John and Mae Congleton Taeuffer started their married life on March 2, 1902. They set up housekeeping on the Magnolia Drive ranch located south of Healdsburg where John had grown up and where his father, Ernest Taeuffer, still farmed. The couple’s first child was a son, born November 11, 1902. They named him Ernest Louis Taeuffer, after both his grandfather and his late uncle.
When Ernest was just seven months old, his grandmother, Agnes Call Congleton Wilson, gave birth to his aunt, Helen Wilson. A year later, in 1904, his sister, Dorothy Agnes Taeuffer was born. And a year after that, in 1905, his Aunt Birdie Hoar Congleton, gave birth to his cousin, Claude Congleton. These four children who were a mixture of siblings, cousins, and an aunt would spend much of their formative years together as a group.
In the early 20th Century, the first eight years of education were lumped together under an umbrella called Grammar School. Children were grouped according to their progress rather than strictly by age. In 1911, Ernest, Dorothy, and Helen, despite having an age range from 7 to 9 years old, were all in the same “High First Grade” class at Healdsburg Grammar School. As the years went by, Ernest and Helen pulled ahead of Dorothy, as would be expected due to their being older. Claude followed along just a grade or two behind his older cousins. In 1817, at fourteen, Ernest would graduate from Grammar School and head for High School.
Birthday parties for the little ones was a popular pastime in the early 1910s. In June of 1912 the group of four attended not one, but two fancy parties with ice cream, cake, and “dainty little favors” or “souvenirs” to commemorate first Dorothy Taeuffer’s eighth birthday on Magnolia Drive and two weeks later Helen Wilson’s ninth birthday on Bailhache Avenue. Ernest attended a similar birthday party in February 1913 honoring one of this classmates, Miss Leota Van Devere in Dry Creek.
But birthdays were not the only excuse for a party. The extended family and neighbors took pretty much every opportunity to have a gathering. The party may have been for a special occasion, such as John and Mae Taeuffer’s tenth wedding anniversary in 1912 or simply a gathering to play progressive whist (a card game similar to bridge). And the little ones were always included. Many evenings spent playing progressive whist at the Taeuffer’s, the Wilson’s, and various neighbors of both families were reported in the local newspapers. In all cases, the evening would last until refreshments were served around the midnight hour. For the most part these events took place on Saturday nights. But not on school nights.
THE WORLD CHANGES
In 1917 a new type of story began receiving high visibility in the local newspapers – the bond drives organized to finance the United States entry into the Great War. Both Ernest L. and his sister Dorothy were listed as bond subscribers for the four drives held in June 1917, October 1917, April 1918, and October 1918. These official U.S. “Liberty Loan” bond drives were augmented by the YMCA Drive in December 1917 and the United War Work Campaign in November 1918. Ernest Taeuffer’s donations to both of these drives conducted at Healdsburg High School were also documented in the local press.
HEALDSBURG HIGH SCHOOL
Attending High School in Healdsburg in 1918 was an exciting adventure. In September the Healdsburg Tribune, Enterprise and Scimitar reported that the entire faculty was engaged in registering pupils to begin school in the newly constructed high school on Grant Street which would open on September 30th. They reported that “as the floors of the new high school building were hardly ready for the tread of many feet, the work of enrollment was performed at the old building on Fitch street.” The total enrollment would be 172; 4 Specials, 25 Seniors, 32 Juniors, 45 Sophomores (including Ernest), and 66 Freshmen.
High School provided the opportunity for Ernest to participate in several extracurricular activities. As a Junior in 1919, he played in the newly formed band led by Professor Numberger. The band entertained their fellow students at lunchtime, playing music at noon, however, as Principal Morehead announced at the February assembly, “NO dancing would be allowed as the health authorities will not allow it.” It was, after all, the time of the influenza pandemic.
That same year right fielder Ernest Taeuffer was unanimously elected captain of the baseball team. That baseball team, however, only won one out of the four games played. They did, however, beat the prior year’s record, when the local team lost every game. They could be forgiven, of course, since in 1918 there had not even been a diamond at the new high school for them to practice on!
But Ernest did not allow his extracurricular activities to deter him from his studies. In December 1917 he was listed in the Honor Roll category “None below C” and in February 1918 in the category “One below B.” In March 1919 they dispensed with the categories and he was simply listed as having made the Honor Roll as a Sophomore. His scholastic efforts were rewarded when he was able to complete his High School education in just three years to graduate with the Class of 1920.
In the 1920 Ye Sotoyome Yearbook, Ernest’s Class Horoscope indicated that his nickname was “Earney,” his favorite expression “Yep!” his hobby “Selling stocks,” his ambition “Broker,” and his destiny “Lawyer.” He was once again captain of the baseball team, still paying right field. The team did not have a good winning record, but they did have “a swell new outfit of suits.” The yearbook also made note that “Influenza visited our town this year and gave us several weeks vacation not saying how much hard work we had to make up. We can consider ourselves lucky that we did not have to wear those horrid masks this year.”
Ernest graduated Healdsburg High School in June 1920 with 33 other scholars, one of the largest graduating classes in the history of the school. The ceremony was held in the auditorium and was celebrated with a program including musical numbers and an address by Professor C.E. Rough of the University of California. A reception for the graduates along with their parents and friends followed the program.
