|Elizabeth Alfreda McPherson nee Foss|
circa 1918, Crow Wing Lake, MN
I think I would have like a more personal time with my grandmother. Unfortunately, my earliest memories of her centered around driving from Klamath Falls to Anderson, California, for Christmas dinner. The trip was arduous with about 150 miles of curves that snaked down through the canyons roads that left the towns of Weed and Dunsmuir in the rear view mirror as we climbed out of the canyon to Redding and finally to the little town of Anderson. These weren't great trips; leaving our Christmas tree and all the presents for a two hour drive with periodic stops with my sister or I throwing up along side the road.
When we finally arrived, my cousins and I were in a world of play, far from the grownups. My grandmother, while I am sure she loved us grandchildren, her joy was heaped on her adult children --- there were ten of them, all independent, energetic, and boisterous. She would cook and bake and hover over them. Their family was a card playing bunch, but she seemed to live for the meal times when the cards were put away, the table set and she could minister to her children.
By the time I was eleven or twelve, my Klamath county cousins and I would spend spring vacations in Anderson with my grandparents. However, the memories of those days center mostly around my California cousin and his friends. Another memory I have of her is a visit I made to see her when I graduated from high school. I drove my car down to Lake Shasta where all of my senior classmates were all to meet, but I decided instead to visit grandma and grandpa in Central Valley, which was on the way to Shasta Lake. I don't remember very much about that visit, except that it seemed important that I make the visit. I never saw her again; she was dead six weeks later. Some say she never recovered from my father's tragic death two years before.
Somehow, I want to reconcile this image of the aged grandmother of my childhood, with the vibrant 36 year-old woman in the above picture. At this time this picture was taken she had been married for over twenty years, and had born nine, and possibly 10 children, with three more to be born in the next seven years.
She had been ill a few years before with some mysterious malady that left her paralyzed for "13 months." Some said it was polio, but there was not, to my knowledge, any after-effects that usually follow that disease. At the time of her illness, she and her family lived in northern Minnesota. Her husband Jabez, bundled her up in an overstuffed chair, loaded her and five of their then six children (a newborn baby was left with her mother-in-law) onto a train and headed for a hospital, which was most likely in Madison, Wisconsin where her parents lived. During this illness, she also gave birth to my father, as well as losing a daughter to pneumonia. According to family stories, the doctors told her that she would never walk again, at which point her husband took her home to start his own process of rehabilitation. He insisted that she eat dinner at the table, even if she had to be hand-fed; for months, he walked her back and forth the length of the room with him holding the broomstick and walking backwards, she grasping the broomstick and struggling to move her legs forward. And walk she did. They returned to northern Minnesota where they lived on farms around Crow Lake; she had four more children while living near Crow Lake, which brought the total number of living children to nine. She seemed to have a fairly close relationship with AxieAxie Root, an Indian midwife who was brought to attend to her during birth of at least three of her children. In fact, the birth certificate for one of the daughters showed the child's given name as Axie (which evidently was later changed or "corrected."
From the letters of my Uncle Ralph, who was her oldest son, I have images of an energetic, hard-working woman who cleaned, cooked, canned and cared for her family; images of her harnessing the team of horses in the middle of night, in a snowy, cold Minnesota winter, to drive to the train-stop in the middle of no-where to pick up her husband, who periodically had to take jobs away from home to make ends meet. She would brave the snowy Minnesota weather to board the train to travel to Wisconsin to tend to her ill mother. Her children seemed to be in agreement that she would do anything for her family. Often I have heard her younger daughters call her a "saint." though I never understood what them meant, other than she lived for them.
Another facet of her life that I have come to appreciate is how close she and my grandfather were. From the time she was a new bride, she would travel across state after state with him. Some women would follow their husbands, but complain about their husbands and what they left behind. Somehow, my grandmother seemed to take it all with her, from Wisconsin, to Iowa, and back, on to Minnesota, then to California and back, three times no less, and finally traversing several times the length of California to southern Oregon and points in between. I have called my grandparents "wanderers." Although that term may not do justice to them, the two of them were always together.
When I started this piece about Elizabeth Alfreda McPherson, I was searching for her, for her story, for all that I missed not really knowing her when I was a child. Even now, the picture of her in my mind tends to clear, then cloud up with the unknown, but I feel closer to this grandmother of mine than ever before. I can feel her love of her family and her Jabez, and theirs for her, that carried her through the more than fifty years and thousands of miles --- and that is enough for me.
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© Joan Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications