Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Stories of My Family, Part 4

I have told you about The Czarina's parents. Now, let me switch over to the other side of my family -- the Belle side.

Grandpa Belle (his name was Charles) was born in New York state, I believe. He had one sister (Dorothy, who I believe may still be alive somewhere in Florida, although I've never met her). When he was seven years old, his dad walked out on the family for unknown reasons. According to my Aunt J, this wasn't the worst thing that could have happened -- apparently he was a jerk anyway. I don't know any specifics about this situation, because my Aunt J refuses to elaborate. So it must be something awful. Maybe he was a wife beater or a bank robber. Who knows. Whatever the situation, he left his wife and kids destitute.

So from the age of 7 on, my Grandpa Charles was the breadwinner of the family. I don't know why his mother (Emma) couldn't get a job...maybe she did. If she did, it didn't pay much, because my grandpa had to work while he went to school. He managed to support his mother and sister while still doing very well in school. I have no idea how he did this. He did so well in school, in fact, that he received free tuition at Syracuse University.

Go Grandpa!!

So off he went to college. Unfortunately, the scholarship did not cover his room and board, so he had to get a job while he was a full-time college student, majoring in forestry of all things. So he began waiting tables at a restaurant.

I have no idea what Great-Grandma Emma and Great Aunt Dot did for money while he was at school. I need to ask my Aunt J. I guess Dot went to work. Last I heard, she was a redneck who lived in a trailer in Florida. I don't really know much about Dot. I don't even know if she's still alive. I do know that for the rest of his life, no matter how little, my Grandpa Charles always sent money home to his mother. Awww. See, he was a good son.

Meanwhile, my grandma Florence was also being raised in New York somewhere. She was an only child, born to Paul and (his first wife), Belle. The marriage broke up sometime after my grandma was born. I know someone cheated on the other, but I am not sure about who did it. So that's why Belle was the first wife. I'm sure this was extremely scandalous at the time, especially in their WASPy New England society! *shock and awe!*

(In case you haven't noticed, there are a lot of horrible girls' names on my father's side of the family, aside from Emma, which is a nice name. No offense to anyone with these names, but I think they are awful: Florence, Gertrude, Dorothy, Arabella, Prudence and -- I swear to God I am not making this up -- Eulella and Euphemia. WTF? Who hates their kids that much? We always joke that the name Euphemia sounds like a disease: "Yeah, I went to the doctor the other day. He told me I've got euphemia! I have six months to live!")

All joking aside, let's move on.

While Grandpa Charles grew up poor as a church mouse, my Grandma Flo grew up in the lap of luxury. She came from a long line of well-educated, socially distinguished WASPs. Her oldest ancestor actually came over on the Mayflower.

Now, it's not as cool as it sounds -- there are today millions of descendants from each Pilgrim that came over. You or someone you know is probably also related to a Pilgrim. I'm just trying to illustrate how freaking long my family has been in America.

So this is an old family we are talking about. Far different from my Grandpa Charles' family, who came over from Scotland in the comparatively modern decade of the 1740s.

At one point, Grandma Flo's grandfather (or was it her great-grandfather...??) was a dentist in New York City, which I think is super cool, because I think NYC is the coolest place ever. Several members of this branch of my family went to Yale, became professors, doctors and preachers -- that sort of thing. Her father was something in the medical field. I think he was a dentist also.

In short, she made my grandpa look like white trash. It's like one of those 1980s teen movies, where the head cheerleader ends up with that boy from "the wrong side of the tracks". But now I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm just trying to illustrate to you the differences in backgrounds between my grandparents. On paper, it's like, "What?? These two had anything in common??" But you'll see what I mean in a minute.

Grandma Flo also found herself at Syracuse in the early 1930s. She joined a sorority, which she soon discovered was full of lesbians, which didn't sit well with her, and so she dropped out, I think. (Weird, huh? Yeah, my Aunt J knows the coolest, most scandalous family stories! I love it!)

I have no idea what she majored in. Knowing her, she had no business being in college in the first place. Not because she was stupid. She was a sweet lady and I loved her, but dammit she was lazy! She would have been fired from any job she had! But I guess this is how you are when you're born with a silver spoon in your mouth, especially in that day and age -- she probably went to college to meet her future husband, not to chase a career.