After high school, Ernest spent his time working with his father and grandfather on the Magnolia Drive ranch. But farm work was not enough to keep him completely out of mischief. In March 1923 Game Warden Henry Lencioni arrested him for illegally fishing for steelhead trout out of season on Dry Creek. The fine imposed by the justice court in Santa Rosa was $25. A pretty high price for some admittedly delicious trout.
LOVE ENTERS THE PICTURE
In 1921, Bird and Virgie Garrett relocated from Ukiah to upper Dry Creek with their four sons and four daughters. Their eldest daughter, pretty and vivacious seventeen year old Mae Garrett immediately caught Ernest Taeuffer’s eye. In August 1922 Ernest and his sister Dorothy attended a “forfeit” party thrown by Mae Garrett and in that same month all attended a birthday party for one of Mae’s Dry Creek neighbors. Still in August, Mae joined Ernest and Dorothy, their little brother Norman, parents John and Mae Taeuffer, and Dorothy’s sweetheart George Harris on a hunting trip. The two families became close very quickly with the three Taeuffer siblings visiting the Garretts’ home in Dry Creek and two of Mae’s brothers, Walter and Harry, even spending the summer on the Taeuffer ranch.
Meanwhile, a tall, lanky stranger who had come to town to work on the bridge construction turned out to be too charming for Dorothy Taeuffer to resist, so after completing just two years of high school, she married George Harris in October 1922. Ernest Taeuffer and Mae Garrett served as their best man and bridesmaid. Everyone assumed they would be the next couple to be joined in holy matrimony.
The parties continued into 1923 when, in April, the Taeuffer, Harris, and Garrett families all attended a multi-generational masquerade party in Dry Creek. Two months later Mae Garrett graduated from Healdsburg High School. That November, Ernest celebrated his 21st birthday. He received a handsome pocket watch to mark his having reached adulthood.
Tragedy struck a month before Ernest’s 22nd birthday. In September 1924, Ernest’s fifteen month old nephew Bobby Harris was suffering with a bout of the dreaded poliomyelitis virus. Bobby would survive his illness with only one unusually small foot to show for it. In children, paralysis would occur for only about one out of every thousand afflicted. The rate in adults, on the other hand, was one in seventy-five. The virus lives in the throat and intestines and is spread through waste, or sneezes and coughs. The contagious period lasts about 7 to 10 days from onset and the incubation period is anywhere from one to three weeks. Family members could act as unwitting carriers. Caring for an infant with the virus was a hazardous undertaking, indeed.
It was not long before Ernest fell ill with what initially seemed like a bout of the flu which, in those times, was not a trivial ailment in itself. The October 7 edition of the Healdsburg Tribune reported that Ernest was at home suffering from an attack of influenza. Two days later the Tribune reported that he was in critical condition.
Quickly, the diagnosis would take a more serious turn. Like his tiny nephew, Ernest had contracted polio, specifically bulbar polio which attacks the medulla oblongata (brain stem). Within three days of onset patients will exhibit difficulty swallowing, speaking and breathing. This was the case with Ernest and it was only a few days before he became paralyzed. Just before dawn on October 10th, Ernest Taeuffer perished.
There was an outpouring of grief from the town. The October 10 Tribune reported “Just attaining to man’s estate, Ernest Taeuffer counted among his scores of friends not only those of this own age, but his elders as well. He was a carefree young man of amiable disposition, with a smiling greeting for all that had made him widely loved in the community where he made his home.”
The funeral service was held from the Fred Young parlors with Rev. D.J. Donnan officiating. It was “attended by scores of relatives and close friends of the deceased and his family, and a great offering of flowers was made it tribute to the memory of the youth.” Ernest was laid to rest in Healdsburg’s Oak Mound Cemetery.
As the October 16 Healdsburg Enterprise stated “Ernest Taeuffer… was called by the Angel of Death Friday morning, after an illness of but a few days. Apparently in the best of health, the young man was suddenly stricken with infantile paralysis and all that medical science could do was of no avail.” Indeed, even in the 21st Century there is no cure for polio. The treatment is still just bed rest, pain relievers, portable ventilators, and a nutritious diet. It would be 31 years after Ernest’s death before the first polio vaccine would become available and mothers could cease their annual worry.
Ernest’s death may have prevented Mae Garrett from becoming an official Taeuffer, but she would be known within the family as “Aunt Mae” for the rest of her life. In 1926 she served as Helen Wilson Frey’s maid of honor at her marriage to Redding Peterson. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s she would attend many of the celebrations and parties held on Magnolia Drive, and even traveled on vacations with the Taeuffer family.
After high school, Mae had started working as secretary for Principal Morehead of the Healdsburg High School. In 1927, he took a job as Vice Principal at the larger high school in Monterey, California. When he was promoted to Principal two years later, Mae moved to Monterey to take a position as secretary and stenographer for her former boss.
Mae continued in that role for many years. But she did not forget her “family” in Healdsburg. In December 1944 Mae brought San Franciscan Don McKillop to Healdsburg for a visit with Dorothy Taeuffer Harris. The couple would soon be married. They adopted a son, Ronald, in the late 1940s and relocated to Diamond Springs, California where Don started a roofing business. Years later they returned to Monterey. The visits to and from Healdsburg continued until 1973 when Mae Garrett McKillop passed away due to complications of a life-long heart condition at 68 years of age.