Long-ago photo brings joy to grieving family


By Teresa Mottet

I want to tell you a story in connection with the funeral of Clara Anne Pearson, a woman I never met but whose life touched mine.

I heard on the radio that she had died, in a house fire at her home around 7 p.m. one evening. She was 87 years old and had lived alone for about 15 years since her husband died.  Firefighters found her by the front door and took her to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

My connection to her was that my late husband, Francis, had dated her for about a year in 1941, before he went to the Army in 1942. They got along well. She was in nurse’s training and he was a farm hand in her neighborhood. But he was Catholic and she was Presbyterian and, back then, that just didn’t work. So, they parted as friends. She had given him her high school graduation picture, which we’d kept all these years. I’d only seen her picture; Francis spoke well of her and admired and respected her. (He had another old girlfriend photograph and I had an old boyfriend picture. We didn’t get upset over them, just shrugged them off as a chapter in life that didn’t work out.)

When I heard Clara Anne had died, I thought, “I’d like to go to her funeral.” Then I thought, “No, that’s too silly. Those people don’t know me.” Clara Anne had two sons: One about 60 years old who lived in nearby Washington, Iowa, and a younger one who lived in Massachusetts.  I couldn’t make up my mind about going to the funeral. I wondered what people would think. Finally, I decided to go. And then I thought, “I’m going to take Clara Anne’s high school picture (if I can find it) and give it to her son.” Luck was with me; I found the picture within five minutes of searching for it.


The next day, I went to the funeral home for the funeral. I arrived an hour early in hopes of talking with the older son for five minutes without disrupting his family’s schedule. I told the woman who worked at the funeral home, “I don’t know the family, but would you please introduce me to the older son? I would like to have five minutes of his time if it would work out.”  She said she would introduce us, so I sat on the sofa and waited.

She brought him over to me and he sat down.  I told him who I was and offered sympathy for the loss of his mother, especially in such tragic circumstances. Then I told him that Francis had dated his mother for about a year in 1941. “I don’t know if you knew that or not,” I said. Yeah, he knew.  He’d lived in Washington all of his life and had heard the stories. Then I pulled the picture out of my purse and told him Clara Anne had given it to Francis 70 years ago, and now I wanted to give it back to the family. He got very excited and almost jumped off of the sofa. He said they had been going through his mother’s things after the fire, trying to collect photos. Some were smoke- and water-damaged. They had found most of what they wanted, but the picture they wanted and did not have was her high school graduation photo, the very one I was giving him! He thanked me profusely and that was the end of our conversation.

We went on into the big room for the funeral service and I found myself thinking, “I’ll bet God was laughing 70 years ago when Clara Anne gave Francis that picture, because God knew then how it would turn out.”

(Teresa Mottet is a member of St. Mary Parish in Fairfield.)

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