In Memoriam: Annie L

by Arle10/4/18
A year ago, on October 4, my mother – known as Anniel to readers of StubbornThings – passed away after a brief stay in the hospital at the age of 78. Her death was one of those things that happens gradually until it happens suddenly. For the five years prior to her final departure, her health had gradually declined and then, within a few days, she was gone before her children could reach her, except for one son who lived nearby in Alaska. Her husband, Bear, ever faithful as a care-giver, was left bereft.

My mother was born to a poor family on the tail end of the Great Depression. Her father, Henry, a polyglot child of Finnish immigrants, spoke English, Finnish, and Swedish as native languages, and learned Spanish and French from his time as a hobo riding the rails throughout the American West in search of work. Ever observant, he acquired the skills of a brakeman and went to work for the Union Pacific in that capacity. My mother has written much about him. His own family life can only be described as severely dysfunctional – and may even have involved a relative selling her own children – and he had his faults, but he did better by his children than had been done to him. He died young, when my mother was in her early thirties.

Her mother, Ruth, was descended from Swedes who came to the U.S. just after the turn of the century in search of religious freedom. Ruth’s mother passed away in the Great Influenza epidemic, leaving four small daughters behind. Although Ruth was at times maddeningly passive, this belied true grit. Once, while the family was spending the summer at a camp in Montana, two bears came and and tried to steal the bacon she was cooking. Everyone else ran away, but Ruth was not about to give up her precious meat: She took her cooking spoon and went after the bears, driving them away in a flurry of whacks.

My mother inherited both the stubborn and quiet resolve of her mother and her father’s deeply felt sense of honor and determination, called sisu in Finnish. At the same time, she was deeply humane and compassionate. More than once, when I was a child, we would go somewhere as a family and split up for a bit, only to come back and find my mother in deep conversation with someone. Inevitably, when she was asked who the person was who so obviously knew my mother well, the response was “I don’t know. I’ve never met this person before.” And then she would tell us how this person had unburdened themselves to her, searching for advice, absolution, or just a sense that someone out there cared. She heard of lost loves, wayward children, dashed hopes, dreams scarcely uttered to the people themselves, and countless other burdens that she helped others to shoulder for a time.

Here I speak not of the trivial confessional vein of modern culture. She was no Counselor Deanna Troi and she harbored no base sentimentality. Rather, she possessed that rare talent of entering into deep human connection with others, something her loyal readers at StubbornThings will clearly not be surprised to hear. The sense you had of her was her true self, not a face she put on.

Those who only knew her in her later years, beat down by years of illness and a body that seemed to fail her at every opportunity, would never have guessed at the daring and vibrant woman she was at heart. She had skied, danced, and sang. She learned Russian, she took art courses, and she enjoyed life. In the early 1970s she did something only hippies or crazy people did at the time: She got on a bike and rode the 220 miles from Anchorage, Alaska to the town of Homer.

Before she met Bear, she left a string of broken hearts behind her. In the midst of a then-undiagnosed illness, she was engaged to four separate men at the same time. After she had her thyroid removed, she realized that this posed certain logistical problems and gently broke it to her suitors that she needed time to recover. It was shortly after this, while she was working as a paralegal for the Alaska Railroad, that a young technician repeatedly came by to fix her phone. As he put it many years later, Bear was looking to fix something, but it wasn’t her phone.

As my mother’s health declined, her physical world contracted into ever-smaller circles and she was forced to retreat from physical sociality. She reached out through the miracle of the Internet. Although she often described herself as a Luddite – it was not until the late 1980s that my father finally convinced her that a microwave might be worth having – her writing and online communities were her lifeline and connection to the world she could no longer visit. Her iPad became her world.

There were times I disagreed with my mother, even passionately. But it speaks worlds of her that her children all are deeply engaged with the world around them and see their beliefs as stemming from her. She loved to debate things with us, even when she thought we were wrong or even foolish. And every once in a while, she might even concede that we had a point.

In StubbornThings, Annie found a community of people who understood her and whom she felt connected to. She loved that she could bring big ideas to the table and have them heard and debated. The readers and contributors became a second family to her. If I had a nickel for everything I heard about Brad or Kung Fu Zu, I suspect I could make a dent in paying off the national debt – albeit a microscopic one compared to the enormity of Washington’s finances. She did not always agree with them (or anyone else) but she relished the debate and the sense of belonging she found here. Her engagement with her readers made all the difference for her. Even in the days immediately before her death, she was still planning months’ and years’ worth of articles she wanted to write. I found sketches of these on her iPad, although sadly they were too fragmentary to turn over to you, her beloved audience.

In the end, it was her heart that gave out. Her doctors found that three of her four coronary arteries were blocked, which meant she had been living for years on her peripheral venous system. I often think of all she did in her last years with a quarter of a heart, and hope I come close to living up to that with a whole heart. I think her readers would agree with that assessment and marvel at the gentle humaneness they benefitted from to such an extent.

