Friday, August 12, 2016
A Special Weekend
First things first: Mother aka Virginia Ann Halter Tibbs would have been 95 today.
Mother would also be quite pleased with the trip we're taking back to her birthplace of Chicago. It's just for a weekend, but this trip is a part of a heart-tugging family saga that began more than 20 years ago.
This particular portion of the family odyssey started with a feature story about our mother in the Idaho Catholic Register. Then editor Colette Cowman interviewed Mother about her life and about her Western artwork for a special edition about Idaho's Catholic seniors.
Later, while I was reading the published piece, one particularly poignant sentence, a direct quote from Mother jumped out at me.
"I'd like to find my mother's grave and put a flower on it," Virginia Tibbs had shared during the interview.
This was the first time I had ever been aware of this deep longing for a reconnection with her mother Lily Halter, who had died near Wallace, Idaho, when our mother was a mere 3 years old in 1924.
Mother and her younger sister June later moved on with their dad who had relocated to Northern California after Lily's death.
Soon, however, his sister, Aunt Annie Douglas from Michigan had her chauffeur drive her across country to Frank Halter's home in Burnt Ranch, Calif., where they would pick up the two young sisters and eventually enroll them in boarding schools where the youngsters would live except for vacations throughout their childhood and even young adult years.
Although Mother's father died when she was 15, she still kept in contact with some family members. When she moved back to Idaho with her own family in 1945, however, it would be the last contact for most of these people until after that article appeared in the Register.
Upon learning of Mother's wish to find the gravesite somewhere around Wallace where her mother had been buried, my journalistic instincts set me into motion.
I checked with newspapers around the Silver Valley and also sent off to Boise for Lily Short Halter's death certificate.
Running up blind alleys with the local publications, I was pleased to see the death certificate come in the mail. Within minutes of its arrival, I took the downtown to the Country Loft at Foster's Crossing where Mother worked part-time.
The certificate provided a few facts about her mother's death, giving Mother a slight sense of connection. She was noticeably moved while reading the information.
Then she said, "Now, if I could just find Bud Aspell."
"Who's he?" I asked.
He's my first cousin. He lives in Chicago. It had been nearly 50 years since Mother had last talked with Bud after her move to Idaho.
Hearing her revelation, I figured that if we were successful in rounding up the death certificate, maybe, just maybe, I could round up some information about Bud.
I wasted no time, leaving the downtown craft store, driving home and using the old method of tracking down people----dialing "Information" and hoping I had the right city.
I had done similar sleuthing before, and, believe me, it can be time consuming and filled with numerous dead ends.
Well, happily, a few calls later, I was talking to a Richard Aspell from a Chicago 'burb who told me that Bud Aspell was, indeed, his father, and, yes, he was still alive, and, yes, he would give me his telephone number.
I dialed the number. A man answered. I identified myself as Virginia Halter Brown Tibbs' daughter.
"Oh Virginia, she went out to Idaho in 1945 to raise horses," Bud nonchalantly said. "How's she doing?"
Well, she's doing just fine, I told Bud in my first of many conversations to come. That same evening Mother also enjoyed a long conversation with Bud, learning a striking similarity between his family and ours: six children---three sons and three daughters.
Later but still in the infant stages of the Internet and after learning that one of Bud's daughters lived near Ann Arbor and worked for the University of Michigan, I eventually tracked her down and even found an email address.
Soon, Bud's daughter Joan and I were exchanging emails, both sharing what we learned with our parents.
Not long after that, Bill and I were traveling to Washington, D.C. with a layover in Chicago----back in the day when families and friends could still visit with each other inside the concourses until the travelers stepped onto their planes.
Well, we were late arriving in Chicago and had only six minutes to connect with our flight to Washington. Bud, his sister Rae and his son Rich were there to meet us, and they ran along with us.
Before saying "good bye," Rae handed me an envelope. I had to wait until after I was buckled in my seat on the plane to read it.
The envelope contained a letter written by Lily Halter to the folks back in Chicago, shortly after she had moved to Idaho and just weeks before she died from a stomach ailment. It mentioned the young family's Thanksgiving celebration and "little Ginny" talking about what she wanted for Christmas.
Washington, D.C. could not come soon enough after I read the words penned by my grandmother 70 years before. As soon as we reached our hotel, I picked up the phone, called my mother and read the letter to her.
She told me later that for the first time since her early childhood, she actually felt a connection with her mother.
So, we never did find the grave, but thanks to the other research and the thoughtfulness of the Aspell family, Mother felt like her family roots were coming alive and blooming.
Bud and Joan came to Idaho and visited.
Later, Karen Virkkala, another cousin, while sitting in her office building in downtown Chicago, discovered a posting on a genealogy link.
It was the "missing link." Karen had been doing family genealogy for a number of years, and there had always been a mystery regarding one portion of the family tree: what ever happened to Virginia and June?
Again, the telephones began to ring between the Midwest and North Idaho, and during these conversations, Mother learned that she had even more family alive and well in Chicago.
She was 79 at the time. Heer already-enriched life became even better.
A few years ago, Mother, Bill, our daughter Annie, my brother Jim and I all went to Chicago to join in on Bud Aspell's 90th birthday.
What a grand time it was, especially the night when we all went to pizza and realized the 100-plus people in that room were all related.
Well, Mother has passed on. Bud passed away last year, 17 years after his wife Helen.
In honor of what would have been Bud and Helen's 75th wedding anniversary, the Aspell family has coordinated a gathering where Bud and Helen's ashes will be scattered together in Lake Michigan near the area in Chicago where they dated.
To say this weekend will be poignant for many, many reasons is beyond understatement.
I have a feeling my mother would be very happy to know that some of us (all five Love's) are participating in the festivities. I know we'll feel her spirit as we take off today on her birthday in an effort to extend the family connections that have been lost and found over so many years.
Let's hope this family saga continues for generations to come.
It's going to be a memorable and emotional weekend AND did I mention-----on Sunday we'll be watching the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field. Best team in all of MLB baseball!
Happy Birthday, Mother. I know you're smiling.