There are people who eat earth and eat all the people on it like in the Bible with the locusts. Then there are people who stand around and watch them eat it.
Lillian Hellman, The Little Foxes
She died in the 1980s, alone and forgotten it would seem. When I located her death certificate, it didn’t even have her mother’s and father’s names listed. I had cried for her, feeling so sad that this beautiful woman died alone. She had become lost and a ward of the state.
Her life wasn’t always this way. I have heard stories and now I have seen photos of her happier days. She lived her life moving across the states, wherever her father would travel. I don’t know much about her father’s life but through photos and the few stories told by her son, and what his death certificate reveals.
She was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, August 19, 1915, and died in San Bernardino, California, February 25, 1982. She met her first husband in Minnesota, married and had two boys. Their family lived with her father and mother, and they travelled with him wherever his business took them: Minnesota, California, and Oregon. Her father’s death certificate shows that his last occupation was Vice President of McCabe Bros. Elevator Co., Grain Elevators. So he must have moved around supporting farmers across the states, I suppose. From what little I know, they lived a fruitful and, for lack of a better word, “privileged” but simple lifestyle.
One day that all changed. Her father died in 1958, then her husband died in 1959, almost exactly a year apart, and lastly her mother died in 1960. This is when the fighting over inheritance began, and she was eaten alive. No one really talks about it much, but I believe she was “committed”, and most likely suffered a nervous breakdown. All the pillars in her life had been removed, and she had two teenage sons to raise.
She had three brothers and a sister, but only two brothers were listed as surviving on the father’s mortuary notice, along with her sister. I could never find a death record of the third brother, as it is a mystery, (although I know he settled in Texas).
The brothers, no doubt, became the executors of the estate, and she was left some funds to survive, but it did not take long for a another man to enter the picture and sweep her off her feet and eat all her inheritance. I sometimes hear the bitterness in her son’s voice whenever he speaks of his step-father in the past.
I imagine both her sons were unhappy with not receiving a dime after her death, and maybe that is why she died alone and pennyless. They are the ones who stood around and watched her be eaten, and all I can feel is sadness and helplessness as I was only a child.
I will always remember her smile and the beautiful way she painted. She was an artist, unknown.
Photo: My grandmother Annette Chidlaw with her two sons when they were young.
Some other old photos I found: