These posts are presented as a serialization that is best appreciated by starting with the first post HERE. You can then proceed in order by clicking on the HERE links shown in red at the bottom of every post.

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Click HERE to see what the Wisconsin Historical Society has to say about “An American Downton Abbey.” You can also read about our inclusion in the society's 2010 publication, "Wisconsin's Own: Twenty Remarkable Homes," by clicking on the book's cover on the right below.

Jen Zettel's story for Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers generated a huge increase in page views! See what she wrote and follow the links to view clips of the interview HERE.


Sunday, August 11, 2013


As part of CommunityFest, Neenah's Fourth of July celebration, I served as a Neenah Historical Society guide on a walk through the historic neighborhood surrounding Riverside Park. Here we are in front of the home next to ours and in the same year by Henry Sherry. At one time one of Wisconsin's most prominent lumbermen, Sherry went bankrupt in the 1890s, the result of what we would now refer to as a Ponzi scheme. Sherry's son Ed added to the shock by marrying a professional actress and moving to Milwaukee.  His wife, Laura Case Sherry, was the founder of the Little Theater Movement, which is today essentially community theater. She was also something of a writer and poet, being friends with Zona Gale, Carl Sandberg and Amy Lowell (who her husband objected to having in their Milwaukee home because she smoked cigars).

NOTE: The posts in Chapter II follow the events leading up to my father's return to Neenah as I saw them. If you are just beginning to read this blog you may want to go back and start with the first post HERE. To refresh your memory of  where we left off in the last post, "You Saw Your Duty," go HERE.

CHAPTER II, Entr'acte

First of all, I must begin with an apology for falling so far behind in my account of events. The month of July began for me with a walking tour of the historic neighborhood surrounding Riverside Park. The next week my wife Patti and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with about 100 friends, followed by a family gathering in honor of Patti's uncle, who was marking 50 years of religious life as a Capuchin priest. Then five days after that we hosted yet another gathering, this time for donors of the Wisconsin Historical Society's  foundation, many of whom were had seen the house in "Wisconsin's Own" or had been following this blog and were interested in seeing it first hand. Through all of the festivities I was also writing six scripts for the Neenah Historical Society's "Oak Hill Cemetery Walk" in Augutst, struggling to get our three-year roof project finished, arranging to have the barn painted, and getting a leaky cast iron drain pipe replaced in the bathroom. Not exactly the life of a country gentleman. 

I hope, in compensation for the delay, you'll enjoy this more personal entr'acte or intermezzo about the events surrounding the first of our three party.  

It all began this past winter when I sent up a marital trial balloon, suggesting to my wife Patti that we invite our closest friends and neighbors to a party marking 2013 as a watershed year in our lives. It was, after all, going to be our 30th wedding anniversary, my 60th birthday, and the 130th anniversary of my great-grandfather's completion of the house here in Neenah. To my surprise, having poo-pooed similar ideas in the past, Patti bought into the plan. Her only proviso was that it could not to be about us, but rather about thanking our friends for being such an important and continuing part of our lives over all these years. With that understanding we talked about who to invite, what would be served, and what the entertainment there should be. As we both often think fondly of the night we spent in New York City at the Café Carlyle, it was easy imagine someone at the piano in our parlor playing "Isn't It Romantic" as friends drifted out onto the verandah with glasses of champagne. Only who would we get? 

The entertainment for our party was the extraordinarily talented Steve March-Tormé  (right), shown here in the parlor warming up with pianist Mike Kubecki and bassist John Gibson. Before the party Patti's nephews came over and helped us to move most all of the furniture on the first floor up to the second floor.  In the background here you can see the little gold ballroom chairs we rented for the evening. I never in my wildest imagination ever imagining myself saying, as I did in preparing for that night, "You know, a ballroom would be a very useful and practical thing to have."

As it happened, I saw online that Steve March-Tormé, son of the legendary singer Mel Tormé, was scheduled to perform at a free concert at Heid Music in neighboring Appleton. With a couple of mouse clicks I learned that that he had moved from Santa Monica to Appleton some years ago, and then logging on to his website I fired off an email to his booking agent. Much to my surprise Steve got back to me personally, and for the next several days we exchanged a number of friendly emails about his coming to sing at our house as an anniversary surprise for Patti. I also snuck out house under some good pretext to hear him in Appleton. At the music store that night, climbing up onto a makeshift stage, Steve had the audience eating out of his hand well before the pianist and bass player finished warming up. He regaled us all with stories of growing up in Beverly Hills (where he was the neighbor of my television mom, Lucille Ball), and of  his love of baseball, through which he met New York Yankee batter Tony Kubek (who as it turned out is also a resident of Appleton and was sitting right behind me in the audience). Steve then apologized for having a cold and not being entirely in voice - after which he blew us all out of the water with a consummate singing ability unlike anything I had ever heard outside a concert hall or in a studio recording.

As I expected would happen, Patti uncovered my plan several days later, but that didn't matter any more. I was so thrilled by what I had heard that I probably would have told her sooner or later. It also turned out to be even better than the surprise would have been, as Steve let Patti have a hand in selecting what numbers he would sing. For weeks she was able to savor the idea of hearing such favorites as "It Had To Be You" and "Look of Love" performed in the parlor, and these along with songs Steve was anxious to perform, like Paul McCartney's "I Will" and "The Folks Who Live On the Hill" by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hamerstein.  It also turned out to be a particular thrill to go out to his website and see "Private Party - Neenah, Wisconsin" in his touring schedule, with ours followed two days later by a return engagement at the Crazy Coqs cabaret just off London's Picadilly Circus.

Words simply can't express what it's like to have a singer of Steve's talent and ability performing in your own home - so friendly and engaging. My goal was for the evening to be unforgettable, and it was all of that and more. Afterwards one of our friends said to me, "There's no way anyone will ever be able to top this."

The preparations, however, proved to be far from easy. The furniture on much of the first floor had to be hauled to the second to make room for the best approximation we could muster to theater style seating. As for the refreshments, I thought we could prepare most of the food ourselves and took off from work the week before to focus on all the preparations. We decided to serve desserts, but in the process changed directions several times, settling ultimately on things that were no more than two bites and didn't require plates or utensils. Drinks hoped to keep equally simple by focusing on champagne, discovering in the last minute that a nice dry brut turned horribly sour when served with anything sweet. In the process of rather extensive experimentation, we finally settled on a rather modest Korbel red rosé champagne that actually proved to be rather a light and deliciously lingering companion on a sultry summer night. In the end all the details and arrangements were like a wedding - much anticipated in the abstract, a nightmare the planning and execution, but ultimately remembered with much satisfaction.

