Friday, April 12, 2019

My Aunt Anne!

Sometimes I think that it takes losing someone you love to remember how lucky you are to have had them.  I have always known that I was fortunate, but I am reminded because we lost my Aunt Anne this past week.  She is free from her pain and reunited with all those she loved – but I am sure going to miss her.
Anne - 1944

My Dad was the oldest of 5 and the only boy with 4 sisters.  Dad had an especially close relationship with oldest two of his sisters and I am sure it was a combative one at times.  He used to say that his day was shot if he didn’t make Anne cry before school.  I am not sure if it was Anne or Shirley who put the scissors through his hand…but I am fairly sure that he deserved it.
House in ND where Anne was born

 Dad was born in a hospital in Dickinson, ND in 1940 but both Shirley and Anne were born in the little house that their family lived in back in Dunn Center, ND by the local midwife, Mrs. Bell.  Anne always found it ironic that she married man with the last name of Bell and she was delivered by a midwife with the name of Minnie Bell. Grandma Marian either got fed up or was so homesick (maybe both) that she came back to Idaho on a train in February 1943 with a colicky baby (Anne) and two toddlers aged three and two.  Her father picked her up and brought her down to her folks place on Hatter Creek, ID.  There at the bottom of the road were my grandmother’s two younger brothers waiting with a sled to cart those little ones up to the Loggie (It was a log cabin and the snow was too deep for the car to make it).  It was there that my great grandmother finally got her hands on her three oldest grandchildren whom she had not yet seen in person.  This is a story that Anne and I talked about quite often.  Obviously, she didn’t remember the being placed in her grandmother’s arms that first time but I know she thought about it when she was able to hold her grandchildren for the first time. 
Loggie where the Gage family lived on Hatter Creek, 

Anne spent part of her early years on Hatter Creek in the old schoolhouse that her parents bought.  They lived there until she was about nine years old when they moved up to the Mountain Home area north of Freeze Cemetery near Potlatch, ID.  In Anne’s mind, she had an idyllic childhood.  Anne, Shirley and Dad (Gene) spent their childhood climbing trees, playing together and having a wonderful time.  They were each other’s playmates and while their parents never really had any money, they never thought of themselves as poor.  Although the next two sisters were relatively close in age, I don’t think they ever shared the same memories or perhaps the same joyful childhood.  By the time they were older, Grandma had a job and wasn’t at home as much…so there wasn’t the same carefree childhood for them.

Anne & Bill
I am not sure if Bill chased Anne or allowed himself to be caught.  He was her devoted boyfriend much to my father’s chagrin.  Bill was a year older than Dad…and perhaps Dad wasn’t quite ready to see his little sister go out with an older guy.  Bill and Anne always pushed the limits of her curfew and there was many a time that they spent so much time staying goodbye on the porch that Dad had to get up and dig Bill’s car out of the driveway because he had gotten stuck because of the snow or mud.  There was even a time when the two lovebirds were showered with snow – they didn’t know until years later that Dad helped it along.  After all it was too cold to walk out to the outhouse!
Anne & Bill's Wedding

My grandparents allowed Anne & Bill to get married when she was 15 – Grandma said that she knew if she didn’t then Anne would have presented her a grandchild in short order.  So in June 1958, Anne and Bill were married at St Mary’s church in Potlatch, ID and just over a year later that first grandchild arrived (Billy) then the following year, Rod, and the next year Kenny.  She took 1962 off and then had Alan in 1963 and Ronny in 1964.  Anne loved nothing more than being a mother and a wife. 
Anne & Bill's boys about 1965
Bill, Rod, Kenny, Ronny - 2008
She adored her husband’s parents and treated them with the same love and affection as she did her own parents.  Bill was an only child and his parents embraced Anne as a beloved daughter and they adored their grandsons.  Anne always wanted a little girl – but she wouldn’t have traded her boys for anything in the world.  Life couldn’t remain that idyllic for long.  In 1982, when the boys were all home celebrating their parents and grandparents wedding anniversary, a fire swept through the house.  The only one who didn’t make it out of the house was Alan.  Bill almost destroyed  himself trying to get in the house and get him out but to no avail.  Alan died of smoke inhalation.    I am not sure that was a loss that Anne and Bill ever recovered from.  I know that Anne told me on many occasions that you never get over it, you just learn to live with it.  Anne also had to be the rock for Bill and her boys – they remained the center of her life.  Nothing was ever more important to her than her family.

