© Copyright 1998 by Roi Allen
Chapter 2: SCOTCH INFLUENCES
The Sullivan relatives, Lila’s side of the family, seemed honorable to Robert, somehow more honorable in some ways than the Lewis side. He greatly admired the Christian background of Lila (before she married Chauncey). He had also learned that most of his aunts and uncles on the Sullivan side had been dedicated Christians in their youthful days. Attending the church of God, most of them were involved in special music for the church, and many of them were baptized by the old lady pastor of the church. Although some of them had departed from their early teachings, they all seemed to remember and cherish the religious training that Robert and Sarah Sullivan had provided.
In Robert’s eyes, the Lewis side was less admirable than his mother’s family. Yes, he had a pride in being a Lewis, but it was altogether different than the pride in his Sullivan bloodline.
From what he’d been told over the years, Lila met Chauncey by accident. Chauncey’s oldest sister, Viola, lived in Montezuma and was active in the same church, which Sullivans had always attended. One Saturday afternoon, Chauncey paid a visit to Viola and her husband in Montezuma. On the same afternoon, Sarah Sullivan and Lila dropped in to see Viola on church business. It seems that Chauncey saw something in Lila, which he wanted for a wife so he began driving down from Michigan most weekends to see Viola, and to drop in at Sullivans. Much to Sarah’s dismay, this courtship developed into a proposal and, in time, to a simple non-church wedding. Chauncey was not much interested in church or religion but apparently pretended to care, at least, until after he had convinced Lila to marry him.
Robert had never known his father to show any inclination toward godliness. His habits of life, his foul language, and his general rough life style in no way resembled those of a Christian gentleman.
Chauncey and Robert were not much like father and son. If Chauncey was working outside on a tractor or working with the farm animals, Robert and his two brothers were not welcome to watch and try to help. Chauncey had little patience with children and usually told the boys, “Go in the house with your mother.” After many such messages, they no longer volunteered to go out to spend time with their father. Robert tried to like his dad but had little in common with him.
Still, there was a pride in being part of the Lewis family. Lewis is an old name, no doubt named after the island of Lewis, which is off the northwest coast of Scotland. Robert remembered accounts told by his father, and also by Grandma Lewis, that they were not just a Scotch family. There was an American Indian in the distant branches of the family tree. And, too, Grandma Lewis had been a Kirschner, a very German name. All of this added to Robert’s pride in the Lewis name.
True to his mostly Scotch heritage, Chauncey had some of the attributes, which Scotsmen are supposed to have. He was an extreme penny pincher as well as a pack rat. He seldom threw anything away. When an old automobile was no longer functioning and roadworthy, it was pulled to the back of Chauncey’s 80 acre farm and kept. Weeds grew up around and claimed the collection of cars and farm implements, which would never run again, but Chauncey always claimed that he was going to repair them and use them again.
Kerry was about as much a penny pincher and pack rat as his father. He was three years younger than Robert, somewhat taller and more muscular, and was gifted with good looks. To Robert, it seemed that everything which Kerry touched turned to gold. He always seemed to have money although it was Robert who had a full-time job. Too often, Robert was, to use Kerry’s phrase, “financially embarrassed”. Kerry did odd jobs for neighbors and answered ads he found in Boys Life Magazine, ads promising great prizes for selling such items as garden seeds, salve or wall plaques. He seemed able to sell anything to anyone and earned quite a lot of enviable prizes. The prize which he valued the most was the gold-fendered bicycle he earned for selling garden seeds.
The youngest of the three boys was Benjamin, whom they all called Ben. He was the only one in the household whose name was ever shortened. He was the only blond in the household; the other two boys had very dark brown hair. Ben was five years younger than Robert. He found himself excluded from his brothers’ activities to a great degree. Kerry and Robert had formed a rather close bond in early childhood, before Ben was born, and they remained pals and confidants throughout childhood. Ben tried to tag along with his brothers in the early days of his childhood but seemed to realize that he was an outsider, never able to become as accepted as he would have preferred. He found ways to entertain himself when the older boys ignored him.
Robert and Kerry loved their younger brother, of course, and were protective of him; they just preferred to not include him in their childhood play.
