Remembering…

American eagle and flag image

We pause today to remember those men and women who paid the final price that we may continue to enjoy the richness of our liberty.  We remember those as well, who though they did not die in service, put themselves in harm’s way with a willingness to be made an offering to the future of our nation.  We remember them.  We honor them. Continue reading “Remembering…”

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My Grandfather Gus

The death of my great-grandfather John Anderson Roberts in 1901 would deprive my grandfather Gus of ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­the guidance of a father, the nurture of a mother and the knowledge of a heritage.  The seeds of disaster were in the ground.  Our family needed a crop failure!

Gus Roberts as a child in about 1905 or 1906The sudden and violent death of three-year-old Gus Roberts’ father would prevent him from working beside his father in the field, riding with him in the wagon, hunting with him in the woods and sitting with him at the table.  He would miss the stories of his father’s youth in Williamson County, Tennessee and his family’s migration to Calloway County, Kentucky.  He would never know of the Roberts of Virginia or be able to claim their heritage his heritage.  The later decision of a jury to convict his mother of murder for her part in his father’s death would deprive Gus of the comfort and encouragement of a mother, the steady hand of someone who believes in you.  What would happen to this little boy “orphaned” by the death of his father and the conviction of his mother? Continue reading “My Grandfather Gus”

Paying Attention to Details in Your Family Research

“God is in the detail” or “The devil is in the details”.  Both expressions infer the same thing.  Details are important and those attentive to them are rewarded.  The details of our family history research are a rich source of information and clues to find additional gold. Continue reading “Paying Attention to Details in Your Family Research”

The Tragic End to the Life of John Anderson Roberts: Final Chapter

And now the end has come.

John Anderson RobertsJohn Anderson’s downward spiral began with the tragic death of his wife Lavina.  He eventually dies in his own bed, but it wasn’t a pleasant passing.  Some claim it was suicide.  Twelve of his neighbors decide it’s murder and assess blame.  A judge determines the penalty.   Lives are forever changed.  So horrific was the tale, one journalist remembers and writes about it over thirty years later.  Family members still speak of it in hushed tones. Continue reading “The Tragic End to the Life of John Anderson Roberts: Final Chapter”

The Tragic End to the life of John Anderson Roberts, Part 2

Regrets are often written in the words, if I had only known.  It’s doubtful my great-grandfather John Anderson Roberts ever saw the end coming.

Cornelia Lassiter, Lavina Jane and John Anderson Roberts in front of their Lamar County Home in the Maxey Community ca 1890 - 1895
Cornelia Lassiter, Lavina Jane and John Anderson Roberts in front of their Lamar County, Texas home in the Maxey Community ca 1890 – 1895 (Photo courtesy of Glen Gambill)

Continue reading “The Tragic End to the life of John Anderson Roberts, Part 2”

When does the common become uncommon?

When does the common become uncommon?

It’s unlikely you’ve ever hear of John Baker Dickson or his brother-in-law Lemuel W. Lassiter.  I doubt very many ever have or ever will.  Is it because they were too common?  Is it because we’re inattentive, uninformed or disinterested?  I fear it is the latter rather than the former.

I came across Dickson and Lassiter while working on my John Anderson Roberts research.  I’m going to write a short blog here on these men in case this lead proves helpful to another researcher one day.

John Anderson and Lavina Jane Roberts’ daughter Cornelia Ann married J.B. Lassiter in Calloway County, KY in 1870.  John Baker Dickson and his wife Emily Jane Lassiter Dickson were J.B. Lassiter’s aunt and uncle.  They were in Red River County, Texas well ahead of the Roberts.  Were they the Roberts family connection and encouragement to come to Texas?  (This and of course land) Lemuel Lassiter would arrive later across the Red River.

Clues to follow Lemuel Washington Lassiter    

Mary Bigelow added a photo to Find a Grave in 2012.  The picture is of a headstone in the Bogota Cemetery in Red River County, Texas.  Thanks Mary.

Photo credit: Mary Bigelow on Find a Grave
Photo credit: Mary Bigelow on Find a Grave

Lemuel Lassiter appears in the 1920 Federal Census in Justice Precinct 3, Red River, Texas.  He is a 73-year-old merchant/druggist born in about 1847 in Kentucky.  He’s married to Willie Lassiter and they appear to have six children living in their household.  His father’s birthplace is recorded as Virginian and his mother’s as England.

