Thursday, December 20, 2018

Grandma's First Husband - Life After James

In November 1918, after only 11 months of marriage, my grandmother, Anna Bell Barnhart Calhoun found herself a widow. She struggled to cope with the news. In a December 12, 1918 letter to her sister-in-law Anna Mabon, she said "I cannot get over James death. I feel at times that we may hear good news yet, and again at times it is almost unbearable. It does seem strange that James should be the one who had to be taken."

For a few months, James' widow wrote to a number of people trying to get confirmation about what happened to James. She received what had to be perplexing stories that a local person from Andes was with James when he was killed. In a letter to her sister-in-law, Mrs. Archibald Calhoun, written in January, she said "someone told Wilford that one of your brothers saw James when he was killed...."

On February 3, 1919, Anna wrote to her mother-in-law, reporting that she had heard from someone in France who knew James. He reported that James was killed while he and a lieutenant were sleeping in a fox hole. They were hit by a shell, killing both James and the lieutenant. The correspondent said "he had already recommended James to attend the officers school and was sure he would have succeeded..." She went on to write "What a shame that James couldn't have been spared a little longer then he would have been safe."

Anna continued to live on the family farm with her mother and brothers. Her sister Edith was married in 1919. Both of her brothers were married in 1921. Wilford took over the family farm, hiring two brothers to work on the farm, Benson and Clarence LaFever. This likely is how my grandmother met her second husband. Benson and Clarence are mentioned with some frequency in her 1921 diary. Also mentioned in 1921 was the return of James' body to the United States. 

She received a telegram on August 28 saying "James' body at Hoboken." In the same entry she mentioned going to church with Ben. On September 10, she got another telegram that his body was on its way to Delhi. On September 14, James was buried in Bovina with full military honors. My grandfather late in life told me that he was at that service.
Ben and Anna Bell LaFever shortly after their marriage in May 1923

By the end of 1921, Anna Bell had bought a house just outside the Bovina Center hamlet and moved into it with her mother. On May 31, 1923, Anna Bell was married in her home to Benson LaFever. My grandparents lived in her house until 1928, when the moved about a mile up the road. They had four sons, Howard (ironically born on what would have been grandma's seventh wedding anniversary to her first husband), David (who died in 1930), Charles (my dad) and George, born on his mother's 42nd birthday. 

One of the few pictures I have found of my grandparents with their three surviving sons - Howard, Charles, Benson, George, Anna Bell.

Ben and Anna Bell with their three sons on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary in May 1973.
Grandma's life continued to have its challenges. In late 1929 and early 1930, she lost her niece, her mother, her sister and her son. She and my grandfather saw major challenges in their marriage in the 1950s, but they reconciled and settled in Northern New York, where they were very successful strawberry farmers. Through the 50s until her death in 1980, grandma suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, ending up having to use a wheel chair much of the time. But she continued to keep house, bake, knit, and help manage their farm. I even saw her turn a mattress once. My grandmother was sweet but didn't put up with misbehavior from her grandchildren. Just because she was in a wheelchair didn't mean she couldn't give us a swat if we acted up!
This is the only picture of just me with my grandparents, taken in November 1974 by my sister Diane.
Grandma died in March 1980 at the age of 87. She was buried next to James in the Bovina Cemetery. When my grandfather died two years later, he was buried next to his wife Anna Bell.

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