When it came time for Steve to go on that night, I stood up and welcomed everyone once again, and explained that this was not an anniversary celebration, but a thank you for their years of friendship and support, in good times and in bad. Looking around at everyone in the the library and parlor - at those spilling out into the dining room and hallway - I told them that a neighbor had asked if there was anything she could bring, and I said she could bring over her ballroom (and she really does have one). I then introduced Steve, pointing out that he was by one degree of separation a native son (his father raced cars with Neenah's millionaire playboy Jimmy Kimberly). After that Steve's trio turned the house into our own private Café Carlyle, if only for one gloriously perfect summer night. At the end I stood up again and explained that I had originally planned for Steve's performance to be a surprise for Patti, adding that if he hadn't been available I was going to learn one of Patti's favorite songs and sing it myself - which I really had planned to do. This was in the end the ultimate surprise, for in closing I simply read the beginning lyrics to Cole Porter's "You're the Top" to thank Patti for the 30 happiest years of my life. And when I began, our friend Peggy dared to snap the picture you see below (she knows Patti hates having her picture taken). And this made the entire evening and the eight months of planning, headaches, and expense all worth while. Our wedding pictures I never look at. This one I will keep with me always.

Patti has always hated to have her picture taken, so when I saw this one on the disk of photos our friend Peggy took that night I was ecstatic. It is one of less than a dozen that  I have of Patti in our 30 years of marriage, and I think it is the best.

In the week that followed two very strange incidents also occurred. Although most all the glasses and discarded napkins had been picked up, the next morning I went on a tour of the house to assess what work had to be done to get things put back and ready for the next party coming up the following weekend. Being dead tired and not sure exactly how we were going to handle all the work ahead of us, I stepped into the sitting room, which had been largely stripped of its furnishings, and my head was immediately filled with the words (just as simply as if someone standing there had exclaimed), THAT WAS GREAT! I HAVEN'T HAD SO MUCH FUN IN YEARS!  LET'S DO IT AGAIN! Then later at the end of the day, when the rooms had all been cleaned and vacuumed and the furniture put back, I went into the sitting room to pull down all the shades to close things up. No sooner had I started that then I was struck by a long and emphatic NO! NO! DON'T! NOT YET!

That was just the first incident.

On July 20th we hosted yet another party, sandwiched between ours on the 13th and a gathering for the Wisconsin Historical Society Foundation on the 25th. This middle one marked 50 years of religious life as led by Patti's Uncle Tom, a member of the Capuchin priesthood. It was a supremely happy occasion attended by family members from around the country, including several of Patti's cousins from California. In this picture Sam, his brother Seth and their cousin Armella are making butter mints in the kitchen for the party while Armella's mother Sharon, Patti and I look on. These three kids are among the nicest and most engaging people I've ever met, and their parents have every reason to be proud. I was also reminded of how my great aunts felt whenever family came to visit, filling the house with laughter and activity. I was sad when it came time for them to leave and found myself wishing they all lived much closer.

The second incident came a week later while cleaning my Great Aunt Betty's bedroom in preparation of putting it on display for the Wisconsin Historical Society. In picking up a small pile of rugs that I had set on the floor the previous fall, I looked down where the pile had been and saw that what looked like a flattened bottle cap. In fact it was a Victorian sterling sliver luggage tag engraved "Helen Babcock - Neenah, Wis," something that must have belonged to my Great Aunt Nell but I had never seen in all my 40 years in the house. Now, in all those years we've gotten fairly used to the idea that things can disappear and without explanation reappear days, months and sometimes years later. This was the first time, however, that anything previously unknown and unseen appeared out of no where. From it I got the sense that my Aunt Nell wanted to get my attention in the only way she knew how. And as this appeared in her sister's room, I inferred that as the eldest and titular head of the family, she wanted her room on show as well.

As you might expect, I complied with her wishes, a lesson well learned - something you'll hear more about in the very next installment.

I don't know what more there is I can say about finding this luggage tag, except when I told the 11-year-old children of Patti's cousins about it the following week, they were riveted by the story but refused to hold or even touch it.

CHAPTER II to be continued.

Friday, June 21, 2013

You Saw Your Duty

Another one from my little Instamatic, this is Great Aunt Nell's Room. The desk in the tower is where I did much of my initial research, and it is where Aunt Nell's scrupulously maintained line-a-day diaries were kept. Aunt Betty conveyed a certain concern about these diaries, fearful perhaps of what Aunt Nell might have revealed about herself in them, as well as what Aunt Nell may have recorded about her sister (a medium doing a walk through of the house made reference to the diaries in the desk and correctly determined that they had been moved to the attic). Aunt Nell used this room more as a personal retreat, she and her sister sharing another room at the back of the house for sleeping. Towards the end of their lives my Aunt Dot - who was more like a younger sister to them than a niece - badgered Aunt Nell and Aunt Betty so relentlessly about their sleeping in a dark and pokey room while this one lay vacant, that eventually they moved their twin beds  in here. The move made it easier in Aunt Nell's final days to bring in a hospital bed - purchased rather than rented to be in place when Aunt Betty would need it in her turn.

NOTE: The posts in Chapter II follow the events leading up to my father's return to Neenah as I saw them. If you are just beginning to read this blog you may want to go back and start with the first post HERE. To refresh your memory of  where we left off in the last post, "I Just Won't Cook Them Lima Beans," go HERE.


Having written the biography of my grandmother and identified the old photos Dad had somehow saved from his mother's house, there was only one clear next step for me to take. During the summer of 1971 when I was still only 17-years old, it was arranged for me to spend several days in Neenah with Great Aunt Betty to learn more about our family history. I don't recall how the plan was concieved - or even if it was entirely my idea - but Aunt Betty was glad for the company and agreed to help in any way she could.  In booking the bus tickets, however, I was surprised to learn that neither Alfred nor Louis would be able to pick me up at the station in nearby Appleton, there being no Greyhound service from Minneapolis to Neenah.  I had never traveled anywhere on my own at that point, and in these days before the Internet the inability of determining how I was to catch a local bus from Appleton to Neenah (not knowing how late, how often or even where these buses ran) was more than a little intimidating.  Mom made a fuss about the uncertainty, which made my concern and determination greater, while Dad, in a surprisingly expansive mood, said if need be I could always take a taxi, which in my mind only produced more questions and anxieties. Given that Alfred and Louis had shuttled Nesta Edwards back and forth to Milwaukee, I was more than a little put out by the situation, but in the months to come I circumstances would become increasingly clear to me.

