Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Aunt Vernie

Verna, Hazel Belle, and Shirlie Pope
One of the few members of my grandfather’s maternal family that my grandmother ever met was his aunt who she always referred to as “Aunt Vernie.”  Most of the interaction between Aunt Vernie and my grandmother was conducted in letters.  However, Grandma Marian did get a chance to meet Aunt Vernie.  You might way that Verna was the first family member that I learned about in the Pope family.

Verna Myra Pope was born on 1 Mar 1889 as the fourth daughter of Winslow Lonsdale Pope and Nancy Ann Marie Lyons.  Winslow had been married before and had lost his wife.  He had two other living children (Francis Hooker Pope b. 22 Jan 1873 and Viola Belinda b. 15 Sep 1875.)  Winslow and Nancy started out their married life in New Hampshire and Vermont and were living there when their two oldest daughters were born (Shirlie Louisa – my great grandmother b. 14 Jul 1881 and Anna May b. 5 Nov 1883), but by the time that Mattie Winnova b. 1 Jan 1886 and Verna Myra were born (1 Mar 1889) they were in Lake Park, Dickinson Co., Iowa.  They stayed there a few years and daughter Hazel Bell was born 17 Dec 1891.  By the time that their son John Francis was born on 26 Nov 1895 they lived in Sioux Valley, Jackson Co. MN.  Their youngest son, Plumer Elwood Pope was born on 26 Nov 1895 in Lake Park, Dickson Co., IA.  It wasn’t too long after 1901, when Mattie died of diphtheria, that the Pope family moved near Washburn, McLean Co., ND.   
Verna probably never really got to know her sister, Viola, she died in 1892 and her next oldest sister, Mattie died in 1901.  I imagine the family always lived with sickness of some time.  I’ve no idea how long that their mother, Nancy Ann Marie Lyons, lived with tuberculosis…however, from what I have read, it could have short period of time or years.  Nancy died on 30 May 1906, not too long after Shirlie married George White.  Winslow was left at home with his three daughters and two sons ranging in age from 23 to 9 years old.  At a young age, Verna knew how to work…I’m sure she helped care for her younger siblings and certainly her ailing mother.  After her death, she was 17 years old and I’ve been told that she went out to find work to help support the family. 
Verna - Washer Girl abt 1905


She married John Axel “Swede” Johnson on 2 Apr 1908 and within a short time, started her own family.  I don’t imagine that their life was easy.  I’ve heard too many tales of ropes between a house and barn during the winter time so one wouldn’t lose their way during blizzard conditions…or summers where hail and tornados could ruin the family crops before they ever could be harvested.  Verna, was by all accounts, a good farm wife and mother.  However, it appears to me that she grew with tragedy in her family…and it wasn’t done with her yet.  On 8 Jul 1921, Verna’s closest sister in age, Hazel Bell, died at the young age of 29.  Hazel’s husband had died several months earlier and now their four children were orphans.  Then in early April of 1927, Verna learned that her sister, Shirlie, was very ill.  Braving what must have been very cold and icy conditions, she rode her horse across the iced over Missouri River to Dunn Center, ND to try and take care of her sister.  Shirlie died on 14 Apr 1927…within a few days of her sister’s arrival.  Verna always blamed Shirlie’s husband (Ulpian Grey “George” Johnson) for not getting the doctor for his wife earlier.  I’m not sure that would have helped in 1927.  Shirlie died of pneumonia and there was very little most doctors could do to help someone very sick.  Once again, her sister left behind children to mourn her – three sons and three daughters, the youngest being only four years of age.
Verna with youngest son, Harley.
Verna had a surprise pregnancy at 41 years of age and delivered her second son, Harley Winslow Johnson.   (See above picture) Perhaps this was the hardest trial that Verna faced.  When her son turned about twelve years old, it was discovered that he had leukemia.  There was very little that could be done, but she cared for him and her sick husband.  She lost her husband on 15 Jan 1843 when he sixty two years old and her darling little boy just a few months later on 29 Mar 1943.  Verna didn’t survive this loss for very long and died on 18 Sep 1946 at the age of fifty seven years old. 

Many years ago, I met Verna’s granddaughter.  She told me of the trip that Verna had made to try and care for her sister and her bitterness that they weren’t able to save her.  Perhaps that bitterness is why our families have had little contact through the years.  By the time, 1940 had rolled around…all but one of Verna’s siblings had died…of ten children only Verna and her youngest brother, Plumer were still alive.  Diphtheria, Pneumonia, Tuberculosis other illness had taken the family she grew up with away.  In her lifetime, she had lost her parents, her siblings, her husband and perhaps the most devastating loss of all…her child.  Fifty seven seems to be a young age to have died…but with all that loss, perhaps not!