven’t one chance in a hundred. Just do what you want.” Mama smiled. She didn’t lose color. Afterward, she told me that she wasn’t afraid to die.” If you’ve ever wondered where my mother got her inner strength to face adversity, look no further than her mother, Mary Trulucia.

Home on Doutts Lake

Quoting again from the tribute:

“Soon she had to go to bed. She decided she wanted to be upstairs. It was a large room—a stairwell in the middle, with three alcoves and fourteen windows facing the lake.”

During the last Christmas season in 1940, just weeks before Mary’s death, my mother read to her each evening the postings of a serial Christmas story that was being printed in the Kansas City Star.

During Mary Trulucia’s last Christmas, each of the three alcoves had a decorated Christmas tree, set where Mary could see it. A handmade Christmas wreath was hung in each of the many windows in view from Mary’s bed, and Christmas bells were hung from the top of the mirror on Mary’s dresser. Mary had her son-in-law, my father, making doll houses from orange crates for the children. They were complete with furniture.

Mary even had her husband, Wilford, busy. He found a wooden chest and painted it black, then put brass hinges on it. He also made an insert for it.

I don’t know what medical steps were taken to relieve her suffering in those final days, but I’ve witnessed the death of loved ones in a sterile hospital setting. I can’t imagine any stronger argument for dying at home than this depiction of my grandmother’s last Christmas.

Mary Trulucia grew up with five brothers and one sister in Independence, Missouri at 606 North Delaware. Her father—who, for some reason, regardless of relationship, was addressed as Grandpa White—was a city councilman and well-known citizen in Independence. With his income and stock dividends from the growing Badger Lumber Company, he was able to afford a large house in an affluent Independence neighborhood.

When young Harry S. Truman was eleven, his father moved his family into the same neighborhood where Mary Trulucia and her family lived. The Truman home was at 909 West Waldo Avenue, about a block and a half away from the White’s house at 606 North Delaware. Mary Trulucia was two years younger than Harry when he became a neighbor. With all the children in the White home, there was probably a well worn path between Mary’s home and the Truman home, and the barn behind it.

Looking at a website outlining periods of Harry S. Truman’s life I found this:

“The barn became the gathering place for the neighborhood children. The new neighborhood was home to a plethora of children who were Harry’s age, as opposed to his younger brothers. Harry proceeded to make countless friends and turned his house into the unofficial hub for all the adolescent children. In his own words, Harry now had a gang.”

I’m sure I could find more on the White-Truman connection if I were to visit the Truman Library, which for some reason I have not. It must be that I never really forgave Harry for dropping atomic bombs on civilians.

The White and Truman children attended the same schools and attended the same Trinity Episcopal Church, all walking distance from their homes. Fast forwarding in time, the church later became the place that the future president married Bess, and where my mother taught Sunday school as a teenager. One of the children in her class was Margaret Truman.

After Harry married Bess Wallace, they bought a home at 219 North Delaware, on the same street where Mary’s family lived at 606 North Delaware. Today, the Truman home is an important historical site. After Mary’s father died in 1902, her mother, Sarah White (Robertson), continued to live in the home on Delaware for 38 more years.

It’s a little hard to picture what Independence was like when Mary was born in 1886. Independence was still rural and families raised food in small backyard gardens and many kept chickens and dairy cows. Few of the roads were paved, and most homes were heated with wood or coal. There may have been a few gas lit streetlamps, but illumination inside most homes was provided primarily by candles and oil lamps.

In 1887, the year after Mary’s birth, a consortium of Independence businessmen formed a private company in order to sell electrical power to homeowners. One of those businessmen was Alson Alexander White, Mary’s father who, in time, became the President of the Board. They located a Thomas-Houston arc light generator in an old mill near the Liberty Street Depot. Crews using horse drawn wagons installed poles, and strung electrical lines.

Five years later, and just four months before he fell down the basement steps in his home and died, Alson wrote a letter to one of his five sons. I can find only the second page in “the box,” so I don’t know which son it’s addressed to. Here is an excerpt from the letter.

“We are having more or less trouble with our electric light plant. We have installed some 75 street arc lights in the City.” The letter suggests that Alson is still optimistic and prepared to move forward but in reality the company had more trouble rather than less.

Privately held, the company faced a continual struggle to meet the overwhelming capital investment needed to electrify Independence. Sales never matched projections, and a fire in 1901 completely destroyed the uninsured electric light plant. The city of Independence bought what was left of the private company and made it a public utility.

Alson lost money on this venture, but he was well fixed financially with all his lumber company stock. When he died, he left his wife Sarah plenty to live on for the rest of her life. She lived for nearly four more decades and purchased one of the first electric cars in the city.

Despite the comparative wealth the family enjoyed, Mary’s childhood may not have been all that idyllic. Mary had a close attachment to her father, but he was often away on business. Mary and her mother were never close. Sarah favored her sons. When Alson sent gifts to the children, Sarah would appropriate to herself gifts that were intended for the girls.

