Saturday, April 1, 2017


1917 was the year that my mother, her mother, and her step-father came out to California from Indiana, changing their lives and future forever.

My mother said she remembered very little about her natural father -- or Indianapolis, for that matter -- but as I've written elsewhere, after doing a lot of research, I don't think she remembered her biological father at all. He was gone from Indianapolis, establishing a new life and family in St. Louis, by the time my mother was two years old. She could have had some vague memory of him, I suppose, but it's not likely. Also, her mother sued my mother's father for divorce in the summer of 1912, when my mother wasn't even a year old. The parents were not living together at the time and it's possible they never lived together as man and wife.

I always thought that Leo, the man who became my mother's stepfather, was Irish-American, but in fact his grandparents were German. I'm pretty sure my mother thought he was Irish, too. Maybe he pretended to be Irish for the hell of it. "Passing" as it were.

Leo was definitely a romantic, and he must have believed that something wonderful was inevitable. He worked as a machinist in Indianapolis, but when he went out to California, he worked as a mechanic at the Dodge Brothers dealership in Santa Maria -- after a brief sojourn in Santa Ana, the end of the line for the railroad that brought him and my mother and her mother to California. Leo and Edna (my mother's mother) were married in Santa Ana in October of 1917. Edna stated on her marriage certificate that she was a widow. Leo claimed it was his first marriage, but I've found records that suggest he was married before in Kansas City where he lived for about ten years, married, if he was married, to a woman who died in an asylum in 1921. I found no record of a divorce, and it is possible he was still married to her when he married Edna in Santa Ana. Which would be ironic as hell, since my mother's biological father had another wife and family in St. Louis when he was killed in that rail yard incident. We won't even get into my mother's grandfather, shot and killed by his mistress when he threatened to leave her...

As far as I can tell, Leo did very well for himself and his family in California. He became the service manager at the dealership, he was able to buy a nice bungalow a few blocks from the shop shortly after he started work, he had a car of his own, and my mother said he always provided very well for her and her mother. All of this would have been almost impossible had they stayed in Indianapolis among the suffering and seething working class.

But sometime in the early '30s Leo quit his job at the dealership and bought a filling station which he ran profitably for a while. He sold that and bought a motor court cum filling station in Willits on the Redwood Highway which he operated until 1939 when he sold it in order to invest in a "mine" in Nevada -- a phony mine as it turned out. He lost everything, and I think he just barely escaped going to jail for fraud, though it didn't appear that he knew that the partners in the mining operation were engaged in swindling their marks, chief among them Leo.

Leo and Edna returned to California in 1941, where he went to work at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard building Liberty Ships for the War. Edna was sick with the cancer that would shortly kill her. Leo himself died in 1945, still working at Mare Island.

1916 was the year that started this sequence. My mother's father had been killed in a rail yard incident in St. Louis in December of 1916 -- actually just before Christmas. His funeral was on December 23. My mother said she remembered going to his funeral (she was five) but she never mentioned St. Louis. I think she "remembered" all of this happening in Indianapolis. She never mentioned the trip to California, either, but she had strong memories of living in Santa Maria from a very early age -- she was still only five years old when they arrived.

She considered herself a California girl for the rest of her life  -- even though she was born in Indianapolis. She never really wanted to live anywhere else, and if she'd had her druthers, she'd have stayed on California's Central Coast the rest of her life.

1917 was the year the US entered WWI, and although I only heard about that  from my father -- he was a junior officer on the Home Front in Iowa during WWI -- I think the War was a critical element in the decision of Leo and Edna to move to California. The opportunities were greater on the West Coast, or seemed to be.

It was a risky move as I doubt Leo had a job lined up before the departure from Indianapolis. But what did it matter? There would be plenty of opportunities once they got there. And so it was to be.

Dumb luck? I don't know.

At any rate, he did well, and he would have been wiser to have stayed in his position rather than going out on his own with his filling stations and disastrous mining adventure. But I can imagine his romanticism informed his vision. He couldn't believe he could fail.

Of course I didn't know either Leo or Edna, let alone my mother's father, as they had all passed on by the time I was born.

In fact, all my grandparents were dead by the time I was born. At the time, it was a fairly unusual situation, as nearly everyone had grandparents. I didn't.

Not having the anchor of grandparents -- among other things -- has helped differentiate my point of view from that of many people who did have grandparents. I see and experience things somewhat differently than most people, and I always have.

1917 -- and WWI -- are considered the era when the US "came of age." That is another topic for another day, but I would agree there's something to it. Given the devastation in Europe and the creation of the Soviet Union, the impending collapse of the global economy and the breakup of the European Imperial Projects, the role of the US in world affairs had to change. It did. We thought for the better, but recent events -- say, over the last 60 years or so -- bring that into question.

We (collectively) seemingly aren't better at all. In fact, many of our collective worst aspects are on display. There's little or nothing "good" about it. And our model is being adopted widely.

I don't know that Leo learned his lesson with the collapse of his mining venture, My mother had nothing good to say about him afterwards, but I didn't know him, so I have nothing to base an opinion on. The indications prior to the collapse all seem positive, so whatever happened afterwards I think would have to grow out of that.

Much the same can be said for the US -- many, many positive indications that go haywire toward the end.

We'll see.

[Note: this post has been difficult for me to write,  not so much for the topic as for the continuing problems I'm having with my condition. For the last week or more, I've been experiencing an RA "flare" that has been very painful and debilitating, and has been devilishly difficult to control. All part of the disease they say....]

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