Skeletons in the closet

Farm Forum

It’s just about time for our family reunion picnic. All the relatives are anxiously looking forward to this event because our grandpas instituted it. Keep in mind that Grandpa Tesch and Grandpa Cook were very strong- minded men who realized the importance of preserving family ties. Thank goodness for their far-sightedness because our family has grown to be a large one stretching from one end of the country to another. The every other year reunion picnic brings us back together for some good times and some reminiscing.

The 2014 Family Reunion

This year my four sisters and I are in charge of arrangements. And since we are in charge, well, we have to do something a little bit special. Old photos, stories, and anything antique are being pulled from our closets to share at the reunion.

Oh, I can’t wait, because this year I have a little story and a photo to share with the distant relatives. Maybe some of them know all about it, but as a young girl of 17, I inadvertently uncovered something that was supposed to stay hidden. And the story goes like this…

Skeletons in the Closet

It was the spring of 1965 and my senior class at Watertown High School was participating in Government Days. This class of 300+ students were touring the city hall and the courthouse offices and supposedly learning all about county and city government. Actually, for us kids, it was just a goof off day with no assignments and a free day to enjoy ourselves. Little did I realize the trauma the day held in store for me?

Earlier in the week, our government teacher had raved about how much fun it would be to look up our birth certificates, our parents’ marriage documents, etc. So, as we entered the Clerk of Courts office, I pushed my way right to the front desk. I wanted to know about my birth certificate and if my mom had told me the truth about being born on Friday the 13th at 11:55pm. Well, I found out that she had told me the truth about my birth certificate, but she had failed to tell me the truth about my dear grandfather.

For when the clerk asked if anyone had grandparents who were married in the early days of Codington County, my hand immediately shot skyward. I gave her his complete name and after searching through the marriage document book, she reported that my Grandfather Charles Elmer Cook was united in marriage to Marie Withers in November 1910.

“Marie Withers,” was my instant reply. “Who’s Marie Withers? My grandma’s maiden name was Anna Sofia Jensen! There must be some mistake!”

The clerk assured me that there was no mistake and she quickly moved onto the next student’s request. I heard some snickers in the background and was definitely embarrassed the rest of the day. I vowed that as soon as I got home, my mom needed to give me some answers pronto! Humpf!

Later that day, my mother answered my questions about Marie Withers quite calmly as if it was no big deal. To me it was a big deal, and I learned that indeed my grandfather was married to Marie first and then later to my Grandma Anna Sopia. He was 26 years old at the time and Marie was only 17 when they were married. My mother also told me that Marie drove the buggy to town one day, left it and the horse at a stable and returned to her home. (Marie was originally from Illinois.)

We do not know what caused Marie to leave my grandfather. However, the lovely photo that we have of her depicts a beautifully dressed young woman of some means. So, possibly the harshness of the rural countryside was just too much of a contrast to Marie’s upbringing and caused her abrupt departure. What we do know is that Marie left, and that my Grandpa Charles married my Grandma Anna Sofia on March 23, 1913 and together they raised a family of six children.

As a high school senior, I found this “skeleton in the family closet” to be quite a shocking experience. But beyond the shock, I vividly remember being the center of attention in my senior government class the very next day. All of my classmates wanted to know the juicy details concerning Marie and my grandfather. Sadly, I didn’t have much to relate to them.

Be Prepared

Now, this little narrative is nothing earth shattering or out of the ordinary, but it does serve as an example of what one may find when researching family history or when discussing family stories with the relatives. It never ceases to amaze me what new tales or different versions of the story are uncovered at the family reunion.

I hope you readers get a chance to attend your family reunions this year and visit with your relatives. But, I forewarn you to be prepared for the unexpected because there just might be a skeleton in the closet.

Jane Green and her husband, Jim, live near Clark. Contact Jane for some public speaking, to order one of her books, or to register your comments. E-mail her at: