Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Stories of My Family, Part 1

I was talking about The Czarina's parents the other day, and realized I have never blogged about them. So here we go!

Let's do Grandpa John first. His parents met in a very interesting way. His dad (Thomas), the son of Irish immigrants, may or may not have immigrated to the U.S. illegally! You see, his parents came over after the Great Potato Famine, but settled at first in Canada. Then, things get a little fuzzy, and suddenly they are in Wisconsin, claiming to be natural-born U.S. Citizens on the census, which we know is not true. So we think there is some illegal border-crossing going on somewhere. Anyway, Thomas went to law school at the University of Wisconsin, after convincing them that he is also a U.S. Citizen, although we think he was born in Canada.

A few years later, he was on vacation from his job as a lawyer/businessman in Virginia. He decided to go to a resort in Hot Springs, Arkansas. At almost 50, it was well-believed by the family that he would just end up an old bachelor.

Meanwhile, a young lady named Mary Ellen was going on a trip. She and her sister and mother were leaving Ireland to go visit some relatives in Denver, Colorado. (They were actually going to visit James Denver, a distant cousin whom the city was named after -- cool, huh? Yeah, I have a Colorado connection!)

Ok, um...I just read that Wikipedia entry, and now I am not so sure they were actually going to Denver, or if they were just visiting Cousin Denver in Washington, DC...because apparently, after 1858, Cousin Denver only went to Denver for visits--he didn't live there anymore. And I know all of this took place after 1858.......hmmm.......will have to ask Czarina about that.

Sorry. Where was I? Oh yes.

Since it was a long trip, the women decided to take a break in -- you guessed it -- Hot Springs, Arkansas. They stayed at the same resort where Thomas was. Although she was half his age, it was love at first sight and they got married right away. Mary Ellen, her sister and her mother never went back to Ireland! They all moved with Mary Ellen and Thomas to Norfolk, Virginia. That branch of my family--the Irish branch-- is still there.

They had 4 kids. The 2nd one was my Grandpa John. Family legend states that John was very rascally and often in trouble with authority figures! He was not malicious or anything, just acting like little boys do. (I like to say that this behavior is genetic, as my brothers were also totally obnoxious children.)

Unfortunately for the family, the birth of the fourth and youngest child (a girl) did not go very well. Mary Ellen needed a blood transfusion. But this was before anyone really understood blood types--all they knew was that sometimes transfusions worked, and sometimes they didn't. It was a roll of the dice. And Mary Ellen apparently got the wrong kind of blood, and so she died soon afterwards. Everyone in the family took it very, very hard.

Sad, I know. But it's ok. If you have read Angela's Ashes, you know by now that the Irish race is full of sad stories. But sometimes they are happy and sometimes they are funny. Ok, back to the story.

Soon after Mary Ellen died, the 1929 stock market crash hit, and all of Thomas's investments and businesses went belly up. The financial ruin, combined with the sudden loss of his wife and the worries about raising 4 young children (when he was already so old) were too much for Thomas to handle, so he basically locked himself in a room and turned into an alcoholic.

Crap. This is sad again, I know! But this is my family, so I can't just make up stuff here. There are lots of Irish alcoholics in my family, unfortunately...as you will soon see....

Meanwhile, the kids were running amok because Thomas was too drunk to take care of them. And since there was no money, there were lots of unpaid bills. So their Aunt and Grandma stepped in and cared for the kids. They sent the boys to military school (which they hated) and the only daughter ended up being raised by the Aunt. Then Aunt and Grandma sold everything in the house to pay the bills. (The only things we have left from that house are a chair and a clock!) They even had to sell the house. Thomas ended up living in a hotel and dying in poverty, I believe. (Ugh, sorry this is so depressing guys...but Irish families rarely have happy stories.)

Ok, so meanwhile, my Grandpa John graduates from military school and moves back to Norfolk, where he becomes a soda jerk, moves into a boarding house with his brother* and proceeds to pursue his new favorite hobby: alcoholism. It was at this point when the Great Depression really kicked in. Talk about bad timing.

This is where it gets kinda foggy. Although Grandpa John eventually quit drinking, as you will see later on in my story, he was always ashamed of it and didn't like to talk about the Great Depression when he was basically wasted and unemployed for an entire decade. (Can you blame him?) All we know is that during the Great Depression, he was a hobo who rode the empty freight train cars and he spent some time in Chicago. During this time, he also discovered a passion: journalism. But that's all he ever told anyone.

