Happy 76th Anniversary Mom and Dad

My mother and father, Louise Adele Johnson and James “Gene” Rier, married on February 15th, 1943 at the Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church in Portland, Maine. Their special day was chosen because it was the day that my grandmother Harriet wed Ezekiel Johnson (and eloped) in 1908, and it was birthday of my great grandmother, Nellie Getchell Means, born February 15th, 1857.

Mom lived and worked in Portland at the time. Dad, now Lieutenant Rier, traveled there from Newburgh, NY where he was an engineer and pilot instructor at West Point, Stewart Field Air Force Base. There was a snow storm. Their families from Downeast Maine, Lubec and Machias, had a time making it to the wedding although Dad’s brother, Babe, and Mom’s mother Harriet, did. It was a long rough drive. Dad’s brother Paul, also stationed at West Point as PFC, was his best man. Mom’s maid of honor was her friend, Margaret Hadley.

After the wedding, Mom and Dad had a short honeymoon Downeast before they drove to Newburgh NY and settled into military housing for the servicemen and their wives.

Mom became a World War II bride in a marriage that lasted their lifetimes.

One of my favorite photos of that day is Mom with a wide smile. She looks so happy. There are photos of Mom with her mother Harriet, the wedding party, and the happy couple back at Stewart Field, West Point in Newburgh, NY.

 

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The news articles…

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Mom Keeps Men at Stewart Field Air Force Base on High Alert. 1944.

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The newspaper did not report that Dad took Mom up in the plane that day. But I know he did at least once. Dad said he knew she was a keeper when he turned the plane upside down and she laughed. Mom was always cool as a cucumber in the face of unexpected events.

Interestingly, Dad planned to take Mom up in the plane for a rollover for some time. I present the evidence. He wrote on the back of his picture.

“A snap of me. Do you think I’m getting fat? 177 lbs. I did go 152 lbs. I guess the instrument formation day and night and cross country do me good. The planes will do over 200 and sometime if I ever get the chance I’ll really show you how a stomach can roll.”

 

Mom never lost the trait of staying calm during an adventure. One day in the 1997, my brother David set out to fly Mom to Hanover, NH to visit me at Dartmouth Medical School. Shortly after takeoff, the engine failed. Mom didn’t bat an eyelash. After safely landing, David asked if it scared her. She told him, “Oh no. I wasn’t worried at all. Losing the engine is part of pilot training. You brought the plane back down smooth, just like Dad would.” Mom must have learned a lot about flight training at Stewart Field.

I know for sure if I had been in the plane that day the engine quit, I’d be doing some heavy breathing and stifling a scream.

My Great Great Paternal Grandfather, James Keegan.

He was born October 6th, 1812 in County Meath, Ireland and immigrated from Dublin to Trescott, Maine in 1836 at the age of 24. He was naturalized as a US citizen in 1843. He died February 8th, 1879. According to his obituary published in the Machias Union, James Keegan was a well-loved resident of  Trescott for 43 years. My uncle Raymond told me when James arrived in Trescott, he built his home into the side of a hillock to keep warm, an Irish tradition.

My grandmother, Elizabeth Keegan Rier, was born at this homestead. James Keegan was her grandfather. Grammy told me her mother died when she was about four years old. I never knew her mother’s name. I don’t know the names of all of Grammy’s sisters and brothers. She talked about only two sisters, Mary and Theresa who both lived in Massachusetts. I have research to do on my father’s side of the family, the Keegans and the Riers.

Grammy said she lost her mother when she was small and didn’t think she would know how to be a mother. My Dad, James Eugene Rier, was born in Trescott. My grandparents Frank and Elizabeth Rier later moved to Lubec. Grammy overcame any fears of motherhood and had 11 children, 9 survived childhood.

The US naturalization card of James Keegan.

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It is obvious that I have my share of Irish roots. My maternal ancestors, the Means family, originated in Scotland (the Menzies clan), immigrated to northern Ireland in the 1650s during the period of the “Wars of the Three Kingdoms.” They had been driven out from Argyll by persecution for their beliefs and stubborn refusal to yield to the English.  In 1718, they departed to America to make a new life. They  landed in Boston, then on to Falmouth (Portland, Maine), at the time a part of the colony of Massachusetts. My maternal ancestors are Scottish, Irish, and a bit of English along the way.

The Irish made up the largest mass migration of refugees the state of Maine has ever seen, escaping famine and oppression. James Keegan left Ireland in 1836. According to this resource, the conditions in Ireland at the time were in decline.

