Aunt Hannah

This information has been gathered from here and there. Some information was passed down as family story… and later confirmed by census records, obituaries, school forms. Some is new information from census and other records. Bits and pieces that make up a person’s life.  I hope to get to know her for myself one day.

Great Aunt Hannah.  I wish I could have known her story better, you know, the face to face knowing.  She made the trip once, I think, from the Atlantic shore to the Pacific when I was maybe 6 or 8 years old.  She was from Vermont, we were from the other side…the Olympic Peninsula.  It’s no wonder we hardly saw her.  So much I admired about my great aunt from a distance. Like Grandma, she had experienced disruption in her young life.  She was a small child when their Momma died.  As if losing a Mom isn’t enough, her big brother of 17 committed suicide just after, and after that their Father disappeared.  Some relatives think their Father went back to Russia.  Some think he may have died or suicided.  In any case, Hannah, Naomi and the eldest sister Esther became orphans, ages approximately 7, 10 and 11.  

The girls for a short time went to live with relatives.  I’d give anything to know who those relatives might be.  Any relatives. Someday maybe.  Just after living with relatives, the sisters were split up and sent to separate orphanages.  It was during the time at the orphanage that a couple little Orthodox Jewish girls were introduced to Christianity.  Both Grandma Naomi and Great Aunt Hannah took the leap and because Christ followers, but were frightened of telling each other.  I can only imagine how hard that decision was.  They could easily lose what was left of their family. It’s unknown if Great Aunt Esther became a Christian, too.  One day Hannah and Naomi took off, walking toward each other. They met in a field where they’d always meet …  alone together one of them had the courage to tell the other. Afterwards the sisters had a lifetime of sharing their treasured faith together.  Their letters and poems were full of bits and pieces of their love for the Lord.

Somehow the sisters were taken out of orphanage life and brought back to the extended family home, and were sent to school.  Story has it that one of Grandma Naomi’s teachers became fond of her, and offered to pay her way through college.  Grandma Naomi decided to give the opportunity to her sister Hannah.  I’m not sure if Grandma Naomi didn’t care for school, or if she simply wanted her sister to have the chance at an education. In any case, Great Aunt Hannah accepted and became one of the few women in the day to receive a four year college degree.  She studied Biology and became a high school biology teacher. 

Life for Hannah was an interesting one. She married a man who also taught school and was a businessman, and who later became the secretary of the state of Vermont for 20 years.  They had one son.  Great Aunt Hannah became blind late in life, learned braille and continued to live a full life despite her loss of sight. My Dad remembers during a visit, as she was settling in for the night she told Dad “Turn off the lights, I want to do some reading” which struck Dad funny.  He would say, after a hearty laugh, that she needed it good and dark so that the light wouldn’t distract from her reading braille. 

In 1991 my husband and I took a trip to Vermont, finding my Great Aunt’s home.  It was just what I expected.  Very typically New England looking.  She’d been gone 9 years by then.  It was nearing evening, and cold out.  We’d been driving a long time in search for the house.  With no one home at her old residence, we decided to knock on the house just next to hers. Standing on the porch in the chill, a tiny proper lady opened the door.  When we told her my Great Aunt Hannah had once lived in the house next door she quick put her hand to her mouth and gasp “Oh!  Hannah was my best friend!”  She told us all about the way she loved Hannah.  How Hannah had loved her roses, how she loved to write poetry.  The way she was very involved in their church, the way she was a wonderful friend to her.  We could hardly believe our good fortune in meeting Great Aunt Hannah’s neighbor and dear friend.  Years have come and gone since then.  We have found some beautiful pictures of her, and poetry she wrote.  Found notes about her by the people who had loved her. 

So many reasons Aunt Hannah should have never made it. Never survived.  Her big sister didn’t.  She folded under the weight of the trauma they all experienced, locked up at Ward Island State Hospital, pulled away from her little children, abandoned there to rot, waste away in the prime of her life alone, pass on alone, tossed into an unmarked grave on Hart Island where all Ward Island State Hospital patients decompose.  Aunt Hannah made it, even when her brother couldn’t – pistol to his head at age 17.  She not only made it, but made it big, living a life of learning, love, poetry, marriage, parenting, involved in church, neighbors, she lived a life alive.  She and Grandma were the little ones.  I wonder how much their older sister Esther and the oldest Moses protected the little girls from the hell of what they went through. I wonder how much Esther and Moses took on behalf of their little sisters.  Whatever happened, the two little girls lived and thrived and the oldest two died untimely and heart breaking deaths.   

I wonder sometimes if in God’s’ Heaven the four of them are there together, even with their Momma, maybe even their Papa.  I wonder if they are sorting it all out together.  In a land where everyone is important, where no-one is forgotten and thrown away.  Where love is all it takes to never loose the other.  I wonder.

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