Thursday, May 29, 2008


After I posted this about a friend's depression I received comments about the poem by Kirsti A. Dyer, M.D., and the link to her website. A few days ago Dr. Dyer commented at my blog herself and left the link to her more recent website, Loss, Grief and Bereavement. During this time my Aunt JoAnn passed away, the topic of my post preceding this one, and Mike and I visited Dr. Dyer's grief website last night. We found support, a wealth of information, and peace there. This unique connection may be just a random thing, but I really don't think so. People come into and out of our lives sometimes by intent, sometimes by kismet, and, sometimes by grace.

How JoAnn came into my grandparent's home is a certain combination of the three.

She is seen here with my grandfather, JHS, soon after joining the family at around 19 months of age. He is 64 in this photo, and my grandmother, Nellie, was 56 at the time. Aging was different then than it is today, and they were considered old folks at the time (looked it, too), after having already lived full lives. JHS lost his first wife early on, leaving him with two little girls who were raised by Nellie after she and JHS married. Together, they added three sons, and then my mother.

The youngest of the boys, Richard, was only four years older than my mom, Margaret, and, as shown in this photo, they were buddies extraordinaire.
In 1927, the evening before Richard was killed in a car accident on his way to a Santa Monica High School football game, he played jacks with my mother on the kitchen floor, teasingly warning her that she'd better never tell the kids at school about it. Richard died in the hospital the evening of the accident with Nellie by his side. He was a 16-year-old beloved son and brother who left behind a completely devastated family.

The mourning was ongoing even two years later when Nellie rekindled a friendship with an old friend from their years living in Kansas City, Missouri. Now the friend lived near them in Santa Monica, California, where she had a home for homeless children. The closest equivalent today would be our foster care system. Nellie began visiting her friend weekly and she fell in love with an 18-month-old rosy-cheeked, little blond girl (JoAnn) who reminded her of Richard as a baby. Although both parents were alive JoAnn and her brother were at the home due to major concerns about the capacity of the parents to adequately care for them.

Nellie consulted JHS about bringing JoAnn into their home and my mother wrote that, "Pop said it was up to her if she wanted to accept that responsibility after having raised six of their own." Unlike today, the arrangements weren't made with the assistance of attorneys, and the agreement between my grandparents and JoAnn's mother was never legally binding. There was some provision drawn whereby her mother could take her back (with the state's approval) if she changed her mind within a certain time, something like one year. My mother recalled the angst each of them felt in the first months with JoAnn, their love for her being deeper than their panic so that they could bear it. A milestone day came and passed without any word from the birth mother, and so JoAnn was theirs. Without a formal adoption she maintained her birth name that fit her Swedish heritage and appearance. It's such a sadness to think about her brother left behind. I'm sorry I don't know his story and must one day ask my cousins to fill in the years. But I am aware that in at least the later years he has lived close enough for them to become close, for him to know his niece, nephew and great-nieces. I think that is phenomenal.

One of my uncles and his wife had purchased as an investment a large amount of land with a modest house they called "the ranch" in the wilds of Trinity County, California. It was there that Nellie, my mother, and JoAnn (all other children were grown) homesteaded their way through the Great Depression. I love this picture of my mother and JoAnn on a hike in the "Trinity Alps."

While they lived at the ranch my grandfather continued in his once-profitable career in sales of a variety of products, still getting by. He died while on the road in 1936 when JoAnn was seven. This photo is of Nellie and JoAnn at his gravesite. With the end of the Depression my grandmother moved the girls back to Chico, and eventually the Walnut Creek/Lafayette area, where my mother moved on and Nellie and JoAnn lived simply. JoAnn basically lived in that area her entire life. She was a headstrong teen who drove Nellie to distractions at times, but more often was a light in Nellie's life. They understood, respected, and loved one another.

This photo is a marvel to me. Independent photographers once positioned their cameras on the streets in Oakland, snapping pictures of passersby and arranging payment for a mailed copy. This one was called a "Metro Movie Snap" and caught JoAnn and Nellie striding happily along a busy street together in 1947.

She met Bill in the Bay Area, where he rose to Captain in the Navy. He told Nellie straight away that he was going to marry JoAnn. She told my mother that Bill was crazy. She married him. They were a remarkable and interesting couple who raised their family in a beautiful home next to a hill covered with walnut trees. She was widowed in 1994, but was not alone with my devoted cousins nearby.

My aunt JoAnn had flair and a most marvelous sense of humor. As a teen I could listen to her stories endlessly. I realize now that she was like Erma Bombeck in her witty interpretations of daily life in the suburbs. Her speaking voice and intonation were so distinctive that I can hear her easily in my memory. She was also blessed with a beautiful singing voice. And she had the most impressive handwriting I've ever seen. It appeared on cards attached to the most perfectly-wrapped, carefully-selected Christmas gifts any kid/teen could ever wish for.

JoAnn had her paradoxes. She smoked; she skied. She was giving; she was private. She was beautiful; she was self-effacing. She appeared confident; she fought depression. She was sunny; she sheltered heartbreak.

I'm remembering her sunny.


timethief said...

Thanks so much for sharing Dr. Dyer's link. I went through a bleak and very long winter following my friend's suicide and I'm only now beginning to see some light again. And, I so much appreciate this tribute post to your aunt. It's a celebration of her life and expresses your love for her. In the final analysis once we leave our bodies all there is, is love and that's wonderful.

David said...

Lydia, Thanks for sharing your memories of your aunt. David

Lydia said...

Thank you. I left a message for you at your wonderful blog.

I appreciate you taking the time to read it! I've decided that I must exhibit brevity and crispness in my next few posts, at least :)


Petrea said...

Thank you, Lydia. A beautiful post for a beautiful person. Brevity's not so easy when your heart has so much to say.

Honour said...

What a lovely testament to your aunt ... thanks for sharing Lydia and peace to you at this time.

Lydia said...

Petrea and Honour,
I so appreciate your comforting words. I needed them tonight, and there they were!

sharryb said...

Hi Lydia,
What a wonderful tribute to JoAnn. The photos were a beautiful addition to your words about her life and your connection. Reading about her reminded me of my own special aunt, Patricia, who died several years ago.


Lydia said...

I'm so glad you appreciated the post, and understand why since your Aunt Patricia was special like JoAnn.

Gary Robertson said...

It was great seeing the vintage photo taken in the Trinity Alps. Don't think it has changed much over the years ... not since the days your mother and JoAnn hiked there ... I live in Trinity County ... backpack the Trinity Alps often ... it's still just as wild and wonderful ........... "The years behind have a friendly aspect, and they are warmed by the fires we have kindled, and all their echoes are the echoes of our own voices," -Alexander Smith

Lydia said...

@Gary- I so appreciate you leaving your wonderful comments here. It's fascinating that you live in Trinity County and can assure me that the Trinity Alps are still wild. My mother would be so pleased.....

The quote you left is absolutely beautiful. I love it and will keep it. Can't thank you enough for sharing it.



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