When I started out to record the stories of my family, I mainly wanted to get down the stories of my direct ancestors. I suppose it’s a natural thing to do; to concentrate on your line and let of the branches of the family slide. Interestingly enough, though, as my I was going through the pictures left in my maternal grandparents’ estate, my mom started telling me about her dad’s brother and sister. And the stories were just too good to not record.
My grandfather’s parents only had enough money for their oldest boy and their oldest girl to go to college. That was the way it was. Period. The other three surviving children didn’t even think about going….well, they may have thought about it. In fact, they may have resented their birth order or their parents’ lack of funds or the Great Depression which ruined things for them….that I don’t know for sure.
Wesson was brilliant. Are there smart genes? Does intelligence follow blood lines? All of the kids in that family were smart. Wesson was the only one who really got to show it, though. He went to RIT and then was hired by Eastman Kodak as an engineer. He married a girl from Wales and they had two children. When he was 48, he started having some stomach and bowel problems. After two weeks, he went to the doctor and found out he had colon cancer. He died soon thereafter. My mom didn’t get to see those first cousins much after that.
Beulah went to business college and became a legal secretary. She fell in love with a man of whom no one approved. There was mental illness in that family. Everyone advised her against the relationship, but she went ahead and married him anyway. For the first few years of their marriage things seemed okay. They had a little girl and then a little boy. But sometime thereafter, things went wrong. James ended up being committed into a state mental hospital in Rochester. Beulah was faced with some awful decisions to make. She ended up leaving her two young children with her parents. She moved into a small apartment in Rochester and got a job. She chose her husband over her children. She visited him every weekday until he died in the 1960s. That was almost 30 years! I don’t know what was wrong with James. I don’t know how they treated him. It was a scary time to be a mental patient. Lobotomies, electric shock treatments, experimental drugs; once you were in an institution, who knew what would happen to you.
On weekends, Beulah would drive to her hometown to visit her kids. It was awkward for everyone. Monday through Friday, Nonny was the parent figure. Then on weekends, Beulah expected to arrive and be the mom. I think there were probably sometimes when the kids didn’t know who was in charge. Because Mom’s two cousins were living at Nonny’s house, they grew up really close to my grandfather and his twin brother. My mom was over ten years younger than the boy, but she really liked him. He was another smartie. In school, though, his teachers didn’t know what to do with him. He failed English and hated to write, but in math he was a whiz. He ended up getting a degree in engineering and going to work for National Cash Register.
He was, in fact, the engineer who invented the scanners on all of the cash registers that we use everywhere. He laughed about it because he got no credit…intellectual property and all, but now you know. Every time I go to the store and watch the clerk swipe the UPC code over the scanner, I think of him. You can, too.