This post is a series within a series. The primary series is Life in Song, which discusses songs that have had an impact on my life. This is part 2 of a song called, “Long Line of Losers” which was recorded by Montgomery Gentry, but written by Kevin Fowler & Kim Trimble. If you haven’t read part one, you may want to read that post before this one.
The title of the song is quite derogatory with the term “losers” which is not how I am intending it. I do not think of my family as a bunch of losers, but we certainly are no strangers to loss and that is how I am intending the meaning here. It is the loss, the hardships, and even some deeply felt regrets that are some major contributing factors in who I have become. Part one talked about my great grandparents, even though I didn’t know any of them personally, a lot of what happened to them has been passed down to their descendants. This post will discuss my grandparents generation.
Paternal Grandparents: Robert and Margaret Sayers
My parents divorced when I was very young so I was not around my father’s family as much as my mother’s. I can only remember a handful of times in which I was able to get to know my grandfather. Nevertheless, many of my predominate personality traits come from my father’s side. During our Christmas break in college, Paula and I went to Ohio for a couple of days in December of 1991. Paula has never gone back. When we went, Paula and I had only been married a couple months and she was pregnant with our first child. Someone had given us a genealogy book as a wedding present which began my quest to know my family line. That trip was the only time I ever sat down with my grandparents to discuss the family line.
Robert was 71 at the time and had just suffered a stroke which limited his fine motor skills. He could no longer read, write, or paint (which was a real passion of his). But his long term memory seemed intact and so I proceeded with my questions. Pretty standard at first: who was your father, grandfather, etc. But when I started asking for more personal information he became rather reluctant. My grandfather came from a fairly affluent family that was respected. Robert’s father was a respected dentist and inventor. Robert attended one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the country and Robert’s brother was a high school football star. But as time passed the family seemed to lose it’s status. Robert’s parents divorced, his mother died while he was still young, his brother committed suicide, and the family seemed plagued with one financial setback after another.
It became clear as the conversation continued, that my grandfather was reluctant to go into detail. The more questions I asked, the more depressed he became. He mentioned that he’s made many mistakes and things didn’t turn out right. He walked over to my grandmother and wrapped his arms around her and said, “Me and this girl have been through a lot of battles together.” Most of what I know about my grandfather did not come from him. Still, I was dying to know what happened to our family. Most of the family didn’t know much either, but as I started searching through the papers, pieces started coming together. My grandfather was well acquainted with loss and so was his wife.
Accident March 26, 1932
No doubt, the my grandfather’s family has been severely affected by an car accident in which my grandfather killed a thirteen year old girl (Jewell Strong), and injured her friend (Flora Sheldon). The girl he killed was an only child and the event obviously caused quite a stir in the community. Robert was under age at the time which put the blame on his parents. Ohio had just started requiring driver’s licensing and Robert had already been driving on a fairly regular basis. It was an unfortunate event that caused family to be highly criticized in the Media. According to the paper covering the case:
“Investigators for the court said in their report that Robert’s attitude toward the accident had not been satisfactory. ‘Instead of showing remorse, he apparently enjoys the notoriety and is indifferent and callous,’ they said. The report added that the boy was considered a ‘non-conformist’ at Horace Mann Junior High School; that he was impudent and, although not malicious, did things he should not do.”
Perhaps this is why Judge Eastman harshly addressed Robert’s parents saying,
“Robert is a spoiled boy who has never had proper training. . .You apparently have always let him do pretty much as he pleased. It seems that he needs help from another source now, so I am going to send him to a school.”
This information from the paper is confirmed by what others have said about the family. Doc (Orrin) and Frances were not good parents. The children were known to pretty much run wild. And the children were just that–wild. There was a family reputation for promiscuous sex and excessive drinking.
Still, in spite of all the rumors and the harsh opinions of the judge towards the family, the Judge was apparently very lenient. About the only punishment for a manslaughter charge which killed a family’s only possible child, was that Frances was given a 6 month sentence to a workhouse in Warrensville, which would be suspended if the family disposed of their vehicle. Robert was sentenced to Cleveland Boy’s Farm at Hudson which was devoted to orphans and incorrigible children, but this was overturned as well. The reason being,
“The boy has a decided mechanical bent and I thought it would be better for him to go to a school where it can be developed.”