Lew Lassiter appears in the 1910 Federal Census in Justice Precinct 3, Red River, Texas.  He is a 63-year-old male retail merchant owning a grocery store in Bogota, Texas.  He was born in about 1847 in Kentucky.  His father and mother were born in Kentucky.  He is married to Willie Lassiter and they appear to have six children living at home.

Lemuel Lassiter appears in the 1900 Federal Census in Justice Precinct 3, Red River, Texas.  He is a 54-year-old male born in Kentucky about 1847.  His father and mother were born in North Carolina.  He is married to Willie M. Lassiter and they appear to have three children living at home.

L.W. Lassiter appears in the 1880 Federal Census in Precinct 2, Red River.  He is a single age male of about 34 years of age teaching school.  His father and mother were born in North Carolina.

I do not find a clue for Lemuel Lassiter in the 1870 census nor can I locate the John Anderson Roberts family in the 1870 census.  Curious?

L.W. Lassiter, age about 14, appears in the 1860 Federal Census for Murray, Calloway County, KY in 1860.  He is living in the household of Parmelia Elliott, age 39.  There are Elliotts age 19 and 14 and another Lassiter age 18.  There is also a Jno. B. Crabtree.

L.W. Lassiter, age about 4, appears in the 1850 Federal Census living in District 2 of Calloway County, KY.  He is living in the home of a farmer named Little B. Lassiter, age about 25, whose father was born in North Carolina.  There are three other Lassiters living in this household including Emily Lassiter, age 15.  She and the other Lassiters in the household other than Little B. say their father was born in Kentucky.  There appears to be no father or mother in this home.

It appears, from what little time I’ve looked, L.W. Lassiter became an orphan with the death of his father in 1849.  Before his 16th birthday he’ll enlist in Company C of the Tennessee 33rd Infantry Regiment in Haywood County, TN.  He rose to the rank of 1st Sergeant.  His wife Willie Lassiter would file for and receive a pension for his service.

I share one more clue to uncover the life of L.W. Lassiter.  His daughter (I believe her name is Ida Lassiter Hooker.) may have published her life memories in a book form.  This could be a rich source of information though I’m not sure even she would have been able to uncover the fullness of this life.

Clues to follow John Baker Dickson

John Dickson was born in about 1827 in Tennessee.  I wonder if he was related to any of the Dicksons in Williamson County, TN?  He marries Emily Jane Lassiter in Stewart County, Tennessee in 1851.  Stewart County is just across the Tennessee River from Calloway County where Emily was living in 1850 with Little B. Lassiter (see above).  John and Emily Dickson will appear in the Red River County, Texas Federal Censuses for 1860, 1870, 1880 and 1900.  He believes his father was born in North Carolina.  There is a rich and full story needing to be told but I’ll leave you with one more clue.

One of several records for John Dickson available on Fold 3 in May 2016
One of several records for John Dickson available on Fold 3 in May 2016

In March of 1862 John rode out of Clarksville, Texas into history. He was a member of the 27th Texas Calvary for the Confederate States of America.  He left his family behind.  He enlisted for twelve months and they would be memorable.  His service began with battles and skirmishes across Mississippi including Corinth and Jackson.  Nearing the end of his enlistment he was thrown into the battle of Thompson Station in Williamson County, TN on March 5, 1863 within miles of John Anderson Roberts’ birthplace and within 5 days of the end of his enlistment.  He would witness over 3,000 combined casualties that one day.  I’m not sure how close he came to dying that day, dismounted and fighting from the heights overlooking the Pike, but I know he saw much death and destruction.  By now John had received two promotions to the rank of 3rd Sergeant.  Sgt. Dickson’s unit fought into the summer including the battle and siege at Vicksburg on the Mississippi River.  When the battle ended with the surrender of the Confederate forces on July 4, 1863, John was now four months overdue to go home.

The document on the left reports he was absent without leave in July and August.  A note added later says he deserted on July 22, 1863.

There were other Dicksons (George, Joseph, William) who rode and marched out of Clarksville, Texas in 1861 and 1862.  There may have been more than one John Dickson fighting out of Texas.  Were they related?  How?  What became of them?

So little known.  So little told.

Thanks for reading my ramblings.  Okay, I have one more clue.