The trip across Wisconsin took the better part of the day, and as it turned out the local bus to Neenah left from the Appleton Greyhound stop and deposited me downtown at a small grimy gas station (today an immaculate boutique Chinese restaurant), where an inexplicably grumpy Alfred shuttled me the remaining five blocks  to the house. Even though it was fairly late in the evening, Aunt Betty was waiting up to welcome me and show me up to Aunt Nell's old room before trundling off to bed herself. I had shared this room in the past with my brother Steve as there were twin beds, one of which had been replaced by the hospital bed in which Aunt Nell had died in 1966. The room was more modern than the rest of the house, having been redecorated in the Arts and Crafts style around 1911 - striped moiré wallpaper, randomly arranged ivory matted engravings and pastels, chintz upholstery, bookcases with leaded glass doors, the ceiling, walls and floor coverings all in the same shade of aquamarine (Aunt Nell's favorite color). For the next several days I would work in the room's tower at Aunt Nell's mahogany desk, the drawers full of her diaries - which I would learn made Aunt Betty very nervous and that I left scrupulously untouched.

The next day I discovered that Aunt Betty had pulled together a dozen or more books and pamphlets for me to read. There were genealogies of the Babcock and Kimberly families, several histories of Neenah and Kimberly-Clark Corporation, as well as printed recollections of the city's early settlement days that involved a host of cousins and other relatives. In fairly short order I was able to follow my English Babcock relatives from their arrival in Rhode Island in 1642, and from there to Vermont's Canadian border and out to the Territory of Wisconsin by 1846. As for my Kimberly ancestors, they in their turn made a similar journey from England to Massachusetts in 1635, and from there to upstate New York and then on to Wisconsin in 1848, where John and Harvey Kimberly were determined to replicate in Neenah the same success their cousin Dr. Edmund Stoughton Kimberly had in the founding of Chicago and Rush Medical College. And while the Kimberlys were by far more consistently successful, the Babcocks were not without their own claims to fame. Dr. Joshua Babcock was a chief justice of colonial Rhode Island and friend of both George Washington and Benjamin Franklin (the Babcock-Smith House in Westerly is now a museum), whereas Brigadier General Orville Babcock was General Grant's aid-de-camp at Appomatox and later President Grant's personal secretary - and as such a key player in the Whiskey Ring scandal. As it turned out both Babcock and Kimberly families also had rather astonishing connections to the Roosevelt family: Dr. Kimberly's son Augustus was the husband of President Theodore Roosevelt's cousin Margaret, while Dad's cousin Anne Babcock was the wife of Theodore Roosevelt III.

The Kimberly Double House was built as a duplex in 1849 for John Robbins Kimberly and his brother Harvey Latimer Kimberly, originally of Troy, New York. Shown here in the 1890s, the Double House was considerably smaller in its original incarnation, being only two stories in the center portion, and with no imposing portico or flanking verandahs. When first married, my great-grandparents Havilah Babcock and Frances Kimberly lived in the west side on the left. After their first child, Aunt Nell, was born, they moved to a house closer to town. Being neighbors to her bellicose Uncle John proved to be too much for my great grandmother, that and the fact that the kitchen was in a detached structure behind the house - a measure intended to reduce the threat of house fires but thoroughly impractical in Wisconsin's harsh winters.

From these genealogies and histories I was able to put together the first pieces of a complex family and community history with which I would continue to be fascinated for the rest of my life, if only because it was embodied in the house in which I was at that moment staying. Sitting down with Aunt Betty in the library, a borrowed Bell & Howell reel-to-reel tape recorder running between us, I learned how her father, my great-grandfather Havilah Babcock, had come to Neenah from Vermont as a boy and become friends with John Kimberly's son Alfred, how the two of them, still in their teens, had been set up by Alfred's father in the dry goods business, and how the two of them had joined forces with C. B. Clark and F. C. Shattuck to form Kimberly, Clark & Company in 1872, the same year Havilah married Alfred's cousin Frances Kimberly. The newlyweds spent their first year of marriage in the west side of the Kimberly's Double House, where my Aunt Nell had been born. The following year they moved to a house on Commercial Street that years later would be torn down to make way for the gas station where Alfred had picked me up. That was where all the other children had been born: Caroline - my grandmother - Harry, George and Betty. An oil portrait hanging on the wall near us came from that house and had been painted using a tintype of the three oldest children. A bust of my great grandfather also looked down from the top of a bookshelf . It had been done years later by Caroline, "Callie," my grandmother, the dark-haired little girl in the portrait when she was a young woman and a student at the Art Institute of Chicago, having become enthralled by sculpture while studying in New York City under Daniel Chester French, creator of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Aunt Betty explained how her father had been particular about every facet of building this house. "The foundations had to sit and settle a full year before he would let any of the work begin," she said. Every available modern convenience had been incorporated into its design: central heat, a flush toilet and plumbing to "stationary washstands" in every bedroom, speaking tubes connecting the working areas of the house with an early form of intercom, and light fixtures - gas and electric - well before the service of either was generally available. "We were the first house in town with electricity," Aunt Betty explained, adding that it was made possible by an Edison generator installed at Kimberly-Clark's Globe Mill downtown, yet never explaining how the wires were run between the two. And while the unexpected success of Kimberly-Clark had made their family rich, they moved into the house in 1883 with bare plaster walls, living that way for all of five years, at which point artisans came up from  Milwaukee to complete his vision of the perfect home, complete with narrative fireplace tiles. "Father told us these were Lancelot and Guinevere," Aunt Betty said of those in the front hall, adding that the library tiles were of Dante, Socrates and Lord Byron, the meaning of which I would not be able to grasp until another forty years had passed.

And when this work was done Aunt Betty recalled how her parents had hosted a glamorous "at home" reception in 1889, to welcome Alfred Kimberly's daughter Helen and her husband W. Z. Stuart back from their brief but traditional wedding tour. I would later learn from old newspapers how 300 invitations had been issued with only a handful of regrets, few being willing to miss a glimpse of the house and the novelty of electric lights. The guests, Aunt Betty said, arrived by carriage at the port-cochere, left their cloaks with attendants stationed in the sitting room,  and then proceeded through the reception line in the parlor to meet the ill-fated couple, after which refreshments were served from the dining room. A small orchestra played on hall landing, and the catering was handled by a firm from Milwaukee. Aunt Betty was six years old at the time, and she remembered that in addition to there being rather handsome African American waiters, a boy some years older than her was also in attendance wearing a turban and running coats from the sitting room upstairs and down again when needed. "I remember standing right there watching him," she said pointing to the doorway into the hall. "I wanted to say something, but he was too busy." 