The paper does not mention name of the school, but I believe it was The Leelanau School in Michigan. This school still exists and is known for its academic status. I seriously cannot imagine a lighter sentence for an accident that killed a child. However, there is no way to know of the repercussions from the community. We can’t ascertain the effects the event had on Dr. Orrin Sayers’ business. I have no way of knowing how the event affected my grandfather. It was not something he would talk about.
Francis dies, Dec. 16, 1937
There is also no real way knowing how the accident affected the family, but I do believe it was devastating. From what I hear from other family members, Francis never got over the accident. Doc divorced her at some point and she would die about a year and a half after the accident. Some say Robert celebrated after her death, but that may be hearsay. Francis was buried near Olmsted Falls with no grave marker. I don’t know much information about her other than she was apparently a pretty decent artist which was something passed down to at least her two boys.
Orrin was a very promising football star. In High School, he was considered one of the best receivers in the state. I have no trouble believing that he was offered a full scholarship to Ohio State. Several in the family state that they have seen the newspaper article reporting a big win in which Orrin Sayers lead Ohio State to some victory. Yet, Ohio State has no transcripts for Orrin Sayers. I have not been able to locate the newspaper articles either. Orrin was known as a very heavy drinker and it was around this time the war broke out. It’s left up to the imagination, but if Orrin attended Ohio State, he wasn’t there long.
My grandmother was an orphan who was adopted by the Taggart family who changed her name to Margaret. I don’t know anything about how they met or where they met. I do remember my grandmother talking about her parents (the Taggarts) and that her daddy did not want her marrying Robert, but if she did she needed to stand by him through whatever came along, and that is exactly what she did. As far as I know my grandparents lived in Olmsted Falls, OH,for their entire marriage. Margaret was a very loving person, but she was incredibly naive and uneducated. I believe she was bipolar even though it was undiagnosed.
Both of my grandparents suffered some loss early in life, but most of their struggles were faced together. My grandparents were married Sept 28, 1940. He was 20 and she had just turned 17. If memory suits me correctly, I believe they went to Kentucky to get married because she was under age, and they didn’t have parental permission. Military Accident
Robert was drafted by the Army when he was 23 years old (April 1944). My father was his first child (born in 1942) and Gail was born in May of 1943. Robert was only in the Army a few months before he sustained an injury to one of his eyes during training. This ended his time in the military and disabled him for the rest of his life.
According the family members, Robert had a promising career as a draftsman. I have no trouble believing this because his art reflects this type of background. But that type of work placed too much strain on the good eye for him to continue in that type of a career. So Robert was limited his ability to make much money.
I don’t know what the early years of the marriage was like, but with more children came greater struggle. Jerry was born next in the Fall of 1948. Then John in the Spring of 1950. On Jan. 10, 1954 they moved into fairly large house on Columbia Road in Olmsted Falls, OH, where they would live until the last couple years of their lives. My father claims that the house cost them $19,000 at the time, but this was a huge financial strain. Liz was born the last part of 1954, and Tom, the last child, was born in Sept. 1963. By this time things were really bad.
My father was a wild teenager who was always in trouble with the law, Jerry was dyslexic and struggled horribly in school, Liz struggled with some mental/emotional issues, and it was very difficult to care for so many children. Things got really bad during the 1960’s. Gail married and left home in 1960, my father was expelled from high school, Orrin, my grandfather’s brother, committed suicide, and my grandfather abandoned his family after finding out my grandmother was pregnant again.
Orrin was living in East Moline, IL. Orrin’s wife, Cleve, was killed in a train accident (June 1959). Orrin lasted a few years before the depression and alcoholism became too much and he killed himself (March 1961). Jean, his sister, moved to East Moline and lived in his house for a while. Orrin had a son with Cleve who was also named Orrin (known as Butch). He had some mentally deficiencies and was attending a special school. After my father was expelled from school in Olmsted Falls, OH, he moved in with his Aunt Jean in East Moline. Jean had her own children and her own problems, but she tried to take care of Butch and my father as he tried to finish High School. It was while my father was attending school in East Moline that my parents met in Rock Island, IL a couple miles away.
