Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Pursells (plus an apology)

Olive and Dates near the end of their lives.
Olive and Dates, early in their marriage.

Before I begin the blog proper, I wish to apologize for the long dry spell. Getting older can cause a series of small health problems that are very time- and energy-consuming.  Nothing of great significance happened, but I lost about 2 years to a series of illnesses. I am hoping that with this post I will be able to get back on track.

Aunt Olive and Uncle Dates

There is an old saying that “it takes a village to raise a child.” I think I disagree about the village, but I believe it takes a certain “core family” to do that job. As I look back on my childhood I find five people besides my parents who made up this core: my Aunt Olive and her husband Uncle Dates, courtesy “Uncle” Rae and his sister “Aunt” Stella, and my mother’s other sister Aunt Rose. These five people have always been a part of my life; they taught me, comforted me, and widened my view point. None of them argued with my parents or countermanded their rules for my sister and for me, but they all offered other ways to view the world, while staying in support of my parents.

Today I am concentrating on Aunt Olive and Uncle Dates.

Anna Dorrance, daughter of James Henry Dorrance (1856 – 1939) and Anna Pait (1858 – 1926) was born 19 August 1884 in Rock Township, Jefferson County, Missouri.1 She married her second husband John Logan Pursell at sometime before 1925 (when my parents were married). Uncle Dates was born 14 Jun 1885 in Kinmundy, Marion County, Illinois. I know that this was a second marriage because she once mentioned a prior marriage, and that she had divorced that husband when he was unfaithful.

Aunt Olive once mentioned that she had lost the only child they had conceived. I have no further information about this child.

They led interesting and productive lives that I will describe in other posts. The stories of how “John Logan” became “John Dates” and “Anna” became “Olive Ann” will also wait for another time.

Aunt Olive was nearly 79 when she died on 9 June 1963. Uncle Dates was just 78 when died just before 1 July 1963. They are buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Kinmundy, Marion County, Illinois.2

What kind of people were Aunt Olive and Uncle Dates?

This is what I hope to be able to convey to you in this blog. Both of them were warm, supportive people. Both of them were perpetual learners.

Uncle Dates must have had a temper, because everyone does, but I don’t remember a single time that I saw it. Obviously, he kept his temper under control. That can sound cold or calm. But I remember him as warm, funny, even charming (but that sounds somewhat calculated and I’m sure he wasn’t a calculating person). I remember the Christmas that my sister got her first large doll, who was promptly name for Rae’s favorite playmates. When Aunt Olive and Uncle Dates arrived for the family gathering, she rushed to him and said, “I-have-a-new-doll-and-her-name-is-NancyJanetLee!” “Ah,” Uncle Dates replied, “Gently, Gently.” The doll has been called “Gently” every since.

Aunt Olive had a quick irritation, readily expressed that soon blew away. You knew she was annoyed, you knew what annoyed her, but you knew she wouldn’t hold it over you head for ever. You went to Aunt Olive with your worries and you asked her advice. Aunt Olive was the middle of the three Dorrance sisters; seven years older than my mother. She often worried about this age difference; I remember from a very young age that during a down-town shopping trip she snapped at my mother, “Did you tell those people that I was Sue’s grandmother?” Mother ‘s response was bewildered; this affront was all in Olive’s mind. I also remember from later years a day when she taught a city employee that her job was to serve the public which payed her rather than to put that public “in their place.” She did this with three short sentences, than thanked the employee for her help and walked away.

I don’t know much of Uncle Dates’ background, but I do know that he was largely self-taught. And he was well-informed on many topics. Aunt Olive failed to finish high school (the only one of the Dorrance girls who didn’t go on to post high school studies). She attended lectures about new books, about cooking, about fashion and sewing skills. She became a good business person who managed rental properties and who became the treasurer of the “Harmony Club.” (I believe this was a political support group.)

Have I shown Aunt Olive as being a very practical person. Indeed, she was practical. Many of my practical and organizational skills I learned in equal amounts from Aunt Olive and from my mother. It makes me think that they in turn learned these skills from their mother (my grandmother) and from her mother.  But Aunt Olive also had a superstitious streak, which felt odd, given her generally practical outlook.  I can’t give examples here, because I tended to disbelieve this as I was growing up. I met this aspect of her personality with an “you don’t really believe this” attitude. But looking back, I see that she did believe these things also. While she showed us that side of her personality, she didn’t impose it upon us.

Uncle Dates has a great sense of humor and an appreciation for all the good old jokes. It was Uncle Dates who introduced us to “What’s black and white and red (read) all over? / The Newspaper”  and the nursery rhymes about Timothy Tatamous and Railroad Crossing.

Uncle Dates liked music. He collected many early recordings of popular music, which he stored in a rented garage for a time, before he passed them on to my parents after they were married. The garage storage somewhat affected the quality of the recordings, but these records (along with my father’s collection of opera recordings on Victor Red-Seal records) were the records I grew up with. His record collection included many of the great comic recordings from early artists like Billy Murray.

He played the piano by ear, and did it very well. My father was a semi-professional singer. In retrospect, I believe that Uncle Dates respected my father’s talent and felt he didn’t measure up to his knowledge. For whatever reason, it was hard for my sister and me to get him to the piano, but it was always a treat when we managed to do so.

Recently I was exploring the “Jukebox” at the Library of  Congress. I came across this recording of a song that we could sometimes get Uncle Dates to play and sing for us

Uncle Dates sounded much better.

1: Permanent Record of Birth (abstract) for Anna Dorrance, Missouri State Archives,, accessed 7 Dec 2009.

2: Find-a-Grave,  AND, accessed 8 May 2013.


  1. Lovely post, Sue.
    You really brought these people to life for those of us who never met them!
    And your Uncle Dates reminds me of my Uncle Charlie....


  2. Sue,

    I want to let you know that your blog is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

  3. Jana, thank you for this mention.