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29 February 2016 / leggypeggy

Happy 33rd-and-a-bit Birthday, Grandma

Thompson parents and siblings

The William Thompson Family

If my grandmother was still alive she’d be celebrating her 137th year, but would still be three years off celebrating her 34rd birthday.

Zula, yes that was her name, was born on 29 February 1880 in Shelby North Carolina. Now if you’re counting things up on your fingers, you’re thinking she would already have turned 34. But nope, she’d still be three years away from that milestone.

That’s because February 29 isn’t always a Leap Day and years that can be divided by 4 aren’t always a Leap Year. The exceptions are years that can’t be divided by 400. So 1900 wasn’t a Leap Year but 2000 was.

Extended Thompson family in North Carolina

Extended Thompson family in North Carolina

Zula suited her birth date. She was almost one-of-a-kind and lived according to her own rules.

To mark her birth date, I’ll share some of her escapades. I can’t verify the truth in all of them, but those who tell the stories believe them.

  • Her mother named her children after characters in books. The Thompson parents, brothers and sisters are pictured above. Front row: William and Frances, parents; middle row: Leola Eulalia, Frances Madge, Zula Elizabeth, sisters; back row: Carl Shurz, Emmet Tyre, Rush Clarence, Zolliecoffer Jenks and Chivis, brothers (last two boys on right are twins).
  • Zula attended Duke University in the late 1890s and was expelled for popping corn in a basket in a fireplace.
  • She eloped with a lumberjack, but he later ran off without her. She later married my grandfather, who was also from North Carolina. They met in Washington State.
  • Relatives say she was a great cook, but dad said he taught himself to cook at age 7 so he was sure to get a meal. Apparently she was too busy socialising (grandpa was a state senator) to worry about meals.
  • Grandpa also ran a general store and Zula sold liquor to the native Americans through her bedroom window. My folks discovered this on a visit when Zula gave them her bedroom and the Indians came knocking on the window in the middle of the night.
  • She was tireless. Until she fell down the basement stairs and broke her hip (and came to live with us) she ran horses and looked after 40 acres of strawberries.
  • When she came to live with us, she taught my sisters to cheat at cards and made clothes for all of us but never tied off the seams so sometimes we ‘unravelled’.
  • She had a glass eye. In fact she had a collection of glass eyes. Most mornings, she’d hold the box of eyes up to her face and ask which one matched best.
  • She loved whiskey, ice cream and pizza, in that order. She dyed her hair with indigo.
  • We threw a huge party to celebrate her 88th year (and 21st birthday). She made and wore red satin toreador capri pants and a red satin Ben Casey blouse. She added a red feather in her hair and wore those gold glittery shoes with fake gems on the toes. She asked for an electric guitar. My mum bought her an electric look-alike and Zula taught herself to play it on her lap. When she played it, dad said it sounded like a Japanese whorehouse.
  • She outlived all her children and died in her sleep.
House in Laurel Washington

The house where grandma fell, in Laurel Washington. The general store was to the left. I wonder if it’s still there?

So grandma, happy birthday and rest in peace.

I have to get this posted before your birthday is over.

P.S. Many thanks to my wonderful cousin, Jo Jury, for sharing these photos the last time I visited her in Seattle. Very excited that we’ll be there again in a couple of weeks. Update: Jo has added some more stories, so scroll down the comments (far down) for more antics. Thanks Jo! 🙂

P.S.S. My food blog—Cooking on page 32—was named to mark Zula’s age when that blog was started.

Thompson sisters

Leola, Madge and Zula


Leave a Comment
  1. poshbirdy / Mar 1 2016 12:01 am

    What a fascinating lady. And I had no idea that Leap Years were so complicated! Is that right?

    Liked by 4 people

  2. mopana / Mar 1 2016 12:19 am

    Beautiful memories. Your grandma was a strong woman who loved life. She also knew how to have fun.
    Beautiful B&W photos. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. thatmishmash / Mar 1 2016 12:39 am

    Wow ! A lovely post and the numbers got me all muddled in my head but a sweet post !


  4. Katie / Mar 1 2016 12:58 am

    This is wonderful!!!! Thank you for sharing this bit of family history!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 1 2016 9:45 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it. There’s more to come—eventually.


  5. philosophermouseofthehedge / Mar 1 2016 1:04 am

    Wonder if Zula was a popular name at the time – We had one in the family, too. Red certainly suited yours. Women from then were not all quiet hothouse flowers.
    Always love the old pictures along with a story. Great read
    Birthday salute to Zula!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. dfolstad58 / Mar 1 2016 1:52 am

    What a wonderful remembrance of a lady who left behind many stories to remember. Very enjoyable.


  7. apriltulip / Mar 1 2016 2:11 am

    What a spirited woman! And I just love the old photographs.
    What a great way to commemorate your grandma’s life today.

