I’ll get to the photos (two, today) in a moment. First some introduction:
I knew my Grandma (Minnie) Wright only toward the end of her life, so I don’t know whether my impressions are the same as my older siblings who knew her when she was a bit younger. My perception was that she was fairly reserved, fairly rigid, and not at all demonstrative, emotionally. So when a letter she had written at a particularly distressing time came into my hands, it revealed a side of Grandma that I did not know existed.
Some of you have seen this letter (or a transcription of it) before. Perhaps most of you have. But I’m hoping our recent photographic excursions will provide a bit more of the surrounding context. I know it has for me.
To review and fill out that context, I think we need to rewind back to the picnic at Waterloo park in 1927. At that time, as the picture at Waterloo shows, the Wrights were surrounded by a lot of family in the Albany area. (Having so much family around in those years must have been such a contrast to the isolation they experienced in Alberta!) But over the next three years or so, practically the opposite became true…
- Gerritt and Lottie Hulshof (Grandma’s brother and Grandpa’s sister) moved back to South Dakota. Only their daughter Persis stayed behind. Based on an oblique comment Dad made in another context, this was apparently because the purchaser of their homestead there defaulted and they had to take it back.
- Charles and Persis McCormack (Grandpa’s sister) moved to Los Angeles.
- Irvine, Dad (Lloyd), Ann, Ed and Earl all moved to the California Bay Area to work there in fall 1929. At least some of them moved back to the Albany area in mid-1930. And Dad, at least, even lived with his parents in Jefferson for a time after that (but paid rent). Nevertheless, John and Minnie’s family would never be what is was before 1927. The kids were growing up and beginning to spread their wings.
- This isn’t directly related to the Waterloo picnic, but it is part of the context for this story. “Auntie Diena,” Grandma’s single sister, who had been working for a family in Pierce County, Washington up to 1930 (relatively close to her sister Anna on Vashon Island), got a job as a “companion-governess” with a family (the Morrills) that was moving from Tacoma, Washington to Bronxville, New York in the summer of 1930. So Diena moved across the country with them.
- Also not related to the picnic, but still part of the context of this time period: The last of Grandma and Grandpa’s parents (Grandpa’s mother) passed away in 1928. Though she lived in Michigan, it was still a loss felt in Oregon.
There were other changes, too. Not least, Grandma and Grandpa themselves moved (with the kids) from the house on Goltra Road into Jefferson just a few years before.
One wonders if all these changes didn’t bring on at least occasional feelings of loneliness for Grandma, and maybe Grandpa, too. Other than their kids (the older of which were coming and going) and niece Persis, the closest relatives were Grandpa’s brother Will and wife Emma in Hoquiam, Grandma’s sister Anna and husband Pete Smith on Vashon Island, and Grandpa’s aunt Mary Hawkins in Seattle.
In this broad context, we come to March, 1931. Word came to Grandma and Grandpa that Diena had fallen ill suddenly and passed away March 12. She was buried in Hamill, SD on March 18. Right on the heels of this news, word came that Grandpa’s brother Will died suddenly on March 18. It was the next day that Grandma penned this letter to her sister Anna in Washington:
March 19 – 1931
Dear Ones All
Yes sister we too were anxiously waiting to hear what arrangements had been made, until we received your telegram. We have had no word from S. D. so far, neither has Persis. And now we are again waiting for other arrangements.
Last night just after we had come in from church, about 9-45 we received the sad news that Will, Johns oldest bro. had passed away. We all feel it keenly, and doubly so now, for hearts are still torn from Diena’s sudden death and the wound is opened up anew.
We have no paticulars [sic] as yet but some of us, that is John and the boys will very likely go to the funeral. and as long as they are that far on the way, they will come on to the Island to see you folks [—] also Auntie [Hawkins, John’s mother’s sister, who lived in Seattle]. Not having any word we will not know when.
I have never been so broken up. Naturally I took it hard when first mother then father passed on, and so did John, but they had reached the age when we expect their going and our minds are prepared. I know sister you feel likewise. More so if it is possible to feel the lose [sic] more keenly, because of closer companionship with Diena all these years. I know one thing I believe we are all better, and also our children, for having had a sister and Aunt as good as she. We will just have to pull ourselves together and not rebel for God gives and God takes away.
There is a touching incident about it all somehow, and that is Diena was buried, John was buried in Christian baptism after taking his stand on Sunday Eve. Edwin took his stand for Christ and Will passed away, all on the same day. So while we are sad, there is gladness intermingled in this way and I know you & Pete are glad with me. It goes without saying that Diena would be, could I tell her.
Am so glad you sent Mrs Morrill’s letter and while sad it was comforting, to know all had been done that could be. Will close now as I have not the heart to write about other things. If you have any more particular [sic] pass them on, or, I should say send them on in case we do not hear
With love from each one,
All are well here
Will inclose [sic] the telegram in case you wish to keep it.
The date of the letter, March 19, 1931, was a Thursday, so the reference to going to church the previous night is apparently to a Wednesday evening service and not a Sunday service. The reference to “Sunday Eve” is apparently to a church service on the evening of the previous Sunday, March 15. Evidently Grandpa was baptized at that Wednesday service, and also Uncle Ed (Edwin) “took his stand for Christ” at that same service. So I think Grandma is remarking that Diena was buried, Will passed away, Grandpa (John) was baptized, and Uncle Ed “took his stand” all on that same day, March 18. It is clear that this gave Grandma some comfort in the middle of these heartbreaking circumstances.
So finally we come to the photos…
The first photo is Diena Hulshof. To my recollection, this is the only photo of Diena I have ever seen. Dad’s note on the back of the photograph reads:
Auntie Diena, before “25”
If there is particular significance to “25” (presumably the year 1925), I don’t know what it is. Assuming the photo was taken not long before 1925, Diena would have been about 40 in it. She was 46 when she passed away. She didn’t ever marry, and at least in the years leading up to her death had been working in maid/nanny/governess type positions.
The second photo is of Uncle Will (William James Wright, Grandpa’s eldest brother) who was a fireman in Hoquiam, Washington from about 1920 until his death in 1931. I don’t have a more specific date for this photo. Will was 58 when he passed away. He died of a heart attack.
As is sometimes the case with married couples, Will’s wife Emma didn’t live long after he died. She passed away in April 1933, age 59.
With the loss of Will and Emma, the dearth of family nearby became just a bit more pronounced for Grandma and Grandpa. Some relief along these lines came a few years later, when Gerrit and Lottie moved back to Oregon from South Dakota.
As you will recall, Will and Emma were the parents of LeRoy, he of the cranberry bog (or so we think), which brings us kind of full circle on recent historical jaunts.