Bell Family - 2000 - Grandma Marian's 80th Birthday
Anne never had that girl she always wanted.  She did try to live a little vicariously with her nieces.  I am sure all of us have memories of her wanting to play with our hair while we wanted to be out playing with the boys.  I think Anne got her own back though…out of the twelve  grandchildren, eight of them are girls.  You can tell that Anne has left her stamp on all of them because I can see bits of her in every one of them. 

Bell Family 2012
As I sit here and think about Anne…there are a wealth of memories to sift through.  Anne has always been a part of my life.  I was always close to her…but we became especially close during my college years to the present.  I loved to go over and visit her at the cafeteria at the University of Idaho where she worked as a cook.  There were many family reunions that included picnics, weddings and funerals where Anne and Bill were always there.  I don’t think Anne and Bill missed one family gathering if they could help it.  When Mom and I got involved in genealogy, Anne became our compadre.  We spent many hours discussing and analyzing anything and everything that we found. Mom, Dad, Anne & Bill as well as their  granddaughter Angela, my niece Ashlie traveled back to North Dakota in 1999 or so.  We hit some of the important spots along the way like Yellowstone, Devil’s Tower and Mount Rushmore, but our real goal was to meet some cousins in Washburn, ND and see if we could figure out where Grandma was buried.   I will never forget our adventures.  I can still picture Bill walking his granddaughter’s cat on a leash.  In my mind’s eye, I can see  our cousin Sheryll, my Mom, Betty, and Anne sitting in the living room pouring through pictures.

Then my grandmother joined our little group (she moved to Idaho in 2001).  There were untold hours spent on family stories and family histories.  Unlike many families, we spent a lot of time talking about what our family had experienced during the last several hundred years.  Anne always figured that I had our family figured out so she was working on figuring out what she could about Bill’s family.  We never stopped our family search.  We shared our frustrations and triumphs.  We also shared our sorrows when my Mom died in 2005, Grandma Marian in 2011, her Bill a few months later in 2012  and Shirley in 2015.Perhaps the hardest cross she had to bear was the loss of her beloved Kenny this past January.  No one should ever have to face the loss of child and Anne had lost two of them.  The last time Anne and I had time alone we talked about her facing death.  As expected, she was rather matter of fact about it.  Anne liked to say that she slept with two angels every night, Bill at the head of her bed and Alan at the foot.  She smiled and said that Kenny had squeezed in there.  Anne’s pain is over and now she is reunited with her angels and all those that she has loved and missed.  If I know Anne, after she has greeted everyone – she has some questions and she will finally be where she will get her answers.  Next time I find something interesting…I will have to wonder if Anne found something out and is letting me know.  Just wish it was in person. 

Frank with Gene, Shirley & Anne in front
Here are some pictures of Anne with her siblings!
Mother's day 2011 - Left to right - Fran, Anne, Marian, Gene, MaryKay & Shirley

Left to Right - Shirley, Fran, Marian, Gene, MaryKay & Anne - 1975

MaryKay, Anne, Fran & Shirley
This is a particular favorite of mine.  You can see the pride in all of their faces.  
Anne with son, Kenny, granddaughter Rikki, grandson Brayden and mother Marian


Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Goodbye Uncle Orland!

Orland with Marian - abt 1920

We lost Uncle Orland last week.  Ever since I have been trying to verbalize my thoughts.  Orland lived a long and full life and at a 100 years age had experienced much of what life has to offer.  We were unusually close, partly because he was my godfather and my parents always had a close relationship.  We became closer when Orland started using a computer because I was his tech support…it has been a few years since I got a phone call and heard his voice saying “Carm, I got a problem!