    Liked by 3 people

    • leggypeggy / Mar 1 2016 7:13 am

      Thanks so much. I couldn’t resist. Might have to do another post in four years time.


  8. sidilbradipo1 / Mar 1 2016 2:29 am

    Great woman, great life ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  9. susan@marsha'sbungalow / Mar 1 2016 2:37 am

    There’s something wonderful about strong female inspirations in a family’s past. Glad you had Zula.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Mar 1 2016 7:27 am

      We’re glad too, but I have to admit that sometimes it was a huge challenge for my mum!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Fiona / Mar 1 2016 2:43 am

    Who cares if that’s true or not? You believed that as a child and if I were in your shoes, I’d still be believing them. Wonderful stories and memories.

    On the leap day and leap year thing: my birthday is in February (not 29th), but what that means for me and January babies is that if it’s a leap, my birthday leaps the year _after_ the leap year….

    Will raise a toast to Zula this evening. Happy leap year!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 1 2016 7:33 am

      Happy leap year to you too. If Zula is able, I’m sure she’ll raise a toast in return.

      As for the truth in her stories. No one in the family has ever disputed any of these stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Sy S. / Mar 1 2016 3:01 am

    Great memories/family stories you have of Zulia your great grandmother… and a “Live Wire” so to speak… that is not a ‘couch potato’ sitting on a porch rocking chair. And I can surely see that you LeggyPeggy has her spirit of adventuresome. I also like the old photos of your family as well.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Mar 1 2016 7:36 am

      Oh my Sy, you just reminded me of another one of her escapades.
      After my grandfather (Zula was my grandmother) died, she drove from Washington State to North Carolina by herself. To give the impression she had a passenger, she put a broomstick with a hat on top in the front seat.

      P.S. There are people who say I remind them of her. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Andrew Petcher / Mar 1 2016 3:06 am

    Good story. Great woman. Do people born on 29th February celebrate their birthday on 28th February or 1st March? Or both?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. agnes / Mar 1 2016 5:10 am

    Happy birthday, Zula! She was a character. Do you know who the children are in the picture or what year it was taken? Thanks so much for sharing. I’d never seen these pictures before. BTW, Zolliecoffer has a “c”.


    • leggypeggy / Mar 1 2016 8:18 pm

      Thanks for reminding me of the spelling. I’ve corrected it now.

      The large family pic was taken in 1923 (dad was born in 1921). As for the other children in the pic, I think I have a list of everyone in the pic. I could send you both if you’re interested.


  14. spearfruit / Mar 1 2016 5:22 am

    A wonderful tribute to what sounds like a wonderful lady. Happy Birthday Zula! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Dorothy / Mar 1 2016 6:23 am

    What an interesting, talented grandma you had. Nice to salute her on her birthday.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Mar 1 2016 7:47 am

      She was talented and ornery in equal parts. 🙂


  16. Pupazzovi / Mar 1 2016 6:29 am

    molto bella questa storia

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 1 2016 7:47 am

      Thank you, and thanks for stopping by and commenting.


      • Pupazzovi / Mar 1 2016 7:51 am

        E’ un piacere…
        Anche io ho fatto delle ricerche sulla storia della mia famiglia.


      • leggypeggy / Mar 1 2016 12:52 pm

        Family histories are fascinating. I need to do more.


  17. tomorrowdefinitely / Mar 1 2016 6:38 am

    what a great name and character! I hope she didn’t sell the liquor to the native Indians in exchange for their land 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  18. mistermuse / Mar 1 2016 6:45 am

    Love this post. You should go back some time to the place where “The general store was to the left” to see if it’s still there. I’ve done that with two boyhood homes near Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and was gratified to find them both there and still pretty much as I remembered them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 1 2016 7:49 am

      I would love to do exactly that. Laurel is/was quite rural and about 4 miles from the Canadian border. Hard to know if the house or store exist and I don’t know what the address was or I could check on Google Earth.

      So fantastic that you were able to visit your boyhood homes.


  19. Curious to the Max / Mar 1 2016 6:46 am

    I am adopting your Grandma Zula as my idol and role model! I better get going because I’m several decades in arrears. I’m starting with the easiest – the whiskey, ice cream and pizza and will work my way up to selling it all out of my bedroom window.

    Whata Woman! I love her. Here’s to Zula and the DNA cruising your soul Peggy.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Mar 1 2016 7:50 am

      Don’t sell all your whiskey by mistake. 🙂

      As for the DNA, I suspect it’s surfing rather than cruising.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. chattykerry / Mar 1 2016 7:34 am

    What a gal! I can see you inherited many traits from her. Happy Birthday to her!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. melissaintransition / Mar 1 2016 7:39 am

    What great History or would that be Herstory!


