When Anson Tennant sailed from New York for Southampton aboard the Lusitania, he imagined a smooth crossing and a welcome respite from his labors on the new Agincourt Public Library. He didn’t anticipate German torpedoes, a Basque fishing trawler, amnesia and recuperation in a Spanish convent hospital outside Donostia until the first shots of the Spanish Civil War. I certainly hadn’t intended Anson’s life to have been so disrupted, but Dr Bob wondered “Why does he have to die?” So the too convenient sinking of the Lusitania had to be reconsidered.
The twenty-one years in northern Spain also had to be accounted for, I suppose. So it was logical for him to marry the young nurse, Graxi Urrutia, who cared for him and that they would have three children, Aitor, Alize and Mikel. Reunited with his Iowa family in 1936—his mother and sisters were still living, though his father James had died, some say of a broken heart—Anson enjoyed thirty-two more years shuttling between his two homes: Agincourt and Donostia. But I’d thought very little else about the amnesiac years or those of his recovery and reunion.
He’d been an architect in Iowa before 1915, though it seemed unlikely that he would ply that same profession in Spain. I wondered, however, about a fascination with carpentry he’d enjoyed in 1912, spending part of that fall in Albuquerque in the furniture workshop of Manny Galvez. Could it be that his Basque wife’s father was also a carpenter (“arotz” in Basque) and that Anson was invited to the family business? I think so, and that these skills might have served him well once safely back at home. In fact I believe we’ve found his sketch for a writing table and two chairs crafted in the late thirties for Miss Rose Kavana, someone Anson had known before “the accident” and who encouraged his reintegration with the community. Miss Kavana’s table will be part of the exhibit this fall, an artifact of Anson’s second life.
Incidentally, this is the self same table and chairs where Howard Tabor sat many years later, having delivered a package from his mother one Saturday afternoon.