Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Happy 95th Birthday, Grandma Marian!

Baby Marian
Today would have been my grandmother’s 95th birthday.  I can’t really complain about losing her too young though, she died when she was 91 and at the 21st anniversary of her own father’s death.  Helen Marian Gage was born on 10 Jun 1920 to Ora Silas Gage and Florence Christine Shawver.  She died on 30 Dec 2011 as a beloved mother of five, grandmother of 18, and great grandmother of 33 and great great grandmother of 11 children.

As a little girl, I don’t think that I knew my grandmother terribly well.  She lived six hours away and a few days every years wasn’t a great opportunity to spend a lot of time with her.  I remember her visiting us one time and telling my best friend that she had blue hair.  My friend didn’t believe me and had to come to my house to see for herself.  For those of you young enough to not understand…there were a lot of women who put a bluing solution on their hair to make their hair look better…and if went too far, it turned blue.  As I got older, I got to spend more one on one time with my grandmother and truly learned to appreciate the quality of person that she was.  I would come down during college and spend my spring break with her and my great grandparents.  I did simple things with her like sit at her table and visit or take her out to dinner.  I would go over and spend part of the day with my great grandparents as well.  I really didn’t think it was all that unusual.  This was my normal.  As I got older – I found out how lucky I truly was.

Top Left:  Don, Duane, Byron, Pauline, Marian, Orland, Bernard
Bottom Left:  Norma, Florence, Ora, & Elaine
Grandma Marian was born the oldest daughter of ten children – she only had one sibling, her brother, Orland Gage, who was older.  She told me once that her childhood was an incredibly happy time for her in Mapleton, IA.  While Orland spent most of his time working with their father, Grandma Marian and her younger brother John Bernard Gage spent a lot of time playing.  In her eyes, she was much luckier than her younger siblings, she had store bought clothes and her life was carefree in her mind.  Things changed with the depression…just as they did for every family.  When her father couldn’t pay the taxes, he signed the farm over to his friend and partner, Lou Brenner.  Granddad Gage refused to put his friend’s financial livelihood at risk, so Granddad packed his family up and took them north to Philip, SD (There were seven children in the family now.)  That new opportunity didn’t pan out and in another year, they were once again searching for a new home.  The Gage family first went north to Montana to Grandma Florence’s brother’s ranch in Jordan, MT where they had a chance to get to know their cousins.  My grandmother told me often how much fun they had running around and playing with each other…I know they spent at least a week there over Thanksgiving.  Then they began their trek across Montana in Model T with seven children.  They stopped every once in a while and they would build a fire and cook some eggs for a meal…sometimes they were scrambled or a hard-boiled egg made into an egg salad sandwich, or some fried eggs.  I can remember my Uncle Bernard remembering the trip fondly…guess he liked eggs!  When they arrived at Dover, ID and spent the winter – Granddad Gage went searching and found land to buy and by the next summer, they had moved to Hatter Creek, ID.
My grandmother never really talked about the hardship that their family must have faced after that move to Hatter Creek, ID.  I think the worst thing she felt that she suffered was the lack of butter to put on her bread – especially since she loved butter.  She didn’t talk about helping out with making clothes, or helping her mother bake 10 loaves of bread ever few days, canning food from the garden or taking care of that garden.  Nor did she talk about leaving her family and working out with other families doing housework or taking care of children so she could bring the money she earned back to her own family.  None of these were hardships for her – it was simply her life.  Now I would never described Grandma as the perfect teenager.  She would have admitted to being hardheaded.  Grandma Marian boarded at the Ursuline Academy in Moscow, ID (a Catholic School) and she had an argument with one of the nuns, and her mother allowed her to come back home….as long as she finished school at the local high school which was nine miles away.  Grandma Marian graduated from high school in 1939, when she was 19 years old as did her older brother, Orland (who was 21) and her younger brother Bernard who was 17.  I wonder if Potlatch High School has ever had three siblings who graduated the same year from high school again.

