Until a few days ago, I had never seen a photo of my grandfather Lawrence -- the Black Sheep of the Family and of several counties, indeed of several states. My mother's father had always been a mystery figure to her and to me. He was killed when she was only five years old in 1916; years before, he'd left his family in Indianapolis and moved to St. Louis where he started another family with another wife and daughter.
My mother said she had few memories of him, but I've long thought she didn't have any at all. He was gone from Indianapolis by the end of 1913 at the latest. She would have been barely two. If my mother had any memories of her father Lawrence, it would be a miracle. But the picture I found online -- taken in November, 1915, in Indianapolis -- leads me to question my assumption that she couldn't have had any memories of her father.
On the other hand, she may have remembered her mother's older brother Ralph and confused him with her father. Ralph lived with the "household of women," as my mother described their home in Indianapolis. The household included, in addition to my mother and her mother, her mother's adult brother, her grandmother, two widowed aunts, and the teenaged son of one of those aunts.
My thought is their original home burned down sometime around 1913. It seems to have been a large old farm house, two stories, big porch, drafty, rickety, built on the edge of town before electricity and much modern convenience at all. The fire may have started in a shorted-out electric line since I understand that electric lights had recently been installed. The household moved next door to a more modern and somewhat smaller house, built in 1898, and already equipped with indoor plumbing, electricity and gas.
The new house resembled one featured in the first season of "Good Bones" on HGTV. The episode is called "An Old Victorian House Gets a New Facelift" for anyone who's interested. The show is about rehabs in Indianapolis, though not in the Tuxedo Park neighborhood where my mother's family lived. Ida, my mother's grandmother and matriarch of the household, apparently owned quite a bit of property in Indianapolis, perhaps inherited from her murdered husband or from her father who was a carpenter, and later she would move to another, nearly identical house the next street over to live with her sister. She would die there in 1935.
It's also possible that my mother remembered George, Lawrence's younger brother. George was employed at the same bank in town where my mother's mother, Edna, worked as a telephone operator.
Whatever the case, I thought she didn't have any real memories of her father. The picture makes me wonder.
I've been in periodic contact with Pam, a descendant of Lawrence through liaison he had with a 16 year old girl named Julia. Julia's son by Lawrence, Virgil, was Pam's grandfather.
She's been researching her ancestors longer than I have and she has assembled quite a bit of information about her ancestors in Indianapolis, but she said she had never found a picture of her great grandfather Lawrence and she wondered if I had one.
No. I did not. Until a few days ago, I'd never seen one.
And then, wonder of wonders, as I was following a thread of information Pam had provided me -- a brief family history written by one of Lawrence's nephews provided by one of Lawrence's grandsons -- I found a website maintained by the son of the nephew, a photographer in Indianapolis.
Among contemporary photos taken by David R, the photographer, were excerpts from his great grandfather David H's Civil War diaries.
Among the excerpts was a family portrait taken in 1915 on the 50th wedding anniversary of David H and Caroline L, Lawrence's parents. The portrait includes David H, Caroline L, and their five surviving sons, Frank, Harold, Edgar, LAWRENCE, and George. Their sixth son, Leo Clyde had been killed in a hunting accident some years before.
So. There he was.
I will post his picture here, though I may have to take it down as I haven't contacted David R on whose website I found it.
If he looks rather cranky, I think he had his reasons.
His parents' 50th wedding anniversary was November 21, 1915. He'd have come to Indianapolis from St. Louis with his brother Harold who had moved to St. Louis around 1890. Lawrence had a wife and one year old daughter in St. Louis. He had a wife and four year old daughter in Indianapolis (my grandmother and mother). He also had a four year old son, Virgil, in Indianapolis whose mother, Julia, had not been married to Lawrence. And he had two other sons and a daughter living in Indianapolis. The sons were living with his parents while his daughter Florence was living with his brother Frank.
Got it? It's complicated.
Even more so, his first wife Maud had (apparently) married his older brother Harold after her divorce from Lawrence around 1907-08.
What fun? Nah.
With more than a century's distance from these people, I can be somewhat dispassionate about them and the stories I've found, but still, it's jarring.
When I first saw the family portrait, I initially identified the wrong brother as my mother's father. I picked out Lawrence's older brother Edgar as my grandfather because he had a look very similar to one I was familiar with from my mother.
So the family resemblance is there among the offspring, but Lawrence's appearance doesn't remind me of my mother at all.
Here's one theory of why he looks so annoyed, and why my mother might have had a reason to remember him.
What if on his return to Indianapolis for the first time in at least two years, he brought gifts for his wife and daughter Edna and Virginia and went to visit them while he was in town?
That shouldn't seem out of the question, and it was a fairly quick streetcar ride from his parents' house to my mother's and grandmother's place.
If he arrived unexpectedly, I can imagine things got tense very fast, especially if Edna wasn't there but came back while Lawrence was playing with Virginia on the floor.
All holy hell might have broken loose. And it probably did.
In another possible scenario, Edna learned that Lawrence was back in town from his brother George with whom she worked at American Fletcher bank. He might even have mentioned that Lawrence was in town to celebrate his parents anniversary. I can easily imagine Edna and Virginia marching over to the parents' house to confront Lawrence and the rest of the family.
There could be any number of other reasons for Lawrence's crabby look, as his life was "checkered" at best.
Maybe I should stop dicking around and dramatize it.
TV cries out for such family dramas, no? ;-)