Poor, poor, poor Anna, born in 1877, was the poorest and most unlucky local person I ever met.
During the old days many family house parties took place with accordion and fiddle music, dancing and whatever else goes on, in and around the farm-site in the semi-darkness.
Nineteen-year-old Anna became pregnant at one of these parties. She kept the affair secret; perhaps it was a married man, perhaps it was not consensual. On Christmas Day, 1896, a baby girl was born. Anna and the baby lived with her parents, and after a few years, Anna met and married a local man who lived a half mile away. Anna’s parents continued to raise the Christmas child. Anna had three more children. When the children were about 8, 10 and 12, her husband and the children suddenly moved to Oregon in 1910, leaving Anna alone at Koniska. No one alive today knows what happened.
After a few years Anna met and married another local man who lived one mile away. They had one son, Howard. Her second husband died in 1935 when Howard was 17 years old.
Anna is seated. Although she doesn’t look so poor at the time, and not too happy, things got much worse for her in the future. Her Christmas baby, Clara, age 16 is standing.
Anna continued to live on her 10 acres in a 12 foot by 20 foot, tar paper shack with two rooms and two windows which was dark inside even on a sunny day. As a kid I was in her house a few times with my dad. We lived only 1 mile away. She was so frail and thin. Her legs were crooked; she walked with a cane. She was so eager and gracious to have company. Where did she get the few dollars she needed to live? She did not get Social Security. County Public Assistance probably consisted of one person with a recipe card box in a room under a stairwell in the courthouse. She never had electricity, a radio, running water or a car and burned wood for heating and cooking. The neighbors took her to town occasionally or supplied a few store bought items from her list.
Anna’s two married sisters and brother lived about 1 mile away in immaculate houses and farms. They could almost see her shack from their kitchen windows. These two very religious sisters never visited or talked to Anna for 40 years or the rest of their lives, but finally attended her funeral. About two times a year Anna would walk the 1 mile to her kind, easy-going brother and sister in-law, for a visit. They had to keep this a secret; if the two sisters found out, it would cause trouble. The two sisters were nice to me. One sister even gave me a banana at age 8 when I walked 1 ½ miles to visit her. What a delicious treat in 1944!
Anna’s first born, Christmas child, Clara, never visited or talked to her mother after about age 16, despite being in this area many times each year to visit other relatives during her married life. She had a great sense of humor; easy to laugh, and very religious. Her three Oregon children never visited, talked or wrote to their mother and didn’t attend her funeral. Anna and son Howard were never invited to any family functions or celebrations, although her siblings lived within 1 mile of her shack.
Anna’s son, Howard, was drafted into the Army, and we think he saw much heavy action in Europe during WWII. He came home in 1945, was without a job, maybe had mental disorders, disabilities, war nightmares and maybe a small Army disability pension. Even as a child his two aunts never associated with him. Alcohol soon became his friend. He lived with his mother in the shack. She had to endure his drunken behavior for many years. He was admitted to a dry-out-ward or farm near Willmar, which had limited short term success. He was killed in a car rollover at age 47.
Anna had died three years previously, in 1958, at age 80. She is buried in the Koniska Cemetery. I mow over her grave site many times each year and have time to think about her sad, sad life. What did she do to deserve all this ostracism and banishment from her sisters and her children?
Ron Pulkrabek recently published a book called Czechs and Then Some which documents life behind the Iron Curtain in the Czech Lands, losts towns in and around Silver Lake, Glencoe and Hutchinson.