Although I have no picture of myself on the back porch with Aunt Betty, this one of her and Aunt Nell from the 1960s captures the experience on a hot summer day perfectly. Complete with cloth, sterling and best china, meals would be served with the same formality as in the dining room. When this table needed to be replaced the purchase of another one created no end of problems for Aunt Betty, who eventually settled on one from Sears Roebuck with an unheard of Formica top. What isn't shown in this picture are the surrounding gardens - and the carpets on the porch floor. They were Kimlark rugs, made by Kimberly-Clark of an amazingly durable paper-based twisted cording like sisal. We have two generations of them rolled up in the hayloft of the barn.

As the interview continued Aunt Betty became more and reflective. In her teens she remembered asking her mother if she had many beaux at her age. "What a thing to ask your mother!" was the answer she recalled. "Why do you suppose she said that?" she asked me, genuinely perplexed. At another point she looked down at the tape recorder to see if it was running and asked me to turn it off. When I promised that I would erase the tape after I had taken notes, she looked off in the distance and said, "If my parents made any mistake with me it was that I was always treated as the baby," she said. "I was never expected to do anything." It was at this point that I felt comfortable enough to ask what was a very stupid question, prefacing it by saying that she didn't have to answer if she didn't want to. "Then maybe I just won't tell you," she said with a coquettish smile. Having asked many questions about her father's life and career and work throughout the interview, I followed up this line of questions with asking what her father was worth when he died. And I can see now as clearly as if it this had been asked yesterday, how her smile vanished and her face became inexpressibly sad. "I have no idea," she replied, without a word indicating that the door was closed on that subject. The next day I understood why. She said a representative from some charitable cause would be calling on her, to which I offered to vacate the library. "I won't see him in here," she said. "I'll see him in the sitting room. He says it's a social call, but all he's interested in is money." 

Her father's great wealth had been a blessing and a curse, and while I had miss-stepped I had opened a door and - if only briefly - gained her trust. There had developed a connection of sorts between us, between the pimply fat boy and the grey-haired old lady approaching the end of life. For as old as Aunt Betty was, she remembered and understood exactly where I was in life, and treated me with a respect and humorous affection that I have since found only rarely. In the days that followed she asked me if there was any particular dish I would like Rose to make. As instructed by Mom I insisted that anything would be fine with me, at which Aunt Betty suggested stuffed tomatoes, which I agreed to even though they were something that I hated beyond all reason.  So that very afternoon, seated on the back porch where we overlooked Aunt Nell's garden and were served by Rose on a pattern of Royal Copenhagen picked to coordinate with the simple décor, a tomato was set down before me, not stuffed with a mitigating tuna or chicken salad, but with a mixture of what was then to me a nauseating combination of cottage cheese, chopped nuts and raisins. How I was able to finish this unimaginable horror I have no idea, but when we were done, Aunt Betty smiled and very quietly said, "You saw your duty and you did it." On another occasion, when I came down to lunch in bare feet, Aunt Betty said nothing but just looked at my feet. "It looks like I came down without my shoes on," I said excusing myself. We understood each other perfectly.

And then it was time for me to leave. "I thought maybe you'd stay for Sunday. After church we could take flowers out to the cemetery," Aunt Betty said, her disappointment unmistakable. I had no idea then what this had meant to her, what I was being asked to become a part of with her, and I have regretted not staying over another day ever since.

CHAPTER II continues HERE.

Friday, May 24, 2013

I Just Won't Cook Them Lima Beans

After the first trip to Neenah from Edina in 1969, the five hour drive seemed to grow shorter and easier to make, in part from the distinct change that occurred after leaving the interstate at Eau Claire. The rise and fall of the two-lane road, the turns through town at Niellsville, Auburndale, Milladore, Stevens Point, Waupaca, and Weyauwega - each with their own familiar landmarks and milestones - became part of our rhythm of life. Red barns, grain elevators, railroad tracks, Carnegie libraries, coffee shops that served Polish kolaches, and tractors chugging along in the road at their own unhurried pace - it was a slow but steady disassociation with the rest of the world. And then in Neenah we entered this house, which was in and of itself a portal to an equally unhurried life that had little or no connection to the world beyond its doors. Shaded by huge old forest oaks, and by elms with branches that draped gracefully to the ground like willows, the house was man-made but seemed to be a natural and breathing extension of the land and trees around it, as if it had always been there and always would be.

NOTE: The posts in Chapter II follow the events leading up to my father's return to Neenah as I saw them. If you are just beginning to read this blog you may want to go back and start with the first post HERE. For those of you who are reading because they love stories about Neenah, I'm certain you'll find this chapter engaging and an important part of a moving human drama that has everything to do with Neenah, its history and the six degrees of separation that link link us all together.


This is where the story for me gets a little too complicated to sort out easily, so I apologize for taking so long in getting it posted.  As a high school student I was old enough to begin seeing myself as separate from my parents, and yet I was still dependent on them and by trial and error was sorting out their values and world view, both of which were based on the depression, the Second World War, and all the succeeding wars and events that had contributed to the social upheaval of the 1970s. In California it was easy to dismiss the counter culture as just an isolated bunch of pot-smoking hippies camped out in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury District, but the sea change in American life had even reached the deep winter freezes of upper middle class Minnesota, where at Edina Senior High School a radicalized student council organized a walkout that effectively shut down the school by involving nearly 4,000 students. These numbers, however, rather than being a reflection of political awareness, were more probably due to the entertainment provided by John Denver, an Edina resident until the release of his breakout single "Country Roads," at which time he beat a hasty retreat out to Colorado.

And while I was tentatively attempting to peck out of my shell with longish hair and only occasional forays into funky clothes, Mom and Dad had become increasingly lonely and withdrawn, and dependant on their family as their primary source of human contact. At the Academy of Parish Clergy, Dad and two secretaries were the entire staff, with only limited interaction from one day to the next between them and the governing board, or for that matter the academy members who were scattered across the country. It was a far cry from Dad's seminary days when there were students and administrators and other professors to be seen and spar with and challenge in class or in his office, or even in the meetings Dad despised and railed against. The same was also true of Mom who found no women in Edina who responded to her rescuing ministrations, a trait that had served her well as a mother and was a compliment to Dad's church and seminary work, but that was entirely out of sync with Edina's success code of conduct, admitting no weakness or want of strength, ambition, or competitive spirit. Nor did Mom and Dad find any community in Edina's churches, where the primary focus was on making the newly rich feel entitled to wealth that Jesus pointedly said must be given up in order to follow Him.

