Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The McNaughtons, Clearing Some Haze

William Malcolm McNaughton (1850-1914), my great-great-grandfather.
In this previous blog post about my McNaughton ancestors, I said that my earlier McNaughton ancestry was lost in the haze of time. Since then I’ve pierced the haze a little.

On the actual McNaughton line, I still can’t really go beyond Malcolm McNaughton (1790-1870), the great-grandfather of my great-grandmother Edna Marietta McNaughton Shanower (1891-1964). It’s possible that his father was named John McNaughton, but that’s not certain. I’d previously thought Malcolm immigrated from Reispole, Scotland, but that was incorrect. Instead he was born in New York State. He married Mary McIntyre (1791-1867), my great-great-great-great-grandmother, and it’s mostly the McIntyre side, not really the McNaughtons, that has allowed me to clear some of the haze away from the distant past.

In the late 1700s many families from the Argyll region of Scotland emigrated to the Mohawk Valley town of Johnstown, New York, forming a Scottish settlement there. They were among the earliest settlers of European origin in the area. It’s likely that Malcolm McNaughton’s parents were among these immigrants—since Malcolm McNaughton was born in the USA in 1790—but I don’t know that for sure.

In 1801 western New York opened up to settlers. When Genesee County, New York, was carved out of Albany County in 1802/03 a number of Scottish-origin families moved there from Johnstown, New York, to found the town of Caledonia. Three of my McIntyre relatives were among the earliest settlers that went from Johnstown to Genesee County.

My five times great-grandparents John Roy McIntyre (abt 1753-1831) and Helen “Ellen” Stewart McIntyre (abt 1765-1834) arrived with their children in Johnstown, New York, from Argyll, Scotland, in 1805. In 1811 three of the McIntyre siblings left Johnstown for Genesee County. They were Allen (b. 1788), about twenty-three years old; Peter (1795-1851), about eighteen years old; and Elizabeth (1797-1890), about fourteen years old. It’s likely that twenty-year-old Mary, my four times great-grandmother, didn’t go with her brothers and sister because she was already married to Malcolm McNaughton.

Peter, Allen, and Elizabeth McIntyre spent fourteen days on the journey by ox cart to Genesee County. They crossed the Genesee River in a scow and settled in the Caledonia area on the south side of Ellicott Pond on lot 43. In 1814 the rest of the McIntyre family joined them. In 1819 the northwestern area of Caledonia they lived in became the town of York and in 1821 their section of Genesee County became Livingston County.

It seems that Malcolm and Mary McNaughton joined Mary's three pioneer siblings in Genesee County before the rest of the McIntyre family arrived in 1914, because their first child, my great-great-great-great-uncle John Malcolm McNaughton (1812-1893) was born there in 1812. The rest of Malcolm and Mary McNaughton’s children were probably born in the same area, but I don’t have firm evidence of that.

Their fifth son Malcolm Duncan McNaughton (1824-1905), my great-great-great-grandfather, was still living with his parents in 1850, but by 1851 he had married his first wife Sarah Jane Mann McNaughton (abt 1830-1907) and they’d moved further west to Galt, Waterloo County, Ontario, Canada. There they had two children, William Malcolm McNaughton (1850-1914), my great-great-grandfather (pictured above), and Elizabeth Alvira McNaughton (abt 1851-unknown). Malcolm Duncan’s brothers Joseph (1824-unknown) and Alexander (abt 1828-1919) were also living with them.

By 1860 Malcolm Duncan and Sarah Jane McNaughton had moved south with their children to Montville, Geauga County, Ohio. I don’t know what became of Malcolm Duncan’s brothers Joseph and Alex. But their eldest brother John Malcolm McNaughton lived next door with his wife Clarissa Almeda Hodges McNaughton (1818-1893) and their four children. The rest of the McNaughton siblings and their parents seem to have remained back in Livingston (formerly Genesee) County, New York. (Except possibly for Peter McNaughton [1815-1874], who seems to have died in Michigan.)

