Some months ago a cousin I’d never met in person, JoAnn (Wentz) Beale, wrote from California, suggesting that we get together when she came to an event in her home town of Grafton ND. It was a great idea. Her grandmother, Elize Collette Wentz, and my grandmother, Josephine Collette Bernard, were siblings, raised on the home farm, still owned by Maurice D. and Isabell Collette, just west of Sacred Heart Church in Oakwood. Maurice is the son of Elize and Josephine’s youngest sibling, Alcide.
JoAnn and I spent the better part of an afternoon and early evening visiting the sites of our Collette family history.
It was a most enriching day.
Maurice D showed us around, and JoAnn posed on the site of the Collette home which was occupied from about 1885 till 1978, when Collette’s built a new home just to the south. Here’s JoAnn, June 25, 2012, on the site of the old house. (click to enlarge)
I found a few earlier photos from that same farm yard a few years earlier:
JoAnn and I spent time, of course, in and around the magnificent Sacred Heart Church, which is due to be closed within the next two years. I’ve put together a small Facebook album of photographs taken on June 25 here. That’s Maurice D. Collette with JoAnn in one of the photos in front of the church. (The entire Centennial History of the parish, from 1981, can be accessed here.)
I’ve been to Oakwood many times, but until June 25 had never actively sought out the site of the old St. Aloysius School, and found it, at least as represented in the driveway and the flagpole, and the lumber used to build two homes on the site, about a block north of the church. Across the street remains the Grotto. All these are in the Facebook album.
We had a cool drink with Maurice in the tavern across the street from the Church, then took a little tour and back to Grafton.
Before dinner, I took a solitary drive to see the little house at 738 Cooper, the only place I ever knew as my grandparent Bernard’s home.
This time, for the first time in my life, there was no house there.
It caused me to think back to other photos of other times at that little house down the block from the Court House in Grafton.
In the last photo, I can’t help but think of the time, at Thanksgiving I think, where Grandpa, among other occupations an old lumberjack, taught we kids how to clean our plates…by licking his own plate clean. My guess is that Grandma Josephine had a bit of advice for him later, but the memory was cemented in our mind. Ah the memories….
Grandpa had an immense amount of pride in his service in the Spanish-American War in the Philippines, 1898-99. Down the block from 738 Cooper was the monument to his unit in that War. Five of his comrades died in a battle at Paete P.I., and apparently two more died shortly after returning home. They are reflected on the monument, which was raised in 1900.
Here is one photo of the monument. A few others are here, on Facebook.
There is a necessary postnote to this post on a family history.
We cannot escape the reality of getting older. The wonderful lady who really helped give me much impetus to begin this family history years ago is very near going into a nursing home at age 92. I visited her on this trip. When I began this journey 32 years ago, she was a huge resource. Now she is completely vulnerable, confused, cannot live alone, and is obviously scared of what is a necessary change for her.
Others who helped with the history have died; still others are very ill.
This trip, and the great meeting with my cousin from California, remind me that if there is work to be done on family matters, now, not tomorrow or next month or next year, is the time to do it. We just don’t know when it will be too late.
Thanks, JoAnn, for the idea of (as my Dad liked to say) “a face-off”!