Of course life goes on. Those who mourned with Bear may be happy to know that he recently remarried with a woman he had dated in high school and then not seen until his 60th high school reunion. His now-wife and my mother had become close friends, writing to one another regularly in the year before Anniel died. I like to think that my mother, wherever she may be, approves of my father’s choice and new-found happiness.

As the anniversary of her death has been approaching, I found myself thinking more and more of her. There is so much I wish I could tell her and share with her. So much that, were she still here, I am certain she would work into her life of words she shared with you all. I think her greatest gift to us all was her collection of writing and her inspiration to be a little better and do a little better in the world as a course of determined living. • (103 views)

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20 Responses to In Memoriam: Annie L

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    A very well-written and fitting tribute, Arle. Grading as a writer, this is well above and beyond what anyone out there could produce. I guess Annie had a way of bringing out the best.

    It sounds as if she lived life large. And when the time came when she couldn’t be as active, she wrote life large. And she generally did so in a conversational style that was approachable. This is a rare talent as well.

    This site was always meant for people who had something to say. Annie had something to say. God knows, you know that she wasn’t shy. But she was always respectful to me. It took a while to convince her that at long as she wrote well and put some thought into it (which she did), she was free to write anything and everything. She became the first StubbornFellow with carte blanche to do as she wished. No annoying editor would intervene. I think such titles are inherited so the same goes for you, Arle.

    I’m glad to hear that Bear is getting on. Rarely would Annie tell a story that didn’t involved Bear…usually in some humorous way. Tell him that we all say “hi.” And the best to you and your family, always.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    Losing a parent can be tough for the young. For many months after my father was killed in Vietnam, there was a part of me that couldn’t accept that he wasn’t coming back this time — even though I had seen his body in the coffin at the viewing. (I don’t remember anything else about the funeral, but I do remember that.) My mother lived over 40 years more, so it wasn’t so bad when she died. (Besides, due to difficulties getting everyone together, it was 6 months before we had the service.)

    How my mother reacted I can’t say. She had some problems afterward, and also later married a most unsuitable man (the one who once attacked me with an electric boom), perhaps on rebound. She finally took her life back, divorced him, and remained on her own after that.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Thanks for the reminder Arle. I have to admit, ST has not been quite the same since Annie’s death. In the absence of her comments and stories, I have even lost a little bit of inspiration to write personal pieces.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I have to admit, ST has not been quite the same since Annie’s death. In the absence of her comments and stories, I have even lost a little bit of inspiration to write personal pieces.

      Some of my days are slow. Many of them are hectic. But I usually enjoy taking time out to do a little bit of writing….even if it’s just jabbering on about an old movie or the Krauts in Berlin.

      Annie had the right approach. She did not wear a big, wounded “me me me” ego on her chest. She wasn’t writing to get noticed or to air grievances as a recreation sport. She wrote about life, people, places, and (yes) even politics (something I’ll admit we can’t avoid because it won’t avoid us).

      I have tried to counsel people to lighten up and engage in a bit more creative writing (broadly defined) than just balling up one’s fists-of-fury behind the keyboard to rant about the latest offense.

      I can’t possible fill up a blog all by myself. Nor do I have the kind of ego that would have Brad Nelson-dot-com. Oh, brother. But I do know from experience that a lot of really marvelous people have interesting stories, thoughts, descriptions, and points of view. I’m thrilled when someone takes me up on the offer to make this site their own within a few parameters. (No stream-of-consciousness blather. One must try to refine one’s thoughts a bit and have the courtesy to have the reader in mind….that is, at least attempt to have a point and to make one’s writing interesting.)

      Annie did that. She didn’t always talk about things that interested me. But that didn’t matter. It always interested her and what might not have interested me would interest someone else. And vice versa. I enjoy somewhat eclectic content rather than just a chorus of “Aren’t Obama, Pelosi, and Pope Francis horrible people.” She was the lead voice in that chorus. And gauging by the way her son can write, this is obviously a quite literate family. Her legacy continues.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Well, I hope I qualify. Certainly I comment extensively on many subjects here. But it will be more difficult if my contributions are rejected by the server, as happened with my recent recommendation of a non-political movie, Sergeants 3 — the Rat Pack bringing the movie Gunga Din to the Old West with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Peter Lawford as the title characters.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I opened up the forum section so that most odds and ends could go there and people could do it themselves. This place has evolved a bit and it’s still slightly evolving. I long-term want to pare back the political stuff because (look at the Senate hearings). I don’t think 99% of Americans are able to contribute much other than noise.

          If I had my druthers, people would be writing short stories, travelogues, poetry, and just sharing general interesting about their world, their hobbies, etc. It’s fun to learn new stuff. This place is meant less for those who want to play Charles Krauthammer (although it didn’t start that way) and those who have a need for expressive writing.