  22. gerard oosterman / Mar 1 2016 8:44 am

    A great memory of Zula. We should all have a Zula to aspire to. My own mum was a bit like her, dragging husband and six kids to the other side of the world. She never sold any whisky but did call the local baker delivery man a ‘bugger’.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. wfdec / Mar 1 2016 9:08 am

    Wow! What a blog full of stories her life would make. Although it would probably be better for her to have ‘dyed’ her hair rather than to have ‘died’ it. And I just love those names, they all sound like they came out of old cowboy movies. “Hold it right there cowboy. You just leave Leola Eulalia alone. And I’m Sheriff Emmet Tyre.”
    And I had an Auntie Madge.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 1 2016 12:05 pm

      I was typing late last night, so missed that typo. All fixed now.

      I love the names too. Zolliekoffer was always my favourite—Uncle Zol.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. weezaj / Mar 1 2016 10:08 am

    Great post Peggy … and I can see where you get your spark from!!!!


    Louise Scrivener *Chinese Ducks Design* 0407 477 440

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Yvonne / Mar 1 2016 12:16 pm

    What a character! And, those names just roll off the tongue, don’t they! 🙂 My next cat might be named Eulalia.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 1 2016 12:42 pm

      The names have always tickled me. And I reckon Eulalia is a great name for a cat.

      Liked by 1 person

  26. mommermom / Mar 1 2016 3:57 pm

    What a fun post. Your grandmother sounds like quite a lady! I had a grandmother that I did not know well at all who was born on the 29th of February. There were no good stories about her- I’ll leave it at that.). What marvelous memories you have.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 1 2016 8:15 pm

      I guess it’s just as well you didn’t know her well. Pity.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mommermom / Mar 2 2016 2:05 am

        Yeah. …..but had a fabulous one on the other side so that made up for things! (But I always remember her birthday). I saw on the news that they had all kinds of special activities going on in the community for the February 29th babies and that many people ran out and got married. One couple mentioned it would be a forgivable offense if you forgot the anniversary, that you had an extra day to get it right!

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Mar 2 2016 7:07 am

        One good grandma is like winning the jackpot.

        Funny about people getting married that day and true about no excuses for forgetting. Thanks for sharing that. 🙂


  27. Rashminotes / Mar 1 2016 4:00 pm

    Nice post Peggy; your grandmother was quite a personality.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. simpletravelourway / Mar 1 2016 5:14 pm

    What a gal!

    Liked by 1 person

  29. voulaah / Mar 1 2016 5:44 pm

    I enjoy these very beautiful memories
    thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Lynz Real Cooking / Mar 1 2016 11:49 pm

    Happy birthday to her! what a unique and lovely lady! Wish I could have met her! Lovely!

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Vicki / Mar 2 2016 12:36 am

    What an interesting post. I love hearing about the more unusual aspects of our Ancestor’s lives.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 2 2016 6:57 am

      Zula certainly was one of the more unusual in my family—as far as I know.


  32. Carol Ferenc / Mar 2 2016 3:32 am

    What a fascinating woman! Could it be you’ve inherited some of her whimsy and humor, Peggy?

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Laurie / Mar 2 2016 4:31 am

    I would have been honored to meet her. What a great lady!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 2 2016 6:58 am

      and sometimes a holy terror, but always interesting.


  34. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder / Mar 2 2016 6:43 am

    An amazing lady she was! She enjoyed her life to the fullest…respect…. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  35. mjj28 / Mar 2 2016 7:12 am

    I did think of Auntie (as we called her) on 29th! Last Saturday I attended the Memorial service for the first born of all the 16 Sorensen cousins. He had turned 100 last Sept. The service was in Laural, WA. Afterward we drove past the house Auntie and Uncle Aus lived in. House is still there but the store has been gone for many years. Stunned to see the house so close to the road. They have widened the road from 2 lanes to four which took quite a bit of Austin’s front yard! I recall driving into Bellingham from Lynden ( I think it was in the early ’50’s). She was standing next to a tractor trying to get it started again so she could finish mowing the field which was across the road from the house. I stopped to chat and on my way back to Lynden awhile later she was on the tractor and finishing the mowing job! Nothing she wouldn’t tackle! The road I mentioned was called “The Guide”. It was the Guide Meridian that went straight up from Bellingham to the Canadian border at Lynden. She loved to drive! When we lived in Richland (Bill working in PR for General Electric who was managing Hanford Works at that time) I looked up from breakfast table one morning and Auntie was getting out of her big car all dressed up in a beautiful suit (she had made). She had spent the night in Pasco motel and wanted to pay a visit before heading on to Laurel after a visit on East coast! I could go on. Very excited to see Peggy and John again. Fond regards to all! Jo

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 2 2016 7:31 am

      Oh Jo, it is so wonderful to have you comment. You said it all when you wrote ‘nothing she wouldn’t tackle’. I can’t wait to see you and hear more stories about our extended family. I promise to share them far and wide. This post has prompted my sisters to ask more about the family, and given that I’m the oldest, I’d better get cracking. See you soon. Lots of love from Australia


      • Jane / Mar 5 2016 11:36 am

        Remember, the night of her 21st birthday party her hat, or I should say feather caught on fire from a candle. She promptly took it off beat the flames out on the dinning room table, the party continued as if nothing had happened. And I always heard that she had an overcoat in the passengers seat as well when she traveled across country alone to tell the service station attendant that her husband was in the men’s room. Mom did a great service to us all when she kept her at home with us after Dad died. She was one of a kind!


