Wednesday, July 5, 2017


Himself -- c. 1930-something
Being born later in my parents' lives means that I have a longer familial memory than most of my generation.

My father was born on July 5, 1901, for example, and he always saw himself as the model of the 20th Century American Patriot. That meant that he served his country -- whatever else he did -- gladly and enthusiastically. He was a junior officer ("2nd Looey" he called it) in WWI, drilling troops on the town square in Iowa, posing proudly in his uniform, going on expeditions into the wilds of the Thousand Islands of the Mississippi, and so on and so forth from the time war was declared in 1917 until it was over over there in 1918. It was one of the high times of his life. He loved it.

The other was his service in the Army Air Corps in WW2. He was drafted in 1943, spent a few months in basic training and then was sent to officer's candidate school, wound up at Harvard Business School at one point, was commissioned an officer (starting as a second lieutenant and moving up rapidly), and was sent around the country to oversee and report on training at air bases. Later he was responsible for contract terminations for the War Reconversion Board. He was discharged from the AAC in 1946 over the objections of his commanders -- who stated forcefully that they needed him and his work to accomplish their goals.

However, he needed to get out of the military at that time because his older brother had been charged with the murder of his wife back in Iowa, and my father was an attorney needed on his defense team.

I'd been told a bit about Vince and his wife and his trial, but not much. It happened before I was born, after all, and ultimately Vincent was acquitted, so there wasn't a whole lot to get het up about. At least so I thought. Well, come to find out, there was plenty to get het up about.

My mother was convinced of Vince's guilt; my father was convinced of his -- sort of -- innocence, It was complicated. Vince had a mistress, and his alibi was that he was with his mistress the night his wife died, apparently from a fall, and he didn't find her body till the next morning when he came home from his tryst in town.

Sounds plausible, but the County Attorney thought otherwise and charged him with second degree murder, claiming the signs were that Vince's wife had been pushed down the stairs and that Vince had then departed for his tryst with Pauline, his mistress.

I found out about some of this after my father died and I found the mimeographed copies of reports he made to his kin during the trial. But some of it I found out much later when I was researching through and I found newspaper clippings covering the trial -- or make that trials as Vincent was tried twice. The first trial ended with a hung jury, the second ended with Vince's acquittal.

The situation was further complicated by the fact that there was a witness. My (half) brother Terry.

I didn't know Terry. He was "afflicted" and lived with a (sort of) foster family who took care of him.

I was essentially not allowed to see him -- nor he me -- because it was claimed I would upset him. My understanding of his condition was that he was an "idiot savant" which of course much later would be classified as a form of autism. I only learned how severe his affliction was -- again through Ancestry and connections made there -- from a cousin I didn't know I had who had kept letters sent to her mother (my father's sister) from Vince's wife describing just how bad off Terry was.

He couldn't walk. He couldn't talk. He had seizures. He couldn't stand up. He needed constant care. He was about 8 years old when he could finally stand by holding on to a chair, and somewhat later he learned to take steps if he was held onto. He learned to talk around age ten, but it was difficult for him. The story I was told about his brilliance with statistics seems not to have been possible, but I can't say for sure.

He couldn't testify at Vince's trial, even though he was the witness, but he was interviewed in chambers at the second trial, after which -- so I was told -- the judge directed a verdict of acquittal. The newspaper report of the acquittal, however, made no mention of a directed verdict. So I don't know.

At any rate, my father was happy that his brother was acquitted, but the whole situation was so fraught that Vince and his mistress left town never to return. I thought they stayed in Iowa, but I discovered, again through Ancestry, that they moved to California where there were already lots of relations.

I had no idea.

Part of the reason why is that my parents divorced when I was 9 months old. My father stayed in Iowa partly to look after the family legacy (his father had been a prominent attorney) and partly to look after an afflicted sister (she had scoliosis but otherwise OK).

My mother and (half) sister and I hightailed it for California where my mother had been raised and my sister had been born.

So I grew up apart from my father and with only limited contact with him. Ultimately, toward the end of his life, there was no contact at all. So there is a lot I never knew and can't find out.

I did find out that he was married three times, not twice as I'd always believed. He was married for the first time on his 21st birthday to a young woman named Bernice (though she called herself Evelyn, her middle name) from Iowa City where my father was in law school at the University. So far as I could find out, he and Bernice/Evelyn were married for about 10 years, until around 1932, when something happened and she moved back to her parents' home in Iowa City where she lived the rest of her life.

She was never mentioned by my father or anyone I knew in his family. It was as if she didn't exist, and I only found out about her through Ancestry (again.)  I still don't know what happened, but I suspect that the marriage was annulled. If so, I don't know on what grounds.

My father was married a second time to a woman from Waterloo he called TED -- Thelma. I believe it was in 1934, but I'm not certain. At any rate, she was Terry's mother, and she died from complications of childbirth the same day he was born in August of 1935. My father was devastated and never got over it.

Terry's brain damage happened that day, too.

Vincent and his wife took Terry into their household and cared for him as their own son until the unpleasantness of the accident that caused Vince's wife's death. I'm convinced now it was an accident. Her eyesight was poor, she drank more than a little and she had a history of falling according to trial records and letters she sent to my aunt Catherine. The likeliest scenario is that she missed the first step at the top of the stairs, tumbled down and hit her head on a table at the bottom of the stairs, suffered a fractured skull and died.

There was nothing Terry could do. He could barely walk (he was 11 years old when this happened.) It was a tragic accident.

My father and mother met when she was working -- I believe as a civilian -- at an Air Force base in California in 1944. They were married in 1947 and divorced in 1949. The reasons were... complicated, and I won't go into them here, but several times after their divorce they attempted to get back together. The sticking point seems to have been his refusal to leave Iowa and her refusal to live there.  She especially didn't like his family. The feeling was mutual.

My father faced many difficulties and some tragedies in his life, and it affected him more and more as he grew older and retreated into isolation. Even his sister who lived down the street from him said she was unable to get through to him; when they saw one another -- which became more and more rare -- he would just ignore her. His friends couldn't get through to him. Almost nobody could.

The exception was the Christianist extremist family he'd rented the upstairs of his house to. They were the ones who finally took him to the hospital where he died. But they shared nothing of his last days with his family, and how he saw his situation and what was going on is perhaps a permanent mystery.

Part of my reflection on him on his birthday is my realization that I am older than he was when he died. While I wouldn't say I'm particularly "well" healthwise, I'm doing OK. I've faced plenty of my own share of difficulty and tragedy, but it hasn't led to the kind of withdrawal and isolation he experienced.

Perhaps because I never felt all that important...? I don't know, and I can't ask. That is one of my big disappointments. There is so much I have wanted to ask him and never had the chance.

Happy B-Day, Dad.

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