Robert Lee and Dennis Willard Andra

I have read a number of stories lately about individuals who have lost their children at young ages.  Some due to health reasons, some birth defects, and other reasons.  I do not want to lessen any of the pain that come from such a loss.  I have never suffered any loss of a child.  I do think I would struggle more with having a child for a few years and then losing them.  A child whose personality I have not really perceived and a hope and glimmer I never glimpsed seem like it might be easier to let go to the eternities with the knowledge I will raise them at a future time.  But the loss and separation of having that child become a part of my daily life, whose personality fills my home, whose laughter and cries I recognize in another room, and then losing them to a future date seems more deep and poignant.  I hope I never have to experience either, but I know others have and will still endure such a trial.

I have a Grandfather and five great grandparents I never met.  While I know their image, some of their personality, their lives are woven into mine; I cannot recognize that influence.  I have one great grandparent whose only memories are of her sitting in a lawn chair at reunions and laughing at us playing.  But the grandparents and great grandparents I mingled, played games, and enjoyed their presence I miss.  Some days terribly.  I imagine it would be somewhat similar with the loss of a child, although the stillborn or soon passing child will have memories in the mind and life of the parents.  Who knows, maybe it is any memory that makes it difficult.

In that light, I thought I would share some history, photos, and stories of Robert Lee and Dennis Willard Andra, my Grandmother’s brothers.

Robert Lee Andra was born 24 August 1934 in Preston, Franklin, Idaho.  He was the eighth of twelve children born to Mary Louise Wanner and William Fredrick Andra.  All I ever really heard about Robert is that it was a long, hard birth.  He was born in the morning and passed away by the end of the day.  Grandma told me he never really turned the right color, he had a tint of blue up until he died.  She remembered her Mom holding the baby what seemed like all day.  Little Robert was buried in the family section of the Whitney, Franklin, Idaho cemetery.

Dennis Willard Andra was born 10 January 1942 in Preston, Franklin, Idaho.  He was the eleventh of twelve children born to Mary Louise Wanner and William Fredrick Andra.  I imagine he grew up like any other child in the Andra household; one of many, playful, and a little mischievous.  One of Don’s only memories are of Dennis in the highchair as a little boy, probably similar to this photo.

Dennis about one year old

Dennis about one year old

Here is a picture of Dennis with some siblings and cousins.  This is a scan of a copy of a photograph.  I hope some day I can get a scan of the original photograph so it is higher quality.  Sergene, Ross, Don, Larry, and Dale are all siblings of Dennis.  Sharon Johnson would be Dennis’ niece, June’s daughter (Sharon is one year younger than Dennis and a few months older than Larry).  Jon and Kay are maternal first cousins.  I have another photo of just the Andra siblings together, but its quality is so low that Dennis is not really distinguishable, so I did not post it.

Sergene standing, Ross, Donald, Jon Wanner, unknown, Kay Wanner all kneeling, and Larry, Dennis, Sharon Johnson, and Dale Andra

Sergene standing, Ross, Donald, Jon Wanner, unknown, Kay Wanner all kneeling, and Larry, Dennis, Sharon Johnson, and Dale Andra

Dennis had just celebrated his third birthday with his family on 10 January 1945.  My Grandmother, Dennis’ sister Colleen, told me a story that still made her cry 50 years later.  Dennis came in to her in the middle of the night.  He could not sleep and his ear hurt.  Grandma got up and made him a hot pad for his ear and held him for a while.  He seemed to feel a little better so she laid him on her bed.  She pulled out some dark red fingernail polish and painted his fingernails.  He just laid there and watched her.  It was clear to her that he was not feeling well.  After she finished painting his fingernails she got up to take him back to his own bed.  He did not want to go, he wanted to sleep with his sister.  She got pretty stern with him and told him he had to sleep in his own bed.  She carried him to his bed and tucked him in.

The next morning Great Grandma went in and found Dennis in eternal sleep, he had passed away in the night.  Great Grandpa took little Dennis’ body in and laid him on their bed.  Don remembers that his little foot curled a little and Great Grandpa straightened it out.  Don saw his father cry from the circumstances.  Here is a picture of little Dennis laid out for his burial at Webb’s Funeral Home in Preston.  My Grandma had a better picture (which I don’t have), but this is again a scan of a copy until I can get a better scan or an original.

Dennis Viewing

If you look closely, you can see that Dennis’ fingernails painted dark red.  Grandma would look at the picture and her eyes would tear up.  I remember her at one point saying that she felt bad she had spoken sternly to him before putting him back to bed.  She loved him dearly and showed it by spending time with him, but the last words she spoke were perhaps harsher than she wanted some of his last feelings.  I also know she wished she would have let him stay in her bed, not that it would have changed the outcome, but he might have felt a little more loved.

Dennis died 13 or 14 January 1945 (although his tombstone and death certificate says the 14th) in Preston.  The difference in death dates is probably found in the family have him dying on the 13th when he went to bed, the coroner and formal documents have him pronounced dead the next day.  His parents went with the 14th on the tombstone and he probably did die in the early hours of the 14th.  He was buried 17 January 2012 in Whitney beside his brother.  Both brother’s graves are at the heads of their parents.

