Robbin Bruce: The lady who lived in the last house on Planer Road

  • Friday, April 26, 2013

Last Thursday evening as I was walking in the door my phone rang; it was my cousin Fran from Evergreen, up around Florence. Right off I could tell something was wrong, usually she is a very bubbly person, but this time, it was different. So immediately I asked “What’s wrong?” That was when she told me Aunt Frank had passed, and for a minute I have to admit I was kind of floored. So many memories flashed through my mind in that instance I couldn’t even begin to explain. While she was my Aunt, and Fran’s grandmother, in a sense she was mine too, the only one I had ever known on my father’s side.
 
You see, for all intents and purposes she had raised my Daddy, from the time he was two. Grandma Bruce had caught the Spanish Flu when it came round, and she never really recovered from it. Daddy was just a baby when it finally took her, all of two, and Aunt Frank, we figured it up the other day was only eleven, when she took him to raise. We might find it hard to understand in this day and time, but this was the year of the Great Depression, 1929, and Granddaddy was scraping by anyway he could to get food on the table with four kids at home — sharecropping and blacksmithing. So she took them all on as hers, Bill, Hayward, and Daddy, he was known to them as Junior. She did a good job too, kept them fed, clothes on their back, and going to school. How many 11-year-olds these days do you know that could do that in a hard scrabble shack?
 
Well the years rolled around, and she eventually married a man named Otis Oakley and moved up to Evergreen, where he worked at the sawmill. Before long she had kids of her own, Theresa, Thomas, and Bruce. I don’t know the whole story, but about the time Daddy turned fourteen, he got the itch to quit school, and find him a job. This was in the beginning of World War Two, before long Bill and Hayward had signed up, Daddy wanted to do something, but was too young, so Otis got him a job at the mill with him. And for the next four years she finished raising him, along with her babies as he spent his days at the mill.
 
But time keeps turning, and before long it was his turn to join up. But where ever his travels took him, that mill house on Planer Road, down from the sawmill was home. And travel he did, but every leave, he always made it back to the sister who raised him. Because she was the only Momma he ever knew.
 
But of all the gifts she gave my Dad, and I guess me and my brothers as well, her love of reading, was the greatest. As long as I have ever known her, her house was filled with books, of just about every subject you could think of. She was what some call a self-educated woman, from literature to, well, just about anything. That and flowers, she loved her flowers. But there was something else she was special for, she was a past master at an art that is dying out now, she wrote letters. Not just words on a page, but images, her descriptions were so real, you could almost feel you were there. All done in cursive penmanship, an art they don’t even teach anymore.

But as age began creeping up on her, when most folks are thinking of slowing down, she felt as if she had just started. When Mount St. Helens blew, she and Fran and Charles rode out there. She took a camping trip through the Rockies. And after many years of watching the F-16s fly over her house on their way to the sea to practice, she even wrote the Base Commander, to see if they would let her fly in one. She was ninety-two at the time, so he asked her to come over and visit the Base, and he would gladly give her a tour, but flying, it was rough on the young folks, and he really didn’t think a ninety-two year old in the backseat of an F-16 might be too good of an idea. But she would have done it, she enjoyed the tour, but she still wanted that ride.
 
But Saturday afternoon we laid her to rest. But in a way it’s kind of funny, because knowing her, she’s just off on another adventure. She was such a special lady, for so many different reasons, but more especially for one, she raised my Father to be the man he was, and in a sense, the men me and my brothers turned out to be.
 
Thank you Aunt Frank.

Frances Bruce Oakley, 1919-2013
 

You can reach Robbin Bruce by e-mail at robbinbruce@yahoo.com.

Opinions that appear on this page in Letters to the Editor or in columns do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.

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