It was when Ben was four years old that the family became more concerned for his welfare. On the day after Easter Sunday, Ben had his new Easter basket in the back yard. He was pulling long grass along the fence behind the garage and placing it into his basket. An old neighbor lady walked down to visit Lila and Chauncey that morning. Ben saw her coming and began running toward her. He didn’t notice some twine on the ground, which tripped him. Falling forward, he put his hands in front of himself to stop his fall. His left hand fell, palm down, on a small sliver of steel, which had apparently fallen into the grass the previous fall when Chauncey had worked on a hay baler there. The steel severed some tendons of the hand, which flipped back into his wrist. The local doctor was unable to do more than ease the pain and stop the bleeding. He told Chauncey that it would be necessary to take Ben to Detroit for surgery.
Chauncey and Lila went twice a week to Detroit to visit Ben, leaving Robert and Kerry home to take care of chores. They were too young to visit Ben in the hospital, and neither of them liked the long drive to Detroit. Ben’s hand was never again completely functional after the surgery. The family became more protective of Ben from then on. Still, he was never able to become as close to either Kerry or Robert as they were to each other.
The family bond in Chauncey and Lila’s home was strong although unspoken. They seldom expressed affection in words, and not often in tender actions. Still, they all sensed that they were part of each other and everyone seemed secure in that.
When Lila came home from Montezuma and told Chauncey that Grandma Sullivan was getting worse, he scolded, swore and grumbled for a while, as Lila expected him to do. She suspected that he would cool down, though, and work with her to come up with some type of plan. After all, he had always prided himself in his vow that none of his family would end up in a nursing home if he could help it - - and Sarah Sullivan was considered a part of his family now. If she needed a home, he would arrange it somehow.
As Robert entered the kitchen after milking the only cow, which was now producing milk, he heard his parents discussing Grandma Sullivan. He eavesdropped as he strained the bucket of milk and poured two gallons of it into the pasteurizer to be processed before being refrigerated for the family’s use.
It was Lila speaking, “Ruth said she’s much worse since Billy left. She told me that Paul came in to check on Mom one day last week and found that she was burning the papers in the waste can, but she was burning them in the dining room. Chauncey, she’s going to hurt herself or maybe burn the house down if she’s left alone.”
After a couple of swear words, Chauncey asked, “It’s that hardening of the arteries in her head, ain’t it? They said it would get worse over time.”
Sadly, Lila continued, “Yes, she only remembers some things and only off and on. She sometimes calls me Ruth instead of Lila. While I was there, she said something about Dad being gone awfully late that day. I reminded her that Dad’s been dead for a long time. I could tell that it didn’t register when I said it. Her mind is gone.” She looked at Chauncey for a few seconds and added, “I can’t quit my job to move in with her, and the boys need me here anyhow. I don’t know what to do about her. And, I couldn’t afford a nursing home, even if I was willing to put her in one.”
“Let’s talk to Robert and Kerry about this. I can finish the middle bedroom upstairs for Ben. If he moves up there, you mom can use the downstairs room he’s been in.” Chauncey, true to Lila’s expectations, had cooled down and was ready to tackle the “family” problem. “You’ve got a lot of bills, I take it, so you can’t quit your job.”
Actually, it was Lila’s income, which provided most of the extras for the family’s use. True, Chauncey butchered a beef and a couple of hogs for the freezer every winter, and they had milk and chickens and eggs. Still, the carpeting on the floors and the reasonably nice furniture were present because Lila worked hard at the corrugated box factory and used her paychecks for these niceties. Birthdays and holidays were always celebrated in good fashion because of Lila’s income.
They decided to talk to the boys before making concrete plans for Grandma Sullivan, but Lila felt sure her husband would help in providing a home for her mother.
Not realizing that Robert was in the kitchen and listening to their conversation, Lila added, “Chauncey, good news. Today, as we were driving home from Ruth’s, Robert said he’s done with Sandra. He seems to have found a nice girl at Lester Chapel Church out there in the country, where Bill goes. I think he wished he could have gone there tonight, but it’s too late.”
Chauncey’s toothless grin, which Lila had grown to expect any time there was good news, was shining at the prospect of Robert and Sandra breaking up. His comment, though neither judgmental nor condoning, was, “Oh, yeah?” Lila understood that her man was concerned about their oldest son and that he seemed glad that the girlfriend situation was changing.
“Yes, it’s better for him to find a girl in church. I hope he lets us meet her before long,” sighed Lila.
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