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