Malcolm Duncan and Sarah Jane split up before 1873, and each married again. Malcolm Duncan’s second wife was Lydia Annette Clark (1839-1905), and they lived in Brecksville, Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Sarah Jane’s second husband was the much younger James W. Sweet (1868-1895), and they lived in Claridon, Geauga County, Ohio. Both Malcolm Duncan and Sarah Jane had children with their second spouses.

Malcolm Duncan and Sarah Jane’s eldest child, my great-great-grandfather William Malcolm McNaughton married Mary Elizabeth Grant (1856-1946). They had eight children, including Edna Marietta McNaughton Shanower, my great-grandmother. That brings me to ground I’ve covered in past blog posts here and here. And I think that clears a lot of the haze surrounding my McNaughton line.

One of the more interesting details about my McIntyre forebears is this: Mary McIntyre McNaughton’s sister Elizabeth McIntyre McKenzie, who pioneered the move to Genesee County, New York, with her two brothers in 1811, maintained until the end of her days that the family was descended from the royal house of Stuart. In the book A Short History of the Campbell Family (1906) author Hugh Campbell writes that Elizabeth “never forgot the trace of royal Stuart blood that was coursing through her veins, and long life, clear complexion and clean skin were all attributed to it, forgetful of the fact that the Stewarts never were noted for their longevity, or for much of anything else that was good.”

King James I of England and VI of Scotland.
I have no idea whether this old family tradition of royal descent is true or not, and I wouldn’t know how to prove it. Elizabeth and Mary McIntyre’s mother was my five times great-grandmother Helen “Ellen” Stewart. There are plenty of Stewarts and Stuarts in the world, especially of Scottish origin. I wouldn't be surprised if many of them claim relationship with the Stuart royals. So I take the story with a grain of salt.

But David is pretty solidly descended from the Stewart family. His estimated fifteen times great-grandmother was Jane Stewart, the six times great-aunt of King James I of England, son of Henry Stuart and Mary Queen of Scots. So if it’s true that I’m descended from the Stewarts, then David and I have another blood connection, in addition to our common Bartlett cousins. However, until DNA testing can be refined more precisely than it currently is, I doubt we’ll ever know for sure.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Damn Yankees!

As I may have mentioned before, I grew up knowing a lot more about my mom's family who were generally all from the South. The Kirkpatrick line is especially rich with stories and is very well documented, including multiple Kirkpatrick letters from the US Civil War (which I will eventually blog about).

David Sellers (1845-1927)
However, until recently I had no direct evidence that I had any ancestors that fought with the Union during the Civil War, but at last I've found one (on my father's side, of course). This is David Sellers, my great-great-grandfather. His daughter Nora Belle Sellers Miller (1873-1948) was the mother of my paternal grandmother Fern Naomi Miller Maxine (1890-1945).

I hadn't known much about the Sellers family beyond a few names. But I knew my dad was fairly close to this grandmother. He took me to see their old house in Minnesota in the early 1980s. But last last year I connected with my Miller cousins, who were able to share much wonderful information, including some great photographs.

I quickly found an obituary for my great-great-grandfather, which mentioned that he served in the Civil War (on the Union side). We had a Yankee in the family after all!

The obituary stated that David Sellers fought with Company G, 146th Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry. But further research shows a typo and that he was actually in Company G of the 164th and later served with Company B of the 195th Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

1890 Veteran's Schedule

He died on March 22, 1927. Here's his obituary from the local paper. I've made two corrections. His wife's maiden name was Lower not Sowers - and I corrected his regiment number. 

David Sellers - Obituary

David Sellers, aged 81, veteran of the Civil war and a life long resident of Seneca county, died this morning at four o'clock in the home of his son-in-law and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Swope.  He had been ill for three and a half months.

Mr. Sellers was born August 19, 1845, in Pleasant township. He was a son of Frederick and Hannah [Shidler] Sellers. On December 15, 1870, he was married to Miss Caroline Lower. Nine children were born.

During the Civil war Mr. Sellers was a member of Co. G, 146th [actually the 164th] Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. These daughters survive: Mrs. Eva Montgomery, Wickliffe, Ohio, Mrs. Nora Miller, Goodrich, Minnesota, Mrs. Harry Swope, Fort Seneca, Ohio, and Mrs. Bert Adelsperger, near Tiffin, Ohio. These brothers and sisters are left: Reuben Sellers, Sidney, Ohio; George Sellers, Bryan, Ohio; Jesse Sellers, El Campo, Texas, Andrew Sellers, Fostoria; and Mrs. Anna Keyser, Omak, Washington.

