Archive for the ‘ Family ’ Category

We Were Not To Criticize Our Betters

In this posting, I am referring to what we were told, as children, in the middle of the last century, in the Midwest of America. We were not to question our parents about money matters.

I am reading Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography – about the economic difficulties Whitman’s family had in the opening years of the 19th Century. As the people on Long Island and Brooklyn were changing from Farmers to Industrial workers. Those were hard times that no one wants to remember now.

There are parallels between the two families and the two times. In this posting, I will concentrate on my own family, and my own Father. He had hard times too, but as children – we were not supposed to notice them.

Dad owned a photography studio in Ft. Madison, Iowa – and made a lot of money during WWII, since it was the only studio in town. After the War, returning Veterans set up their own photography studios, and drove Dad out of business – since their prices were lower.

Dad was always a small businessman, and could never work for anyone else. This was not a problem in the Forties, because small businesses (including family farms) were everywhere – easy to start, and profitable. But times were changing, and fifty years later, small businesses were rare. Dad was bucking this trend.

Dad made the decision, in 1950, to manufacture stone ground whole wheat flour – in my Mother’s home town of Nauvoo, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from Ft. Madison. A company had just made the machinery to do this, in small quantities.

Dad thought there would be a good market for this flour – but he was wrong. The market never developed. So he built a bakery to make whole wheat bread, and whole wheat pastries. This had problems also, and never made much money.

But Dad and Mom solved all their problems by selling the house – making a lot of money from this – and retiring to Mexico.

They were lucky, darn lucky. Their economic failures – due to no fault of their own, could be forgotten.

We Have a Strange Attitude Toward Our Children

Americans have ambivalent attitudes toward their children. They spoil them shamelessly, but made sure they become nothing.

Now that I have written that sentence, right off the top of my head – I have to stop and think it over.

I made an important decision when I was in college – I was not going to have any children! I was not going to make another child suffer as I had. And this was one thing Beth and I agreed on – no kids! Probably the only smart decision we ever made in our miserable marriage.

My brother was our family hero, when he was barely old enough to walk. He ran away from home – twice, and my parents had to get the police to find him. He knew, very clearly, that he was not wanted – and he was right!

My parents were not unusual at all – they were like all the other parents around them, in the Forties, in the Midwest – awful people, and proud of it! But they did give us one advantage – we were going to graduate from college, and have a successful career. We might be miserable – but we were going to be a success.

I became an Electronic Engineer – U of Illinois, 1959 – even though I had no interest in Engineering. But this made no difference – there were plenty of jobs (good paying jobs) where you had to have an engineering degree – but did not have to do anything! This suited the young women of the time – who had ignored us when we were Engineering students – because we had to study, instead of just having a good time. But once we had a steady income that could support a family, in a new house in the suburbs – we became the ideal husband. A little boring, perhaps – with all that technical stuff, stuffed into our brains, but that could easily be overlooked.


So I became nothing – but a successful nothing. And all the other nothings had children – who they spoiled disgracefully – and they also made into nothings. I have seen this many times – a successful parent with their failed children. But I did not try to explain this mysterious process.

Actually, this was not a mysterious process at all – we all become whatever we are supposed to become – without thinking about it at all. This is how human cultures are formed. As children, we become like the adults around us. The children in our time, were told “Be nothing!” And that is what they became.

When their parents spoiled them – they denied them a childhood where they could become themselves – an unique individual.

Our Motorboat in Nauvoo

Our family moved from my Father’s home town of Ft. Madison, Iowa – to my Mother’s home town of Nauvoo, Illinois – in 1947. Only a few miles apart on the Mississippi River , but nine miles by a concrete road.

The first thing we built on our property was a combination fruit cellar and boathouse – in a ravine on the edge of our property – bordering our Grandfather Atkinson’s property. Made of concrete block walls, and a poured concrete ceiling.

The fruit cellar was never used, and filled up with junk. But Dad bought a motor boat, in Ft. Madison, for the boathouse. He removed the tires from the rims, and installed cast-iron sewer pipe as tracks into the river.

But the river was filling in rapidly, Dad tried to take the boat straight out to the channel from out house – but kept getting stuck in the mud. He gave up, and didn’t use it after that.

When I was in high school, my friend Dale Harris and I rebuilt the boat and the motor. We should have bought wheels to replace the ones that had been taken off. But installing them, down in the boathouse, was more of a job than we could tackle. So we drilled holes in the hubs and bolted the rubber from the outside of some tires right onto the hubs. For slow trips on Nauvoo’s gravel roads, they worked fine.

