Updated: Jul 24, 2021
It was 1937. The world seemed at its nadir. The economy was depressed, the environment dry and dusty. Southern blacks were initiating the Great Migration, forced out of their homes by centuries of hate, violence, unspeakable and ubiquitous indignities. Hitler was mindlessly exterminating Jews and plotting to invade Poland.
Amidst these troubles, Hannah Oie was bustling with optimism in Silvergate, Montana. She was building and opening the doors of the Cafe I own now. Her site was a swampy patch of willows in the remote alpine. It is a tough place to run a business and without modern amenities, Hannah’s job was basically impossible. She was an underdog isolated in the mountains. Yet, somehow she enchanted the wilds into wonder.
Millions of visitors for over eighty years have cherished her Cafe. People often say: “this is our favorite place…we are happier here than anywhere else.” There’s something about Hannah’s Cafe that nobody can name. It has an evocative energy, subtle but distinct and wholly beautiful. It is “the atmosphere” says Mavis, sister to second Cafe owner Alivilda Caulk. I think the secret of this place is Hannah’s spirit. As if her dreams linger here. Who was this woman? How was she so brave to build up and open up despite her era’s distress?
I know little of the hard facts behind how Hannah fought and won her battles. Instead, I let her evoke my imagination. I turn her into my inspirational muse. The word inspiration means “breath of God.” That’s exactly what Hannah is to me. She enlivens me. These days, I need inspiration as much as oxygen. Her spirit is my protective angel, secret weapon, invisible friend. Thinking about what she did and when she did it makes me want to become a better woman. I want to cast hope like Hannah to stretch past myopic gloom. I want her buoyancy to transfer to me, my team and my customers so that we can rise above suffering.
Born of a Sacred Heart
Simple biographical facts from newspapers foster my fantasies. Hannah was born in town called Sacred Heart. I get excited by a story of my business that originates in Scared Heart! That would be enough. Her story gets better, though. She was a child of Norwegian immigrants, her mother became a U.S. citizen the year before Hannah was born. This gives me a clue about her upbringing. Her people claimed what power they could to improve their situation. And somehow I always loved her storybook name. Surely anyone named Hannah would have been sensible and strong. She was divorced, so we have that in common. We both opted out of dependency, banked on the uncertain alternative of self determination. She outlived one of her daughters so shouldered tremendous grief. When Hannah turned 75, she toured shrines in Hawaii. And she lived to the age of 102!
From this simple set of facts, Hannah’s legacy helps me survive difficult days. She was 56 when she began building (that year was her life's halfway point), 75 when she toured shrines, 102 when she breathed her last. Clearly Hannah made a decision to live fully and deeply. Kids these days would call her “all in.” Onward Hannah went, chancing, braving, moving forward alone into possibility. Her culture’s storyline, like mine, told of defeat and powerlessness in the face of overwhelming destruction. But she proved that plot a lie. Therefore, theoretically, embodying her spirit, cloaked in her armor, I can too. We can all refuse to let 2020 rule the day or have the final say. Thanks Hannah!