Funeral services will be held Friday afternoon at 1:30 in the home and at 2:00 in the M. E. church at Fort Seneca, conducted by the Rev. Mr. Hainen, Bettsville. Burial will be in Pleasant Union cemetery.

The Sellers family - David and Caroline at center, daughter Nora Belle seated on right.

The family portrait above (probably dating from the mid-1890s) shows David and Caroline and their five daughters who lived to adulthood. They had nine children all told. The only daughter I can identify in the photo above is my great-grandmother Nora Belle Sellers Miller (1873-1948) who is seated on the right. The photo came down through the family and the parents and she are the only ones identified on the back. In all likelihood the daughter seated on the left is Eva May - the eldest - but that is only a guess. People! Please label your family photos! 

I can share a little more information about the daughters than was given in the obituary. Eva May Sellers Montgomery (1871-1935) married Chester Montgomery (1869-1926). They had six children and lived in Willoughby, Wickliffe, and Painesville, Ohio, over the years. Nora Belle Sellers Miller married my great-grandfather Edward Nelson Miller. They lived in Tiffin, Ohio; Jamestown, North Dakota; and Willow River, Minnesota. The three daughters standing in the back are (in no particular order) Nina Sellers Palm (1878-1919), Clara Ellen Sellers Swope (1880-1928), Callie Edith Sellers Adelsperger (1884 -   ). The four children that died young were Ida Sellers (1876-1876), Willis E. Sellers (1889-1891), Bessie B. Sellers (1891-1896), and Gertrude Sellers (1893-1896).

I know my partner Eric is quite excited for me to get on with the research into my Ohio relatives, hoping we find a family connection somewhere in there.  Go, Buckeyes!

Monday, February 18, 2013

From Maximin to Maxine

My Dad - Willis Henry Maxine.
One of the most difficult branches of my family tree to research has been the one bearing my own name - the Maxine family. I knew that Maxine had been spelled Maxime at some earlier point, and when I was growing up my dad said we were French. He told me his grandfather had married a woman named Harriet Dejardin who was from Green Bay, Wisconsin, and they'd moved to Jamestown, North Dakota, where my grandfather and dad had been raised. That was about it.

My dad's family never seemed particularly close. I only met my grandfather four or five times. I only met my Uncle Chuck once! I did get to know my Uncle Eddie a little bit. When I was a kid I loved to brag about Uncle Eddie because he owned an airplane. Of my dad's siblings, I knew my Aunt Margaret best. We sometimes stayed with her on family visits to Minneapolis. My family moved to Minneapolis in 1980, which gave me more contact with her and her family, too.

Now, my dad did get into genealogy very briefly in the late 1970s - probably because of Roots - and he wrote down all he remembered, his grandparents, some stray surnames, a bit of information about his mom's family, and a list of some cousins he remembered from childhood. He also paid a visit to his sister and brought back a small stash of photos. In the early 1980s my dad decided to write a sort of memoir - all in all only about a dozen pages - little fragments, memories, mostly rather melancholy.

When one examines one's life to see if it has a special meaning it makes one wonder and reflect and not be too sure of where to look. Like a skein of tangled yarn, one pulls on certain threads and finds the skein tightening up, another releases, and so on and on . . . My father's father was French, and in Paris he carried coal up six flights of stairs. This must have been a miserable back-breaking job carrying the black stuff from under to six floors up where it provided light and heat and in some way he sought a promise and came to America. He found other French in Green Bay, Wisconsin and found himself surplus and moved to Jamestown, North Dakota where he must have disappeared into the Puree of this great melting pot. I marvel at how little I know of my past, My father I remember as a great story-teller like so many yet it all was within the American tradition of anecdotes to tell stories to give themselves a sense of place, jokes of those less fortunate or stupid, and a secret envy for the rich or successful.

