Monday, March 9, 2009

More Personal History: My Grandfather Blanchard

Ray Blanchard, my Grandfather, in 1907

My Grandfather on the right with an unknown friend about 1910

My Grandfather in 1918 in the Army Signal Corps stationed in Palo Alto, California (he notes on the back of the picture that the coat was entirely unnecessary).

I never knew my Grandfather. He died in 1948 almost 10 years before I was born. What little I know about him is from my father's memories and his own limited knowledge about his father's life. My father adored his father, and he was clearly his father's favorite of his 2 sons. My father was the younger of 2 sons, and so was his father, which might explain part of that bond.
Ray Blanchard, my Grandfather, was born in Warsaw, Missouri. His older brother was named Frank (my father was named after him). His mother (my Great Grandmother) was named Minta Knuckles, and was known as "Minnie Knuckles" or "Grandma Knuckles" to my father. Somehow for some reason, she was in Galveston when the great hurricane of 1900 struck, and she lived to tell about it.
When my Grandfather was still a boy, his father died, and both boys had to work to support the family. They both went to work in a telegraph office, I'm told in Hannibal, Missouri.
For unknown reasons, my Grandfather left that job and ran away. He was probably 17 or 18 years old at the time. He spent a couple of years hopping freight trains through the Midwest. He kept a diary of those travels all in Morse code. My cousin in Austin has that diary and has had it translated. My Grandfather says very little beyond what train he hopped and what town he slept in and where he looked for work. There will sometimes appear a revealing detail like a brief note saying he pawned a coat in Arkansas. My cousin was able to make a map of all his travels based on the information in that diary. My father had, and now my brother has, the wicker suitcase he carried on his travels.
The next part of the story is less clear. It appears that his older brother, my Great Uncle Frank, rescued him. Frank got a job with Western Union in Dallas, and was able to persuade the company to hire his younger brother and bring him in from the cold, to their mother's great relief. Both my Grandfather and Great Uncle worked for Western Union for the rest of their lives.
When the USA entered the First World War, both brothers joined the Army Signal Corps. For a brief while, my Grandfather was stationed in the Rio Grande Valley just in case the Germans (so it was rumored) tried to invade through Mexico. He was then stationed out in California. I'm told that a rich society girl fell for my Grandfather in California and married him out there. The marriage was brief and ended quickly in divorce. I'm told she grew tired of him and discarded him.
He went back to work with Western Union. His brother Frank I'm told had a very successful career with the company rising to an important executive position and spent the last years of his life working in the company's HQ in New York City. My Grandfather spent his life as a minor local sales manager. My father says the company blackballed him for union activity sometime in the 1920s.
My father remembered him as a quiet though mercurial man, quick to take offense. He told one story of a barber that my Grandfather visited regularly for many years. They became old familiar friends. One day, the barber said something that offended my Grandfather, probably by accident. My Grandfather left without saying a word and never went back or spoke to the man again.
In his last years, my Grandfather was overweight and in ill health. He was a very heavy smoker. He went into the hospital for routine gall bladder surgery, and died of a heart attack over night in his sleep. My Father and Grandmother arrived at the hospital the next day not knowing what had happened. Apparently the hospital staff did not know he was dead either. My father discovered him dead in his room. He never really recovered from that experience.


Kirkepiscatoid said...

Very interesting!

Well, I feel at least some form of kinship with him if he lived in Hannibal for a spell, only about 80 miles from me, here in Kirksville!

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Life, in all its complexity and simplisity.

Anonymous said...

He was then stationed out in California. I'm told that a rich society girl fell for my Grandfather in California and married him out there. The marriage was brief and ended quickly in divorce.

Heh: there was a lot of that going on there! [My grandmother and grandfather married in the Bay Area around the same time. Their marriage lasted ~10 years, and then my grandfather---the son of the wild artist I linked to from your site earlier?---abandoned the family. I don't think my mother ever really recovered from that.]

There are a few cold days each year in Palo Alto that the coat would be welcome, but for the most part, no...