Monday, May 20, 2013

Happy 100th Birthday, Grandpa Gwen!

Gwen Shearer - Graduation - 1931

I loved my Grandpa Gwen.  As a child, I recognized that there was never anything that was simple or easy about Grandpa…and that became even more apparent the more I knew of him.  Today would have been his 100th birthday.   Gwen Dean Shearer was born in Anatone, Asotin Co., WA on 20 May 1913 to Nettie Pearl Moody and Floyd David Shearer.   He was the middle of three sons with an older brother named Buford Carl Shearer and a younger brother named Aaron Lee Shearer.  They moved from Anatone out to the Tom Beall Road near Lapwai when he was still a young boy.  I don’t know if there was anything happy or frivolous about Grandpa’s childhood.  His father was an often cruel and hard man and Gwen’s beloved mother and brothers were often the target of his cruelty.   Grandpa Gwen graduated from Lapwai High School in 1931 as the Class President, and probably left his parent’s home as soon as he was able. 
There isn’t a lot I know about his 20’s.  I know that he worked for a while as a butcher and also as a deputy for either the county or the city.  I also know that he had what was probably his first sawmill just outside of Culdesac.  I learned probably after he had died, that Grandpa had been married to someone else before my grandmother.  He had married Imogene Painter probably around 1940 and they were divorced before 1945.  The funny thing is…my grandparents were very good friends with Imogene Painter and her second husband Clyde Sweet.  Grandpa even bought his cars from him.  In the early 1940’s, I think Grandpa Gwen started his mill up on McCormack Ridge.  I know that he was close friends with my natural grandfather (Richard Tannahill) because they worked rather closely together.  Grandpa Richard would haul the lumber down from Grandpa Gwen’s mill and I know that a lot of it was sold at Grandma Cappy’s lumber yard.  When Grandpa Richard died in 1946 in a hunting accident (Daddy’s Gone), Grandpa Gwen and Grandma Cappy must have drifted together and they married about a year later on 12 Sep 1948. 

Gwen with Betty (Left)  & Joan (Right)
I don’t think that my grandparent’s marriage was ever an easy one.  Both were strong willed people.  While I think Grandpa Gwen appreciated my grandmother’s intelligence, business acumen, and people skills – he had a very difficult time communicating affection.  They tried to have a child not too long after they married and the baby boy was born dead.  That was the only natural child that Grandpa Gwen had.  When he married my grandmother, he gained two step daughters.  There was never much of an emotional connection with the oldest (my aunt Joan) but he definitely connected with my mother, Betty.  I think that my mother always knew that her step father loved her…but I am not sure he was ever able to show it.  Grandpa Gwen’s childhood made him a very difficult person to understand and be close to.  Grandpa Gwen had exceptionally high standards for his step daughters and wife…but also for himself.  Those standards were often very hard to match.
Gwen & Cappy - abt 1968
Grandpa Gwen closed the sawmill on McCormack Ridge in 1949, and worked exclusively at his mill in Orofino, Idaho.  For the next several years, he commuted home on the weekends while working up at Orofino during the week.  On Thanksgiving day in 1956, the Orofino mill burned to the ground.  For a man who could be somewhat difficult to be around when he was gone most of the week working…became very difficult to be around when he had little to do.  He had been pursuing a large timber purchase in the Clearwater National Forest at about the same time.  That purchase came through and in 1957, he began building his mill at Elk City, ID. Within a few years, Grandma moved up there with him full time.  While they had some difficult financial struggle for a time, the mill became a success. 

Gwen at his Elk City mill.
In the early 1970’s, Grandma and Grandpa began building a new home.  It was to be at the top of the hillside and was to be their dream home.  They moved into that home in 1972.  I can remember going up there as a young child and wandering all over the yard and driveway looking for rocks or climbing down the hill to snitch some of Grandma’s strawberries.  There were wonderful summers of going up to see the Grandparents and spending time fishing and camping.  There were wonderful Christmas’s playing in the snow and the toboggan that they bought us.  Those  Elk City Christmas’s were special to all of us.  I remember one occasion when I was up staying with my grandparents one summer when Grandma and I went to town.  We picked up the mail and a few items at the local store and Grandma bought be a red squirt gun.  Grandpa Gwen wasn’t the type who was openly affectionate or playful…but that red squirt gun brought it out of him.  When we got home, he was
The Red Squirt Gun
sitting in his chair reading the newspaper and I crept up behind him and aimed my new red squirt gun at his bald head.  Pretty soon, I found myself captured and my red squirt gun was confiscated.  He then attacked me unawares…and I was able to get it back and retaliate.  Before I left to go home…Grandpa had got the squirt gun back.   When we returned at Christmas time…he had stored some water in the fridge to make it very cold and came down one early morning and promptly woke my sister and I up with an icy blast.  Since we were now part of the fun, we all went in and quietly and Grandpa did the same to my brothers.  It took several squirts of cold water for one of my brothers to finally awaken.  For a few years we traded the squirt gun back and forth…until they moved down from Elk City to Clarkston, WA when I finally got the squirt gun back.  Even then, I knew that it was something special and I put it in my jewelry box.  I suppose that is why I still have it to this day.
Grandpa Gwen & Grandma Cappy - abt 1982

Illness struck my Grandpa Gwen in the seventies with a heart attack.  He retired and my grandparents moved back to the Lewis Clark Valley.  They moved into a home and took a dream vacation to Alaska.  When they returned home, they found that Grandpa had a blood disease and would have to have blood transfusions ever three weeks for the rest of his life.  After that, their life was full of doctor appointments, blood transfusions and some family activities.  A few years later, Grandma got ill as well.  As she got sicker, Grandpa Gwen took such wonderful and loving care of her.  For the first time in their lives – they were no longer battling but instead taking care of each other.  When Grandma suffered that heart attack on the August day in 1985, Grandpa Gwen was alone.  While we had noticed changes in his personality for several years, it became much more noticeable.  We knew that something else was wrong, but his strong will and determination was difficult to overcome.  In late 1986, Grandpa had to go into the hospital and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  The diagnosis wasn’t a shock to us, but his quick disintegration was.  It seemed within a few weeks that he had difficulty knowing who we were.  We would walk into the room and he would be talking to my grandmother as if she was still there with him.  He was moved over to the Lewiston hospital a few weeks later and one morning in late January 1987 he passed away.

My Favorite picture - Taken in the 1950's
in the Redwoods.  
After my grandmother’s death, Grandpa Gwen told my Dad that when the time came, he would really prefer if Dad just went out and built him an old fashioned pine box.  Grandpa wanted something simple and not overly churchy...he always felt closer to God in the forest. Mom and Dad kept that in mind and when he had died, they chose a simple wooden casket to reflect my Grandpa’s wishes with a simple service.  During his service, Grandpa’s business colleagues and friends heard about a different Gwen Shearer than the one they knew.  As they walked out, they commented to each other that they had never heard of Gwen Shearer doing something as silly as playing with a squirt gun…my Dad’s uncle who was also a good friend of my grandfather’s just looked at them at told them…Gwen Shearer wasn’t your grandpa…he was theirs!  So Grandpa…on your 100th birthday…I am not going to remember you as were during your last years…but rather, I’m going to think of you waking me up with that squirt gun and playing with your grandchildren in the snow.