I only found this folder of my dad's writings after he died in 1993. It's the only story I ever got of where we Maxines came from, of who we were. In the last few years I have finally been able to track down the Maxine family and I deeply regret I can't share the information with my dad. Some of what my dad knew turned out to be incorrect. We Maxines are in fact Belgian - not French. And our Maxine ancestors came to America a generation earlier than he believed. Still, I think his version rings true in spirit. Here's what I now know about my Maxine ancestors.

At this point I have traced the Maxine family back to my great-great-grandfather, François Maximin (1807-1894), from Namur, Belgium. He married Marie J. Bouchat (1818-1895) from Saint-Denis, Belgium, in 1840, according to The History of Door County (1881). I do not know what François did in Belgium. Clearly family legend suggests that he delivered coal. But in any case he decided to try his luck in the United States. Francois and Marie departed Antwerp on April 5, 1856, aboard the ship "Atlas." According to the ship's Passenger List (I have not examined the original) they had six children:

Marie-Therese Maximin (about 1838- ?) Is this a child from an earlier marriage?
Jean Joseph Maximin (about 1845-?) My great-grandfather
Victor Joseph Maximin (about 1848-?)
Charles Joseph Maximin (about 1850-?)
Therese Françoise Maximin (about 1852-?)
Ferdinante Maximin (about 1855-?)

They arrived in New York on May 22, 1856. These dates show a voyage length of forty-seven days - thus certainly a sailing ship - and with four of the six children under ten years old it must have been one great voyage! My great-grandfather, Jean Joseph, would have been eleven or twelve.

On arrival in New York, François and Marie Maximin became Frank and Mary Maxime. The 1860 census shows they settled in the richly Belgian community of Ahnapee Township in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin. However, that census record lists the children as: Joe age fifteen, Frank age thirteen, Chas. age eleven, and Ferdinand age nine. A few mysteries ensue: Is Victor now called Frank? The census seems to have garbled the two young daughters together and made them into a son called Ferdinand, nine years old.

1860 Census - Ahnapee Township, Kewaunee County, Wisconsin - P. 376, Dwelling 481.

The 1870 census shows that the family has relocated to Union Township in Door County, Wisconsin.  The aforementioned History of Door County (1881) says that in 1875 daughter Therese married a man named Joseph Hote. And that in same year Ferdinante married a man named Jole (aka Jules) Marchant. Ferdinante and Jole moved to Marinette and had two children. Further research shows that the above mentioned Therese is the Marie-Therese born in 1838.

The rest of the Maximes are still in Union Township in 1880, and my great-grandfather is listed as a laborer working on the farm of Anton Poirier in Brussels Township - yet still living with his parents in Union.

Marie-Therese Henriette "Harriet" Dejardin.
At some point in the late 1880s Jean Joseph married Marie-Therese Henriette Dejardin (1847-1900), called Harriet. She had been married twice previously and already had seven children. There is some reason to believe that Jean Joseph may have had an earlier marriage, too,  that produced at least one child named Mary (1883 - 1889).

Around 1888 Jean Joseph and one of his brothers, with their families and parents, took off for Jamestown, North Dakota. A year or two later a second brother followed. Evidence suggests that the Maxime sons all began working for the railroad. At the time of the move patriarch Frank Maxime was over eighty. He died in Jamestown in 1894 at the age of 87.

Jean Joseph (Joe) and his wife Harriet had two sons: Victor Maxime (1888-1957) and my grandfather Charles Joseph Maxime (1891-1972). Harriet died of influenza in February of 1900. There is a possibility that Jean Joseph had a previous marriage - but this is speculation based on the grave of a Maxime child named Mary (1883-1889) next to Harriet's grave at the Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Jamestown. Harriet is unlikely to be the mother, as in 1883 she was still married to one of her earlier husbands when little Mary was born. According to reports from his step-children Jean Joseph was something of a tight-wad - so much so that when Harriet died he would not pay for her funeral - the specifics are unknown. Jean Joseph continued to raise his two children by Harriet as well as looking after at least a couple of his step-children from Harriet's previous marriages.

