01 December 2009

And then there were five.

Sunrise over North Dakota yesterday:

My grandparents already had three children when they moved to Hendrum. My Aunt Beverly, Uncle John, and Uncle Dick were all born in North Dakota. Aunt Sharon was born February 10, 1941 in Halstad, and two years to the day later, my mother was born at home in a snowstorm. Aunt Bev remembers holding 2 year old Sharon in the upstairs bedroom as Grandma Beulah screamed in pain on the sofa downstairs to bring my mother into this world. Then came Aunt Linda, and the youngest, Barbie, who still gets teased for her temper tantrums.

My grandparents raised all seven of their children in a two bedroom house in Hendrum while running the local grocery store. I remember that house well, and how it smelled of Sanka and my grandmother's cigarettes, and sawdust from the basement woodshop. Even after almost 50 years in the states, my grandfather had a lilting Swedish accent that I loved. Still today, whenever our family is together, we say a dinner prayer in Swedish that he taught us all.

There are several family photographs of the seven Johnson children, but one in particular, taken in the side yard of the house one spring/summer day, is a favorite. They are lined up by height, Bev-John-Dick-Sharon-Myra-Linda, and wee Barbie is in Bev's arms. They are a beautiful family of the late 1940s/early 1950s.

I grew up a block and a half from the house where my mother was born, and next door to my father's mother. On the other side of us lived Uncle John, and just east of him was Aunt Bev. Four blocks north I had grown cousins, and two blocks further east from us were my father's brother and his family. Hendrum has few fences, and my childhood was filled with running between grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles.

Barbie moved to Eagle Bend; Sharon moved to Brookings; Linda taught in Michigan and stayed there. Dick lived in Cottonwood for years, and has since moved to Marshall. But with the grandparents and three of the seven in Hendrum, holiday locations were a no-brainer. Nearly everyone came home, and until I was 14 or so, we had a giant family gathering somewhere, often at John's house, and then at Becky's. There were lots of opportunities to re-enact the photo of the Johnson Seven. Along with their spouses, they produced for Art and Beulah sixteen grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren (to date) and 6 great-great grandchildren. We are spread out now, but at least most of us still know the Swedish prayer, and many of my cousins share my memories of that little two-bedroom house.

John died several years ago, now, and then there were six. They gathered once a year for "Sister's Weekend," to which Dick dutiful came, as well: a lone brother who doesn't even get acknowledged in the festivities' title. My aunts are this crazy group of women: some are loud and boisterous, like my mother, and they each have their own passions and their own strongly held opinions. I love them all tremendously.

It was with terrible sadness, then, that we drove to Brookings, South Dakota yesterday for my Aunt Sharon's funeral. As we pulled off the interstate and on to Orchard Drive, my eyes welled up, unexpectedly, with tears. I've not been to Brookings since the mid1980s, but I have clear, sharp memories of their street. I could picture myself at 6, all dressed up with tights and shiny shoes to go to Easter with my cousins and our parents. We walked to the church, just up the street from their house, and I didn't even know I remembered doing that. Turning in to the driveway of the church yesterday, I recalled all the excitement of a holiday with the Arnold family, of Easter Egg hunts and baths in new bathtubs. I can see Dawn's goldn curls. I was as at home there as I was in Hendrum, and we were all glad to be together.

I feel like I've said this all already, in a way, in Deron's post. But Sharon deserves her own good-bye. I will miss her sense of humor, her determination, and her sparkling brown eyes. I was lucky to have her for an aunt.

So now they are five. Everyone is retired now, so they no longer line up by age: Linda, Myra, Dick, Beverly, Barb. They are still a beautiful family, aren't they? I miss the seven: I miss John and Sharon. But I'm thankful for these five, too. I hope they know it.

Sunset over North Dakota yesterday.


Jess said...

Well said as always. You were there since the 80s though since you were at Gene's funeral and quite possibly Dawn's wedding. But that's okay. I love you anyways.

Jennifer said...

Thanks...I forget. I think I wasn't paying attention as closely at those two events. Or it didn't bother me as much, as Sharon was still there.

Megan said...

My family has its elder members tell the story of their life on video. It's sort of a joke that the family must be afraid Great Aunt So-and-So or Great Grandpa So-and-So will croak fairly soon if they see the video camera coming...but it's such a lovely way for the newer members to remember those who came before them. And really, it's easy to tell your kids about someone they never met, but it means so much more if they can see and hear that person for themselves.

Your writings will be a testament to your generation within your family, and they will be thankful to have them.