Back Left:  Don, Duane, Byron, Pauline, Marian, Orland, Bernard
Front Left:  Norma, Florence, Ora & Elaine - 65th Wedding Anniversary of Florence & Ora - 1983

Orland was the oldest of ten children.  You might say that he took that role seriously as being the oldest brother and son to my great grandparents.  He was born in Mapleton, IA and lived there on the family farm until he was 14 years old.  Orland spent a lot of time working with his grandfather (George Christian Shawver) as well as his own father.  That time was precious to Orland and those memories were some he treasured his entire life. 

My Baptism - 1967 - Orland & Patti
My close connection with Orland goes back to my baptism.  Orland and his daughter Patti were my godparents.  I always received cards and gifts from Orland and Patti and they have been both been a treasured part of my life.  In the late 90’s Orland discovered the computer and utilized both my Mom and I as tech support.  I spent many hours with him showing him how to scan photos, work with Excel, use Word and anything else that came to mind.  In fact, I spent a lot of time with both Orland and my grandmother, Marian doing the same type of activities.  When I hear someone tell me that they are too old to work with computers, I know better because Orland and Grandma proved otherwise.  I also heard a lot of stories about his childhood and life.  There were many times during my research that I have had a question and was able to ask both Orland and my grandmother for information.  After my grandmother moved back to Idaho in 2001, it was so much fun to listen to the two of them visit and squabble like the siblings they were.  Mom and I even had to make arrangements when we were both gone on a vacation in 2004.  We told Orland that if he had an issue, he was to call my brother.  We also warned my brother that a call might be coming.  Sure enough, Orland had to call Bub…I remember seeing my nephew chatting with someone on the computer when he was about 10.  I found out that it was Orland.  Alex complained that his typing was really slow and I told him to give him a break – the last time he had a typing class was probably when graduated from high school in 1939.

I have been so lucky to have had a very close relationship with my great uncle.  We became friends as well as family.  I was so lucky to hear many stories that I am sure that I will use in my blogs to come.  I am going to do my best not to mourn his loss.  He lived a long and healthy life full of friends and family.  Orland was fortunate to grow up in a very close family that remained close until his passing last week.  I know that he had a tremendous amount of respect for his parents.  Orland like to tell the story that after his father died at 98 years of age, there was an unopened package of underwear in his drawer that his mother gave him.  Orland took them home and put them in his drawer unopened.  He said that “he still wasn’t man enough to wear his father’s underwear!”  When Orland came home from World War II or Korea (I don’t remember which one)  he bought his mother a rose.  That rose was moved every time my great grandparents moved which was several times.  After they passed, Orland moved the rose to his yard in a place of honor.  The last time I visited with Orland for any period of time was at his 100th birthday party.  I showed him some pictures from negatives that included a photo of his parents.  Orland had the sweetest smile on his face, remembering his parents.

Orland's 100th birthday - Carmen & Eugene Johnson
pictured with Orland - 2018
So our family and his friends are going to say goodbye to Orland in a few days.  Some won’t be able to be there but everyone will miss him at the family reunions and all the other family occasions that we have had through the years.  When you look at his lifespan it is pretty remarkable.  Orland’s parents were born in the 1890’s, grandparents in the 1850’s and 1860’s and he knew his great grandmother who was born in 1844.  Orland was born in 1918 and he had several great, great, great nieces and nephews and some of them are old enough to remember him.  He leaves behind his daughter and grandchildren and a whole lot more whose lives he touched in so many ways.  Orland was the last living World War II veteran in our family and truly was a member of the “Greatest Generation!”  
Orland with brothers Duane (left) & Byron (right) at National Guard Reunion
Orland holding Patti and Eileen & Mike - 1949

Bernard & Orland - Returning from WWII

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Brother I Never Wanted

I have had an argument with my cousin, Kenny for about 30 years.  He made a beautiful dollhouse for his daughter.  It was constructed piece by piece by Kenny’s patient hands.  It was an incredibly detailed Victorian themed house with a beautiful turret in the corner.  According to Kenny – that was a tower because a turret was something that came out of tank.  I told Kenny that it was called a turret when it was cone shaped feature  on a Victorian house.  Kenny told me to “Go lay down by my dish!”  Only Kenny could get away with saying something so insulting and making it sound almost like an endearment.

