Friday, September 18, 2015

Silence is Not Always Golden. Sometimes It's a Weapon.

The youngest of the sisters was Margaret, my mother. Our relationship was always a bit ""fraught" and some 37 years after her death, I'm still trying to work it out.  My comments about her will be limited to the first 35 years of her life, when my total knowledge of her is based only on what people have told me and what I see in the family records. That will keep her information on a level with that of her other sisters, and it puts a time limit on any book I ever manage to write about the lives of the eight McCaskey girls.

I can start with pictures of her as a child. Here she is as a 10-year old, with her older sister Florence, and her niece Gladys (Minnie's daughter).  In the group photos, she is alternately pouty or flirtatious. Overall, she gives the impression that she was pretty self-assured, a typical youngest child, spoiled by all the grownups around her. .

Her life changed dramatically, however, when she quit school in the eleventh grade to marry a newspaper man from Canton, Ohio.  I never did hear the story of how she met Joe Kerner, but the tales everyone told left an impression of a dashing journalist -- hard-drinking, cigarette-smoking, always with a small notebook and a pencil cocked behind his ear. He was an "older man" -- probably 25 or so in comparison to her 16-17 years. He seems to have promised her a house, which he delivered, and agreed that her mother could live with them, which she did.  I was shocked recently to learn through my searches in genealogy records, that his real job at the Canton Repository was not as a reporter at all, but as the fellow who cleaned the printing press.

Margaret and Joe produced a son -- Jack -- in 1917, but some time shortly thereafter, Joe developed "galloping consumption," no doubt caused at least in part by his job working on the printing press. The local doctors held out little hope but his Catholic priest recommended that he go to Colorado Springs for treatment at the Cragmor Sanitarium -- a facility quite well-known at the time for treating famous patients suffering from tuberculosis. On the priest's recommendation, he was taken in as a charity patient there and stayed for a couple of years, leaving Margaret, her mother, and young Jack to fend for themselves back in Ohio. They survived, largely with the help of the sisters and their husbands who lived nearby, and by grandmother Caroline going back to work as a practical nurse.

Joe was finally pronounced "cured," but the nuns and priests who ran the hospital informed him that his illness had been caused by his failure to convert his wife to Catholicism and to raise his son as a Catholic. He returned to Canton a healthy man pursuing the fulfillment of a holy vow -- to make his wife and son become good Catholics. Margaret said NO. Joe declared he would not speak to her again until she changed her mind. And he never said another word to her.  They lived in silence for months before she got up the courage to leave him, file for divorce (in 1924), and move her mother and son in with sister Florence.

Joe did not contest the divorce but refused to acknowledge it because Catholics were not allowed to divorce.  He did move out of the house, however, and let her have it. Florence's husband gave Margaret a job in his hardware store, but in a year or so she moved into a much better position as a comptroller in the main office of the Brewster Division of the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad. Her boss was a handsome young civil engineer named Floyd Poling, and she dated him for ten years before agreeing to marry again once her son was grown up.  I always had the impression that those ten years were some of the happiest of her life. She was young, beautiful, loved, and fiercely independent. This picture comes from 1935.

I will leave her there, because after she remarried, everything changed. But that's another story.

Except for this CODA: In 1978, shortly after Margaret's death, I found myself living in Colorado Springs with my Air Force husband, and once our son was in grade school, I went back to school myself at the Colorado Springs Campus of the University of Colorado. After I received my master's degree, the school gave me an adjunct position as a sabbatical replacement in the history department. My first class was scheduled for a building at the top of the hill -- a campus building known only as Main Hall. I had never been in that building.  It was old, with lots of rooms that were either tiny or long, narrow halls. I finally asked about its origins and learned that it was the original hospital of Cragmor Sanitarium.  There were many ghosts in those halls.

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