The last child born on October 17, 1926 to ME and Mary SANDERSON was Elna Jeanette in Murdo, SD. She spent her early years on Horse Creek. She was talented from the start where she was drawn to studying music in school in Murdo.
She also clerked in the family general store selling dry goods and even shoes. Everyone in the family had to work. All six children were expected to help out. In old photos of the family, Elna is obviously much younger than the other kids seen wearing her plaid school girl outfit flashing her lovely smile. Her older sisters carried her around as a baby and toddler. My Mom remembers little Elna seeing her mother baking a cake and declaring, “Not nut cake but coconut cake.” The older kids cheered her on for speaking clearly as a toddler.
On September 29, 1945 – the same year my Mother, Ella, got married – Elna married Gerald R. Miller of Draper, SD. They lived in Bell Gardens, California for a year before moving back to Jones County in 1947. Two daughters, Andrea and Stephanie and one son, Greg, were blessed with a devoted mother. Andrea was born the same year I was. My Mom gave me a short version of Elna’s middle name Jeanette- my middle name being Jean. Elna was a natural Mom and housekeeper. I remember the orange nasturtiums she grew out front of the darling house in Murdo. She loved her family and neighbors. She helped with many church events and family gatherings.
My memories of Aunt Elna are deeply intertwined with my Mom, her sister, because they were close and kept in touch often writing letters every day to their siblings. Aunt Elna’s letters were written in small cursive strokes and often she would write along the edges and tops so as to get in one more thought on paper or cards. My cousin, Bill, would be handed a letter from Elna as he sat visiting my folks in California sometimes. He had a tough time reading Aunt Elna’s small handwriting and as he struggled he would turn the letter around to read the edges. Frustrated, Bill would say, “I can read Aunt Elna’s letters except when she goes along the sides and writes up over the top, I’m through!”
I would stop by Aunt Elna and Uncle Jerry’s house during the two years we lived in Murdo and she was always at work washing floors on her hands and knees, or cleaning something or ironing . She was also a great cook and baker. Her house was always tidy. She would chat about local issues or people and ask what’s new from uptown. Sometimes I would get lucky and she would play the old upright piano with a modern popular song or oldies from WWII or a Broadway musical. She had a real ear for music and was a beautiful singer, too. She had even played with a band at Westover Hall as a young woman.
Aunt Elna loved being with family and especially liked going out for pie and coffee with her sister, Loretta, and taking Grandma SANDERSON along. They would talk and laugh and as a friend, Elsa Peck, told me, “Those SANDERSON girls would get together and talk and tell stories, then slap their knees erupting with loud laughter. They had the most fun.” Aunt Elna’s laugh was the best. If you heard her giggle then break into a full laugh, you’d want to join in. It was infectious.
Later on in life Elna liked helping at the family’s Range Country Lodging. She would help sweep sidewalks and polish windows. The staff there had to stop her one day trying to sweep outside as winds gusted to around 50 mph.
Elna was always dressed smartly and had her hair done in a manner that complimented her face and blue eyes. There’s a photo of her in a sleeveless white top worn with a pencil thin skirt. I remember thinking how cool she looked and young. She seemed to like wearing bright colors as I recall. I mentioned how she worked hard and kept her household running smoothly but she also knew how to relax and I can see her now, sitting calmly lounged in a chair with one arm resting up around the chair back or stretched on the couch telling we kids to please keep the noise down since she needed to rest.
We were all lucky to have Aunt Elna in our lives growing up. As a role model, you couldn’t ask for a stronger, more feminine, kinder example to follow. All the SANDERSON girls were beautiful but more than that, they made you feel important and even as a kid you were included. Elna spoke to me like I was one of the adults and I talked to her like a friend, not just my aunt. She joked around with us and we laughed a lot. How much we miss her, the last born of the SANDERSONS, but one of the best. Thanks for the music and laughter, Aunt Elna, but mostly thanks for being you.