His son (my grandfather) Charles Joseph Maxime married Fern Naomi Miller circa 1912. They continued to spell their last name Maxime until shortly after my father was born. (Various records and papers from my dad's earliest years list him as Willis Henry Maxime.) But by the time my dad was about two years old the family name was spelled Maxine. My dad hinted that the spelling change may have come about because of a rift or resentment between my my grandfather and great-grandfather - perhaps related to Harriet's early death and Jean Joseph's refusal to pay for her funeral?

Fern Naomi Miller and Charles Joseph "Buck" Maxine - my grandparents.

My Maxine grandparents had four children: Edward Joseph Maxine (1913-1996), Charles David Maxine (1915-2000),  Willis Henry Maxine (1919-1993), and Margaret Ann Maxine Schon (1922-2007) - all of whom retained the Maxine spelling of their last name.

I never knew my Maxine grandmother, Fern - she died in 1945. My grandfather remarried a few years later. He was hospitalized after an accident while working on the railroad, and he married his nurse, Ina J. Western, whom we all called "Westie."

I don't have many Maxine relatives anymore. I have lost track of most of my Maxine first cousins - indeed I never knew any of my Uncle David's kids. But in recent years I've been in much closer contact with my Uncle Eddie's family. On this coming Thursday, February 21st, it will be exactly twenty years since my dad died. It's rather a shocking realization. It makes me glad I still have a few Maxine cousins. If any long-lost Maxine cousins happen to find this blog, I'd love to hear from you!

Uncle Eddie and my Dad in the late 1970s.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Gay Relatives: Albert Hietanen

Albert Fridiof Hietanen (1911-1985).
As I said here in the first entry to this series of posts on gay relatives, it’s difficult to tell whether long-deceased relatives were gay or not when little information is left from their lives. But what about deceased relatives that I knew when they were alive? What if a relative was gay, but never talked about that with family? What if I didn’t suspect a relative was gay until after that relative was gone?

Albert Fridiof “Al” Hietanen (1911-1985) was my great-uncle, the brother of my maternal grandfather Everett John Hietanen (1915-1998). He was born in Fairport Harbor, Lake County, Ohio, and lived his whole life in the house where he was brought up. His father, Matti Hietanen (1883-1921), died when Al was a child. (You can read about Matti’s death in a previous blog post here.) His mother Edla “Edna” Salo Hietanen (1884-1961) spent her adult life in the same house. Al’s brother, Edwin “Et” Hietanen (1909-1983) lived there his whole life, too.

When I was a child and visited relatives in Fairport, Ohio, with my parents and sister, we’d always stop to visit “the boys,” Al and Et. I was often bored by the conversations among the adults, so I usually took a book along. But I did have a few conversations with Uncle Al over the years. He, also, was interested in books. There were lots of books in Et and Al’s house. Everyone knew they were Al’s books, not Et’s. (Probably a few of them actually were Et’s.)

Often Uncle Al gave books as gifts. His taste was generally refined. On one visit there were several paper shopping bags full of new paperbacks sitting on the floor of the study. Uncle Al told me to go through them to pick out what I wanted. Among my choices I remember The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell and the previous year’s edition of The Guiness Book of World Records. Uncle Al gave my mother books when she was a child, too, including Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers and Stuart Little by E. B. White. My sister and I both were fascinated by the copy he gave her of The Charles Addams Mother Goose.

E. B. White and Charles Addams had in common another of Uncle Al’s interests, The New Yorker magazine. If anyone in the small working-class town of Fairport Harbor subscribed to The New Yorker, it would have been Uncle Al. And he did. It fit his style of sophistication. I don’t recall him ever being an overt snob, but he was clearly aware of and drawn to a level of society that was found beyond Fairport’s borders, and he encouraged others to expose themselves to that world.

He knew I was interested in cartooning, so he tried to interest me in the cartoons published in The New Yorker. I didn’t think New Yorker cartoons were funny (except for Charles Addams’s work). When I was a kid my favorite comics were things like Richie Rich, Shazam!, The Justice League of America, and The Uncanny X-Men. The New Yorker didn’t do it for me.

