Chapter One

            On May 10, 1923, a warm spring day with blooming white spirea bushes and fragrant purple lilacs, Anna Marie Bortel was born to Clifford and Myrtle Crosby Bortel in Grand Rapids, Ohio, a small, quiet river town. On that day, Clifford, who worked as an exterior and interior decorator, was wallpapering in a farmhouse across the Maumee River. With his wife’s imminent delivery due date, he made an unplanned trip home for lunch in his black Model T Ford. Myrtle, tall and usually slender, was indeed heavy with child, but showed no symptoms of the grand event. Clifford hastily downed a bologna sandwich, cranked up the Ford, and sped back to wallpapering.

The wallpaper paste was barely mixed when he received a phone call. “Come home right away!” urged Myrtle. “I’ll call Dr. Drake and my mother.”

Clifford hopped into his Model T and careened into the driveway in less than the anticipated twenty minutes of driving time. As was the custom in those days, rather than rushing to the hospital, Dr. Drake made a house call, and around 3:00 PM, ushered Anna into this wonderful world.

“Her name is Anna Marie,” the new child’s mother matter-of-factly informed Dr. Drake. Grandma Anna Crosby proudly held her namesake in her arms.

After assisting in this miracle of birth, Grandma Crosby took Anna’s three-year-old brother, David, and sixteen month-old sister, Mildred, home with her to allow the new mother to regain her strength and concentrate on her newborn’s needs. Actually, Mildred, already pensive and shy, posed no problem, but David, an explosion of energy, would have depleted the new mother’s energy reserve.


            During these times, bread sold for 9¢ a pound and milk for 56¢ a gallon. A new Ford cost $295. Gas to run it was 22¢ a gallon. Whooping cough and tetanus vaccines came into existence; however, they must not have been widely used since later all three children contracted whooping cough.

President Harding held office and just that year he had pounded a ceremonial spike into the ground to complete the Alaskan Interior rail line. Weakened by the tour to Alaska, yet ill for only a week, the fifty-seven-year-old president shocked the nation when he died on August 2, 1923.   Subsequently, Vice-President Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as President of the United States, a nation whose population had grown to 111,947,000.


            Living with an older brother and sister had its hazards. One day while talking on the phone, Myrtle heard a clinking sound coming from baby Anna’s mouth.

“Helen, I will need to call you back,” she said, quickly concluding her conversation. Normally a soft-spoken woman, Myrtle sternly inquired, “What’s going on here?” She then spotted the open button box. Upon investigation, she discovered that David and Millie had fed the baby, buttons.

“Anna likes them,” explained David, his brown eyes wide. Millie patted Anna’s stomach with her pudgy hands. And, so in this and other less risky ways, they enjoyed caring for their bald-headed baby sister.

When Anna was six months old, her father was offered a partnership by Mr. Long, an elderly man who owned a wallpaper and paint store in Bowling Green, a larger town about sixteen miles east of Grand Rapids. Consequently, the family left their little town with its beautiful dam and old flourmill, and purchased a home on North Prospect Street, about a mile north of the store. The Grand Rapids house was rented for $2.00 a month; later when Clifford raised the rent to $2.50, the renters moved out.

Excerpts from “’A’ is for Alaska: Teacher to the Territory” and “’A’ is for Anaktuvuk: Teacher to the Nunamiut Eskimos.”

All text is Copyright © Naomi Gaede-Penner. All Rights Reserved.