This story written by Bobbi Rankin
When I first heard this story, I was enchanted. I was sitting with my two sisters, one of my nieces and we were taking turns talking of family history and telling our stories. Our parents Helene and John Rankin came to California from Montana in 1942, hoping for a more prosperous life. My sisters, who were older than I, had taken a bus trip back to Montana to stay a month with our Grandparents, Bessie and Carl Rankin. This is their story…
It was the summer of 1947, the country was still recuperating from the war and travel, even to see family, was not nearly as common as it is today. As they boarded the bus, they looked around in bewilderment and uncertainty. Accompanied by an Aunt they hardly knew and only remembered as being stern, the two sisters waited for their long journey to begin. At the ages of 7 and 8, they had no idea what lay ahead except that their Grandparents would be waiting for them to arrive. The bus and travel was such a new and unfamiliar experience and “when will we be there and how much further” were questions that Aunt Fritzie was not accustom to.
Aunt Fritzie was a strange old bird, as they say. A short stout woman with almost black dyed hair and very red lips, that left both of the girls a little frightened. Wanting to go visit her home in Montana, she agreed to chaperon the girls. This gave their parents some time alone with the new baby and the sisters were excited to see their Grandparents with whom they had fond memories. Of course, Aunt Fritzie had no patience for the little ones.
The days were long as they rode through the scrublands of Nevada. For as far as the eye could see those flatlands were void of towns, houses and trees. In 1947, there was little attention paid to children and their need for entertainment, so their hours were spent either looking around at the others on the bus or out the window at the barren land.
As the bus finally pulled into the station in Hardin, Montana, the girls saw two familiar faces searching the windows for their granddaughters. The sisters became excited as they spotted their grandparents. They got off the bus and ran toward the out stretched arms of Grandmother Rankin, relived that this long trip was over. Grandmother could not get over how the two young girls had grown. They were so much taller than the last time they had all been together. The sisters immediately felt comfortable in the presence of these familiar people. They waved goodbye to Auntie Fritzie again relieved that they would not have to spend any more time in her presence.
For Grandmother, the days seemed long, having these two young and energetic girls in the home all day. As happy as they were to have these sweet granddaughters, a month now seem like a long time. With that, she needed to find something to occupy their days while Grandfather was at work.
The Catholic Church was across the street from their apartment and Grandmother knew that there were always things going on there. The ladies of the parish had many projects and generally kept themselves very busy. She knew many of these women as some of them, along with the grandparents, were the founding families of Hardin. Even though Grandfather and Grandmother were staunch Presbyterians, they did mingle with the Catholics. Grandfather had always kept himself involved in the politics of Hardin and in the public eye therefore, it behooved them to be sociable with all the towns’ people.
The next day Grandmother took the girls by the hand and walked across the street and down into the basement where there was a bustle of activity. After all, the good churchwoman of the town were the ones who cared for the sick, lonely and dying, and so there was always busy work for these Catholic women to do.
All things of beauty easily distracted the youngest sister. She saw the world through eyes that cherished flowers, pretty colors or sparkles that shined in the light of day. She was then immediately drawn to the wall just inside the great hall as they made their way down the stairs. There, waiting for her eyes to behold was color, lots of color….bright shinny color. There were reds, blues, purple and all descriptions of mixed colors. Hanging on the wall there at the foot of the stairs were, in all there array, rosaries. To her the rosaries hung like necklaces instead of the prayer beads they were intended to be. Surely, they were waiting for her, waiting to be touched and placed around her neck. So many, so many colors and beads to see, she could barely take it in. This sister with the eyes and heart for beauty then walked over to them and very slowly and gently extended her hand, just wanting to have at least one little touch, to feel it between her fingers or maybe to place this beautiful necklace over her head, and to gently dance around in circles. Just that one day would bring such joy, as she, at age 7, had never known before.
Grandmother, being a gentle person herself, stood by the youngest sister, giving her time to take in all this beauty and desire, then took her hand to steer her away. She explained that rosaries were for just one thing, they were held while praying, that each bead was a prayer sent to God. In this young sister’s mind, she too wanted what these Catholics had. She would promise to pray to God morning and night just to be able to have a string of those beads for her very own.
Just then Grandmother drew her back from her imagination and took both girls into the activity that would hopefully occupy their time for this day and if lucky, for days to come. Is that not why they came? This was Grandmothers idea, that there would be enough activity to entertain and keep the girls busy. The youngest sister, on the other hand, thought that the only reason she was there was to have the privilege of seeing those beautiful hanging necklaces.
At dinner that night while sitting around the table, Grandfather asked the girls what they had done that day. The older sister immediately started talking about all the busy work they had been a part of and the fun they had at Catholic Church. At that very minute, Grandfather looked over at Grandmother with a question in his eyes before he could bring himself to ask the question. What in the world was his wife, his granddaughters for that matter, doing inside a Catholic Church? Whatever possessed this Presbyterian woman to go inside that church and do busy work with those people! At that moment, this man of usually few words, forbid them to return. Forbid them to mingle with these Catholics. Moreover, that was final!
The youngest sister could not believe what she had heard! They would not be permitted to go back to the basement across the street. That basement held such awe and wonderment of those beautiful rosaries. While lying in bed that night, waiting for sleep to come, she could still see the beauty and sparkle of the Rosaries. She could still use her imagination to feel the beautiful beads hanging from her neck.
Grandfather had lived among the Crow and Blackfoot Indians since he was a young and newly married surveyor. His first son, the girl’s father, John Knox Rankin was born on the reservation in 1907. Grandfather had many friendships with the Indian and local immigrant but for some reason he, as was a common attitude of the time, was prodigious of Catholics. But to the youngest sister, the only thing she knew was that she would never again lay eyes on that wall in the basement lined with more sparkling beads then she had even known. To be denied this joy broke her heart and dampened her spirits.
As the days went on there came to be many things of interest and enjoyment for the girls visiting their Grandparents. As the time came for them to return home, they began to worry about the bus trip and being with that Aunt Fritzie. The oldest sister told their grandparents that she had a very bad smell and they simply could not sit next to her all the way back to California. The return trip was delayed for another two weeks much to the joy of all and then our grandparents drove the girls back home.
Knowing my sister as I do today, this story does not surprise me. One of the reason I am telling this is she is still a lover of all thing beautiful. She cherishes the new bloom of a rose and the prolific colors of an English garden. She looks forward to times spent in the D’Orsey or the de Young, viewing works of art. Sad to see the flowering season end she anxiously waits for the new season of growth and blooms to awaken before her eyes. Always looking for the sparkle that bring light and joy for her family and the world to see
photo by Muffet