      • leggypeggy / Mar 5 2016 11:49 am

        Ah yes, I remember the feather on fire and the overcoat. She was a cagey one, and definitely one of a kind.


  36. fiftywordsdaily / Mar 2 2016 7:42 am

    Another splendid post. Love the photographs as well. I was hoping our son would be born on 29th February – could have saved me loads of money. But he was born on 2nd March instead. Tomorrow! Ah well…..

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 2 2016 11:45 am

      We can’t engineer everything. Tell him Happy Birthday for tomorrow which, by the way, is already here in Australia. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • fiftywordsdaily / Mar 2 2016 8:11 pm

        You’re messing with my brain! Thanks – will do….

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Mar 2 2016 8:36 pm

        Hope you get over it. 🙂


  37. vagabondurges / Mar 2 2016 12:01 pm

    For the first time, I am doubting my determination not to have kids of my own. Not so that they’ll tell these tales of me someday, no, but just so I could name the thing “Zolliecoffer.”

    Liked by 1 person

  38. Minh Minh / Mar 2 2016 3:23 pm

    My granny passed away before I was born so I have no chance to spend time with her. Love to hear words from people talking about their granny 🙂


    • leggypeggy / Mar 2 2016 6:14 pm

      So sorry you missed out on knowing your grandmother. I hope you’ve had other women in your life who have been like a granny or an auntie.

      Liked by 1 person

  39. Jane / Mar 2 2016 11:56 pm

    Wow, loved reading about your amazing grandma! It sounds like you could write a whole book about her. What an interesting and strong woman. My remaining grandparent turned 100 in February. I didn’t really get to spend much time with her in my life due to family circumstances, but when she was younger I remember her being quite a strong woman despite her tiny size. She was really the driving force behind my grandparents moving around so often due to her gypsy/travel bug nature. I suspect I inherited the desire for adventure from her. I often wish i knew more about what she was like in her younger days. I think it’s great that you have so many stories, memories and also pictures of your own grandma. Thanks for sharing them!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 3 2016 8:26 am

      My pleasure, Jane. Your grandmother sounds like a livewire too. It’s a pity that so many of us don’t have the chance to know our ancestors well. It might explain a lot of our own behaviours. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  40. derrickjknight / Mar 3 2016 6:53 pm

    I have enjoyed your comments on others’ posts for a while. On the strength of this one I am now following you. It is fascinating and fun, and I didn’t know those leap year facts

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 3 2016 7:28 pm

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for the follow. I’ve noticed your comments, too, and am now following your ramblings.

      I think leap year facts come up when there’s a ‘holder’ in the family. Zula is ours. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  41. Alexander Lautsyus / Mar 9 2016 2:10 am

    Your grandmother is the first person born on February 29 who I know from your post. Recently I had a conversation on that subject and was curious to know how these kind of people manage the situation. Your post is a wonderful story about that kind of person. Your grandmother were extraordinary woman. Perhaps because of date of birth. Thank you for sharing. And the pictures are awesome. Somebody takes care of them pretty good and saved in so excellent quality.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 13 2016 6:12 pm

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for your comment. My cousin, Jo, who has these pictures, has taken wonderful care of them. I’ll be seeing her next week and will let her know you are impressed. I am too. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  42. Elouise / Mar 9 2016 8:39 am

    Great photos, names and stories! Wow. I’m still reeling. And wishing (in my heart of hearts) that I’d had such a wonderfully eccentric, strong, and especially unpredictable grandmother. My Grandma Zaida was eccentric. I’ll say that for her! I love the way strength in grandmothers gets passed along for multiple generations–especially to the girls and women, but also as great stereotype-breaker for the boys and all the men! 🙂 I agree with comments above about you–having inherited some of her get-up-and-go spirit! Wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 13 2016 6:14 pm

      Oh wow, another grandmother with a name starting with the letter Z. I think that must be the key to eccentricity. I feel very blessed to have had two strong grandmothers—Maxine and Zula. Must write about Maxine someday.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Elouise / Mar 13 2016 10:28 pm

        You are indeed blessed! Looking forward to meeting Maxine!

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Mar 14 2016 7:02 pm

        Maxine was the amazing cook.


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