So in the absence of any more suitable adult alternative for my parents, the burden of meeting their social needs fell squarely upon Steve, Bonnie and me, Dave being in medical school and home only for the holidays, and both Bob and Bill married, who with wives and children and careers seldom came to visit. For the three of us remaining the implicit assignment was fundamentally nothing new, the team effort being well established during our two years in New Jersey. In Minnesota we simply continued the weekend travels, movies and going out to eat - the universal favorite being the locally legendary Jolly Troll, an all-you-can-eat quasi Scandinavian smorgasbord where you could fill every body cavity and orifice to the point of unconsciousness without a shred of guilt. There was, however, one new and extremely embarrassing development in our family arrangements. In Edina I had become part of a particularly close circle of friends, and when any or all of them came over Mom would inevitably insert herself into the conversation or whatever it was we were doing, which I now realize was because for the first time in her life she had no meaningful involvement in Dad's work. So when my friends and I brought home as a laugh a wino's unopened bottle of Boone's Farm we found hidden in a hollow park tree, Mom immediately became part of it all."Have you ever wondered what this stuff tastes like?" she asked. Glasses were soon being passed around with Mom pouring samples for everyone.

During her visits to Edina, as well as ours to Neenah, Great Aunt Betty seemed equally fascinated by the world we occupied as well as by our response to hers. In Edina she was spellbound walking through Southdale Center, the first regional enclosed mall in America with 72 shops and department stores. Impressed by the choice and convenience, in a jewelry shop she was nevertheless floored by the price on a strand of gold beads that turned out to be vermeil. "Goodness!" she exclaimed. "What mine must cost. They're real."  Aunt Betty also took note of our enjoyment of the things she had saved and cared for in Neenah. While her mother's trousseau had been given to the Wisconsin Historical Society, the number and diversity of family treasures still in the house seemed endless. Here Aunt Betty organized an impromptu fashion show of ladies' hats she had kept in the attic cedar closet. Recorded once again with my little Instamatic from the left are Aunt Nell's great friend, Nesta Edwards, Aunt Betty, Bonnie (wrapped up in a tattersall throw to look like a dress), and Mom.

While I found intrusions like these were upstaging and therefore infuriating, my friends found them unendingly hysterical - laughing heartily along with Mom, engaging in a way they couldn't with their own parents, and then laughing again in recognition of themselves in my aggravation. As their own families posed equivalent (or in some cases far worse) problems, there soon developed an understanding between us that parents of all stripes (as well as most all brothers and sisters) were inexplicable and sometimes frightening creatures from a parallel but occasionally intersecting universe, creatures which we had to tolerate and ignore as best we could, if only to keep them from swallowing us up whole by the horrendous life decisions they had made and we were certain never to repeat. This construct had a distinct appeal at that point in our lives, and as a result we developed a kind of bond that must be like what grows up between shipwreck survivors on a deserted island. We none of us were part of the socially elite at Edina Senior High School, being geeks to one degree or another long before the term came into general parlance. Paul, John and Bear all collected super hero comic books (although Bear dabbled in "Little Lotta," "Stumbo" and "Richie Rich"), and with James and Tim they were all devotees of science fiction.  And while Tim, James, Paul and I aspired to be writers, my first good friend Mike and the others just had my friendship in common. As might be expected, this generated a good degree of conflict, but the only real trouble between us all was Tim, whose increasingly bizarre and eventually disturbing antics ultimately tested the limits of our unexpressed affection and loyalty, not to mention our own sanity.

In spite of all that I might very well have detached myself even further from my family in favor of these close friendships were it not for Great Aunt Betty. For unbeknownst to her (or to any of us for that matter), her regular presence in our lives served as a great leavening and cohesive force around which we all unexpectedly began to gravitate. This was nothing particularly new for Dad, having enjoyed long established ties with Great Aunt Nell, whose intellectual daring and outlook on life he admired and sought to emulate. In her absence, however, he had discovered a new appreciation of the balance Aunt Betty provided, whom he had come to realize had lived her entire life in the shadow of her older and more highly regarded sister. As for Mom, she now found in her former nemesis a kindred spirit who was sincerely impressed by Mom's many talents, and, more significantly, one who in her advanced years readily accepted and even welcomed Mom's hand holding and sympathetic ear. But on an even larger scale, Aunt Betty effectively broke the spell that had hung over us ever since the Thanksgiving of the Dog. For unlike all other family relationships, each invitation from us was reciprocated in like kind by Aunt Betty, and vice versa. And rather than being futile exercises in hauling an old lady around to places she couldn't remember or knew nothing about, or struggling to make conversation with someone on the threshold of death, the visits and trips with Aunt Betty were all engaging adventures that offered nostalgic glimpses into an astonishing past, and at the same time produced a renewed appreciation of what we had in our own life and times.

So in staying with us in Edina at our first house - the cold and inhospitable split level that was totally lacking in character - Aunt Betty was perfectly comfortable and at home, being genuinely amazed by the small number of steps from one level to the next. "I could manage very easily in a house like this," she said, as if we deserved some credit for the ingenuity of design. Back in Wisconsin, taking her down to Greenbush to see the Wisconsin Historical Society's Wade House, a stagecoach inn, Aunt Betty regaled us with stories of family trips up north to their cabin on Lake Kentuck, their party transported by private train car as far as Eagle River, where they spent the night in a rustic loggers hotel. "The next day we'd have bites all over us," she recalled, rubbing her arms as if the night in question had just passed. Among the vast collection of carriages at the neighboring Wesley Jung Carriage Museum, she drew us over to the surreys and sleighs and cutters (all like those they used to have in Neenah), and to a rather sporty phaeton, a wicker sided two-seater like the one Dad's grandfather used to drive. "Father never took a cab in the city. Only a handsom," she said. "He couldn't abide the smell of motorcars." In return for these and other excursions she treated us all to Thanksgiving dinner at Milwaukee's famed English Room in the Pfister Hotel, picking up the tab for the meal and the overnight accommodations. Afterwards, across the street at Chapman's Department Store, she showed us where she and her mother or father or later Aunt Nell would sit by the fireplace on a blustery day and be served hot tea or chocolate in little cups while their packages were being wrapped and brought down, in the day when the term "carriage trade" had real meaning.

Spending Christmas in Neenah with Aunt Betty soon became a much anticipated part of the holidays and the high point of each year as a family. In 1970 Dave joined us during his break from medical school and organized the building of a nearly 7-foot snow gorilla, executed over several days and involving the freezing of ice blocks to make sure he was built with a steady foundation and would last until spring. Posing with the finished product from the left are me, Bonnie and Dave. Soon after we left for home, the Post-Crescent sent out a photographer to record and publish our finished creation, it having attracted much attention and comment, no one having ever built such an ambitious snow sculpture on Wisconsin Avenue before. It was also a first for us. Nothing we had ever done before had attracted public attention and we didn't know quite what to make of it all. We were simply not accustomed to anything we did being newsworthy. Aunt Betty, however, was thrilled. Surviving through the winter, our snow gorilla was a harbinger of things to come.