Dad commuted between Illinois and Ohio several times. He didn’t finish school back then but the relationship was formed between my parents during this time. My grandparents separated in 1963. Robert moved to Illinois leaving my grandmother pregnant and trying to care for the family herself. She did everything she could to keep food on the table. She was almost ready to deliver when she packed up the kids and drove to Illinois to fetch Robert. Liz was quite young at the time, but she remembers the event very well. There was a lot of fighting. To this day, I doubt Liz can talk about it without crying.
My grandfather did return home, the house in East Moline was sold, and my father went to prison. My grandparents separated several times over the years and there was no pretense of fidelity on my grandfather’s part. Still they stayed married.
My Grandparents as I knew them.
Even though I never spent much time with my father’s parents they have still made an indelible impression on my life. Some traits I have admired and others I have sought to change. For instance, my grandfather was respected for his artistic abilities. Even though I do not possess his talent, the inclination is very much apart of my life. He rarely painted people. But he was fond of old structures and equipment such as barns, houses, trains, tractors, covered bridges, lighthouses, boats, churches, etc. Many times I have come across a building or landscape in which I could envision my grandfather painting. I have a strong inclination towards the arts which I attribute to my grandfather. Several family members like to draw and paint a little. I think others have sought after photography, poetry, and music to express themselves.
I share my grandfather’s sense of humor and longing to just goof around. However, I can’t condone his infidelity, irresponsibility and overindulgence especially towards alcohol and sex. All of these have been natural inclinations in me as well, so I will not pretend to be better than him. Yet, I have done my best to control such urges. For this reason I don’t drink alcohol at all, I’m very budget minded, and I am very cautious in dealing with members of the opposite sex.
I attribute to my grandmother my insatiable desire to be a people pleaser. The main thing I remember about her is the way she frantically tried her best to keep her family together without fighting. It was a losing battle. My grandmother was a very sweet woman and completely selfless. She always seemed highly stressed, but always ready to serve. Can I get you some coffee? Would you like something to eat? Etc. I’m not sure she knew how to just sit and relax. She was a natural born worrier too.
Maternal Grandparents: Paul and Charlotte Foster
My mother’s parents and family were completely different than my father’s. They were more tradition, conservative, spiritual, and financially stable, but they were certainly no strangers to loss. My grandmother was only days old when both of her parents were killed in the plague of 1918. My grandmother’s only surviving sibling, Anna, was raised in a Catholic orphanage and eventually became a nun. The two would meet again as adults. My grandmother, was adopted by a Police officer and his wife in Rock Island, IL. Their names were Charles and Lillian Miner. They changed her name to Charlotte. I believe she was their only child.
My grandmother’s childhood years were the gangster days of Rock Island. Prohibition was in force at the time which only lead to widespread crime, prostitution was rampant and Rock Island became known as a “Citidel of Sin.” City officials were known to be corrupt and John Looney was running the whole show as newspaper editor/gangster. It was a very dangous time to be a police officer in Rock Island, and the minor family was right in the center of it all. Charles’ younger brother, Edward, was a saloon worker and a witness to a murder involving Looney. It wasn’t long after the murder that Edward joined the police force. He was killed in a very strange shootout involving a black man who was at one time working for Looney. It was during the shootout that Edward was killed. The fatal bullet that killed Edward was fired by another officer. There is no way of knowing what really happened, but I do suspect foul play especially since Edward was a key witness.
Charles was a police officer for many years and became one of the city’s first motorcycle officers. Charles and Lillian were married in 1906, so they had been married and childless for over a decade before my grandmother was born. They adopted her as an infant. I believe they were a happy family for several years, but Lillian became sick with Tuberculosis which confined her to an asylum for the last years of her life. She died May 24, 1927. Charles would die less than a year later (April 30, 1928) from complications after a hemoroid surgery. My grandmother was not yet 10 years old and orphaned twice.
