Thursday, October 9, 2014

Happy 100th Birthday Grandpa Frank

I can't say that I knew Dad's father very well.  I was only eight years of age when he died and although he was a beloved "Grandpa" in my mind, I had only been around him a handful of times. You might say that I really didn't get to know him except through the memories of others.  If he had lived, today would have been his 100th birthday.

Probably taken after Shirlie's funeral - Upper L to R:  Ulpian, Nan, Frank - Lowee Left:  Audrey and Ruth
Frank Stewart Johnson was born on 10 Oct 1914 near Dunn Center, Dunn Co., ND to Ulpian Grey "George" Johnson and Shirlie Louisa Pope.  He had two older half brothers: George Arch White and Elmer Clayton White. (They were the sons of Shirlie's first husband, Charles A. White.)  He also had two older sisters: Mary Ann b. 27 Jan 1910 d. 1 Mar 1975 and Nancy Mae "Nan" b. 9 Mar 1912 d. 12 Feb 2000 and two younger sisters....Hazel b. & d. 9 Mar 1919 and Audrey Ruth b. 22 Jan 1923 d. 6 Dec 1999.  Grandpa died on 17 Sep 1975 in Canby, Clackamas Co., OR.

There was so little that I really knew about him when he was alive.   I know that even now, when I smell oranges, I think of Grandpa Frank.  I remember when he used to show us how to peel oranges by rolling them around on the table...or when I walk by a display with barrels of candy where you pick what you want and put them in a bag.  I can remember Grandpa taking me around to pick my own bag of candy favorites while he sent Dad around to get the groceries that we came to the store for.  I also remember the day when my grandmother called the house to tell Mom that he had died that morning.  I was home sick from school and I have never forgotten the look on my mother's face as she heard the news and then when she had to call Dad and let him know that his father had died.  Those are the things that I knew about Grandpa when I was a child...there was so much more that I learned as an adult.


Frank in the CCC's
Grandpa Frank wasn't recorded in the 1920 census.  Dad has speculated that they were living down on the breaks of the Missouri river and were probably missed.  I don't believe that life was easy for Grandpa and his family  I don't know how capable his father was to provide for his family.  He had an injury on his arms that made them mostly useless and he was also an old man while his family was quite young (Ulpian Grey Johnson was b. 17 Nov 1869 d. 22 Oct 1944)  So, while Grandpa's mother was alive...there was probably some semblance of a happy family life.  When you consider what life must have been like in North Dakota in the 1920's, I am not sure that anything was easy.  However, that ended when their family lost their mother to pneumonia in a very quick fashion.  Her sister road a horse across the frozen Missouri river to try and help her sister, but Shirlie died soon after she arrived.  (Shirlie Louisa Pope b. 14 Jul 1881 d. 14 Apr 1927).  After her death, it fell on Grandpa's older sister, Nan and himself to do what they could to help provide for their family.  Their sister, Mary was born with dislocated hips and was probably developmentally mentally disabled as well.  The younger sister, Audrey, was only three years old when her mother died.  For some time, Shirlie's sister, Verna took care of her.

Grandpa Frank had little formal schooling...there was no time or opportunity for it.  You might say that the first opportunity that he had to go out into the world was when he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in the mid 1930's.  Grandpa got the opportunity to travel to Louisiana and experience a life much different than what he had ever known.  He then traveled home with a friend to Idaho.  You might say that it was a life changing event.  His friend Lawrence Chandler was taking a local girl to a dance...and Grandpa Frank went along during a double date.  I don't know how much longer it was - but pretty soon the local girl and Grandpa Frank were an item...and in July of 1939, he and Helen Marian Gage were engaged on the night when her youngest sibling was born (Gerald Gage)  When they decided to elope and marry in October, Grandma Marian's father informed them that they weren't married until they were married in the church...so a week later, they were married in parsonage in Moscow, Latah Co., ID.  (1 Oct 1939).

Fairly soon after their marriage, the young couple began their journey to North Dakota  I know their car broke down along the way, and Grandpa had to fix it in the middle of nowhere.  As is normal, the first child came along quite quickly and Grandpa was worried enough that this first child was born in a hospital in Dicknson, ND.
Ulpian standing behind, Grandpa Frank holding my father, Eugene - abt 1941 in ND
 The next two were born at home with a midwife.  So, here this young couple was living in Dunn Center, ND in a small house that had previously been a chicken coop.  In this small house, they lived with their three children, and Grandpa's father and older sister.  Grandpa was working sometimes as many as 4 jobs, trying to support his family.  You might say that Grandma Marian was home sick and probably feeling almost desperate  So, she packed her children up and took a train to Idaho.  Very soon after, they both realized that North Dakota didn't provide the young family with any decent job opportunities.  I imagine that Grandpa Frank must have bee quite torn.  His wife and children were in Idaho and he knew that the best place for his family was Idaho, but his elderly father refused to leave North Dakota so in the end, he dd what he could for his father and sister, and headed off to Idaho

Once in Idaho, Grandpa found work at the local mill, and worked at logging as well.  Sometimes he was laid off which is something that happens quite often in the logging industry.  My father said that when he was growing up, they never really thought they were poor, because they had food to eat and a home to live in  Mostly he remembers having a loving and patient father.  I have learned funny things about Grandpa Frank by listening to my dad and his siblings.  I know that when he napped in his chair, he had one eye that never closed.  (He had been dropped as a baby by his older sister and his forehead was burned and the his eyelid was not able to close).  I know that no one disrespected their mother in front of him, or they faced the consequences.  My mother remembered a gentle man who had a gentle humor.

My father has always said that his father was older than his time.  He had a disease called Charcot Marietooth which is a nerve disease.  He could lay a hand on a hot stone and not even feel the heat.  Grandpa must have endured a lot of physical pain with his disease, but as along as he was able to work and support his family, he did so.

Dad's family had moved from Hatter Creek in 1952 to the place up on Mountain Home (north of Potlatch) In 1965, Grandpa Frank and Grandma Marian moved to Oregon, and Grandpa worked for a time, but soon reached the time when he could no longer physically work  So while my Grandmother worked, Grandpa made sure the laundry was done and meals were on the table when she arrived home.  Then one morning, Grandma woke up to find that Grandpa had passed away in his sleep at the age of 60.
This is the way I remember Grandpa Frank.  Taken abt 1973

My father resembles his father in my ways both physically and mentally.  I think that I know my Grandpa through my Dad...I see the strength, the love of family, and generosity of spirit. I can't say that my Grandpa had great self esteem.  My mother asked him what he knew about his family and he told her what he knew.  The most impressive thing was being related to Pres. Andrew Johnson - but he didn't know the relationship.  He told my mother that he was envious because they seemed to know so much about my Grandma Marian's family and there was so much to be admired and he knew so little.  It turns out that Mom and I found that Grandpa had a wonderful family heritage to be proud of  His ancestors were among the first to arrive in the new world and build a new life.  He had ancestors who fought at the battle of Lexiington and Concord at the opening day of the Revolutionary War and another ancestor who had the first free public school in New England.

I wish I could have known him better but I was never given the opportunity. I would like to think he knows all that we have discovered.  I wish I had a chance to learn all of these things from Grandpa Frank when he was alive..  but it was not too be. So, happy birthday, Grandpa Frank - wish you were still here to celebrate it.
A young photo...about 1928