My dad was black Irish, undoubtedly through the Ulster ancestors on his father’s side. His mother’s ancestors were County Cork, the source of all the enviable red hair of his many cousins. Both sides left the old country in the first potato famine.
They tended to marry more Irish of their own persuasion, until his not strictly Methodist father married into his devoutly Catholic mother’s family.
I cannot imagine why George Marion Lytle married Mary Emma Hogue, almost two decades younger. I believe she wanted to leave the chaos of a large family where she was the oldest sibling. George Marion took her back to his hometown in Pennsylvania.
Marriage did not suit Mamie; fatherhood did not suit George Marion. He deserted the family when Mamie was pregnant with the fifth child in seven years, and Mamie took them back home to Ohio, to her large family.
My dad’s childhood may have been little different than any other poor child of his generation. He was born in 1907, not a prosperous time for most, and certainly not the unskilled Mamie. Her domestic service wages bought little. My dad fed his little band of siblings from the pot of cold oatmeal his grandmother provided most mornings, and coffee soaked bread for supper. Coffee-sop, according to my aunt. He was ten years old.
Many things angered my father, probably as a child as well as thinking back as an adult. The foremost was that his mother’s Catholic relatives and church did not care for the children. When the family did intervene, the children were sent to the Children’s Home and his sisters educated by Catholic charities. Aunt Laura was deemed secretarial material, Aunt Ruth convent material. Uncle Bill went to a state school for retarded boys. Dad was helpless against all. In fact, he and mother could not reclaim Uncle Bill from the State of Ohio until 1975.
Education was the ticket out, and dad started where many poor young men began. At the end of his sixteenth year he joined the Army. Stomach ulcers sidelined him; he was medically mustered out after six years, a non commissioned officer with a background in radio communication. He spent his mustering out pay on a year of college, where he packed in two years of physics and mathematics.
Money at an end, Dad took to the Great Lakes as a radio operator on freighter. A cable snapped in a storm, caught and broke his ankle, throwing him overboard in the process. He was rescued, put off at the next port, made his way back to Cleveland, Ohio, where he met and married my mother and I wound up with the father I've written about from time to time.
A tall man, my dad came from the time when few young men carried extra pounds. The ulcer surgeries reduced his probably 160 pounds to 140, not much for a 6’2” frame. And so life went on, until my late teens, when dad developed a chronic cough eventually diagnosed as histoplasmosis, a deadly fungal infection contracted when he tore down the backyard chicken coop to build a patio.
Two surgeries eventually removed all of one lung and part of the other. At the second surgery he refused to have the suspension sling that would allow his ribs to reform, again. He likened it to rowing the Atlantic in a gale. With a set of ribs removed, his spine curved, his shoulders dropped. He left another twenty pounds behind at those surgeries.
Dad retired from Goodyear Aerospace at sixty five; he and mom vacationed and camped with children and grandchildren, but not for long. To add insult to injury, as it were, dad developed something called adult onset seizure syndrome. He called it falling asleep in his chair and waking up in the hospital. He hated it. His body was frail and his spirit gave up, too. He did liken the process of dying, that subzero winter of 1978, to riding a train to Siberia, naked.
We used to remark when a parent became twice as old as a child. When mom was fifty I was twenty five. It came to me that dad and I surely had such an anniversary. Then I realized he died in a February, at seventy, and I wasn't thirty five until March.
This isn't a sad story. The parts my dad didn't like happened in a childhood he couldn't control. He fulfilled his adult plan; he married and had a family. He remodeled our house, built a garage, took us on vacation, had a workshop for puttering about, enjoyed his grandchildren. He absorbed illness, until the end.
He didn't talk about his childhood. He never admitted being Irish; I had to dig through the archives to learn it. That is too bad; he would have enjoyed knowing he was a black Irishman.
|Dad and brother Bill, 1910|
|On the patio that once housed a chicken coop, about 1956|
|First five grandchildren, early seventies|