Photo Credit: Lyn Dobson from Find a Grave
Photo Credit: Lyn Dobson from Find a Grave

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Dickson&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSst=46&GScnty=2713&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=71728178&df=all&

Burton Lee Roberts: A Tip of the Cap

My dad was born in the small Texas Hill Country town named after his grandfather, a grandfather he never knew.  He knew neither of his grandfathers.  His father knew neither of his grandfathers.  His grandfather John Anderson Roberts knew only one of his grandfathers, his mother’s father.  I assume he knew him because they lived in the same part of Williamson County, Tennessee for the first fourteen years of my great-grandfather’s life and the last fourteen years of my 3 x great grandfather William Giles’ life.  He died in 1844.  There weren’t many models for parenting and grand parenting in our Roberts line.

Burton Lee Roberts was born in Ingram, Texas on February 24, 1919.  It was a Monday.  I doubt Dad ever knew that.  I wonder if it surprised Dad to discover he wasn’t given a name on the day he was born?  My grandfather had to apply for the following amended certificate in 1977.  My Dad’s original name?  — Roberts.  No given name.

B.L. Roberts ammended birth certificate

That’s one reason I’ve titled these most recent posts using Dad’s full given name.  His

Burton and BG Chessman
Burton and BG Chessman

name was Burton Lee Roberts.  He was, to the best of my detective work, named after his mother’s sister BG Chessman’s husband and his mother Emma Lee Ingram Roberts.  I suspect his naming was delayed because my grandfather Gus was not in attendance at Dad’s birth and probably not even in town.

Ingram is a small town in western Kerr County located about 83 miles northwest of San Antonio, Texas.  My great-grandfather J.C.W. Ingram located his store and post office on the original wagon road from San Antonio to San Angelo in 1883.  The historical markers all say he bought the land from the Morriss family in 1879 but the recorded deed is clear, it was 1883.  The six acres were part of the original Francisco Trevino land grant.  The Ingrams could not have been there in 1879 because they didn’t leave California for Texas until December of 1881.  I’ve documented and written more about that in an earlier post.

In the times in which Dad was born, it was common for expectant mothers to temporarily move in with or very near their mother or other female relative who would assist with the birth and/or after-care.  My widowed great-grandmother’s name was Sarah Alice “Sally” Ingram.   She was the offspring of a Nichols/Neely union from Williamson County before their families migrated to Texas.   She would later accompany her pharmacist/preacher husband to Carrizo Springs, Texas where my grandmother Emma was born in 1898.  She returned to her home in Kerr County after J.C.W.’s death.  Great Grandmother Sally’s presence was no doubt the reason Grandmother Emma Lee was in Ingram the day my dad arrived.  So, where was his father Gus?  I suspect he was 83 miles away, a two or three-day journey, in San Antonio, Texas.  It’s all supposition on my part.  Gus Roberts registered for the World War I draft in September of 1918.1918 Gus Roberts WWI Draft Reg. side 1 only  The war would end two months later and another two months later my dad arrived.  Gus and Emma were newlyweds living in San Antonio according to his registration.  They lived at 2118 Nebraska St.  He worked for Otis Elevator Company and was probably at work the Monday morning his firstborn child arrived – OR, he joined the service and was away.  There are some unknowns here I have yet to uncover – a matter of an early photo of a young granddad Gus in a military looking uniform.  (???) I love a good mystery!

My Dad answered to several names.  According to Veteran Affairs records (Ancestry.com. U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011) he was Burton Roberts.  According to the Social Security Administration record “Nov 1938: Name listed as BURTON LEE ROBERTS; 11 Mar 1988: Name listed as BURTON L ROBERTS”.  (Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.)  Thus the S.S. Death Index list him as Burton L. Roberts.  (Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2011.)  He often signed his name B.L. Roberts.  Therefore, when I wrote or spoke of him through the years I’ve referred to him as “B.L.” or “Old B.L.”  His friends and family of his generation called him “Bob”.  My children call him “PawPaw”.  These were some of the names of Burton Lee Roberts.

My dad had one more name I’ll mention.  It was a name few called him.  In fact, I’m the only one I remember ever calling him by this name.  In my precocious teen years, I began calling my dad “Pop”.  I doubt many even noticed, but he did.  We talked about in one day.  I brought it up.  I asked him if it was okay with him.  His response, “I don’t care what you call me.”  But I think he liked it.  I know I did.

