My family’s history has been a huge influence on the things I write. Each Friday, I take a look at some of the research that’s inspired my stories.
Over the past three weeks, I’ve written about three of four myths I constructed for myself while conducting research on my family’s history. You can read those here, here, and here. And now, here’s the fourth and final myth:
Myth 4: Earl Clark Loathed His Father From Childhood
My family’s oral tradition seemed to center around one indisputable fact: my grandfather, Earl Davis Clark, hated his father from childhood. Charles Clark had shipped Earl and his sister Eletha off to their grandmother following the death of their mother. Charles had been reluctant to grant Eletha’s wish to be buried in the family plot, next to her mother, while she was dying in the Boston Sanatorium in 1947, a request that was only granted after an appeal from Earl who, oral tradition indicates, wanted no part of begging his father for anything.
I took for granted that there was no connection there. I came up with stories for how they must’ve interacted, for how they avoided each other while living in the same small town on Cape Cod. Of all the preconceived notions I had about my family’s past, this one was the strongest.
My grandfather may have hated his father later in life, but in 1930, at the age of sixteen, he was living under his father’s roof. As I alluded to last week, the 1930 United States Census, made available to the public for the first time in 2002, provided this unexpected discovery. According to the oral tradition, they hadn’t lived together since my grandfather’s mother had died in 1919. I was under the impression that they hardly even spoke. And yet, here it was, in black and white: they had lived together.
Facts from books like Stephanie Coontz’s have also helped me to reevaluate my preconceived notions. Coontz writes, “…prior to the 1920s, a divorced father did not even have a legal child-support obligation to evade.” Perhaps Charles wasn’t even obligated to pay his mother-in-law to take care of her grandchildren. Maybe he did bring the children of his first marriage back into the fold as soon as he was ready. Only a lack of a census between 1920 and 1930 leaves this as an unanswered question.
And, Earl made repeated trips down the Cape to visit his father when necessary. Though it seems to have required coaxing on the part of his wife, Earl made trips to see his father in 1947, to secure a burial place for his sister, and again in 1956, to introduce his father to his first-born son, my father, Earl Donald Clark. Unfortunately for us all, the morning they arrived to introduce Earl Donald to Charles, November 28, 1956, was the morning that Charles died. Earl Davis Clark never made peace with his father, but that last trip seems to imply he was at least willing to try.
Next week, I move on to something completely different.