Then we dragged the boat out of the boathouse, and pulled it to the Ferry Boat landing, where there was plenty of water. Later we used the Beach as our launching site. I built a water-board I could pull behind the boat, with someone standing on the board. This made me popular with my family and my girl-friends.

Dale also built his boat, and we used to go on trips together up the river. Used outboard motors were cheap back then.

The Loss of the Father

Being a father is an impossible job in today’s world.

Men are forced to be part of the workforce – where they cannot be men (individuals) but only cogs on the gears that run the machinery. Some men can adapt to this – but few, in my experience, have. Finding an independent role, that still brings home the bacon – is difficult.

Back when I was in college, I decided against being a father – and this was one of my smartest decisions. There was no sense in continuing the misery of our dysfunctional family. I was the only one who made this decision – all my siblings have children, who have all been failures. And they can see nothing remarkable in this.

Failures, for them, are normal – and they never notice them.

My Crazy Parents

I did have parents – even if some people doubt this. And they were crazy – something most people can accept easily. And in the Sixties – they got even crazier – along with many other people.

I have thought often about this – craziness is an accurate diagnosis, no question about it – but can I be more explicit about what kind of craziness it was?

To do this, I will have to tell a story – about my dysfunctional family – that was completely normal, in that way. Ask anyone my age to tell you about their family – and you will get a similar story.

Where to start?

Perhaps when my father returned from his tour of duty in the Marine Corp, in 1934. He was stationed in Haiti – to protect American business interests there. Of which he knew nothing – he only knew about his girl friend, who adored him. She saw him as her way to leave Haiti – which was getting pretty bad, even then.

She didn’t realize she was black, and he was white. She wasn’t very black – she was mostly white, and could easily have passed – and she was educated, and could speak French. In fact, that is how my Dad met her – she was the daughter of his French teacher.

But that made no difference to his family back home in Iowa. Legally she was black, his family would not accept her, and he could not marry her.

He could have moved to Hawaii, and married her there. Which would have given me a much better start in life. But he didn’t – and I never forgave him for that.

Instead of marrying a woman who loved him – he married a woman who did not – and never would.

She became my mother.

The End of the RLDS Church

I grew up in this church – a small, insignificant church, but one that was everything for my parents, and their generation.

I have given a lot of thought to its history – and concluded that it was very much a product of its time – something they would never admit – and when its time ended – it ended also.

Which leaves me with a question – what was its time? And how did it differ from the time of the LDS church – which is still going strong?

This is not a hard question to answer. The RLDS (the Reorganized LDS) was organized by some rich Illinois farmers, originally members of the LDS church – who wanted their church back. They needed someone to head their church, and finally got Joseph Smith III, Joseph Smith’s oldest son, who was only a child when he was murdered, to act as the head of their church.

He was not interested in reviving his father’s church, at first – he grew up in the ruins left by his father. But after trying some other occupations – becoming the head of his own church didn’t seem like such a bad job.

JS III always let his bakers run the show, after all they had all the money – and concentrated on making the church grow, and him along with it. He was successful, and the church grew rapidly. But after his death, his sons were much less capable – and provided poor leadership. The church grew less rapidly – and then, in the Fifties, none at all.

It was a church of farmers, in a nation where farmers had become unimportant. The LDS church, by contrast, became part of Corporate America –  and had capable leadership. They were strongest in the western states – but eventually moved eastward and now own most of my hometown of Nauvoo, Illinois – which they are converting into a historical museum.

History as they want it remembered.

Jimmy Evans

Jimmy was a roommate of mine for one year at a religious college – Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa. It was sponsored by the RLDS church – which has since ceased to exist.

Jimmy was physically deformed because he had been x-rayed while still a fetus. He was extremely friendly – almost too much so.

He told me an interesting story about his father – who had become involved in politics in their hometown of Sioux City, Iowa. His father was not too bright either – and served for a short time as the acting mayor of the city – before he was indicted on charges of corruption. He was the fall guy for some political operatives much smarter than he was. They told him if he would plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge, which would end his political career – they would not prosecute him any further. But if he fought the charge, things would get very unpleasant for him and his family.

I never investigated the truth of his story, because I transferred to the U. of Illinois and became an Electronic Engineer. My first job was in Sioux City, Iowa – where I renewed my acquaintance with Jimmie and his family. What a strange family! The father was fat, and sexually harassed his female employees. At that time, in 1959, employers could still get away with this. Jimmy had a sister, who was as cynical a woman as I have ever met. And a younger brother who was completely normal.

I could never figure out what was going on in that house. It was too much for me to understand. When I moved on, in my job – I soon forgot about it.

The Midwest was full of crazy towns – and I could name a few of them.