During a recent trip to California, I set aside a day to visit a cousin I hadn’t seen in over 40 years. John Charles Pomeroy is a first cousin of my mother, the son of my grandfather’s sister, Hannah Femrite Pomeroy. John’s wife, Donna Paquette Pomeroy, passed away earlier this year and since I didn’t attend the funeral, I thought this would be a good time to get reacquainted.
John didn’t have an easy childhood. During his first fourteen years, he lost two mothers. His birth mother, Hannah, died from cancer in 1947. The family was living in Seattle at the time and John’s dad, Earl Ray Pomeroy, “Ray”, worked for the Great Northern Railroad. Since Ray was gone for days at a time, he found it necessary to place his sons in different living situations after their mother died. He couldn’t raise either of them as a single parent.
John’s older brother, Earl Ross Pomeroy, “Ross”, was sent to live with Ray’s brother, Harold, who also lived in the Pacific Northwest. That arrangement was short-lived, however, and within a year a different solution was needed for Ross. He was put up for adoption and went to live with family named Rumberg and took that name as his.
After Hannah’s death, John traveled to western Minnesota to begin a new life with my grandparents, Hiram and Josie Femrite. My mother was a rising junior at St. Olaf College that summer, so they had an empty bedroom in the house. It must have been quite an adjustment for my grandparents to suddenly have a seven-year-old boy to raise. Likewise, John certainly experienced his own cavalcade of emotions in starting a new life on the prairie without his brother or his parents. However, I believe they all settled into a fairly normal routine for John’s primary school years.
In early 1956, my grandparents and John traveled to Northfield where my father was being installed as the new youth minister at St. John’s Lutheran Church. After the Sunday morning service and a celebratory dinner in our new home, Hi, Josie and John got back in the car for the three-hour drive west to Madison. Halfway there, just outside the town of Bird Island, Josie had a massive heart attack in the car and died a short time later. John was again without a mother in his life.
My grandfather was a travelling salesman for the Williams Hardware Company and just like his brother-in-law Ray, he was not in a position to single parent a child, even if the boy was now in high school. After consulting with Ray, they decided to enroll John in Augustana Academy, a Lutheran boarding school in Canton, South Dakota for his remaining high school career. Ironically, Augustana is the same school where my paternal grandfather, Ragnvald Bergeson, matriculated forty years earlier.
After graduating in 1959, John enlisted in the United States Navy. When his tour was over, he moved around the midwest a bit before settling in Minnesota near his father, who had previously moved from Seattle to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. He began working for the United States Postal Service where he met his future wife Donna. They were married in 1968. In 1977, they decided to leave the north country and headed to California with their three-year-old son Jimmy.
John and Donna bought a house in Placentia, California and John found a position with the USPS again. He also started a second career with the military reserves, first with the Army and then with the Air Force. They welcomed their second son, David, into their lives in 1980 and thoroughly enjoyed their new life in Orange County.
After retiring from the USPS, John and Donna moved a couple hours east to Sun City Palm Desert where he lives today. As she aged, Donna developed severe arthritis and John was her primary care-giver for many years since her mobility was quite restricted.
At the age of 78, John practices yoga twice a week, he attends church services with three different religious communities and is a guiding presence for his two adult sons who live nearby. He encourages everyone to switch to a vegan diet, swims a couple times a week and nearly everyone that I met when visiting him last month knew him by name. He is one of the most positive people I’ve ever met and he always calls me on my birthday. Always!
It was great to see him again.