Friday, May 30, 2008

A man of few words

Grady Houston Glenn was my wife's grandfather. He didn't come visit when his first Great granddaughter Kristen was born in 1983. Of course he didn't make it to our wedding in 1981 either. He didn't make it to Mary's graduation from college, high school, her 16th birthday or for that matter any of her other birthdays. No, he didn't share in any of the big events in the life of his granddaughter or the small ones either.

Unlike my two grandfathers who I visited often and have only good memories, my wife has no memories of her grandfather. My daughters had two grandfathers who came to every birthday and event in their life until they got too old or sick to travel and then they were sure to send money!

But Grady Houston Glenn was AWOL for his granddaughter in the same way he was AWOL for his daughter, son and wife. He ran out on his family in 1930 and never made any attempt to contact any of them for the rest of his life.

He was the only son born to John William Glenn and Mary Adelia Jones Glenn in Erath County Texas in 1901. John William Glenn was a farmer and Methodist minister. John came from a family of preachers and was a respected leader in the small Texas community. When he died in 1943 his obituary said "he was a good farmer, a good neighbor and above all a real Christian man."

You have to wonder how disappointed he was in his son Grady who had disappeared 13 years earlier, leaving his wife, three year old son and six month old daughter alone in an apartment in Los Angeles. Loraine had to borrow money to get the family back to Texas. She moved in with her parents in Abilene and was fortunate to have family who could help take the place of the husband and father who was no where in sight.

A couple times over the years family members went to California and tried to locate Grady. One time Loraine's brother Ray Longacre went out looking for him but we don't know if he was successful in finding him. In the 1970s a nephew, Glenn Anderson, himself a Baptist preacher from Columbia, South Carolina was in Los Angeles on business and tracked him down. He found him living in an expensive house in Orange County, owner of a successful orange grove and farm.

Grady had married another woman, Ethel Whitlock in May 1930, just a few months after leaving his wife. He never bothered to get a divorce from Loraine and he apparently never told Ethel about his wife and children. Her parents lived in the area and she owned or inherited the land that he ended up farming and developing. When Ethel died in 1970 he married Ferne Clouse and again kept his family a secret. When Glenn Anderson visited, Grady wouldn't let him inside the house and insisted on meeting him at a restaurant in town. He didn't want to take the chance of his wife hearing about the family he had run out on 40 years earlier. Grady didn't have much to say to Glenn, no excuses, no questions about family members.

Grady died in 1984, one year before Loraine who was living with her daughter's family in Panama City, Florida. He was buried next to Ethel in Fairhaven Memorial Park in Santa Ana.

I started my search for him around 1997. We had no idea if he was still alive or where he might be. The last anyone had head of him was the short visit Glenn Anderson had with him in the 1970s and I didn't even know about that meeting at the time. His family had long since given up on him and was not interested in hearing from him.

I contacted a volunteer with RAOGK, Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness and requested she look for him in the Los Angeles area. Very quickly we learned he had died, confirmed that he never divorced his wife Loraine, even though he married two women after leaving her and that his last wife was still alive, living in Laguna Woods, California.

My phone call to her was one she probably never expected. I decided that after spending several months researching him, obtaining various records on his life from the local court and talking to Glenn Anderson about his visit years before, it was necessary to close the loop by talking to Ferne Glenn. She was in her 90s at that point, living by herself. The first time I called her she listened politely and then told me I had the wrong Grady Houston Glenn.

I sent her a letter with copies of the documentation I had obtained, old photos of Grady and reminded her of the visit Glenn Anderson made years earlier. When I called her back a couple months later she admitted the photos and other papers were him but said he had never been married before Ethel. While writing this entry I decided to check on Fern, it had been 5-6 years since I talked to her. I found she passed away on April 11, 2008 at age 99.

I think Ferne was worried the family, children and grandchildren were looking for an inheritance. All we were looking for were answers to 54 years of questions. The questions remain, evoking only a silent response.

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