Wednesday, August 25, 2021

In Memory of Frederick Joseph Gibson 1926-2021

My grandpa, Fred Gibson, was born in Butte, Montana, on 20 February 1926. He was the only child of Frederick John Gibson and Augusta (Joseph) (Staffan) Gibson. His dad was 42 when Fred was born, and his mom was about 35. Fred was the first Gibson in our line born in the U.S., as his dad was born in Canada and his mother was German but born in Ukraine. He remembered learning German from his mother as a little boy, and could still count and remember some words many decades later. Augusta died just a few weeks before Fred turned 5. He lived with his maternal aunt and uncle Pat and Jack Walsh for a while after his mother's death, but when they invited him to join their Catholic church and he declined, the relationship soured. 

Fred at age 1

Fred's dad remarried a couple years later to Emma Kitzel, and brought with her Fred's only sibling, his step-sister Vera. She was 13 years older than Fred, so they didn't live together long, though they had occasional contact over the years until her death in the 1990s. 

Fred Sr., Emma, Vera, and Fred.

Fred, Charlie Wagner, and Howie Wagner

One of Fred's earliest memories was receiving a Flexible Flyer sled for Christmas when he was 7. He said that present made him as happy as he could be. He never had a bicycle until he was 14. When Fred was young, his family lived near his maternal grandfather, Samuel Joseph, as well as the Richters, relatives of his future wife Blossom Wagner. Blossom would come and visit her relatives sometimes, and Fred would come to see her. She was "too old for him" then, as she was 17 and he was 14. 

Fred on a train

Fred started working for the railroad when he was 14. He worked in various capacities, including brakeman, conductor, and switchman at Butte and Rocker. He didn't always work for the railroad; he once told me there was a time he worked trying to sell cemetery plots door to door, but that wasn't a very lucrative job. He worked for a while at the Wagner Bros. lumber mill with Blossom's father and uncles. But most of his professional life was spent working for the Northern Pacific Railroad, which he started in 1947. 

First page of Fred's train schedule from 1947

The U.S. entered World War II in 1941, and two years later was still heavily involved in the conflict. Two days after turning 17, Fred went to enlist and serve his country, originally intending to enlist in the Navy. A Marines recruiter saw him and yelled "Hey you big guy, come here." He must have been very persuasive, as Fred ended up enlisting with the Marines. During WWII, Fred certified as a rifle marksman, and also qualified to operate 90mm anti-aircraft machine guns and light trucks. He served in the Hawaiian Islands and Midway between 25 April 1943 and 22 April 1945. He was discharged at San Diego on 15 November 1945. 

Fred in 1943 at Kaneoh Bay

After returning home from the war, he again met Blossom, then widowed (her husband Tom Nelson was killed flying over Germany) and raising a daughter. They began dating, and decided to get married. Fred proposed to Blossom while he was flying them around in a small airplane. Blossom said "yes, if you can land this thing!" They were married on 19 November 1947 in Butte. 

Fred and Blossom on Carolina St. in Butte. 

Fred and Blossom went on to add four more children to their family. Their home was the cool home in the neighborhood, the one all the kids wanted to come and stay at. Their sons Dave and Randy both followed Fred's example and served in the military during the Vietnam War (both in the Navy). Their kids grew and added grandkids to their family, and Fred and Blossom made time for everyone. As their kids began moving away from Montana, Fred and Blossom took trips to visit them, as well as to take vacations around the world including Germany and Australia. Whenever they went on trips they always sent postcards and letters to their kids and grandkids. They remembered birthdays and sent cards and usually a few dollars to each of us. They knew how to make us feel remembered and special. 

Fred and his younger descendants in 2016

When the husband of one of Fred's cousins died in the 1980s, he left a sizable inheritance to Fred and his cousins. Fred and Blossom used the money to purchase a motorhome, which is how I remember them coming to visit my family when I was young. I remember one day when they came to visit, I was up in my room reading when suddenly there was a huge BOOM and the house shook! I ran outside to see what had happend, and it turned out grandpa had accidentally backed the motorhome into the house! We all had a good laugh, and still do when we tell the story. 

Fred and Blossom eventually sold the motorhome and bought a small home in Marysville, Washington, where they lived together for several years. They still called on birthdays and took trips to visit family, and family took trips to visit them. We had big reunions every now and then, in Idaho, in Montana, or just and their house. We loved seeing them, and they were always so cute together. Blossom called him "Freddie" and he called her "mother." They held hands when they walked together, and at my wedding, they were the couple who had been married the longest and were rightly honored as such. They teased each other sometimes too though. Once when I was telling grandma about her connection to European royalty, grandpa tried to interrupt with something, but grandma said "be quiet Freddie, I'm a princess!" 

Fred and Blossom in 1966

Fred was also very musical. He could play a lot of songs on the piano, some of which he taught to me and my sister, and he seemed to have a song for every occasion. Something always reminded him of a song, and he'd start singing it in that loud, boistrous voice of his. 

Blossom passed away very unexpectedly in January 2013. Fred talked often about how much he missed her, and it was hard to see him so sad. He kept right on living in their home, still driving himself where he needed to go, and still taking time to visit family. He still called on my birthday, and he remembered my kids' birthdays too. He had the sharpest memory of anyone I've ever met. Once when I was trying to help him make a purchase over the phone, I asked him for his card, and instead he just rattled off the entire number, expiration date, and code on the back! He remembered places, dates, and people with exactness decades after the events and people were long gone. 

Fred and Blossom's 50th anniversary

I loved talking about family history with my grandpa. He had stories of his family, mostly his mom's side. When I got into genealogy and started learning about our more distant relatives, he was always interested in the stories I found. Family meant everyting to him, past or present. 

Four generations of Gibsons - Me, Dave, Fred, and 3 of my kids

It's so surreal to think he's on the other side of the veil now. Just a couple weeks ago, we were at my parents' house the day before heading out for Idaho, and he came down with several of his kids for a big dinner. He was talking and having a great time with all of us. That's how I will always remember him - just sitting in a comfy chair, talking and laughing, or dozing off for a bit, but just a great guy to be around. It will be hard to wait to see him again, but I know grandma is happy to be with him, along with his mom and dad, Levi, Jimmy, and all the other family that I'm sure were there to greet him. 

Fred in Hawaii in 2003

God be with you till we meet again, grandpa. We love you.