Colleen’s journal only gives these few comments about her brother.  On 9 January (which is a day off from the formal records) “Dennis birthday”.  On 13 January 1945, “My darling brother Dennis died.”  On 14 January 1945, “Several people came.  I am thanking them.”  On 17 January 1945, “My dearest brother’s funeral.  I just couldn’t hardly see him go.”

Mom’s letter to Grandpa

Here is a letter we have my mother wrote to her father.  It is very tender and sweet.  In fact, it is heartbreaking.  This shows the soft side of Mom so many do not get to see anymore.  Honestly, this is the Mom I miss.

June 14, 1984

Dear Dad,

Remember when I was 3 yrs old and got my finger cut off.  I can still picture how scared and afraid you were.  I think it hurt you worse than it did me.  Then to hear all the guilt in your voice when you said “How many times have I told you to stay away from the lawn mower”?  How you kept saying “I should have shut it off.”  I know when I lost it again 5 yrs later you were having flashbacks.  But it wasn’t your fault I just wanted to see the blade go around.  I guess I just got started in life on the wrong foot.

Do you remember the pictures that mom took of me cutting your toe nails.  I used to cut your toe nails and calluses off all the time.  You never got mad at me when I’d get too deep.  I was still cutting them even after we moved up to Idaho.

I used to love it when you and I went hunting and fishing.  I still have to grin when I think of the time when that fish slapped my face.  Or when we were up Ox Killer and you had got your deer.  I was watching you gut it.  I picked up this thing and was looking at it.  When I asked what it was and you told me they were its BBD’s.  I got so embarrassed.  You grinned and laughed.  You know I don’t ever remember you laughing out loud.  You always laughed on the inside.  I wish I knew why you did this.

I loved it when Uncle Spence used to call me Little Nor.  It made me feel so proud.  I loved you so much and looked up to you as my idol.  You were the perfect Dad and I wanted to be just like you.  You know I’m more like you than you ever knew.  All the times when you wouldn’t fix my car but made me fix it myself with you looking over my shoulder made sure I did it right.  I thank you for it.

It seemed every time I got hurt you would chew me out.  When I was in that wreck and got my face ripped up you told me I should have been home where I belonged.  When I got my hand hurt there wasn’t much you said but I knew you blamed yourself.  I knew you better than you think or thought.  Your face told the story.  I know why you never would come and see me in the hospital too.  It hurt you so much to see me in pain.  You just couldn’t handle it.  Mom told me that was one weakness you had.  That’s OK, I understand or understood.  I still loved you anyway.

I’m sorry when I moved back to Utah that I didn’t keep in touch with you as much as I should of.  I wished someone would have told me that you and mom separated a little sooner.  It used to kill me when I would come up and talk to you at work.  You totally blew me away the 1st time.  I had never seen you cry before.  We cried on each other’s shoulders.  I would always feel so sad because you always felt so sad.  You know Dad if I would of come up that weekend and seen you maybe you would still be alive today.  I’ve often wondered about that.

When you were killed I wouldn’t and couldn’t believe it until I seen for myself.  Once I walked into Payne’s I knew but I prayed.  I stood over you for hours staring, touching, holding and feeling you.  I wanted to open your eyes.  When I was holding your hand I wanted you to squeeze mine.  When I kissed you I wanted for you to kiss me back.  But you never did.  After a long period of time I started to hallucinate.  I seen you move.  But each time I seen you move I would reach down and touch your hand and it was cold and hard.  I knew that I was just seeing things.  Only in my mind you were moving.  I still didn’t want to believe you were dead.  At the viewing in Webb’s I knew you were trying to talk to me because your mouth had started opening.  I waited and waited hoping you would say something.  But you never did.  At your funeral I gave up, lost hope.  I knew you wasn’t going to get up that’s why I couldn’t stand by your coffin with the family.  I couldn’t except you as being dead.  I still can’t but I know you are.  I was scared when Mom, Doug and Jackie were saying Good-Bye for the last time.  They were in such a big hurry to close the coffin that I didn’t get a chance to get over and say Good-Bye.  But then I think to, that maybe I didn’t want to say Good-Bye either.  It haunts me now because I feel so bad that I didn’t.  Sometimes I wish I had of so that you would let me go.  I will always love you Dad.  I will never ever forget you.

Dad when I met Milo he reminded me of you in so many ways.  Jackie and Mom think so too.  So don’t ever think that you aren’t on my mind.  I named my little boy after you and his dad.  Doesn’t that tell you something.  I’d give anything if you could be here to play with Paul and Sissy.  I know they would love you so very much.  I know you would be proud of them too.  I know you’d like Milo, too.  The two of you would of got along fine.  I sure wish you could of met him.  Milo would have loved you.

Well Dad, I guess I’ve told you everything I had to tell you.  Everything I can think of right now anyway.  I just want to tell you again that I love you and always will.  I won’t ever forget you.  I just wish you were still alive.

Love Always, Sandy