Several relatives sought custody, but Charles’ sister, Alice, ended up raising Charlotte. Alice was on her second marriage by the time she got custody of Charlotte and she had another child close in age to my grandmother. She also had a grandchild from a daughter of her first marriage who was around the same age as well. This grandchild was a child protegy extremely talented in piano, singing, dancing, and acting. Eventually, she and her mother moved to California where she changed her name top June Haven and became a very well known actress. June was beautiful and was a local celebrity from an early age.
Therefore, my grandmother grew up in the shadows with Aunt Alice giving most of the attention to her daughter, Vi, and her young celbrity granddaughter. I heard from several of my grandmother’s childhood friends that she wasn’t treated well growing up.
If there were resentments towards her upbringing, I never heard it from my grandmother. I believe she was a shy, submissive, somewhat awkward child, with average intelligence. Her only noticeable ambition was to be a good mother and wife and she was. She never finished High School and married my grandfather April 25, 1937.
I imagine my grandfather Paul had a typical childhood. I actually no little of his childhood other than he grew up in Rock Island and graduated from Rock Island High School as did each of his children. I know that my grandparents met at church event during a hay rack ride. Paul was few years older than Charlotte and perhaps above her in social status especially in the eyes of his mother.
The main things I know about my grandfather are the things that I admire about him. My grandfather was a very hard worker. He build a business with father that he struggled with most of his life to maintain. He earned an adequate living, but not much more. I believe my grandfather was too kind, giving, and compassionate to be very successful in the business world. He worked long hours, but he also placed a high priority on his family. He trusted people, a lot of people, who took advantage of him. Perhaps his biggest fault was seeing the best in other people, no matter how bad they acted. Many ripped him off for years. One of these people was his secretary. There is no telling how much she stole, but when she was discovered, it broke his heart to fire her. Knowing him, he probably would have hired her right back if she apologized.
That business was my grandfather’s dream that he worked his whole life to achieve. He tried to hold onto it to the point that nobody was willing to take it over. I remember well the day they auctioned off that shop of his. Hundreds of dollars of merchandise and equipment selling for fractions of what they were worth. I never saw my grandfather cry, but I cried for him. It broke my heart to see him loose that shop.
There are few people I admire as much as my mother’s parents. They were so kind and giving without the least bit of anger expressed from what I saw. My greatest childhood memories were family events at their house. When I was quite young I would runaway to their house hoping they could fix things. I have always loved and admired them, but there was too much of my father in me to be like them. I always felt inferior to this side of the family. Even though they were fairly common people, I always felt that they were too good for me. But that idea did not come from them, but from me.
I attribute to them a great deal of my spiritual foundation, my love for family, my sense of compassion, and my desire to help those who are less fortunate than myself. My entire concept of family, what it means and what it is meant to be, comes from them. Grandpa lost his shop in the early 80’s not long before I left for the Marines. Grandma had a stroke around this time and from that point on started losing her cognitive abities at an alarming rate. Still they wrote to me regularly when I was in the Marines. They came to visit me several times when I was in college. They attended my wedding. FAMILY meant so much to them. Even when the family got too big to meet in one place, my grandparents still tried to get everyone together. They tried to send Christmas gifts out of all the descendants.
My grandparents did not understand me. They certainly would never condone the drugs, long hair, stealing, and other illegal activity. But they loved me in spite of it all. I officiated at both of their funerals. I think by the time they died, my generation was starting to forget what they were really like. Their minds wore out faster than their bodies especially my grandmother. But my memories are very much in tact. They were above me in so many ways, but they never acted like it. They were a great source of love in my life when I desperately needed it. No matter how far I would stray away, they always showed me love. I believe they always had hope I would find my way.
Life is full of loss, hardships, disappointments, and regrets. But when we examine it all closely there is something quite beautiful being formed through it all. My grandmother’s parents suffered great loss their whole lives. They did not live long enough to see what an incredible woman their daughter became. So the story continues even in loss, there is something to be gained.