"Charlie and Lee Chan"
“Charlie and Lee Chan”

The idea came from the old Charlie Chan mystery movies.  Actor Keye Luke played Lee Chan in the majority of those old black and whites.  He was the oldest son of the main character, detective Charlie Chan.  In the series he called his father “Pop”.  He was the first one I remember using the term and the only one of the Chan children (ten or eleven I believe) who called their father by this name.  It could have been seen as insolent in their culture (or mine for that matter); but it felt endearing to me.  It must have felt that way to the writers of the series because Charlie never corrects his son.  Dad never corrected me.

Grandparents don’t always have a say in what their grandchildren eventually call them – but they generally try.  The fact is most of us are stuck with the name our first grandchild can pronounce.  When my wife Dee (MeMaw) and I were discussing what we wanted our first grandchild to call us, I said I wanted to be called “Pop”.  It stuck.  It’s my tip of the cap to “Old B.L.”.

Burton Lee Roberts – 1st Census 1920

Always check the census records first.

Burton Lee Roberts’ military records say he was born in 1917.  His amended birth record says 1919.  The 1920 census supports his birth record of 1919  as the correct date.  Here is part of the census record from Brownwood, Texas and what we learn about my father and his family in 1920.

1920 Burton Lee in US census

The household record actually begins on the previous page.  It is probably difficult for you to see this page (and you certainly can’t see the previous page because I haven’t included it), so I’ll try to accurately relate the information.  This information is available at Ancestry.com and the National Archives.

Edward and Grace Mohn
Edward and Grace Mohn

Gus and Emma L. Roberts are living at 1009 Booker St. in Brownwood City (Today called simply Brownwood), Texas.  They are living in the household of Edward  and Grace Mohn.  Gus is Edward’s brother-in-law.  We know from other sources that Grace is Emma’s sister.  The Mohn’s have two sons, Edward age 4 and John age 2 1/2.  Edward Sr. is working as a machinist in an auto shop.

Gus Roberts is a 21-year-old married white male.  He is able to read and write.  He was born in Texas.  He, or whoever spoke to the census taker that day, gives his father and mother’s birth place as the United States. (I don’t believe Gus, my grandfather, knew the birthplace of his father or mother.  Therefore he could not have told his wife or a census taker. He’s able to speak English, works as a machinist helper in an auto shop as a wage earner and is enumerated on the farm schedule at #620.

Emma L. Roberts is a 21-year-old married white female.  She is able to read and write. She was born in Texas.  She, or whoever spoke to the census taker that day, gives her father’s birthplace as California and her mother’s as Tennessee.  (I tend to believe she was the source of this information.  What’s interesting is she was wrong about her father and right about her mother.  Most “tree builders” online are usually right about her father and wrong about her mother.)  Her work is listed as “none” and that makes me laugh.

Burton L. Roberts is enumerated as the only child of Gus and Emma living in the household.  He is the nephew of Edward Mohn, the head of the household.  He is a ten month old white male who was born in Texas, as were his parents.  He could not read, write or speak English.  Awww, those were the days.  And while he did not work according to the census, I bet he kept his mother busy!

This census record supports Burton Lee Roberts’ birth year as 1919.  His amended birth certificate supports this.  His Social Security records support this.  He told me this was his correct birth year and that he had lied about his birth date to enlist in the Army.

After you interview all of your living relatives, begin your next research with the U.S. Census.  Happy backtracking!

 

 

 

Burton Lee Roberts – Runaway

My father ran away from home in 1935.

A young Burton Lee RobertsMany of us consider running away from home.  We struggle against the milieu of adolescence while facing the hard headwinds of coming adulthood.  Some of us just want to run away.  Some of us think about it.  Some of us plan to do it.  Not Dad.  He did it!  Burton Lee Roberts “ran away from home”!  Aided and abetted by his mother he bolted at the age of sixteen.

Here’s the story I “pestered” out of him back when I was just a teenager myself.

Barber strap 2
Barber strap

My dad thought his father, Gus Roberts, was a hard, stern, difficult man.  He told me he never got along with his father.  He used to discipline Dad with an old leather strap like the ones used by barbers to hone their razors.  His sister Elizabeth shared the same sentiments in my presence on a couple of occasions.  She once told my mother their father beat them with sticks.  Now, I considered both my dad and aunt to be strong-willed, stubborn people.  I understood why they might clash with their father but I could never excuse Grandad’s harshness.

