(This post is part of a serial blog. Please see previous post: Generation Two, Paternal: William.)
My grandfather Arthur was the only grandparent still living when I was born (aside from my great-grandmother Elnora, Ruth’s mother). He died when I was seven years old, so I do have some memories of him. He lived with us one summer, and according to my mother he used to make the rounds living for a few months with each of his three children. Then he would spend the winters down in Texas, from where he would send us each Christmas a gigantic box of the bestest, most sweetest, biggest oranges I have ever seen or tasted.
Arthur was born in Evanston, Illinois. His father Edward was pure-bred English and had recently immigrated to the Chicago area. His mother Anna was hard-working German stock from Manitowoc County, Wisconsin (you will read more about them in Generation Four, Maternal: Edward & Anna and George & Elnora). Not much is known about his early life in Evanston. I do have a photo of him as an altar boy, but this could have been taken after they had left Illinois.
In 1911, when my grandfather was only three years old, his father died of pneumonia. The next census lists the family (Mother Anna, and children Arthur, Edwin, and Alma) as living in Liberty Township, Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. I can only speculate that newly-widowed with three young children to support, my great-grandmother Anna had few choices except to move back to her hometown where she could receive help raising her children.
Losing your father and being uprooted at a young age has got to be very traumatic. One of my classmates lost her father to a heart attack in second grade – – the same year I lost my grandfather, and the same year my best friend lost her grandmother. That was perhaps the first realization that death can swiftly swoop up the ones you love with no warning and upend your world. It was one of the many fears I harbored when I was that age. But how do you explain to a three year old that one day Daddy is here, and the next he is not, and he’s never coming back?
When I was eleven, the mere notion of leaving my house, much less my neighborhood, my school, my classmates and friends…well, it was just unspeakable. Even though I did speak it. I declared out loud to my parents that if they ever decided they were moving, I was not going with them. Where I thought I would stay, who would support me, and what prompted this bold declaration of independence I do not recall. My parents were as set in that house as a wasp in a beer trap; I needn’t have feared we were ever going anywhere.
But leave everyone and everything he had known is what my grandfather and his siblings did. I know nothing of his young life in Manitowoc County. I don’t know how he met and married my grandmother Ruth or how they ended up in Sheboygan. He must have been quite the entrepreneur, however, because at one time he owned a bowling alley and also had a business selling frozen pizzas (which must have been a new thing in those days…he could have been the original Schwan’s man!). In fact, the chest freezer that resided in our basement and housed products from the Hostess outlet (and once, a dead bat) used to be his from his frozen pizza selling days.
As far as wars go, Arthur lucked out. He was seven years old when World War I broke out, and pushing 40 when World War II was going on. He was too young to fight in the first one and too old for the second one. At least no war trauma has been passed down from him.
Being married to manic-depressive Ruth must have been like a war zone, however. How did he manage as her moods swung up and down like a crazy carnival ride? Did he feel like she was friendly one day and the enemy the next? They wed in 1928; I do not know if Ruth exhibited signs of the manic-depression then, or whether the onset was later.
The only story I have heard of Arthur’s feelings toward his wife’s disease (of which he would probably be mortified to learn is the one being passed down) is what he told my father: when my grandmother was manic, he got worn down with all the sex she wanted. He just couldn’t keep up.
He never talked to me about his wife or his life prior to living with us. When Ruth died at the age of 51, unexpectedly and wrongfully, was he devastated? Or was there a part of him that was relieved?
I treasure the memories I do have of him, mostly of us sitting out in the back yard in the summertime in lawn chairs. This was the summer of “the creature” – – something I saw several times in our backyard when I was sitting with him that had crawled away right before he had time to look. When I tried to describe it to him, he told me there was no such thing – – that it sounded like some sort of prehistoric turtle dinosaur. It looked like a brown turtle, but its shell was flat and had spikes all over it. And it crawled faster than a turtle. I saw it more than once that summer but possibly not more than twice. When I tried to look up what it was years later I came to the conclusion that my grandfather had been right, that there was no such creature, that I must have imagined it.
One thing I can and do imagine is how my grandmother’s disease must have devastated my grandfather. When did it begin to get so bad? How did he cope? What help did he try to get for her? What did friends and family think and how did they react? Had he ever wished he would have married someone else?
Arthur Lugg died in his living room chair in his apartment in Texas the winter I was seven years old. The cause of death was determined to be choking, and I’d like to think that it was something really good that killed him – – like one of those Texas Christmas oranges. But we will never know.
What I know of Ruth’s childhood comes from public records, not family stories. She was born in 1912 to Elnora Schrader and George Clish. She had one sibling: George Jr. When she was seven years old, in 1919, her parents divorced. You may have heard that divorce is a more recent phenomena and that in those days people didn’t do it; that they just stuck things out, “‘Til death do us part.” That may have been true in many cases, but not in the case of the abuse my great grandmother Elnora suffered at her husband’s hands, and the repeated desertions and indignities. The physical and verbal abuse that occurred when he came around was likely was not hidden from little Ruth’s eyes and ears.
Like her future husband, Arthur, Ruth too was taken to live with her grandparents after the male head of the family was out of the picture. She had been born in Oshkosh, presumably had school chums and neighborhood friends, but had to leave all that to come live at her grandmother’s in Sheboygan so that her mother could make ends meet for her two fatherless children (she was supposed to receive alimony, but you’ll read more about that in Generation Four, Maternal: Edward & Anna and George & Elnora). Presumably her mother Elnora found love again when she re-married Edgar Fenninger, who adopted her.
After her marriage to Arthur, I have the family stories surrounding her disease (see Generation Two, Maternal: Donna). From my sister who is 15 years older than I am and who knew Grandma Ruth, I have stories from when she was well. I know that she was an avid gardener who grew beautiful roses. I know she was a busy Avon lady who never wanted to miss a call, so had a ridiculously long phone cord that stretched out into her garden. I know that she had a beautiful singing voice, and when she exercised it her neighbors would open their windows so they could hear her. I know that she was the life of any party – – when she was well.
On March 3rd, 1964, while a patient at Winnebago State Hospital (formerly Northern Hospital for the Insane), my grandmother Ruth was given a drug to which she was allergic: Tofranil, a tricyclic antidepressant. She died as a result. She was not quite 52 years old. My grandfather sued the doctor who administered it, but for unknown reasons the suit was dismissed.
The parallels between my grandmother Ruth’s life and my sister Jan’s life are eerily similar. My sister also died while institutionalized for her severe bipolar disorder, although she made it to age 57.
The parallels between Ruth & Arthur’s childhoods and my father’s childhoods are also similar: all suffered losses of their fathers at an early age, and subsequently their homes. It is beginning to seem more and more likely that the anxiety I suffered surrounding being away from home as a child, though baseless in my lifetime, could have been caused by the previous generations.