Gone but not for­got­ten

St. An­thony woman hon­ours teenager who died 91 years ago

Northern Pen - - FOCUS - BY KYLE GREENHAM

ST. AN­THONY, NL – Ev­ery year, Karen Keats brings flow­ers to the grave of a teenage girl who died nearly 91 years ago.

She does it not only to re­mem­ber the girl, but to hon­our the mem­ory of her de­ceased mother.

Irene Ruth Biles, Keats’ great­great-aunt, died at the age of 16 from tu­ber­cu­lo­sis (TB) in Jan­uary of 1927.

It was at a time in New­found­land’s his­tory when TB was a com­mon cause of death that dev­as­tated fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties across the is­land.

“It was rag­ing then,” said Keats. “Back in those days, a lot of fam­i­lies were wiped out by TB.”

Irene was the only child in the Biles fam­ily to die of the dis­ease. Keats’ grand­mother Olive – who Keats af­fec­tion­ately calls mom be­cause she raised Keats – was only one year old at the time of Irene’s death.

In 2012, while she and Keats were vis­it­ing the grave of Olive’s par­ents at the United Church ceme­tery in Fish­ing Point, the thought of Irene per­sisted in Olive’s mind.

“She said, ‘I’d like to find Aunt Irene’s grave, I don’t know where she was ever buried to,’” said Keats. “We de­cided to go look and try and find her.”

Keats and Olive even­tu­ally came to the old United Church ceme­tery, with graves and head­stones from the ear­li­est days of the 1900s. There they found Irene’s head­stone with the carved let­ters “Gone but not for­got­ten.”

“We found her there and mom was ever so ex­cited,” said Keats.

For those fi­nal two years of Olive’s life, she and Keats brought flow­ers to Irene’s grave. When Olive passed in 2014, Keats car­ried on the yearly tra­di­tion, honour­ing both her mother Olive and her great­great-aunt, Irene.

While nei­ther of them had the chance to know Irene, Olive, and now Keats, hold on to her mem­ory fondly. As well as a cher­ished pic­ture of Irene, Keats was also handed down Irene’s teacup and her tiny sewing ma­chine for sewing doll clothes.

Con­sid­er­ing the dates of death at the old United Church ceme­tery, many head­stones are in a de­pleted and crum­bling state. The grave of Irene Ruth Biles re­mains one of the few with fresh flow­ers left on it. Keats says if Irene’s head­stone ever needs to be fixed up, she will make sure the work gets done.

Now near­ing a cen­tury since she passed away, the young St. An­thony teenage girl Irene Biles can rest as­sured her grave will re­main vis­ited and up kept, so long as Keats is around to re­mem­ber her.

KYLE GREENHAM / THE NORTH­ERN PEN

Karen Keats holds up a photo of her great-great-aunt, Irene Ruth Biles, the young girl in white. Irene died of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis in 1927 at the age of 16 and Keats brings flow­ers to Irene’s grave ev­ery year.

KYLE GREENHAM / THE NORTH­ERN PEN

Along with the pic­ture of her Great-Great-Aunt Irene, Karen Keats owns the teacup and a small sewing ma­chine Irene used to sew doll clothes.

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