“By the 1840s, famine was no stranger to Ireland, as the post-feudal peasants had suffered hunger for decades as a result of oppressive land and food policies, overpopulation and over-reliance on the potato. It’s been estimated that a third of Ireland’s population depended on potatoes for nourishment, while wheat, barley, poultry, pork and beef were often sold to pay rent to the absentee landlords in England. As the population of Ireland doubled from 4 to 8 million between 1780 and 1845, the increased demand for land required families to subdivide plots into smaller and smaller parcels to accommodate new generations. The potato became the only crop that could produce a significant yield in such limited acreage. While the potato has been credited with helping Ireland’s population boom, it also led to the demise of about one million people who starved after the potato blight hit in 1845.“

Keegan decided to settle in the small seaside community of Trescott, Maine, with an economy based on farming, fishing, lumber, shipbuilding, and raising sheep. Harbors were at Bailey’s Mistake, Haycock Harbor, Moose Cove and the Bay at the South Branch of the Cobscook River (now called Whiting Bay). A man from Dublin, Ireland could feel at home there close to the sea. His obituary indicates that James was a respected member of the community and thus, he and his family did not face the prejudice he might have elsewhere in the state.

The documents in this post were given to my father in 1993 by Lyman Holmes of Machias, Maine. Many thanks to Lyman!

Related post: Searching for Grammy Rier’s Parents and Siblings

 

School Children in Lubec or Trescott Maine?

This photo was in Grammy Rier’s box of photos. I assume it is one of school children in Trescott or Lubec, perhaps early 1900s from the clothing. Can anyone identify the school, the time period, or any of the children?

The girl sitting in the front row in a dark colored dress, 4th from the left, looks a bit like my niece when she was young.

Photo below circa 1927. Grammy Rier (Elizabeth Keegan Rier) is in the middle with her eldest children, Marion on the left, and Dad (James “Gene” Rier) on the right.  Aunt Marion would be about 14 years old here. Could the young school girl be Marion four years or so earlier? It’s a mystery as yet…

Update: I now know that my grandparents Frank and Elizabeth Rier married in 1911 in Leominster, MA and lived there until about 1925.  If the photo date is around 1902, then it’s possible the little girl who looks familiar is my grandmother (born 1892), or a sister.

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My Dad James Eugene Rier

The Early Years: 1914 – 1942

Dad was born September 9th, 1914 in Lubec, Maine, the second child and first son of Frank and Elizabeth Keegan Rier. He had an elder sister Marion. As the years went by, Dad had four brothers: Francis (“Babe”), Julian (“Barney”), Paul, Raymond and three more sisters: Evelyn, Patrica and Carolee. In all, Grammy had 10 children. A younger brother, Louis, was born premature and did not survive long. Dad remembered burying the baby in a shoebox in a cemetery in Leominster, MA where they lived when he was young.

Grammy Rier told me that she never intended to have children and was surprised when she was pregnant with Marion soon after her marriage to Frank. “The doctor told me to nurse the baby so I wouldn’t get pregnant right away. It didn’t work. Your father was born little more than a year later.” Grammy had her babies at home in her bed. Sometimes the doctor arrived. Sometimes Frank delivered the baby.

Grammy was a staunch Irish Catholic. I have no idea why she thought she wouldn’t have any children. I could not imagine life without all my uncles, aunts and nearly 40 cousins, most lived in Lubec.

When Dad was little, there was no pretense to dress boys and girls differently, or to cut boy’s hair short. As a toddler, Dad wore dresses and had long, flowing, black hair. “Mother said my hair was too thick and beautiful to cut,” Dad explained.

Dad (R) with his sister Marion (L). Isn’t that a necklace on Dad?

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L to R. Frank and Elizabeth Rier in front of the Rier garage in Lubec. Grammy is holding the newest baby boy (Paul) beside Marion and Dad who sported pants and a hair cut by now. Frank looks so much like my Uncle Raymond, the youngest son in the family, it is stunning.

Dad’s education was intermittently interrupted. When he was about eight years old, he became very ill with scarlet fever and spent a year at home recovering. Later, he was often kept home to help his father in his garage and care for his many younger brothers and sisters. As the eldest child, Dad had a lot of responsibility from early in his life. His father was an auto mechanic and talented artist painting and detailing cars. “He could run a line down the side of a car free handed. It was always perfect. I’ve never seen anyone paint like that ever again in my life,” Dad told me.

High School Years

 

 

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Dad graduated from Lubec High School when he was 19 years old. He had missed a lot of school growing up so he was older than most students. That didn’t stop him from attaining a perfect score in math (100%) he told me. Dad liked to build (and fix) anything. When he was 20 years old, he and his best friend Bud McCaslin built a futuristic car in his father’s garage. From Dad’s stories, he and Bud enjoyed playing pranks now and again. They hooked up a train whistle to a car, hung out by the railroad tracks, blew the loud whistle just as a car crossed the tracks, scaring the bejeepers out of the driver of said car.

