Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Grandpa Frank


When I was a little girl, I was lucky to have two complete sets of grandparents, a set of great grandparents and two other great grandmothers.  I remember special moments with each one but when we lost my Dad’s father when I was eight years old – I didn’t truly understand the loss until later in life.

My Dad’s father didn’t have an easy life.  He grew up near Dunn Center, ND.  It may have a booming economy now, but back in the 20’s and 30’s, life was not so good.  Grandpa Frank’s mother died when he was 13 years older and life got much harder.  Grandpa quit school and worked to support his father and sisters.  When he was about 20, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and traveled and worked with the CCC’s.  He came to Idaho with a friend which is how he met my grandmother, Marian Gage.
Marian & Frank shortly before their marriage in 1939.

After their marriage, my grandfather took my grandmother back to North Dakota and by the time four years had passed, they had three children.  My grandfather worked desperately to support his family  - at times working four different jobs.  Good paying jobs were not to be found in that part of the country, especially during the early 1940’s and Grandpa Frank couldn’t even serve as a soldier because of his feet.  My grandmother wanted to come back to Idaho and so she arrived on a train in early January 1943 with her three children, and my grandfather came out a few months later after he had taken care of his father and sister.  Life was a bit easier in Idaho, although they could never be called wealthy or even well-to-do.  I’ve heard it said that Grandpa Frank wasn’t a good provider because his family didn’t have a lot of the things that many people think they need.  My father said that while he was growing up – they had what they needed and never went hungry or without clothes and shoes.  But money should never be the guage of how a father provides for his family.  Grandpa Frank was a father who showed affection, love, and respect towards his wife and was a loving and gentle man to his children. 
Grandpa Frank with his first granddaughter, my sister - Gwenda!

My father has told me many times that his Dad was old before his time.  When he was 40 years old – he looked and acted like he was about 60.  I don’t know when Grandpa was diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth but I know that he had the disease in his later life.  Basically it is a disease that affects the nerves in the body.  My Dad said that his father could place his hand on a hot stove and not even feel it.   From what I have read, the muscles in the body grow weaker and there is mild to severe pain and the the disease is incurable.  As  a child, I didn’t know any of this.  I just knew that my Grandpa was kind and gentle.  I have two specific memories of him.  Since we lived so far away from him – we didn’t see them more than once a year.  We were visiting and my grandmother sent my Grandpa to the store for some groceries.  My Dad and I joined him on the little trip to the store.  Once there, Grandpa gave the grocery list to my father and took my hand and led me to the barrels of penny candy.  We carefully picked out a bag of candy with my favorites in there.  Then we picked another bag for my other siblings.  I remember his patience, gentle smile and attention.  During that same trip, Grandpa taught all of us how to peel an orange.  He sat down on the couch, cleared off the coffe table and then rolled the orange around to loosen the peel and then peeled the orange off in one string.  To this day, the smell of oranges remind me of my grandpa! 

Grandpa Frank in about 1972.  This is the way I remember him!
I’ll never forget the day in September in 1975 when my mother answered that phone call.  I was home from school because I was sick.  She called my father at work and he came home almost immediately.  I remember the devastation and sorrow on his face as he and my mother packed quickly to get on the road towards Canby, OR.  Someone was supposed to take us kids down a day or two later – but those plans fell through and we weren’t able to go. At eight years old, there aren’t a lot of clear memories.  I’ve talked to a lot of people who have told me many stories about my Grandpa Frank.  I’ve also heard that my father is a lot like his father.  I know my father to be a kind, giving man and a patient father who has managed to make every one his children feel special and important to him.  I know a man who was a wonderful husband to a wife who deeply loved him and a devoted son to his parents and brother to his siblings.  From what I have heard, my grandfather was all those things.  I only wish I could have known him better.

Frank Johnson b. 14 Oct 1914 Dunn Center, ND d. 17 Sept 1975 Canby, OR
Son of Ulpian Johnson and Shirlie Louisa Pope