There they stand, smiling in sepia, lined up on the grass in the order in which they had come into the world. Grandma and grandpa are sitting in easy chairs complete with those fancy crocheted things used to protect the arms and backs of the parlour furniture. The old folks look weary—I’d be weary too if I had sired this crew of nine posing for the photographer. From the flowers pinned to their lapels, I’d say that the old folks were celebrating an anniversary. I wasn’t there. These grandparents died the year before I was born.
Each child has his, or her, own tale to tell but Aunt Ida’s tragic end is perhaps the story that most profoundly affected us.
It was getting late. Uncle Ezra and Aunt Ida were heading back to Pembroke after a family visit at the Bohn farm near Locksley. Their three daughters, already out of their teens, were back in town looking after their own busy social lives. Back at the Bohn’s place, Aunt Tilly and Uncle Wes would have no idea until much later how their innocent, and happy reunion, would end.
The Bohn property was bordered on one side by the B-line, short for the boundary line between two counties. The Schnopps could have taken the main road, but there was less traffic on the secondary road. And, after all, it was practically on the Bohn’s doorstep.
Uncle Ezra and Aunt Ida were not too far up the road when Uncle Ezra spied a car parked on the shoulder. Lover’s Lane was not on the B-line, so he deduced that someone was having car trouble.
“Better stop and see if I can help,” he offered.
Aunt Ida, as generous a soul as heaven had gifted, nodded in agreement.
Uncle Ezra pulled over behind the stranded car. In the 50s, the shoulder of the road was still actually a shoulder, and not a third lane for those travelers in a hurry to get to the next stop sign.
Ezra got out, leaving Ida in the car. He approached the driver’s side of the vehicle in front of his.
“Evening, neighbour. Looks like you’ve got a bit of trouble. Anything I can do for you? Do you need a lift?”
These were also the days of pleasantries and back fence conversations. There was no hurry, especially when it came to being neighbourly. Uncle Ezra took his time chatting with the driver. Eventually, both men went to front of the car, lifted the hood and proceeded to tinker and tap. The hood effectively blocked their view of Uncle Ezra’s vehicle.
Cars were few and far between on the B-line in those days, so it is likely that they heard the other vehicle approaching. They certainly heard the horrendous crash as it drove full tilt into Uncle Ezra’s car, shattering the gas tank. The car quickly filled with smoke, and then fire, as the fuel ignited.
Whether she couldn’t see because of the smoke, or was disoriented from the force of the impact, Aunt Ida couldn’t get out of the car. Perhaps fearing what might happen on a lonely back road in the gathering dusk, she may have locked the doors. The two men ran to her rescue. Though both men worked furiously to get the doors open and save her from the flames that were quickly enveloping the vehicle, they were powerless to get her out.
In the end, unable to even approach the car, Uncle Ezra could only watch in helpless desperation as his Ida died on the B-line at the hands of a drunken driver who, as they often do, survived without a scratch. Back at the Bohn farm, Aunt Tilly and Uncle Wes saw the smoke rising through the trees, but they weren’t to know until much later that they were watching Ida’s funeral pyre.
As I remember him, Uncle Ezra had a receding chin that matched his receding hairline. His quick smile, with just a hint of tease in it, was always at the ready. Above that smile was a black mustache. Both his mustache and hair remained black—by art or by nature, I do not know—until his death many years later.
Aunt Ida? Well, I only know her from the photograph, standing between my dad and Aunt Tilly. Neither sepia nor the manner of her death do her justice, though I’m sure heaven will have repaired all that earth did to her.
I’m certain I’ll recognize her there.
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