I like to think, with my overactive imagination, that he was a member of 'Bugs' Moran's North Side Gang, which was an Irish gang involved in prostitution, racketeering and gambling rings and fought continuously with Al Capone's gang, culminating in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

But that is purely speculation.

And vehemently denied by my mother. Who apparently, has no imagination.

So who knows what my grandpa really did besides jump trains and drink cheap booze between 1929-1939. I guess I will never know. When WWII did break out, Grandpa John decided that putting himself at risk of death every day was worth it to have food in his mouth, so he went to join the military. Unfortunately, he was soon kicked out because he was drunk all the time. Oops. Now what?

Bad, I know. But it's ok. It gets better.

At any rate, thank goodness for World War II's effect on the U.S. economy, or else I may not be here today. Gramps probably would have ended up in a gutter somewhere, pulling a Jimmy Hendrix, asphyxiating on his own vomit or something.

But that didn't happen. What happened was, the U.S. entered WWII, and we needed to build some planes. A LOT of planes. That is when Boeing got a big-ass government contract and hired thousands of people to build planes at their huge building facilities in Washington state. It was sort of like an army base, only it was full of civilians who built airplanes. Lots of Rosie the Riveters.

They had so many employees (we are talking about 50,000 here) that it became necessary to have employee housing. Which means they will need schools, a hospital, grocery stores, and everything else a large group of people would need. Including a newspaper.

Grandpa John somehow managed to get a job with Boeing. He was in charge of the factory base's newspaper. And one day, he went over to the headquarters building to interview one of the Boeing Big Shots...........

Ok, that's all for today.

When does he meet Virginia? Does Grandpa John ever stop drinking alcohol? Or is VB's mother conceived in a drunken hook up? What happens on the interview? Stay tuned to see what happens next!!

* I actually just found this out recently, because I was geeking out in a genealogy database, and looked him up in the U.S. Census of 1930. I was so excited, I called The Czarina, who had no clue her dad had ever been a soda jerk, let alone rented an apt with his brother!


Alison said...

I wish I knew such detailed information about my family. This is really neat and it will be cool to share someday with the children you and CN will have. :)

When Darkness Falls... said...

It is really cool to know about all the history in your family. I wish I knew all the "geeky" websites to visit. I find family history fascinating. :)

Smug said...

Leaving us hanging.... Not cool! Good story though, I wish I knew this kind of stuff about my family!

Smug said...

Leaving us hanging.... Not cool! Good story though, I wish I knew this kind of stuff about my family!

Megan said...

You are amazing! I wish I knew that much info about my family. And great writing!!!

Megan said...
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Jen said...

That is awesome that you know so much about your family history! My dad was in the Navy and served in WW2 and Korea, so I wish I had had the opporunity to talk with him before he died and hear some of his stories. :(

Coco said...

You are hilariously geeky. I love this kind of stuff! It's like an old movie serial from the 50's . . .will the Lone Ranger be forced to ride off the edge of the cliff on Silver, or will Tonto save the day? Stay tuned for the next episode!

cmk said...

My knowledge of my family is much more sketchy than this--HOWEVER, I know more than I probably should about Finland, home of my ancestors. I think there were some unsavory happenings in my family--we NEVER found out the exact reason my great-grandfather came to the US. It will remain a deep, dark secret forever.

I also had a relative who was a hobo--although I don't believe he ever quit the life. Maybe he and your grandpa met each other way back when! :)

KT said...

Oh... I might have to make you help me out with mine. I have been trying to look things up too and see about relatives.....

This is really interesting though!! Can not wait to read the rest!!

Virginia Belle said...

alison -- whoa whoa whoa! let's not get ahead of ourselves now!

WDF-- you can try cyndislist.com -- or you can go to your local public library. they might have a database called "ancestry plus"-- it has great info. if you really are interested, just email me and i can give you more ideas.

smug-- girl, you gotta ask your old family members to tell you stuff. grab an old photo album and start asking! that's what i did.

megan -- thanks! yeah, i'm a history buff, so i really get into this kind of stuff. i love knowing that my ancestors played a role (however small) in history.

jen-- have you thought about talking to some of his war buddies? i bet they have great stories!

coco -- *snort* tee hee!

cmk-- see? that is cool! i don't know anything about finland! and isn't it neat when there are old family secrets that will be impossible to ever know?? and wouldn't that be weird if my grandpa did know him!!!

kt-- dude, you know i will help you out with this. i wish there was a genealogy library here in columbia, because i'd be all over that shit. i could listen to people tell family stories all day! it would be so much fun!

RWA said...

I know a lot of my family "past" as well, although it's not nearly as interesting as yours.

I look forward to the second part.