Widow's Lament

In 1956, Anna Elisabeth Colsch married a GI from the Frankfurt Army base and followed him to Minneapolis. He died in a car crash a few years later. Or so she was told.

Later that spring, Angelic met then-Sen. Hubert Humphrey, who used to dine on occasion at the Anglesey. A few months later, he made arrangements with the American Consulate in Germany to have her 9-year-old son, Renaldo, brought over on an immigrant visa. The boy arrived at the Twin Cities terminal to a waiting crowd, including a reporter and photographer from a local newspaper, which featured the tribulation-and-tears story in the next morning's paper. Renaldo's visa application was supported by a sworn affidavit signed on July 29, 1957 by Johnny--a document whose legal status would later be disputed in court. In it, Johnny listed Anna Elisabeth Swanson as his 27-year-old "wife" and the boy as his "wife's son."

"Maybe Johnny was a restless person. Even after being married for several years and becoming a family with my boy, he was still a stranger to me," Angelic said during our last visit. "He was always up to something--making deals, staying out all night, sleeping during the days after we were kicked out of the Anglesey and I worked at a car factory downtown. He drove a taxi, Yellow Cab, for a while until he was fired there too. Sometimes, when we weren't broke, we'd go for a steak at the Flame nightclub--just like old times. Somebody in the place always spoke a bit of German, which made me happy and homesick. We got a little place down by Lake Street, with a little yard for my boy. One night I said to Johnny, 'It's time you start behaving yourself and make some money for us.' And that was the same night, in 1959, that he vanished."

Around six in the morning, the police knocked on Angelic's door. She'd been up all night walking the floor, waiting for Johnny to come home from his night job delivering dry-cleaning orders. "I knew it wasn't him, because he had a key. They said, 'Police, open up,' so I did and they came in. Johnny, they told me, wrecked his truck and was nowhere to be found. I thought, Mighty God, what's going on? The next afternoon, I went to his company. There was an old man sitting in the door cleaning hangers with a rag. He spoke a little German, and when he saw me coming he pointed his finger in the air, like scolding, and said, 'Johnny's a bad, bad boy.' He was gone with the wind. Years went by, and I never saw Johnny again."

Long Lost Love

Thirty-five years later, at the end of 1994, 65-year-old Angelic Swanson walked into the Social Security Administration office on Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis to inquire about any benefits she might be due. When her number came up, she was ushered into a small cubicle and asked to sit down. The case worker, who was blind, asked for her name, her date of birth, her address, her social security number--the required vitals to call up her computer file. And then he asked Angelic if she'd ever been married. Sure, she replied, but told him she was a widow.

"So the blind man said, 'Fine. You can get a bit more money because you can collect on your dead husband's benefits,'" Angelic says, pulling out some more documents from the stuffed paper bag at her feet. "This was news to me. Then he asked me other questions--about Johnny, his family, where he was born. Everything I knew was correct. But then, well, this man started to act funny."

He turned to the computer, designed with special touch and sound features, and punched in the information. John Phillip Swanson. He asked Angelic for her mother-in-law's maiden name, which she knew. He typed it in. At the next prompt, he asked for Johnny's date of birth. Jan. 27, 1932. What's wrong? Angelic asked him. Is something wrong? The man looked puzzled, and entered another round of names and numbers. Then--as if in slow motion, she recalls--he pushed his chair back from the desk, turned to Angelic, and sighed.

"I'm sorry to tell you this, ma'am," he said, "but you're not a widow. Your husband is very much alive."

At this, Angelic breaks into another round of sobbing, muttering what sounds like Mighty God, Mighty God mixed with oaths in German under her breath. After a couple minutes, she adjusts her wig, pulls up her hose, and composes herself into a script that seems, like any lines memorized over and again by "grief-stricken souls like mine," too bizarre to be fictional. She checks to make sure the tape recorder is running. Good. She only wants to tell this part once.

"Imagine! This was the hammer blow. I couldn't believe it. I thought, no, no, you're wrong, you're very wrong. You're a blind man, there must be a mistake. My husband is dead. His father told me Johnny's dead. I called long distance to St. Petersburg a year after Johnny disappeared and his father told me Johnny died in Chicago. They picked up his body and flew it to Florida and buried him there in the family plot. I was crying. I was sick. I said there's a mistake. This is crazy."

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