And in finding a comfortable place for herself in our lives, Aunt Betty in turn welcomed us - warts and all - to be a part of hers. I can't say that she acted any differently or made any extra effort when we were visiting her in Neenah, but she made us all immediately comfortable and at ease and unaware that we were sitting on silk damask or dining on sterling silver and being served by uniformed maids - or for that matter traveling from floor to floor in the little cage elevator she and her sister had installed. At Christmas Aunt Betty had Alfred put up the tree and string it with lights, but left us the job of burrowing through the boxes of treasured ornaments to make the decoration our own. With Mom's encouragement I was also for some reason given the assignment of creating a centerpiece for the dining room table, which with Aunt Betty's enjoyment of parties delighted her to no end. The first was a gold topiary tree hung with icicles and angels, after which came a forest of green burlap Christmas trees strung with snowflake sequins and gold balls, and then finally - what would prove to be my pièce de résistance - a three foot long snow covered winter scene, complete with frozen lake, snow covered willow and miniature ice skaters. That same year Mom got Steve to bring his stereo system with us, filling the house with Christmas music - along with a few slightly incongruous country western songs from albums that Aunt Betty's cook, Rose, brought down from her attic bedroom.

Rose, who was just about 60 at the time, struck the only sour note in the proceedings. Aunt Nell had hired her as something of a charity case when their beloved Alma retired as cook and married Alfred the yard man (who as a recovering alcoholic needed someone to keep an eye on him). Raised on a farm, Rose had spent her life caring for aged parents, and when they died she had no resources or employable skills accept as "a good plain cook" - a description of faint praise with which Aunt Betty would have taken exception. "These aren't as good as Alma's," she said pointedly of Rose's spice pancakes served at breakfast one morning, just as their maker stepped into the room. This intentional slight seemed to be uncharacteristically rude on Aunt Betty's part, but Rose had apparently grown quite high and mighty in her formal status as cook, brazenly limiting the number of dishes she would make for any meal and refusing to serve more four people, looking on with grim satisfaction while others ran dishes and platters of food out to the dining room and back. In passing through the kitchen at other times of the day (which one did only if absolutely necessary and then quickly and quietly), it was also common to hear Rose engaged in lengthy one-sided conversations. "And then Miss Betty said, 'I've invited Mrs. Graebner here for lunch so you won't get that extra pork chop,'" Rose replayed to herself in the kitchen one afternoon. "Well, then," she imagined herself replying with a tart riposte, "I just won't cook them lima beans."

The only other player on these occasions was Nesta Edwards, a maiden lady in her 90s like Aunt Betty, but one who in spite of being confined to a wheelchair was a dominant presence to be reckoned with, in many ways like a female Lionel Barrymore (whom she resembled and even sounded like). Nesta was a long time friend and protégé of Aunt Nell's, living for many of her later years with her sister Gladys in suburban Milwaukee, and after that as a resident of the monumental Milwaukee Protestant Home on North Downer Avenue. A dynamic individual of agreeable outlook and life philosophy, as well as possessed of an indomitable spirit, she was nevertheless a woman who freely boasted of never finding traditional success or dependable income, while at the same time readily accepting gifts, loans, hospitality and all manner of  financial support from rich friends - primarily Aunt Nell and Aunt Betty. "My failures made me," she said of her retail, office management, social work, industrial safety and food service experience at places like Marshall Field's, Union Carbide, International Harvester and eventually Kimberly-Clark, where she claimed to have single-handedly introduced Kotex to the American public - an assertion also made by Albert Lasker (considered by many to be the founder of modern advertising) and several others. Nesta had come to expect Alfred or Louis to chauffeur her back and forth from Milwaukee for the holidays, during which she frequently asserted how the construction of a wheelchair ramp for her use was really a service to Aunt Betty, helping her to prepare for the time when she would need it.

This pattern of life was all new and mysterious to me, but for Dad it was perfectly normal. Growing up in his mother's house he was accustomed to the limitations of domestic service (and the inherent idiosyncrasies that come with cooks and maids and cleaning women), as well as being surrounded by opportunists who clung tightly to rich old lonely women. Knowing what he did, Dad felt sorry for Aunt Betty, but the focus of his pity was far more prosaic. "With all these people around," he said, "she can't fart whenever she feels like it."

CHAPTER II continues HERE.

Friday, May 3, 2013

People Sometimes Change

When we moved to Minnesota in 1969 Great Aunt Betty was 87 and living on her own for the first time in her life. Of course, she wasn't entirely alone in Neenah, there being Rose, the cook who lived in, plus two maids (they'd be called in to wait table when there were more than four for any meal), two cleaning women (in addition to their regular duties they would spend an entire month once a year with the rest of the staff cleaning the house from attic to cellar, including all the closets, cupboards and dresser drawers), a laundress (who ironed everything, including old tissue paper that would be given new use when the drawers and cupboards were annually cleaned), and not one "man" but two, Alfred and Louie (they took turns caring for the house and grounds and driving Aunt Betty whenever she needed to go anywhere). There was also Louie's son Mark, an unpaid member of the staff, who helped out with maintaining the formal gardens (these requiring more attention than even Louie and Alfred could provide) without Aunt Betty's knowledge. Or so they thought. In reality not much got past her, and I suspect the financial help she provided Mark for his year of study in Paris was a form of settling the debt.  In this rather impish picture of Aunt Betty she was just about 80 and it shows the incredible size, diversity and abundance of the gardens her crew produced. There were six formal beds filling the back yard, not including the borders on either side of the flowering hedge along Doty Avenue at the back of the property, or for that matter the vegetable and cut flower garden two doors up off Doty Avenue which was Alfred's individual responsibility as well as his real pride and joy.

NOTE: The posts in Chapter II follow the events leading up to my father's return to Neenah as I saw them. If you are just beginning to read this blog you may want to go back and start with the first post HERE. For those of you who are reading because they love stories about Neenah, I'm certain you'll find this chapter engaging and an important part of a moving human drama that has everything to do with Neenah, its history and the six degrees of separation that link link us all together.


