Saturday, August 2, 2008

Johnny, we hardly knew ye!

OK, so I stole the title of a biography of John F. Kennedy, but it seems so appropriate to me right now.

We've been back from a trip to Michigan where we ambled down memory lane with some of my sisters, recalling "Hankisms." Our dad was certainly an original.

Who my siblings and I probably did not know very well was our paternal grandfather. To me he was a stern old man. He believed children should be seen and not heard. And there was a certain formality to him. I don't think I ever saw him without a tie. I don't remember ever seeing him smile or teasing.

Also, there was always a little bit of tension when he visited because dad married Catholic and then a few years later *Gasp* converted to Catholicism.

So we grew up sort of the black sheep in the family.

Grandpa's first wife, Mary, was our grandmother. Unfortunately, she died in 1938 when Hank was 13, so we never knew her or the person she was or the family she and Grandpa and Hank and older brother John were. Grandpa married a second time, but when his second wife died in 1961, Grandpa was certainly lost. Forced to retire from his job as a city engineer for the city of Detroit where one of his jobs had been site supervisor on the water intake tunnel construction at Waterworks Park, he was afloat. He had no outside interests and died shortly before my youngest sister was born.

A few years ago, while visiting with my dad's sister-in-law, widow of his brother John, one of my cousins told me how Grandpa would pay her and her younger brother a quarter to watch Beverly Hillbillies with him. Who knew Grandpa had a sense of humor? My aunt was nice enough to send me home on that visit with a box of photographs and a box of letters written by my grandparents. That is gold to a family historian. Can you imagine the post office delivering a letter addressed simply to: Miss Mary Bowman, Lexington, Missouri? Yeah, 1920 was most certainly a different era.

In this letter, written just days before their marriage, I saw a young man in love who conveyed just how anxious he was to return and marry my grandmother. He had everything planned to the minute including how he would get home if there were a snowstorm - he would get off the train and walk!

The other letter that caught my eye was addressed to Mrs. Frank Bowman, his mother-in-law. The date stood out on the postmark, August 1938. In this letter, Grandpa is writing to make burial arrangements for Grandma.

Maybe the lighthearted part of Grandpa died with Grandma. I don't know; I hardly knew him.


  1. So when are you gonna scan them and post links? I don't remember him at all. I didn't even know he had remarried until a few years ago. Dad had step-siblings? WTF?

  2. At Uncle Johnny's funeral, Jackie Price (Florence's daughter) kept introducing herself as Frank & John's sister. I told her my dad didn't have a sister.

  3. They'll get scanned when I get my office organized. I did scan the two. There is a good size box of them yet.