What was it like in Southern Idaho a hundred and four years ago, when it was a vast, unpopulated place? A place where sheep covered rolling hills, and the humming sound reverberating through the air was not that of traffic, but grasshoppers during the day and crickets at night? What was it like?
When I was a child, I would escape the summer heat, the hot asphalt, and sticky tar and disappear into a scrub oak tree clump. Here, the outside world would evaporate. Oak leaves became dinner plates, a pile of them, a colorful bed. Acorns became thimble-sized bowls or hats for elves, or else my shiny new fingernails to cover up my real, bitten-down ones. Under the leaf-laced canopies, I was anything. I was truly free.
I don’t remember the last time I felt so unrestrained, so uninhibited. I worry all the time. I worry about big things, the state of the entire world, and something about it going to hell in a handbasket. I worry about my children, my grown-up children. I worry about my dog, who is getting crazier the older she gets, and the busier I get.
I feel the constraints of being—people’s perception of me whether they are positive or negative, my lack of accomplishment, my inadequacies, constantly feeling the razor’s edge of self-doubt. I haven’t felt free in a very long time. I wonder if this is the nature of adulthood. Isn’t this what navigating through life is about, ‘you put away your childish things’?
However, that implies you knew what those things were, and you chose to shed them. I don’t remember choosing. Suddenly, I was an adult. Suddenly, I was this.
As is the case recently, I compare myself to my Great-aunt Glenna. Is this what it was like for her? One day Glenna was playing in a field, dancing through wild grasses, or sitting on the ground, squishing cold mud through her fingers, and then the next day—what?
Did she understand where she was the day after she woke in State Hospital South? Did she recognize that this was her adulthood, now? Did she realize that this was where she would be for another fifteen years? Had she identified her childish things and given them up willingly, or were they taken?
I also wonder if it was confirmed that Glenna started showing signs of schizophrenia as a teenager, and what was that like?
During an interview with one of my Aunts a few weeks ago, she told me a story.
When Glenna was an older teen, she was a maid for a family. One day my Great-grandma was called to come and get her. Glenna was beating the bushes, trying to put out a fire that wasn’t there. But was this before or after the car accident?
Another story I heard came from my Mom. Glenna’s Mom brought Glenna back home after she swore that the house she was cleaning was full of ghosts. How terrifying would that have been for her? How horrifying was it for Glenna’s mother?
These stories make me question how often Glenna saw things that weren’t there? When was it that her imagination took over, and she could no longer recognize reality from fiction? Could anything, such as a brain injury, expedite her mental illness?
For the last several weeks, I have spent hours a day researching this question. I heard that Glenna’s behavior changed when she was in a car accident. All her friends died, and then she went to State Hospital South.
I’ve combed through thousands of archives, searching for the newspaper talking about a horrific automobile accident in which there was only one survivor. I have come up with nothing. This doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but I’m suspicious.
Over a decade, article after article recounts which couple went to another couple’s house for dinner and card games. I’ve read up on how many pearl buttons were sown on So-and-so’s wedding dress and how many Bridesmaids were in attendance at her reception. I know that this person got high school honors, and that person took third place in a swim meet in Ogden, Utah in 1938.
I’ve learned that one weekend, my Grandparents dropped my Mom and my Uncle off at their grandparents’ house and then drove to Flint, Michigan, to pick up two Ford station wagons.
There are statistics of how many car accidents there were every year from 1933 to 1940. I know that Idaho was blamed for the many casualties due to having one of the only paved highways in the country (something like paved roads makes it easier to speed, which equals car crashes).
I also uncovered many pedestrian-automobile fatalities (one in which I believe another relative of mine was involved, but because I haven’t been able to verify it, I’m going to wait to explain until I do).
So, where is this terrible accident that turned Glenna so crazy?
The next idea that seems to draw me in is what happened to Glenna while she was in the hospital, and then what happened to her up to the day she died? I haven’t found that out either, but I’m a step closer!
A few days ago, my Uncle texted me, “I received Glenna’s death certificate. What’s your address so I can send it to you?”
Soon, I will have some answers, like, how Glenna died and where is she buried. I am both excited and worried. The next step is discovering truths and connecting the dots, leading to unearthing Glenna’s story. It’s a terrifying step.
I worry about what the death certificate will tell me about the end of Glenna’s life. I hope that it was pleasant and uneventful compared to her life before.
Once I find out how she died, I hope that it will tell a different story, a better story about Glenna’s life, and my interpretation of what she might have gone through is wrong. Maybe what I understand about Glenna’s life I can blame on my overactive imagination, one that I thought I’d outgrown and left behind in a clump of scrub oak a billion years ago. However, despite my default-setting that I am wrong, there is something else, deep, deep inside me that doubts it.