Sunday, November 11, 2012

Idaho Ghosts

Our lives are shaped as much by those who leave us 
as they are by those who stay.  
Loss is our legacy. 
Insight is our gift.
Memory is our guide.

     -Emmy Belding, Grieving Gracefully

The House Where Dad was Born-February 19, 1932

My grandmother "Muzzie" used to tell my father that he was born "on the banks of Spring Creek on a cold February day”. He was actually born in the house that sits on a hill overlooking the creek. Eighty years since my dad’s difficult debut, he sits with me in my car on the first stop of our sentimental journey. I step out into the cool October air to take a few pictures.

With Dad as my guide, I want to see the places that my grandmother’s family called home. This is what I know about them: 

  • My great-grandparents, Leslie and Martha Bowcut Wickham had a farm outside of town. 
  • They had six sons and two daughters (The oldest son died as an infant)
  • Son Peter ran a sawmill. 
  • Son Walt had a big potbelly and drank on his porch. 
  • Leslie built Martha a home “in town” after her years of working the farm with little help from her sons.  Perhaps he was trying to atone for the time he was away on a Mormon mission
  • Muzzie was born the year after he came home.
I believe seeing their homes and the places they lived and worked will help me understand more about a virtually invisible side of my family.  I am hoping it spurs my Dad's memories as well. 

I never met any of the brothers; just Muzzie's sister, Freda.  Most of them were alive when I was in high school. Why was I never introduced to these people? 

My Aunt Judy remembers that as a child, she was not allowed to associate with her Wickham uncles or their families. It appears to be another sad example of misplaced judgment, keeping people divided on issues that in the end, don’t matter one bit.

As we drive through Franklin and out to the farm, my grandmother's energy fills the air around us and I listen with reverence while other Wickham spirits join her to tell their stories through the quiet, comforting voice of my father.

The Wickham Farm

As a child, I remember seeing the Wickham farm from the main road.  It is just two or three miles out of town, with a final turn down what was once a long tree-lined lane. Today the trees are gone, and the farmhouse has been replaced by a modern brick rambler with a white heavy door.  Dad stands on the porch while I knock. We want to introduce ourselves to anyone who answers and ask for permission to look around. No one is home. 

Grandpa Wickham built this garage

The original garage that Grandpa Wickham built is still standing. An old shed and this one-car structure are all that remains of the past. Dad wanders into the back yard and the landscape suddenly drops off into a beautiful valley. A river ambles through the trees. Dad tells me that he remembers playing here as a child, and I step away to let him relish his memories.

Muzzie's Riverbottom

  Johnny Jump-Ups

When Muzzie wrote her memoirs, she reminisced about “skipping through the johnny jump-ups”, a small flower that grows wild in the fields and along the roadside. This has become somewhat of a joke in our family; an example of hyperbole and of viewing the past through rose-colored glasses. 

But as I stand there looking over this pristine valley with my Dad, I understand what a magical place the river bottoms must have been for her as a young girl; a hidden playground, complete with a bridge her father built especially for her to  cross the stream.  It won't be so easy for me to make light of that memory anymore.  

I start to tell Dad this and see he has tears in his eyes.

The Tiny Blue House

Folklore from my childhood whispered that some of Muzzie’s brothers were drunks.  I had heard the names Walt and Joe, but especially sad was the youngest, Kelly (real name-Ross).  Until I saw this two-room house, I didn't know the whole story. We park across the street while Dad remembers:

So small
Coming here with his mother, he always had to wait in the car. Muzzie went into the house alone and was gone for what seemed like a long time. When she came out to the car, she would often be crying.  She asked her children to keep these visits a secret from their father.


 Now I know that Kelly’s young wife Alice died only two years after they married and as a new mother, less than one year after giving birth to their son Leslie.  She was 19. Tragically, Leslie was killed in a jeep rollover accident months before he turned 22.

I suspect Kelly found numb comfort from his loss in the bottle and I feel a compassion for him that stays with me long after I return home.  I ache for my grandmother, who was forced to see her brothers mostly in secret to avoid the harsh judgment of others.  

Dad and I end our journey at the Franklin City Cemetery.  

My mother is buried here, not far from Leslie, Martha, Peter, Muzzie, my grandfather, Kelly and Alice. 

I realize once again that Mom isn't here; not really.  They are all in the wind now, perhaps summoned from eternity to hover nearby when we say their names, remember their faces or tell their stories.    

In the "I can't believe I didn't do this" category, I did NOT take a picture of my Dad during our sojourn. His white hair was longer than usual (a haircut seemed unimportant in light of our mission) and his face often beamed with the glory of remembrance. 

I don't have his picture, but I won't forget how beautiful he looked that day. Not for the rest of my life.           

1 comment:

  1. Wow...beautiful. I didn't know that the names Martha and Leslie were those of our great grandparents. There is so much I don't know. 'In the wind' is a good way to describe them now. But in truth, you have pulled them back from the brink of distant existence and offered them up anew as the family legacy they are. Well done.