Monday, May 26, 2014

A Military Service

Up until November 2009, I had never attended a military funeral.  I have been fortunate in that  I have never had a close relative serving in an active war.  The closest relatives have been a couple of cousins and all have returned home healthy.

So, in 2009, I attended the funeral of my great uncle, John Bernard Gage.  My extended family is exceptionally close and Uncle Bun as we called him was a familiar presence.  I knew him to be someone who had a wonderful dry sense of humor with a sly grin.  I knew him to be a master mechanic from the stories from my father and other family members.  I knew he served in World War II...but it wasn't until I was a bit older that I was aware of where he served and what he did.  When he died and I helped his son write his obit, I found more about his military service.  Uncle Bun served under Joe Foss, flying a Corsair in China and the South Pacific.

While I was sitting in that room listening to the service, I experienced for the first time the sight of the flag as the centerpiece and heard for the first time Taps and a military salute for someone that I knew and loved.  I can't explain how moving the experience was.  Even thought we sat in a room and didn't see the bugler or the guns (they were probably recorded), I still felt the pride in his service and the sorrow at his loss.

So, it wasn't until Fall of 2013, that I again experienced a military service.  This time it was for my boss's father, Frank W. Sullivan. This was a man that I was fond of and knew that he had served proudly.  First as a young radioman in a bomber who was shot down.  He spent the rest of WW II as a POW.  Then he served in the National Guard and served in Korea.  Sully was the commander of his unit...and my great uncle was his executive officer.  This time I sat out in a cemetery and saw the pageantry of the soldiers posing at attention and shooting their military salute.  The bugler stood off to the side and Taps was heard.

It was just a few weeks later, when I was once again present at a another military funeral.  This was for my Dad's younger sister, Mary Kay Johnson Liacos.  Unlike the service in Lewiston, ID for Frank Sullivan, there were smartly uniformed men standing at attention.  There in that small little country cemetery, VFW members provided the military prescience. These were older men who had served probably in Korea, Vietnam and there was a young veteran probably from Iraq.  They took their role just seriously as the young uniformed men from Lewiston, ID.  The only problem was that they were one man short for the military salute.  My great uncle who had served in Korea stepped up to fill in.  So, there he stood at attention with his fellow veterans performing their military duty...only this was for his own niece.

Unfortunately it was only a few weeks later when I was at my next military funeral.  My great uncle had been suffering from cancer for 13 years and he had died from its ravages.  The young soldiers stood at attention and the bugle once again played Taps.  I am not sure what part of the service hits me the most - the military salute, playing of "Taps" or the folding and presentation of the flag.

I am glad that I have never had to lose a close relative during war. I think that it is a measure of our respect for military service that the same honors afforded a younger soldier returning home to be buried with honor is afford an old soldier who returned home decades ago.  Whether they are young currently serving soldiers performing their funeral duties or old veterans helping to send off their comrades in arms, there is a comfort in the tradition.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Memorial Day Memories

Memorial Day was always a time in my family when my grandparents and parents visited the cemeteries to lay flowers down on loved ones least that was what we did on the surface.  It was actually a time when I know that I learned a lot of the family stories that I have shared through the past few years.

Now those loved ones graves include both of my Mom's parents and my Dad's parents as well as a few sets of great grandparents and also my beloved Momma.  So, I thought I would post links to three of my favorite "cemetery stories" in honor of Memorial Day weekend which is fast approaching!   If you want to know the story behind this picture...check it out!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Graduation Day

On May 13, 1989, I graduated from the University of Idaho with a Bachelors of Science in History and Minor in English.  It was the culmination of four years of school and it was a special day for my family.

My college career had a rocky start, my grandmother actually died the day I was supposed to go to college and get my dorm room.  I still remember driving the short 30 miles a bit later in the day with tears running down my face.  When the funeral happened a few days later, my brother and I both had to leave and go up and take care of registration.  Back then, computers weren't that common and registration occurred on the floor of the football stadium that is called the "Kibbie Dome!"  It was a mind blowing experience, especially for a freshman who had never seen anything like it.  I was fortunate,  I had my brother to guide me through and I survived the experience.  During the next few years - I provided the same assistance to several freshmen as I never forgot the experience.

I was not the first or even the second to graduate from college in my family.  My grandmother had graduated from the Lewis Clark Normal in 1932.  When she went to school, her father butchered a hog to pay for tuition and she rode her horse to school.  Her mother and she picked lettuce for three summers to save enough money to buy a piano so she could learn music - which would help her get hired as a teacher.

There was nothing so dramatic when my brother went to school.  He had his own tribulations - but his graduation in 1986 was a triumph - and not just because of him.  My grandfather had lived on his own after my grandmother had died.  Looking back, he really shouldn't have been living on his own.  Grandpa had numerous health problems and his days were involved with the various treatments of his blood disease and diabetes.  Back in the early 1980's, Grandma Cappy and Grandpa Gwen donated a sum of money to the University of Idaho to provide a three scholarships for District #241.  This was the school district where my Grandpa had been on the school board for 25 years and my Grandma had taught school at one of the elementary schools.
Gwen Shearer & Capitola Friddle Shearer - My grandparents
 Every year, one student from each of the three high schools in the district, got a 4 year full scholarship to the University of Idaho.  It didn't matter if they were going to teach, become an engineer or lawyer - all that mattered was that they came from that district and were going to school at the University of Idaho.  It was something that gave my grandparents a great deal of satisfaction and something we as a family was very proud of.  During that graduation in 1986, the first class of these scholarship students was going to graduate.  So, my parents made arrangements to get my grandfather physically as close to the Kibbie Dome where the graduation was being held and made arrangements for someone to transport him up to the doors.  Mom had some food with her in case his blood sugar dropped (which it did) and they made it so a fragile old man could see his first grandson graduate from college but also see the first of those scholarship students graduate.  He said he was doing it for both he and grandma - and it wasn't an easy thing for him to do physically - but he did it anyway.  Eight months later, he passed away.
My brother, Russell with my Grandpa Gwen Shearer, and mother Betty Johnson

In many ways, I was like those scholarship students.  My grandparents provided the money for me, my siblings and cousins to go to college without the worry of college loans.  I saw a lot of friends who had a lot more of a struggle.  While it was much cheaper back then, I realized that I had been very fortunate.