The Annotated Wizard of Oz by Michael Patrick Hearn, first published in 1972, fit in with the type of book Uncle Al owned. Knowing I liked L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, Uncle Al pointed out his copy of Annotated Wizard to me during a visit and asked me whether I knew where the word Oz came from. As a fifth-grader I’d read The Wizard of Oz and Who He Was by Martin Gardner and Russell B. Nye. I was familiar with an Oz origin theory from Gardner’s essay in that book: Baum enjoyed stories that cause the reader to exclaim with “Ohs” and “Ahs” of wonder, and the word Oz can be pronounced either way. When I offered this theory to Uncle Al, he dismissed it and explained the story of Baum noticing a filing cabinet labeled O-Z and taking the name of his magical land from that.*

Uncle Al told me several times that he had an Oz book (other than Annotated Wizard) somewhere in the house and that if I could find it, I could keep it. I never found it. After he died no such Oz book turned up among his possessions. So I don’t know whether he was mis-remembering, whether he was teasing me, or whether there really was an Oz book that ended up elsewhere.

Uncle Al liked to travel, although I don’t remember him ever visiting my family in any of the various places we lived. He went to more urban or exotic destinations, often New York City. He traveled to Finland, the country his parents had emigrated from, and made friends there, including Liisa, the woman who became a longtime girlfriend of Al’s widowed brother Everett, my grandfather.

Sloppy Joe's Bar in Havana, Cuba. Albert Hietenan is on the left. I think that's his brother Carl Hietanen on the right. I don't know who the women are, but is this evidence that Uncle Al was not gay? The clothing looks late 1930s.

He liked to visit Havana before the Cuban Revolution. When my family stopped to visit Uncle Et and Uncle Al on our move to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Uncle Al told us about a woman he’d known in a Havana night club who could balance a cocktail on each of her large, shelf-like breasts. The details of that story—Havana, a night club, cocktails, and the woman’s remarkable breasts—epitomize to me who Uncle Al was.

He claimed to remember being a babe in arms. He remembered looking up at a lapel pin his mother was wearing when she held him, a pin she lost before he grew older. My mother joked that of course he remembered the pin since it was probably pressing into his forehead.

He could be high-handed. His brother Et was older, but I remember Et deferring to Al’s opinion whenever there was a disagreement. Al knew his mind and didn’t have much time for views that didn’t fall into line with his. When it came to the public perception of the family, Al interfered even when he wasn’t wanted. He never married, but he decreed at least one marriage for a family member and tried to decree another.

I visited Ohio during the November 1981 Thanksgiving break from my first year in art school. I stopped in at Uncle Et and Uncle Al's to show them examples of the work I was doing in school.

Because Uncle Al had always seemed somewhat interested in my development, I expected him to be interested in hearing about my progress in art school and seeing what I’d accomplished. But Uncle Et ended up being the one to sit through my long-winded explanation of each assignment I’d brought. Uncle Et was amused by the long eyebrow hairs I’d given one character—he mentioned how he had his barber trim long eyebrow hairs during haircuts.

I don’t think Uncle Al was particularly interested in what I was showing. I'm sure the naturalistic, genre-leaning direction of my work didn't fit his tastes. I still didn’t draw enough like New Yorker cartoons to suit him. I was more puzzled than troubled by Uncle Al’s lack of response, but not puzzled enough to discuss it with him. That was the last time I saw him.

What makes me conclude that Uncle Al was gay? There's no hard evidence.

His tastes for night life, travel, reading, and a sophisticated urban outlook exemplified by The New Yorker, while not uniquely gay, fall into line with gay stereotypes. Stereotyping someone is usually distasteful, but stereotypes often have an underpinning of truth.

It’s quite a stretch to consider the following any sort of indication, but Uncle Al wanted to call my sister Elizabeth by the nickname Liz. She wouldn’t have it. Her reason, unstated at the time, was that Liz sounds too much like Lez. Thin stuff, even for speculation, but does it hint of something in the air?

Albert Hietanen in Switzerland at the Matterhorn, 1980.
The only substantial clue is that there’s no evident reason he never married. He was an intelligent, active man of reasonable looks. He could have found a woman to marry if that’s what he’d wanted. It’s possible he had sexual relationships with women on his travels. But his high-handed management of marriage plans for relatives back home in Ohio make me suspect he didn’t, although double-standards about women wouldn’t have been unique to Al Hietanen. In the face of no reasonable answer to the question of why Al didn’t marry, the obvious conclusion seems to be that he didn’t because he was gay.