Dad’s first serious girlfriend was Rose. Mom used to tease Dad about Rose. Evidently, Rose ditched Dad and he was bereft  until he met my mother, Louise Johnson, one day in downtown Machias. He said he knew then and there she would be his wife. But, that goal took some time. Mom’s mother Harriet at first objected to Dad. He was from Lubec and a family of little means, and not likely to succeed in life. Harriet went to visit the Rier family for the purpose of investigation and fell in love with the Riers herself. In the years ahead, Harriet would visit my grandmother to sit for a day, taste the bread hot from the oven, and enjoy the hubbub of all the children.

In 1940, Dad accompanied Mom and Harriet to the World’s Fair in NYC. Dad was their escort. Most of one family scrapbook is dedicated to the sights they saw and the memories they made there.

 

 

Dad took a photo of the two of them in front of a warped mirror…

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One of the highlights was the precision formation flying exhibitions. Dad was entranced. Then and there he decided to become a pilot. That dream would be fulfilled. In 1942, he joined the US Army Air Corp, went to boot camp in Texas, was assigned to Stewart Field in Newburgh, NY, and trained as a flight instructor. Mom was still living and working in Portland. They decided to marry.

 

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Related posts:

Dad’s Graduation Class: Lubec High School Yearbook 1934.

Dad’s Graduation from US Army Air Corp Advanced Flying School. 1942. 

Dad Received West Point Assignment as Flight Instructor. 1942.

Dad Greets Rosalind Russell at West Point. Circa 1943.

The Beginning of A Business in Machias Maine. Rier Buick. 1949.

One of Dad’s Projects in the late 50s and Early 60s.

My Dad, James “Gene” Rier and Phil Watts. Just Kidding Around. 1963.

After 23 Years in Business, Dad’s Car Dealership Burned to the Ground. 1971. 

My Dad, James “Gene” Rier: Maine’s Dean of Gas Engines. 1985.

Mom’s Adventures in Portland: Horse Back Riding. 1942.

My mother, Louise Adele Johnson, was born in Machias, Maine and a life-long resident. She lived elsewhere just twice in her life, the first when she and her mother Harriet moved to Portland in 1938. She lived there until early 1943 when Mom married. Then she was off to Newburgh, NY for two years while Dad was stationed at Stewart Field Air Force Base. When Dad was discharged from military service in 1945, they returned to Maine and lived in Calais for a year. Dad worked at the mill, saved money to start a business and cut the logs for a small home in the garage of their rented home. At the end of that year, Dad built a log cabin on Dublin Street in Machias where they lived until he finished the building for his business with an apartment on the second floor for them and my brother Jim. In 1949, another son joined them, my brother David. By then, Dad had nabbed the Buick franchise and had a thriving business, Rier Buick Inc.

Portland was an adventure for Mom. Perhaps following the Johnson tradition of horses and harness racing, she joined the local horse club, Abenaki, in 1942. There she made many friends, including her life-long friend Louise Bryce. Their lives became very different: Mom married, had three children and lived Downeast; Louise remained single and lived in Gorham, not far from Portland. All the same, Mom and Louise stayed in touch all their lives. Toward the end of Mom’s life, she couldn’t find Louise. Her letters had stopped. But, Mom sat with the old photo album on her lap, looked at the photos of them together. “We had so much fun together,” she said with a smile, warmed by the memories.

It’s easy to see just how happy Mom was at this time in her life, time spent with new friends and horses. It was her last year as a single woman.

The newspaper announced the new members of the Abenaki club. Mom was appointed corresponding secretary.
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Photo on the right below. Mom and her dear friend Louise Bryce.

 

It appears there was some horsing around…

 

Mom Hanging Out with Friends

Machias and Roque Bluffs, Maine. 1936 to 1942. What did girls do? Well, pose on a cool car.

 

Hang out around their homes. Swing.

 

What else? Hang out at the Cemetery, of course. Does anyone know Mom’s friend, dubbed “Tombstone Annie”?

 

No one grows up in Machias without spending summer days at Roque Bluffs. You might even bring your mother.

 

Why not have a picnic with the Border Control guys, teach them how to pick cranberries. Gather families together for a good time. Girls, top photo below: Mom, Louise Johnson (Rier), and Muriel Clemmons (Watts).

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Related posts:

My Mother Louise Adele Johnson.

Mom and Brother Robert on a Sleigh Ride. Postcard 1920s.

Mom at 16. High School Graduation. 1936.

Mom’s Adventures in Portland: Horse Back Riding. 1942.

Mom Keeps Men at Stewart Field Air Force Base on High Alert. 1944.

Mom and Friends. Rotary Anns Bowling Team Trophy. 1959.