I don't know how much of a catch she would have been. She never had to cook, clean, sew, work or do much of anything growing up. She didn't know how to do anything, because the servants had always done it. So it's a good thing my grandpa came along when he did, because she honestly couldn't feed herself, and we already know she couldn't have held a job. So the poor thing would have either lived in her mother's basement or simply died of malnourishment if it hadn't been for my grandpa. She was lucky she was attractive and very, very sweet. She was THE sweetest person you'd ever meet. Always affectionate and warm. I'm sure that's what my grandpa loved about her. I know that's what I liked about her. (She was the only grandparent I ever met.)

Speaking of malnourishment, one evening while at Syracuse, my grandma went with a girlfriend to a restaurant for dinner. (See? I told you she couldn't even feed herself.)

They were looking at their menus, trying to decide on what to order, when their waiter came over to greet them. His name was Charles. And that's how my grandparents met!

It was love at first sight for both of them-- we are talking puppy-dog pathetically in love, here -- and they planned on getting married once they graduated. They enjoyed dating all through college. I know they must have gone to some football games together, because I have seen the ticket stubs. (Yeah, I know. Who keeps college football ticket stubs from the 1930s? That would be my father, World's Biggest Pack Rat.) And I think they took a trip to the Finger Lakes or something, because there's a photo of them in their swimsuits. Aw. Cute, huh?

Too bad that Great-Grandpa Paul did not like his future son-in-law. Nevermind that Charles supported his sister and mother aaaaaall through school while still making such excellent grades that he got a free ride to Syracuse. Nevermind that Charles was totally in love with Florence. What was the problem? He wasn't rich.

Can you believe it? Just wait, it gets worse.

Great-Grandpa Paul disliked the idea of their marriage so much, he wrote her out of the will. His own and only daughter. His only child, in fact. What a jerk, huh? (If you have been paying attention, this same situation happened with my mother's parents -- weird coincidence. What was up with fathers boycotting their daughters' marriages back then? Sheesh!)

So Charles and Florence ended up eloping and having their honeymoon at Niagara Falls.

I know it must have pained her to lose her relationship with her father. Charles and Florence always tried to make amends with Great-Grandpa Paul. They even gave my dad the middle name of Paul, in the hopes that it would encourage him to have a relationship with his grandchildren. It didn't work. My father met Paul once. After that, Paul didn't want anything to do with his grandchildren. Isn't that sad???

My dad was really upset about this as an adult. He actually made us all promise never to use the name Paul for any of our kids! I can't really say I blame him. Ok, back to the story.

Meanwhile, his now-ex-wife, Belle, saw the grandkids rather frequently. She looked like your stereotypical granny -- white hair in a bun, glasses, floral print or black dress, sensible shoes and handbag. She died when her grandkids were very young, so my dad didn't remember her very well. All I know about her is what I see in the old photos.

In the end, Grandpa Charles and Grandma Florence had four children: David (who died when he was 2 days old because the doctor didn't clean out his nasal passages well enough--sad, I know), my dad, my Uncle G and my Aunt J. They moved around a little bit -- Erie, PA to Elkins, WV to Arlington, VA. Grandpa Charles was a forester and worked for the National Forestry Service. In other words, Grandma Florence never lived in the lap of luxury again. They barely made ends meet, and my dad grew up living in middle-class apartments, not a house like other kids.

I'll tell you more about my dad's childhood later. This post is getting too long, and I have a ton of stories about that.

Anyway, that's how my dad's parents met. And they remained deeply in love until the day they died! Aw.


RWA said...

You know quite a bit about your family's history. I am very impressed.

GrewUpRural said...

I wish I knew this much about my family.

Virginia Belle said...

rwa -- thanks! i am really curious about it, can you tell? i bug all my relatives for stories.

grewuprural -- just start nosing around and asking people stuff. you'd be surprised at what people will remember and tell you.

* meish * said...

The parents don't approve of the boyfriend, and if we end up married, my family story will definitely match yours! Sad, but true.

Jonathan Zero said...

My maternal grandfather was the same way, was against every man that his daughters wanted to marry. Did not matter at all the circumstances. Pretty sure he did attend at least one of the weddings perhaps more. But, he softened up once the grandchildren came, sort of. Think it was more he thought that no one was good enough for his daughters. But who really knows.

Carolyn said...

I love all the stories about your family!!! they just don't leave me much to comment on unless you want a blog-sized comment about my crazy family too... in which case I should just write it in my own blog. But ya know....