Old photographs are some of the most exciting finds you can make when researching your family history, but they’re not often useless without background or context. Unless a relative has handily marked names and dates on the back, that beaming smile is sure to soon send you spiraling into despair, yelling in exasperation “WHO ON…
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.
The news articles…
Circa. Early 1950s. Left: James “Gene” Rier with his wife Louise. Right: Stan Sabean and wife Pauline. It looks they are in a fancy restaurant, celebrating a special occasion. Dad looks rather pleased, like he just told a funny story. And, I know for sure that Stan was full of stories, jokes and a few pranks. It looks like a fun evening.
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.
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.