Marian at Graduation

Within a few months after graduating, Grandma Marian met a friend of Lawrence Chandler who was visiting from North Dakota after serving in the CCC’s (Civilian Conservation Corps).  By July of 1939, Grandma Marian and Grandpa (Frank Stewart Johnson) were engaged and married in October.  Then they traveled back across Montana to North Dakota to Grandpa Frank’s home in Dunn Center.  In the next three years, my grandparents had three children (including my father who was the oldest.)  Grandma did admit to some hardship during that period.  They lived in a tiny two room house with three babies, her father-in-law and sister-in-law.  My grandfather worked up to four jobs at a time to try and support his family.  Many times the only money they had coming in was her father-in-law’s $17 Social Security.  Grandma found it was cheaper to buy syrup than it was to buy sugar…and so she learned to adapt.  I think the hardest thing for Grandma was being so far away from her family and feeling as if there was no way to break out of this cycle they were in.  Finally, in late 1943, she decided to go back to Idaho to visit her family.  I am not sure she really intended on going back to North Dakota.  I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to travel two days on a train with two toddlers and fussy baby that was only few weeks old.  Not too long after, my grandfather left his father and sister in North Dakota and came west.  I am sure that was the hardest thing that he had ever done – his father refused to leave and there were no opportunities for a young family in Dunn Center…so he put his father and sister in the poor house and came west to get a job and take care of his young family.

During the next 50 years, Grandma Marian took care of her family:  from caring for her husband until he died and left her a young widow to providing a home for grandchildren when they needed a place to stay.  After Grandpa Frank died, her parents moved to Canby, OR to live close by and help Grandma Marian.  They did so for many years, but then the situation changed in to Grandma lovingly caring for her parents during their last years.  (Although I must say, it was hard at times dealing with her father – two stubborn people don’t always rub each other the right way.)

2010 - Gage Sibs - Bottom Left:  Orland, Marian, Don, & Duane
Top Left:  Pauline, Byron & Elaine
Grandma Marian moved to Lewiston, ID in 2001 and was prepared to enjoy the family in Idaho that she hadn’t spent as much time with since moving to Oregon in 1965.  It seemed that every week, she had visits from her brothers, Shawver cousins who lived nearby, and her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who lived in Idaho or nearby.  For me, this was the opportunity to get to know my grandmother much better.  We spent a lot of hours on the phone and in her living room – her telling me stories of her life and me telling her the newest genealogy research.  After my mother died in 2005, Grandma became even more important for me.  She was the woman I talked to when I needed a sounding board or advice.  Sometimes it was about cooking…and sometimes it was about the way I was feeling.  We became close friends at that point.  We had a wonderful birthday party for her on her 90th birthday.  All of her children were there as well as most of her other descendants.  Grandma took special pride in the number of grandchildren that she had – and while she sat there on the beautiful June day five years ago…we marveled at how many people who showed up.  All of her living siblings were there, her aunt and many of her nieces and nephews of all generations.  There were cousins from Montana, Washington, and Oregon and friends from far and wide.  We estimated that there were about 150 people who showed up to celebrate her birthday.  It was a wonderful day that I know my grandmother relished. 


I had just started writing these blogs a few months before her death.  Grandma Marian gave me the encouragement to start this process.  She wanted me to tell the stories of our family.  It was important to her that these stories were accessible to later generations.  There are many other stories and life experiences that she shared with me that I could and have told.  We lost her in 2011 at the age of 91, but I am so grateful for that 10 years that we had together here in Idaho.  I still wish I could pick of the phone and talk to her.  Grandma Marian had a wonderful long life with a loving family and friends who enriched her life…and in return she enriched our lives so she would never be forgotten by those she touched.  Happy 95th birthday, Grandma Marian!  We love you and miss you!

Here are a few blogs that I have written about my Grandma Marian!