Sunday, June 24, 2018


One of the purposes for going to California last month was to clean out stuff we'd had in storage in Sacramento for years and years. We probably got half of the contents removed -- either to the dump or to Goodwill. We brought back a few boxes of keepsakes including several dozen (actually maybe 100) of my family photographs, many of which I thought had been lost years ago.

The last few days I've been going through them, trying to organize them, emailing back and forth with a cousin in California (that I didn't know I had until recently) to try to figure out who some of the people are in early family photos, and trying to remember what was going on in some of the pictures of me taken when I was a few weeks old until I was perhaps five or so.

At first, I didn't recognize or remember many of the pictures, though I had seen them before. As I get older, my memory is getting worse and worse. But also, I haven't seen these pictures in years, some of them I'd only ever briefly glanced at.

So let's get started.

Happy Couple - 1

I call this "The Happy Couple - 1". My mother and father are sitting on a loveseat in my father's house in Iowa shortly before I was born. My mother is not obviously pregnant. There is an orange cat on the coffee table. I used to know the cat's name but I've forgotten. Don't ask me how I knew the cat's name before I was born, but there you go.

My mother seems happy in this picture. My father seems... anxious? I'd guess so. My mother was his third wife. He and his first wife got an annulment after ten years of marriage. Not sure what the deal was -- I didn't even know he'd had three wives until recently -- but it wasn't long afterwards that he married "TED"-- Thelma in 1934. He was wildly in love with her. I have some of his love poems and letters and such that he sent to her. They're very sweet and touching and seem almost like the words of a teenager encountering his First Love. My father was 33 when he and TED were wed.

Well, she died in childbirth in the summer of 1935. I'd known  about the tragic circumstances of her death pretty much all my life, as there was a constantly repeated story, but what I didn't know until recently was exactly when it happened. It was August 12, 1935.

The picture above was taken in 1948, on a hot and muggy August night, just days before I was born. If my father was anxious, I can easily imagine why for my birthdate is nearly the same as the date of TED's death -- a dozen or so years apart.

Some things about the house. It had been in my father's family for many years, and it was already old when my grandfather acquired it around 1900. This room may have been one of the original two rooms of the house and I'm guessing it was originally built in the 1840s or 1850s. It was old, almost a pioneer house in the area.

Over the years, it had been added to in several different directions. Eventually it came to resemble a rather grand Victorian with one of those Gothic arched windows made famous by Grant Wood:

By the time I was born, that window had been partially covered and made rectangular on the outside, but inside on the second floor, it was a near twin to the one in "American Gothic".

While the house appeared to be rather grand on the outside it was actually very small, almost a miniature house. It had been cut into upstairs and downstairs apartments sometime in the 1920s, and over the years, various members of my father's rather large family had taken up temporary residence there. My father inherited the house when his father died (actually, he bought it from his father's estate), and when I was born, the upstairs apartment was occupied by my father's youngest sister Eleanor. She lived there until she died in 1960.

Speaking of windows, the triple window in the upper picture was something my father did for my mother. When she first saw the house, she thought it was dark and dreary. She was from California, and she wanted light and air. She asked my father to put in more windows which he did. The triple window here and another wide triple window in the front room brought more light and air into the house and had a modernizing effect. I understand there had been a wraparound front porch as well, and that was removed at the same time the windows were installed and asbestos siding was put on. My mother was terrified of fire and always referred to this house as a firetrap even with asbestos siding.

The door on the right goes to a small entry hall. On the wall to the right of it (not seen) is a door to the front room which at the time served as my sister's bedroom. Later, it would be turned into the living room, and the pictured room would revert to a dining room which it had sometimes been in the past.

Another view from a different angle:

Happy Couple - 2

From this angle it's possible to get an idea how small this place really is. The room is about 10 feet wide and 12 or 13 feet long. The door on the left is the door to the front room. In the rear is the door to the bedroom. On the left inside the bedroom is a door to the bathroom. In between the desk in the foreground and the chair where my father sits with the orange cat in his lap is a door to the kitchen -- which is nearly blocked by my father's chair-side table.

It was cramped and yet it looks comfortable enough.

My mother told me it wasn't. She hated that house. She hated living there. She hated Iowa.

What she particularly hated was the summer heat and humidity and the god-awful smell of the place. It made her sick.

There was a Purina corn-processing plant in town and that plant stank to high heaven as corn was processed into various products including animal feed. There was no escape from the smell. There was no escape from the heat, no escape from the humidity.

For someone who had lived much of her life in coastal California, it was miserable. Misery was not my mother's favorite state.

Nevertheless she looks happy enough in these pictures taken by my sister a few days before I was born.

-- To be continued

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