I don't enjoy being the center of attention - and I was incredibly nervous.  I was sure that I would trip and fall in front of the entire I didn't sleep that much.  Neither did my one year old niece - she was teething and I remember her being just a bit too much like me in terms of being reluctant to go to sleep.
My niece going up the stairs on the morning of my graduation.  You couldn't keep her down!
 When I walked into the Kibbie Dome during graduation procession, I looked up in the crowd trying to see my family and it would have been a hopeless cause, except my sister-in-law was holding up my 5 1/2 old nephew so I could see my family.  Since I was graduating in the centennial year of the university, I got a medal signifying the event.  My brother said that it wasn't quite fair - he didn't get a metal.  My mother told him that she didn't have a professor walk up and tell her that he was a pleasure to have in class like I did!  (One of my Professors came over and gave me a hug and told my mother that I was one of her favorite students and that she loved having me in class - it is always great to hear nice things from people you respect) Looking back, I find it interesting that two of my clearest memories of that day are connected with my niece and nephew.  That niece also went on to graduate from the University of Idaho...and next year, I will be able to go and see her brother graduate from the University of Idaho as well.
After the ceremony - at home with the beautiful cake that my sister-in-law made.

So, today I think about 25 years ago and going up to get my diploma and knowing that I had my family there to see it happen.  I also think of how lucky I was to have grandparents who gave me, my siblings and cousins the opportunity for education.  Since they set up that scholarship - about 90 students have graduated.  That is quite a legacy for them to leave behind.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Mill at Orofino, ID

Office at Orofino Mill
My family is a timber family.  We have been involved in the industry in one capacity or another for the last 90 years.  Primarily it was my step grandfather but my father and brother have also been involved in the industry as well as several uncles, cousins, etc.  I think that the first time that my Grandpa Gwen had a mill of some sort was probably in the early 1930’s when he had what was called a one-horse mill near Culdesac, ID.  I really don’t much more about it than just that.  I know that during the 1940’s he owned a mill up on McCormick Ridge in the present day Waha area.  His best friend trucked the lumber down (he was my natural grandfather, Richard Tannahill) and much of the lumber was sold at my grandmother’s lumber lot.  Grandpa Gwen gave up that mill in 1949 and began a mill in Orofino, ID in the Black Pine area. 
Mill at Orofino, ID

Some of my mother’s favorite child hood memories were involved with spending a few weeks in the summer up at McCormick Ridge helping Granny Shearer with the cooking for the men.  When Grandpa Gwen bought the mill in Orofino – much of his time was spent during the week working at the mill and he was successful.  My grandmother notes in her diary near the end of 1954:

“1954 has been a very fine and prosperous year for us.  At the beginning of 1954 we owed around $ 85,000 as a result of our 1954 remodeling of the mill – converting to band and all electric power. 

We have been able to pay off all indebtedness incurred as a result of this change over everything except our Mortgage at the bank on the real estate.

We set up a bookkeeping system with a fine and adequate set of books – but the office and got into around the first of April with Linda as a bookkeeper.

We incorporated July 1st to help reduce our income tax.

We ran two shifts at the mill from July 6th until fall. “

Taken sometime during the 1950's  Orofino, ID
Grandpa Gwen spent a lot of time going back and forth between Orofino and Lewiston and it seemed that 1954 was a year that they spent modernizing the mill and making it more profitable…which has to be the primary goal for a business man.

Then on November 23, 1955…tragedy struck…my grandmother noted in her diary:

“Mill Fire we had a rude awakening at 6:00 AM when Marian called that the mill had burned down.  We got there at 8:15 – the fire department still pouring water on the remains. 
It was discovered around 5:30 just before it exploded throwing fire in every direction.
The office has been a mad house with people coming and going all day and the telephone busy.  

There’s certainly a lot of sad men.

The green chain and the new fuel bin which was to have gone into operation on Monday are left intact."

This happened the day before Thanksgiving and Grandma notes on 25 Nov 1955 - the day after Thanksgiving:

We went up today – Mom the girls and I to let them see the mill or what remains of it…We will get about $ 88,000 out of the Insurance.  Then the next day:  Father is downtown checking on possibilities of future mill site to build again.  Everyone asks us what our plans to build are…Gwen doesn't know himself as yet.

What followed over the next few years were probably the hardest points in my grandparent’s lives.  With the loss of the mill and the building of the new one in Elk City, ID – money was tight.  My grandmother went back to school to get re-certified as a teacher and worked immediately as a substitute teacher.  They faced bankruptcy and spent the next 10 years rebuilding their business and life.  It is a tribute to their hard work and smart business acumen that the new mill that they built in Elk City was a modern and technologically advanced mill for the time.  I know that Grandpa Gwen was looking into the possibilities of the mill before his Orofino mill burned down – but I have to wonder…would the outcome of been different if that mill hadn't burned down in Orofino!
Little is left of my Grandpa's mill at Orofino - Dad and I drove by the site this
past weekend - and this is all that remains of that mill.