April 28, 2011

When I was a kid I bothered my grandmothers to tell me things about their lives. I thought it was important to discuss their lives, but it was difficult to persuade them to talk much about their pasts. You were with me recently when we found your great-great-grandfather’s grave, online, in a location I didn’t expect. Who would expect that a man from Louisville, Kentucky, would be buried in the National Military Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio?

Finding Ernest William’s grave is part of a larger statement than simply finding a lost ancestor. The man was my grandfather whom I never met. He was the first husband of my grandmother, whom we both knew.

It’s astonishing to me that we so quickly lose track of those who are not ancestors far flung in time, but grandparents. It’s inconceivable to me; why do we allow ourselves to lose the knowledge those grandparents possessed?

By all accounts I have heard, Ernest was not a nice man. Some in our family say that he was responsible for the “mean gene” that is periodically discussed, and not always in a jesting fashion. I wish I knew more about it. He might not have been nice, but I told you about the red wine glass I found in Dodie’s basement and brought home to Grandma Beanie. She was thrilled to have something to remind her of her father, regardless of his reputation for being mean. It is her connection to her past with him, and one of the few gifts he ever gave her.

Our grandmother, Dodie, married Ernest when she was sixteen to escape a family that had gone a bit wonky. Her father, your great-great-great grandfather, had two wives and two families. Dodie was of the first family of seven children. The second family, begun after great-great-great grandpa’s first wife died and he got him a new one, was comprised of six children.

Ernest and Dodie had their first, and only, child when she was twenty four. The time period from when she was sixteen and married him, to the time she was twenty four and had her only child, she refused to discuss.

Six months after my mother, your great grandmother Beanie, was born, Ernest was hit by a car and seriously injured. Dodie kept him at home for seven or eight years until she could no longer take care of both him and a child. His care had become too difficult for her to handle and true to his reputation, he was being mean to Dodie and Beanie. They needed professional help. Dodie turned to the Veteran’s Administration and had him admitted to a hospital in Franklin, Indiana. Other than knowing Ernest had lived until your great grandmother Beanie was sixteen, Franklin, Indiana was the last I knew of his life.

Dodie’s refusal to talk about her life with Ernest tells us more about her than she may have liked. She spent eight years with a man that she said she didn’t love. She finally had a child with him after those eight years. After he was seriously injured, she cared for him for another seven or eight years. She was, in effect, a single parent who worked and raised her daughter when being a single mother was even more difficult than it is today. As I stated in another post, she refused to remarry after Ernest’s death until her daughter was raised and married.

All of those things about Dodie tell me that she was one tough bird. I am proud of her.

I believe that learning about those who have lived and died before us is a critical part of our growth as human beings. I was such a serious kid that Aunt Linda remarked that I had  been born old, but I think it’s more complex than a non-chronological mental age. I think some of us are driven to attempt to understand those who have lived before us. I think that most of us should.

10/24/11 – Today I learned that Ernest William was a street car painter. Always something new to learn.



  1. You are so right. I am digging into my heritage. Yet my children find it strange that dead people hold a fascination for me.

  2. In them, I find parts of me and contemporary relatives that I could not previously explain. I am also nosy. :)

  3. Completely agree . . . there’s beauty in the heritage.

  4. Few realize, our ancestors blood flows within, and their history is our future, if we but heed their word. I hold fast, to the memories of family gone before, though they be lost these many years, still they shape and mold. I am grateful for their memories, and for your words that brought them forth.

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