Grandchildren and Step-Grandchildren: 14 Living.
Son: My only child, Living.
Step-children: 3 Living.
Birthdate and place: I was born 23 May 1943 at Sacred Heart hospital (a Catholic hospital) in Spokane, Washington, United States. I remember my mother telling me it was around noon. According to her, I was a beautiful pink baby, with three dark marks on my forehead and the back of my head from the forceps that were used to aid the birth. The marks lasted so long that she thought they were birthmarks, but eventually they faded.
Spokane is in the far northwest of the country, but a few hundred miles inland from the Pacific coast. It lies in the midst of rugged timberland between the Cascade Mountain Range to the west and the Rocky Mountains to the east and north. Pine and tamarack perfume the air. The city is bisected by the Spokane River and its beautiful upper and lower falls.
The United States was fighting World War II in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. The Great Depression that had destroyed the economy of this country had lost its stranglehold and, despite rationing, prosperity was around the corner.
Race and gender: I am white and female. In the United States at that time, my race allowed me white privilege and my gender limited me to the opportunities available to girls and women -- at least for the first thirty or so years of my life.
Brother: My father fought the war in Okinawa, a Japanese island in the Pacific. It took about three months for him to return to the United States. My brother Brian was born exactly one year following the bombing of Hiroshima that brought the end of the war.
Brian was born 6 August 1946 at Deaconess hospital (a Protestant hospital) in Spokane, Washington, United States. Mother said he was small, red, and squalling. I think she wanted me to be less jealous of the new baby after being the most important person in the family for all of my three years.
Together, Brian and I ruled the family thereafter. There were no further siblings in our home.
Half-Brother: Shortly before his death, my father told me he had fathered an English son, born in 1960, in or near Cambridge, England.
First Husband: Living was the New York-born son of two German immigrants. After graduating from high school in 1959, he enlisted in the Air Force to avoid being drafted into the Army to fight the war in Vietnam. His ham radio hobby landed him a safe assignment of maintaining radio communication equipment in England. I met him there and we spent a romantic winter falling in love. We married in Rome, New York after he was discharged and we moved into a tiny apartment in Queens, New York.
Second Husband: Living.
Father: During the Great Depression, my father, Alfred Walter Charles Berntson, was living by his wits and panning for gold in the wilderness outside Spokane when Mother met him. As teenagers, he and his older brother had been asked to leave their mother's home outside Chicago when the Depression made it impossible for her to feed the whole family. Their three-acre farm just could not support two parents and all six children.
The brothers struck out on their own and traveled through the western US, working for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Works Progress Administration (WPA), and whatever else they could. Uncle Dave turned his experience with WPA road-building equipment into a job in Tucson as a long-haul truck driver. My dad escaped into the Army Air Corps in Spokane by lying outrageously about his age. "When you are seventeen and the minimum is eighteen, tell them you are twenty-four and you look young for your age," he would advise later. As a result of his clever stratagem, my father was already well-fed in the military when the US entered World War II.
Mother: My mother, Margaret Evelyn (Wilson) Berntson, was born and raised in Spokane.
Maternal Grandfather: Mother's father and brothers did not fight in the war since they were firemen in Spokane and were needed on the home front. Grandfather, Charles Earl Wilson, had achieved the rank of Assistant Fire Chief despite never attending high school. He felt that lack of education limited his opportunities and he was visibly proud that his upper-middle-class civil service position allowed him to put his children through all twelve years of school and send all but my mother to higher education.
Before joining the Fire Department, Grandfather had spent his early years delivering milk to Spokane households from the family dairy farm. My grandfather's ancestors were sturdy pioneer stock, settling in Kentucky, Missouri, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington. They farmed each of those territories as they opened for settlement and then moved on when they felt crowded out.
Maternal Grandmother: At seven years of age, my mother lost her own mother, Lura May (Trow) Wilson to a mystery disease. The mystery was solved in 2018 by a genealogist cousin who discovered Grandmother's death certificate. The disease that nobody could speak of was sepsis following an illegal abortion. As sad as this is, we have learned through genealogy that our Grandmother Lura allows us to trace our lineage back to the Mayflower and the kings of England.
The death of her mother left my mother to care for her youngest brother Wallace, a toddler at the time. They forged life-long bonds--nearly mother/son.
Maternal Step-Grandmother: My mother remained a half-orphan until well into her twenties when her father remarried. My mother did not get along with her step-mother Olga (Foss) Dawson. Shortly after her father married Olga, Mother married my father and moved out of her father's home.
I remember visiting grandmother Olga as a very small child. She peered through round, gold wire glasses while we sat on her floor together. She taught me the alphabet using red anagram tiles spread out on the living room carpet. She held up two tiles and in her high, thin, quavering voice she told me, "This is T. This is U." She was delighted when I held up another "U" tile and asked, "Is this one me, too?"
Paternal Grandfather: My father's father Walter Alexander Berntson was second-generation American. His grandparents had emigrated from Norway just before the American Civil War and made their fortune as coopers in Chicago. According to family tradition, my grandfather was an abusive alcoholic. At some point in their marriage, my grandmother ran away from Chicago with their four children and hid in Naperville, a sleepy satellite town of Chicago.
Paternal Grandmother: My father's mother Margaret Gordon came from a family that settled along Licking Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River, in Pennsylvania around the time of the Revolutionary War. They farmed for centuries rooted to the spot, until Grandmother traveled to Chicago. Tradition does not tell me why she ventured westward. I remember her fondly as a warm, loving, toothless, fat woman who enveloped me in floppy arms in the tiny kitchen of her old farmhouse. One day -- I was probably seven -- she gave me a pot nearly as big as I was to carry to a field of corn. She filled the pot with the ears she shucked right there in the field. Then we carried the pot together to the house where she boiled the ears for lunch.
Paternal Step-Grandfather: After my grandmother left my grandfather, she married John Flick and she changed all the children's names -- first and last so that my grandfather could not find them.
John Flick was completely illiterate into adulthood. He worked for Kroger and a furniture company that taught him to read and write numbers and to sign his name so that he could keep his warehouse job into the 1960s.
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