          I accept 100% of blame for this site’s shortcomings. However, Annie was one of the success stories. I think what made her so expressive is that at the end of the day, I don’t think she was beholden to what other people thought. She was cordial, for sure, but not obsequious or clingy. My kind of gal, indeed. I really wish I could have met her. I feel privileged that I did meet one of her sons and three of her granddaughters.

          As for you, keep on doing what you’re doing. But if you have short stuff, by all means post it in the forum. You should have full power there to create new topics and even new sub-forums if you see the need for one. Try to think less in terms of showing people how smart you are (we already know at) and making obscure or forgotten topics accessible to them. Learn how to make proper links. Insert some photos if that will help make your point. I’m always here to help with the technical aspects.

          That’s the first I’ve heard about your contributions being rejected b the server.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            That’s the first time it happened. Maybe I can try again. I wouldn’t see a movie recommendation as suitable for the forum unless there was already a section for it (I have no idea if it’s available on any of the sites mentioned there). A review would be another matter, but I don’t remember it well enough for a review, and the entry in wikipedia isn’t enough to make up for the lack.

            As I found out with FOSFAX, much of the success comes from finding good contributors.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Don’t worry so much about structure. Just do it. And, yes, for longer and more formal reviews, the main front page is fine. But I don’t let that stop me. I’m less wording about form and more about content. I just got done watching a production of an Agatha Christie story on Amazon Prime. It was dark but worth mentioning.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Well, I sent the recommendation again a few hours ago. It hasn’t bounced yet. If you get it, you’ll also be able to see what the bounce message. We’re talking a small paragraph, so you can see why I did it the way I did.

    • Rosalys says:

      I, too, miss Annie’s essays and comments. I also miss Mr. Kung’s little life vignettes. Now we know why you haven’t been doing them lately. I suggest you start doing them again, and dedicate them to the memory of Anniel if that helps to motivate you!

      I especially remember, and like, Annie’s little essay on the hat knitted with yarn spun from dog hair. I have a friend with a golden retriever who sheds copious amounts of fur. Remembering this story, I told her she should make yarn from it and take up knitting!

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        That’s precisely what we need, Rosalys. Some encouragement. That goes for you as well. But, always, I want this to be a fun thing. No pressure.

        Writing is a difficult thing. Let’s face it, most people out there are a rabble, particularly on the internet. The phrase “pearls before swine” is apt. It’s not always easy to write something (which is often personal) for a general audience of vulgarians.

        Granted, the readers of StubbornThings are a cut above. But, still, I understand the reticence of many to write because I have the same reservations. Who wants to bare their heart and soul only to have some yahoo make some idiot comment? And that is very typical on the internet.

        So I definitely admired Annie for her willingness to write her thoughts and tell of her adventures. Given the current circus of vultures in Washington DC, believe me, I understand people not wanting to write and expose themselves to the Vandals. We, as a society, have become ignoble and ugly. Still, everyone does have their pearls. There will always be swine. What do we do?

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        Rosalys,

        Thanks for your encouragement. I always especially looked forward to your and Annie’s comments to my pieces.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          You did note my use of reverse psychology, Mr. Kung. 🙂 But, truly, I enjoy what you write but I know you do it when you have something to say and don’t force it. You’re not a diarrhea-of-the-mouth kind of guy like I am.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            The technical term for diarrhea of the mouth is logorrhea. I first encountered the word in Ira Levin’s brilliant first novel, A Kiss Before Dying. (The movie version is all right, but greatly inferior to the novel.)

  4. Timothy Lane says:

    Annie’s stories seemed to take her life and apply its lessons to politics or other topics. Hence her regular mention of Bear and the rest of her family. Although I recall that we occasionally had discussions of age here, I don’t recall noticing that she was basically the same age as Elizabeth, who was about to turn 78 later that month when Annie died.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Yes, that’s a good summation of online Annie. And I don’t presume to know all that much about offline Annie. It could be said, too, that she also comes from a different age where people could express themselves. And I’m not talking about the eloquence of words and phrasing (although Annie was quite suitably literate). I’m talking about the general habit of being able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

      I would say that most people since 1960 or so have been raised on vacuous and passive entertainment. The culmination of that is the Twitter-limit and the reduced intellectual content of text messages.

      Quantity is not necessarily quality. But note one thing about Annie: She had a thought in her head. Can you image a yute of today having enough worthy thoughts to fill even a long paragraph?

      And even if they have these thoughts (and I assume many do), most have no way to cultivate them beyond the Twitter limit.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Note: 10/4/18: Updated article to include photo. Isn’t she a sweetheart.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I am very glad you were able to post that photo.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I think this was the first time I’ve ever seen any of the contributors here aside from myself and my friend who’s commented a time or two. Nice cat, too.

        • Rosalys says:

          Yes she’s a sweetheart. And since you’ve mentioned the nice cat, Tim, look at Annie’s exotic cat eyes! She had eyes like Audrey Hepburn.

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