My father died February 1, 2004. We went home for the funeral, and almost perished getting there from Reno, NV. The blizzard that hit southern Wyoming the day we left was a pretty good one, and we had several close calls with the big dually diesel truck, “The Green Hulk,” during the trip, especially the “shortcut” through Shirley Basin. The truck was prone to slipping sideways while going down hill, so you couldn’t apply the brakes hardly at all. It was “fun” to say the least, especially if you had to navigate a turn at the bottom of a hill.
The snow had stopped by the time we headed out from Rock Springs where we decided to spend the night. We passed semi-trucks overturned and jackknifed on the highway, in ditches, and UHaul trucks with their contents spread all over the roadway. We made the crucial decision to get off the interstate and head to Casper through the basin when the sky cleared. It can be a beautiful clear blue in “The Equality State,” but you don’t actually get to “Big Sky Country” until you hit Montana. Where we were headed was about 14 miles from the Montana border.
What I had forgotten about Shirley Basin is the ground blizzards. If you have never been in one, the blowing snow, which is crystalline from the cold, creates a white-out condition about the height of your vehicle. In other words, you can’t see the road in front of you, at all, but you can see the clear blue sky above you without difficulty. To top it off, the windshield wipers on the Hulk needed to be replaced. But when we took the US287 cutoff and headed to Casper, the sky was clear, the weather improving, and we really hadn’t intended to stop the night before, which turned out to be a good decision. Now we needed to make-up some time.
It wasn’t long before we were faced with zero visibility and we had to drive 100 miles in this stuff. It was too late to turn back so we kept going. It took us twice as long to keep the truck moving to Casper than it would have if we had stayed on the interstate. As we pulled in, a Napa Auto Parts was the first building we saw. It was a godsend. We stopped and replaced the windshield wipers. The snow started up again, and by the time we got to Sheridan, the ice was about an inch thick around the sides of the truck. We pulled up at my brother’s place and had to kick the door open to get out.
Relatives I hadn’t seen in years, lots of years, were there in the house. My Aunt Peggy, my dad’s only sister, was there from New York. She sounded the same with that thick upstate New York accent. After passing around condolences, we left to check into our hotel, and took the truck to a warm-water car wash and de-iced it.
The next day, one of my younger brothers, my wife and I decided to visit the municipal cemetery. My mother, my father’s parents, my great aunts, and tomorrow, my father, are all buried there. I wanted to see if I could find my grandfather’s grave because I remember he was buried under a tall tree overlooking the valley below. I had not made the trip for my grandmother’s funeral, but I had been there for my Great Aunt Anita’s burial. I knew she was close by. I assumed my other Great Aunt, Genevieve, would be next to her’s.
Sheridan didn’t have a cemetery until 1890 when a group of businessmen formed the Mount Hope Cemetery Association. Many of those buried in the surrounding area were later moved to what is now the Sheridan Municipal Cemetery.
We found the marker for Albert L. Olson, Sr., my grandfather, exactly where I expected to find it. My grandmother, Marguerite was buried next to him. The view of the valley was beautiful. We spent a few moments visiting and then headed off in the surrounding plots to see if we could find my Great Aunt Anita’s final resting place.
My two great aunts had moved to Sheridan in 1971, shortly after my grandparents had moved there. Anita’s husband died previously and Genevieve moved in with her in Long Island, although I’m not sure that they hadn’t lived together for much longer. My grandparents convinced them to get away from the east coast and move to the small, quiet community where my Dad had settled in 1958. I helped them move into their second-floor apartment off of W. Loucks Street, on Jefferson. Within a few months, Aunt Anita, had a massive stroke while taking a bath, and died a few days later after suffering another stroke.
Aunt Genevieve, we called her Aunt Gen, had never married. The story I was told, was that her fiance was killed in a car accident on the eve of their wedding. I later learned that her betrothed was a pilot and died in a plane crash some time before the wedding. In either case, she never recovered from it, and remained a single woman the rest of her life. She worked for New York Life for 43 years, as an underwriter, later a supervisor, and retired from there just before moving. I always thought she had worked for AT&T, but I know she had a comfortable pension.
We stumbled, literally, across Aunt Anita’s plot a few yards away. I assumed that Aunt Gen would be buried nearby, but we walked the area several times and could not find a marker for her. The weather was turning cold, so we gave up the search.
Upon returning to my brother’s house, my Aunt Peggy asked me what we had done that afternoon. I told her we had gone to the cemetery to visit some graves, and was upset that we couldn’t find Aunt Gen’s marker. We had found everyone else, but we couldn’t find her. I asked if she had been buried in New York.
“That’s because she’s not dead yet!” my older sister said with some amusement.
“She’s down the street at Sheridan Manor,” my Aunt added with some indignation.
The look on my face has gone down in the annals of Olson Family history. How could I have not known she wasn’t dead?
The question is, now, how we missed this. It must have been partly covered in snow.
She just celebrated her 101st birthday on January 28th, I was told. Sheridan’s oldest living resident. I immediately suggested that we should go visit her, and my sister told me it would be a waste of time because she doesn’t remember anyone. I was assured that she was still doing well, although her pension had run out, (Who plans to live to 101?) she was now a ward of the state, and no longer had any assets. No one was going to see any inheritance from Aunt Gen.
A few weeks after returning home, my sister, Margaret, sent me the front page of The Sheridan Press dated February 24, 2004. The headline was “101-Year-Old Sheridan Resident Dies.” “Genevieve Matedero – described by relatives and friends as a ‘grand lady’ who helped people throughout her life – died Thursday at the age of 101. Matedero died in Sheridan Manor where she had resided since 1997…The Sheridan Press featured Matedero in January 2003 when she turned 100. She was photographed with a big smile on her face, enjoying cake and ice cream with friends.”
Oh my God, I thought, maybe if I hadn’t gone looking for her headstone, the higher powers might not have realized they had forgotten about her. Some members of my family thought to suggest that as well. Two sisters, my Great Aunt, Anita, my Grandmother, Marguarite, and one brother, my Great Uncle, Jerome, preceded her in death. I didn’t know him at all. In the end I was just sorry I hadn’t taken the time to visit Aunt Gen the few weeks before.
And thanks to my favorite niece for reminding me about the story.