At some point, after her father died, Mary took up with Wilford Alberti. I don’t know if they met at school, on the trolley, or possibly at the soda fountain at the Clinton Drugstore in Independence. Sarah did not approve of Wilford, and that may have encouraged, rather than discouraged, Mary to run away and elope with Wilford.

Mary, age 20 and Wilford, age 21 were married by a Justice of the Peace on April 2nd, 1906 in Jackson County, MO.

My mother’s notes say that “Sarah never forgave Mary for running away.” Sarah considered Wilford a foreigner, a lazy Italian, with no prospects. It didn’t help that he was unemployed.

One of Mary’s brothers, Alson Alexander Jr. (Allie) was working at a primitive lumber camp in Snohomish County in Washington State. It was associated with the Badger Lumber Company, in which their now-deceased father had been a major stockholder. A job was there to be had for Wilford, if he could make his way to Washington. Albert Anatole Alberti, who had a good retirement income, bought a train ticket for his son, Wilford, so he could join Alson Jr. at the lumber camp.

Sarah, to her credit, didn’t think that Mary should be separated from Wilford, so she bought Mary a train ticket so she could travel with him to Washington. My mother’s notes say that Sarah had begun to accept Wilford at this point.

I don’t know if Mary was pregnant when she boarded the train or if she got pregnant after she got to the lumber camp at Three Lakes, Washington. Given Wilford’s inexperience in logging, and Mary’s inexperience in living in substandard housing, it turned out to be a bad decision.

Evidently, the logging camp at Three Lakes was very primitive and bears would come into the camp and get into the food. Bed bugs were prevalent, so the conditions at the camp must have been abysmal for Mary. Heavily shaded by the dense forest of Giant Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar, there was no grass beneath the canopy, only ferns. Hanging moss further obstructed light shining through the canopy.

When Mary went into labor, she probably went into the town of Snohomish, a small nearby town on the banks of the Snohomish River. The logging camp may have been primitive, but the little city of Snohomish was booming. The town had a two story courthouse, a good school building, six saloons, and one church with a bell. A new sawmill in town was producing 20,000 feet of lumber each day. Steamships were active on the river, bringing loggers and supplies to the lumber camps. Transportation was better than you’d expect. Streetcars and horse drawn wagons waited along the main dirt road, ready to move people around. Interurban trolley cars ran on steel tracks, connecting the city of Snohomish to Everett on the Puget Sound, and as far north as Seattle.

I’m assuming that there was somewhere, or at least someone, in Snohomish who could aid in the delivery of a child. After Mary returned to the logging camp with her newborn daughter, Charlotte, she got homesick. Not homesick for her mother, but for the comforts of home. It’s not surprising, given the bedbugs and bears. Her breast milk upset the newborn Charlotte, and Mary and Wilford boarded a train back to Independence when Charlotte was only six weeks old. Charlotte was born on the tenth of October, so six weeks later would have them leaving Washington in early December. The return home was probably inevitable, given that Wilford didn’t seem all that keen for hard physical work, and the winter conditions for Charlotte and Mary would have been unbearable.

Wilford A. Alberti – born 4 October 1884 in Independence, Mo. died 29 January 1971 in Pomona, Los Angeles, California

When it comes to my grandfather, Wilford, it is hard to get a sense of him. I only remember him coming by the house once when I was young. “The box” reveals a few traits that reflect poorly on his character.

Here are some of my mother’s written comments about Wilford. “Wilford had dark curly hair – Br. eyes. He was very dependent and expected to be waited on – When Mary had morning sickness and was too sick to go downstairs and fix breakfast – He said he would help. He helped her downstairs so she could fix breakfast.” This may be a clue as to why my mother never said much about her father to any of her children.

On the same page, she writes that when Mary was sick with her monthly cycle, “he would suffer from cramps and etc. – and be sicker than she was.” I’m not sure what the etc. means. The internet reveals that one study showed that some men experience conditions associated with the female menstrual cycle, including tiredness, cramps, and increased sensitivity. I’m sure he had many redeeming qualities, but there is not much evidence in “the box.”

There is an amusing anecdote that my mother remembers about her dating days with my father, Leonard: “Wilford was impolite and sometimes teased if Leonard stayed too late – He would stomp upstairs and take off his shoe and throw it down, then another – and then he started over – Leonard said – Um – he sure has a lot of shoes.”

Wilford and Mary Trulucia, with their children, Charlotte and Albert. Circa 1910.

I have a lengthy prayer written by Wilford near the time of his death in 1971. It starts, “I pray for myself; I pray that you will forgive me my sins, my lies, and my petty stealings. Help me do thy will each day.” The prayer continues for eight more pages and includes every relative, every acquaintance, and even the doctors that performed successful cataract surgery on him. The prayer is heartfelt and sincere. I’m sure the Lord forgave him, but I’m not so sure about Mary, or my mother.

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