One of the first things Dad did after getting us settled in Minnesota was to pack us all up yet again, this time for a visit with Great Aunt Betty in Neenah. She was all alone now, Great Aunt Nell having died three years earlier in 1966 at the age of 93 (and Great Aunt Fan two years before that in 1964 at 84). As the two sisters had spent their entire lives together, no one in the family had expected Aunt Betty to out live Aunt Nell by more than a year or two, nor had they considered her up to the challenge of taking over the maintenance of the house and gardens, a job Aunt Nell had shouldered for nearly 50 years. Increasingly Dad had been asked his opinion on all manner of household decisions which he never had been before, and this led him to believe that Aunt Betty would soon be forced to move to some place smaller or (the more likely alternative in his opinion) to simply die one day for the loss of a sister upon whom she had depended and been unwaveringly devoted to all her life. Dad was only too glad to provide whatever help she needed, but he was also cautious about being bossy or appearing to take over. That he left to his unmarried half sister Dorothy, who was a more frequent visitor, closer to Aunt Betty in age, and temperamentally more included to be bossy and take over wherever she went.

On our first trip back to Neenah, however, it was Mom who proved to be the problem. During the five hour drive her contribution to recollecting our 1962 visit was a litany of wrongs that Aunt Nell and Aunt Betty had rained down on her since she and Dad had gotten married some 30 years before. She insisted that Dad's beloved aunts had disapproved of her, had looked down their noses at her for not finishing her college degree, and had so much as told her that starting a family so young would hold Dad back in his career.  Never mind that the sisters had bought Mom her wedding china and crystal (and had in an incredible display of generosity paid for Mom's sister Angela's wedding rehearsal dinner in 1946), and had ladened all of us each year with an unending cornucopia of Christmas presents. All that seemed to matter in Mom's world view was a brief conversation the aunts had with her shortly after she and Dad were married, in which Aunt Nell stressed the importance to Mom of finishing her college degree and to hold off having children until they were both done with school. When the intent of these remarks was challenged, Mom defended her position by citing the nurse hired to take care of Bob during their visit in 1941 - that being an indictment of her fitness as a mother -  along with her conversation about the details of Bob's birth, which the two unmarried sisters quickly brought to an end with a demure, "We don't talk about such things."

Looking back on all this now I can see that Mom was jealous of the hold these two old women had over Dad, seeing them as long standing rivals for his affections and loyalty (a feeling shared incidentally by Marilyn who in her turn resented the phone calls Bob made to Mom each and every week without fail).  In any case, on the drive over to Neenah I found much of Mom's tirade a little hard to swallow, and having become something of a sassy teenager suggested that there were certainly things Mom had said 30 years ago that she wouldn't want to be used against her today, adding that she should follow Grandma's advice (which Mom regularly dished up to us) that recollections like these should all go into what Grandma called a "bag of unaccountables." And not understanding yet the wisdom of quiting when ahead, I added that if Christians were supposed to be forgiving and not judge others, why was she still holding something that had happened so long ago over Aunt Betty's head, to which both Steve and Bonnie voiced their agreement. Dad said nothing and just kept driving.  Mom made no immediate response to this, but after a sufficiently dramatic pause she said we were all free to make up our own minds, "only don't be tricked by all her money."

In the end, neither Aunt Betty nor the house were anything like any of us - except Dad - remembered, so visiting was all a wholly new experience. I had completely forgotten how the rooms were arranged, the richness of the décor, and the marvelous way everything smelled - not of mothballs or any artificially overwhelming floral perfume, but rather the warm oaty scent of dried hay laying in the sun. Even Mom kept insisting that she remembered a step up into the back bathroom where she had given Bob a bath in 1941, an indirect way I suppose of admitting she might not remember events exactly the way they happened (the step was actually out in the hall). There was also no presence of maids or servants except at meals, which were served with a much simplified formality in the dining room, or out on the back porch overlooking the gardens.  And Aunt Betty, instead of being imperious and grand, was just a little old lady who was thrilled for the company and quite distressed that she was unable to arrange all the entertainment she had in the past. It was impossible to reconcile Mom's account of things with what we were seeing, not with the clear sense that the world was not as comfortable or as easy as it might have once been for Aunt Betty, and that the end of the line was fast approaching. In departing Mom encouraged Aunt Betty to come stay with us in Edina as part of an upcoming trip West with Aunt Dot, and a reciprocal engagement was planned for our return to Neenah at Christmas. As might be imagined, the drive back home to Minnesota was a complete reversal of the trip over, and when this was duly noted, Mom simply replied, "People sometimes change."

When she died in 1937 Dad threw out most of his mother's personal effects and papers. The one exception was a collection of carefully mounted - but unidentified - photographs kept in two cloth bound art portfolios. How or why these photos survived I have no idea, but I found out that Dad had kept them all those years after our first visit with Aunt Betty in Neenah (where the family photos were all carefully identified). I was a sophomore in high school and putting names to the people in the portfolio photos was my first attempt at historical research.  In this photo, taken at Fadner's downtown studio in Neenah at the death of my great-grandmother in 1918, are my grandfather James Edward Adams (51), Dad's sister Mary (4), Dorothy (19), my grandmother Caroline Babcock Adams (43), Dad (1), Ben (20), George (11) and Ned (23). I would eventually learn that at the time of this photo my grandfather was already experiencing the first symptoms of what would later be diagnosed as early onset Alzheimer's Disease, which his children would euphemistically refer to as a "pre-senile condition," Alzheimer's being largely unknown and generally lumped together with the far more chilling heading of "insanity."

Aunt Betty's visit to Edina that fall was only for a day or two, it serving as a shuttle point (with Dad's driving assistance) from where she would be escorted by plane from Minneapolis in the company of Aunt Dot to spend time out west with Uncle Ned's widow, Sue, as well as visiting other relatives in a circuit that proved to be the last one Aunt Betty would ever take. In the process of the trade off, Aunt Dot flew in and stayed with us a few nights, which in Dad's absence as shuttle led to a discussion of Neenah and family history - and to Mom's astonishing revelation that we had a collection of mounted photos that had belonged to Dad's mother. The survival of these photos was particularly amazing to Aunt Dot, who over the years had repeatedly quizzed Dad on the fate of his copy of the genealogy their father had produced and that Dad had most probably tossed out with his mother's papers and personal effects in the process of closing her house in Berkeley. It was an unresolved bone of contention between them for many reasons. Their father had made copies only for his sons (none for Aunt Dot or Aunt Mary), and of the four only two were known to have survived - Uncle Ned's copy being lost in his escape from Japanese-occupied Korea during World War II. It was also galling to Aunt Dot that she and her brothers loved their stepmother more than Dad and Aunt Mary, her own children, and the genealogy was more of a beard for her real line of questioning, which was why Dad in particular, but Aunt Mary as well to an extent, were so estranged from the rest of the family.