But it’s relatively common to wonder whether unmarried adults in good health are gay. And nothing I've mentioned is at all conclusive. I even have evidence that could indicate he wasn’t gay. I once saw, tacked up just outside Et and Al’s basement sauna one of the two times I used it, a full-page photo of a nude woman obviously clipped from a girly magazine. Why was that there? I doubt it was for aesthetic reasons. Was it Et’s? Did it belong to one of their brothers, Everett or Carl, who’d drop by to use the sauna? Was it misdirection? I don’t know.

In the end my belief that Uncle Al was gay, despite any indications to the contrary, comes down to one incident. When I was fourteen he gave me a copy of J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye—the copy that I still own—and told me to read it. My mother, doing her job as parent, raised the question of whether Catcher in the Rye was appropriate for me at that age. Uncle Al characteristically dismissed her reservations.

So I read the book. Catcher in the Rye was exactly Uncle Al’s type of high-brow, twentieth century literature, well written, thought-provoking, worthwhile. But, more than that, I think one reason he wanted me to read it was for the gay content. Many of the story’s details are hazy to me all these years later, but I remember how creepy and sad and confusing the scene was when Holden Caulfield wakes up to a man stroking his forehead.

I don’t think I’d ever read a story with identifiably gay characters in it before. The portrayals of “flits” in Catcher in the Rye aren’t what I’d call empowering. But the book acknowledges that gay people exist in real life. It shows that they’re real people. They’re not some amorphous, hidden, predatory “other” set apart from everyday society—which was pretty much my idea of homosexuals when I was young. The book didn’t revolutionize my views of gay people, but it let some light in. If that impact is part of what Uncle Al hoped the book would give me—and I like to think it was—then it worked.

I was still years away from considering that I might be gay, but I think Uncle Al understood what was in store for me. He recognized that being gay was a part of me, and his ability to recognize that and to offer his style of coping tool, Catcher in the Rye, is why I believe it was also a part of him.

Three brothers, left to right, my grandfather Everett J. Hietanen, Edwin "Et" Hietanen, and Albert "Al" Hietanen. This photo was taken in September 1981, just two months before I saw Uncle Al for the final time. Photos courtesy Robert M. Hietanen.

* I have never been convinced by the filing cabinet story, despite the fact that in a newspaper interview L. Frank Baum himself claimed it as the origin of the word Oz. Baum was known for making up convenient and amusing stories off the cuff, and the filing cabinet story reeks of this to me.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Buckshot in the Backside

Cyrus Hawk and Mary Catherine Franks Hawk gravestone, Dana Cemetery, Green Creek, Ohio.
On November 29, 1872, an interesting tidbit appeared in the "Ohio News Items" column of the New Philadelphia Ohio Democrat:
The season has now arrived when ignoramuses go forth with shot guns and fall over fences and off logs and come home well tattooed with shot. Cyrus Hawk, of Fremont, was the last victim.
This particular "ignoramus," Cyrus Hawk (1851-1944) of Green Creek (near Fremont), Sandusky County, Ohio, happened to be my great-great-great-great-uncle, the younger brother of my great-great-great-grandmother Clementine Hawk Flora (1849-1907). Clementine was my paternal grandmother’s great-grandmother.

I don’t want the photo I’ve posted of Uncle Cyrus’s grave to give the wrong impression—he didn’t die from accidentally shooting himself at the age of twenty. On the contrary, that incident didn’t seem to impair Cyrus much. He lived to reach ninety-two years of age and along the way he had twelve children with his wife Mary Catherine Franks Hawk (1857-1931). A note in the Hawk/Huss genealogical file in the Clyde, Sandusky County, Ohio, public library indicates that Cyrus served with the Union Army in the US Civil War. If that's correct, he was pretty young when he served, since he was twelve years old when the war ended in April 1865. Maybe he was a water boy or something like that.

If you’d like to see a nice photograph of Cyrus and Mary, there’s one here. Mary's hairstyle indicates the photo's from the 1920s. And you can see a more informal one of Cyrus alone here.