The 5 Bell Boys - Billy, Rodney, Kenny, Alan & Ron
I am sure that I was a "pain in the ass" younger cousin.  I can remember going up to my Aunt Anne and Uncle Bill's place and being stuck inside while my Aunt played with an actual female child.  I really can't blame her - she was likely in testosterone "hell!"  The only thing female oriented in the that house other than Anne was the doll on her bed that she had hoped to give to a daughter.  Anne tried 5 times (maybe not on purpose), and ended up with five boys in 6 years.  There were wonderful memories of sledding down the hillside by their home in Potlatch, ID.

Kenny was my parent's godson.  His mischievous nature, twinkling eyes, charming personality and humor especially endeared him to my mother.  He held a special spot in my Mom's heart.  In the late 1980's, Kenny worked a few summers doing yard work for my folks.  It was at that time that Kenny and I learned a few things about each other.  Kenny told me that he always felt a little sorry for me because he thought I was picked on.  I thought of him as yet another male cousin.  Kenny then informed me that after watching me in action, he was pretty sure I wasn't picked on and that I gave as good as I got.  He then decided that I was the sister he never wanted.  I was more than happy to provide Kenny with some feedback on some of his idiotic male notions.  It was good-natured on both sides and always remained so.  A few years later, Kenny decided that he was going to go to college.  By that point, I was a Senior at the University of Idaho and Kenny was an incoming Freshman.  You might say it was a reversal of circumstances...I was the Senior at the University of Idaho and he was the incoming Freshman.  Kenny was going through registration and he was still there when I showed up 2 hours later.  My registration process took 10 a Freshman, his was much more complicated.  I helped him through and we left several minutes later.  Kenny showed up to my apartment many times during the following months.  He might have been helping me with something, or I was helping him.  I cooked more than a few meals for him and he did several jobs fixing one thing or another.  I conned him into going to see "Les Miserables" with me.  Broadway musicals really weren't his thing...he was was much more fond of 70's rock.

It seemed that almost every time we saw each other at family reunions or gatherings during the next few decades we renewed our argument about the turret or tower.  There was also a lot of hugs, joking and conversation.  There were also more than a few phone calls that lasted over an hour.  Both of us reminiscing about the past and talking about our families.  We had that cousinly bond…but it was much more.  I always got off the phone reminded at how deeply Kenny loved his wife, his children and grandchildren.  The bond with his brothers was always there as well as that with his nieces and nephews.  

Johnson's at Dad's 50th birthday - 1990
Tommy, David, Kenny & KC - Cousins

Kenny with Chris Johnson

Left to Right - Billy, Rod, Kenny & Ron
When my mother died, one of the first phone calls I got was from Kenny.  I can’t remember exactly…but I think he couldn’t make it to the service.  It just about broke his heart because he adored my Mom – and it was definitely reciprocated.  I remember seeing Kenny during the next several years and he was almost always taking care of someone.  Sometimes it was his Dad or Mom or our Grandmother.  Despite Kenny being such a jokester, he had a caring heart and he used humor to offset tension.  There is no question that at times, it was inappropriate…but there was an expression used in our family – “it was just Kenny!”  When Kenny’s Dad died, he asked me to read something for he and his brothers.  He knew that he was asking me to do something that would be hard for me to do – but he asked me because he trusted me to do it the way he wanted. 

Kenny passed away on Sunday, January 6.  When I heard the news from his mother, I had to sit there for a while with tears rolling down my face.  I was never going to get that big bear hug again or hear his teasing.  Kenny left a wonderful legacy!  There is not one person who will ever forget him who knew him.  His brothers will always tell stories about the trouble they got into…his nieces and nephews will always have a story about something stupid that Kenny taught them to do.  Kenny leaves behind a loving wife and adoring children and grandchildren, a mother and brothers and their families who will do their best to continue to keep Kenny present.  There is also is his extended family.  We have been blessed with a large family, but it is so hard to lose someone who was so beloved.  For as long as anyone is alive who knew Kenny – there will be a funny story and knowing Kenny that is exactly what he would have wanted.