In the limited time we had together, Aunt Dot went through each page of mounted photographs with me, identifying what they were of and who was in them as best she could. Seeing my interest in the history these pictures represented, she also encouraged me to go to the reunion of relatives that had annually taken place for nearly 100 years in southern Indiana, where my Adams grandfather had been born and where his mother had lived as a pioneer settler and recorded her memoires. In joining us in Edina the following day, Aunt Betty was equally delighted to see the pictures her sister had kept and cared for, filling in all the gaps with a delightful collection of reminiscences and details. We also talked about all the pictures she had in Neenah, offering to show them to me during Christmas. Between the two of them Aunt Betty and Aunt Dot had opened up a world that I had never known existed, one that Dad never spoke of in any meaningful way, and which in Aunt Betty's presence he not only enjoyed but clearly revelled in. It was also fascinating to me that both Dad and Aunt Dot thought his mother's name was Carolyn. Neither of them knew - as Aunt Betty clearly stated - that it was Caroline. A minor point, perhaps, but still a telling detail.

In writing my biography of Grandma I left out many details, one of them being that in spite of a strict and abstemious Methodist upbringing, Grandma had a decidedly ribald sense of humor. In the company of ladies, an embroidered hankie stifling her giggles and daubing her eyes, she would recall the time her parents played host to a young itinerant minister and his wife at their sod house. A blanket separated them from the rest of the family that night, during which Grandma heard a rustling on the other side of the makeshift curtain, followed by a silence, and then the minister's wife whispering, "Oh, George! Not again!" Grandma also took great pleasure in recounting how she and my grandfather broke the bed on their honeymoon in Niagara Falls. Humorous accounts like these, however, were an exception. Grandma was not a happy person. In this photograph, taken at age 17 upon her graduation from high school, one can already see a shocking inner hardness in one so young. With time it would grow into a keloid of disappointment and melancholy for what might have been but never really was.

My taste for the human side of history whetted, I decided to write a biography of Grandma as a class assignment my sophomore year of high school. Like Aunt Betty, Grandma was now living alone in the retirement complex she and Aunt Jessie had moved to in 1964, her expenses provided by a trust Aunt Jessie had set up when she died two years later. At 96 Grandma was still alert, and while the details of her life had grown foggy, she had written down her recollections and life experiences some years before in a spiral notebook that I was able to use as the primary resource for my paper. Mom had encouraged me (pushed me would be more accurate) to write about Grandma, I think from a feeling of loss because of Grandma's advanced age and the distance we were from her, and also in part perhaps from the implicit disloyalty of her new found affection for Aunt Betty. Admittedly I resisted Mom's pressure at first, for as large a part as Grandma had played in my childhood, I had once too often been on the stinging end of her waspish tongue. Even on what had been our very last visit together, when I had taken Grandma on my arm to help her down from her apartment to dinner, she made a point of noting how fat I had gotten. And in that one instant, for as much as I had looked forward to seeing her again, I thought how simple it would have been to help her go down the stairs head first, and that no one would have blamed me for doing so.

But in recording her life I began to develop a more sympathetic understanding of - and a more profound curiosity about - how people come to be the way they are. In Grandma's case it was from a lifetime of hardship, disappointment and heartache that began in hardscrabble Vermont, which was as far as her father, Henry Farnham, had bothered to go in escaping the Civil War draft, the first in a lifetime of failed or abandoned plans. Married to a local girl in 1866, he shifted from job to job and fathered a steady stream of children they could barely afford to keep fed, many of whom fell ill and died of a variety of diseases, the survivors enduring a truly staggering level of deprivation and poverty (Grandma's one childhood toy was a crook neck squash dressed like a baby). Pursuing a better life by homesteading on the prairies of Nebraska, they established themselves in a one room sod house that doubled as a stable for their horses. Unable to raise more than subsistence crops their first year, they lived that winter on cornbread, sorghum and baked squash. Their life was further plagued by sudden storms, hail the size of doorknobs, and winds so powerful that a door inadvertently left open could result in the roof being taken clean off a house. More "Grapes of Wrath" than "Little House On The Prairie."

And much like the Joads in the Steinbeck novel, Grandma's family eventually pulled up stakes in Nebraska, moving in 1889 to California, where in San Jose they lived on a friend's ranch and Grandma's father found temporary work as one of the carpenters at the mansion Sarah Winchester was building there. It was also in San Jose that Grandma, at age 15, attended public school for the first time and later graduated from teacher's college, providing her with sufficient income to live modestly and support her periodically indigent parents. It was also later as a teacher in neighboring Watsonville, that Grandma met my grandfather, Arthur Luther, a lawyer who was in town securing patents for his brother's insecticides, what would later become known as Ortho Sprays. In the most incredible of coincidences, my grandparents were introduced by the minister of the Presbyterian church where by chance my grandfather heard Grandma singing in the choir - the very same church where Dad served as pastor during World War II. A month later in April of 1911 my grandparents were secretly married (this constituting a breach of her teaching contract). At the end of the school year their marriage was revealed and Grandma's new husband announced to his startled in-laws that from there on in the financial cost of providing for their dependant parents would be shared equally. While certainly the fairest way of handling the situation, and a great relief to Grandma, both she and my grandfather (being college educated and more worldly than any of their siblings) were thereafter viewed as "uppity."

In marrying my grandfather Grandma was able to enjoy more of the artistic and cultural life she had been exposed to in college, but as a couple they were no less transient than Grandma's family had been, moving eventually with their two children - Angela and Mom - to four different houses in 11 years. They finally divided their time between a small bungalow in San Leandro, a rustic cabin in Mount Hermon, and, whenever the investment properties my grandfather purchased needed repairs, one of their basement apartments in Oakland (my grandfather having abandoned his legal career in favor of being a landlord and living the fantasy life of a suburban country gentleman, gardening and writing short stories that never got published). And then in 1928, reputedly the result of climbing under one of his apartment buildings to repair the plumbing, he contracted pneumonia and died. Followed so closely by the depression, Grandma at age 46, ultimately lost their house and all the rental properties to foreclosure. Unable to find work as a teacher, she and her children had to get by on a meager $55 monthly stipend from my grandfather's brother, who in spite of the success of Ortho Sprays had been forced in a failing economy to turn the company over to his creditors. Through scholarships and part time employment, Aunt Gel and Mom were just able to continue their college education, but in marrying Dad (who had inherited a small amount of money from Great Uncle Harry and would receive more from his mother's estate) Grandma was certain to be cared for. 
 So for nearly the rest of her life Grandma was financially dependant on Mom and Dad  - just as her parents had been dependant on her - and that from a man she heartily disliked and had actively discouraged Mom from marrying.

And that must have been a truly bitter pill to swallow.

CHAPTER II continued HERE.