It happened one Sunday.  The family returned from church and were small Mulesitting at the lunch table-No, I shouldn’t write that-What happened had been building for a long time.  On this day it erupted like a volcano.  Grandad Gus told Daddy to finish his lunch and go hitch-up the mule to the plow.  He was to plow their field in preparation for planting a fall crop.  This was apparently a departure from what my grandparents would normally allow to be done on a Sunday.  Perhaps Dad was being disciplined.  But my dad and some older teenage boys had made plans at church to enjoy the cool waters of the swimming hole after lunch.

Now few places in America are hotter than North Texas in August.  This change in plans brought a strong response from Dad.  He told his father he had already made plans and did not want to take a Sunday afternoon, a day of rest, to go plow.  They disagreed.  It got heated and included the “if a boy is going to put his feet under my table then he’s going to do as I say” speech.  The threat of a “whipping like he’d never seen” got my dad out the door and into the field.  But he was furious.  He took it out on the mule.  He pushed that old black mule under the blazing sun at breakneck speed.  He was going to show his dad.  He would finish the plowing AND go swimming, if it killed him.

Finishing the field with a couple of good hours of daylight remaining, Dad unhitched the mule, put him in the pen, stored the harness gear and rushed by the house on his way to the creek.  He was no doubt pleased with himself.  But his dad wasn’t.  He had watched him and was not happy with his behavior.  His voice stopped Dad in this tracks.  “Did you water that mule?” Grandad asked.  The volcano began to rise once again as Dad made his way to the water well.  Back then he would not be able to turn a valve and run water in a trough.  He would have to drop a wooden bucket into their deep, cold water well, draw it up, carry it to the lot, and hand fill the trough.  It would take several trips to do it right.  But of course Dad was in no frame of mind to “do it right”.  As he reached the trough the old hard-working mule was waiting in anticipation.  In that moment Dad took out his anger toward his father on the poor old mule once again.  He told me he took the bucket of water and poured it over the mule’s head.  The mule fell dead!  Heat exhaustion and a bucket of cold water finished him off.  Well, what can I say, that’s the way my dad told the story.

Dad took off and hid from a sure beating.  Grandmother negotiated a “peace treaty”.  But it was done.  Dad said he pulled his feet out from under Gus Roberts’ table and never put them back again.  (He exaggerated that last part but that’s another story for another day.)  He “ran away” from home at sixteen, aided and abetted by his mother.

Uncle Sam Army Recruiting posterMy dad continues the story in this fashion.  His mother took him to the army recruiter in Fort Worth where he planned to lie about his age and sign up.  She would be complicit.  The recruiter, anxious to fill his quota, asked Daddy how much he weighed.  When he told him his guess (because Daddy had no idea), the recruiter looked concerned.  He told Daddy to do exactly what he told him.  These were his instructions.  Go find a half gallon of buttermilk and a handful of bananas.  Eat those bananas and drink that buttermilk in rapid succession.  Finish them off as you enter back through the door of this recruiting office.  Dad did exactly as he was told.  As he cleared the office door threshold the recruiter directed him to the scales.  Climbing on the scales, Dad held his breath.  He was so full he couldn’t catch his breath any way.  He made it, with an ounce or two to spare!  He was in!

I probably should add more context to Dad’s story.  The U.S. Armed Forces were not in very good shape as the year began in 1935.  The decision had been made not to provide military training to the thousands of young men working in the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC).  They would remain civilian.  So, their presence and availability would not add to the country’s military readiness.  Meanwhile, many of the enlisted men and officers had begun to cycle out of the military before 1935.  Numbers were down when they needed to be going up.   By August of 1935 the U.S. Congress accepted the recommendation of General Douglas MacArthur and appropriated much larger amounts of resources to build up the military, especially the air and naval defensive strength.  Mom and I talked about this story over the holidays and she added additional context.  She said the older dairy boys, older than Dad, also went and signed up for the Army at the same time.  Apparently all the boys had been discussing a way off of the farm and “into some money” and independence.  The Army’s stepped up recruitment provided them their opportunity.  A dead mule lit the fuse!  Mom said the dairy boys’ parents were not happy and were eventually able to buy their military obligation off and bring their sons home.  Dad was in for the duration.

My dad’s story reminds me of a joke I first heard over twenty-five years ago.  There was an eighteen-year-old young man exasperated by his parents.  He told them he was leaving.  When asked why, he told them he was tired of being told what to do, when to do it and how to do it.  He wanted his freedom.  He felt he was old enough to make his own decisions.  He was leaving.  They asked him what he was planning to do.  He responded, “I’m thinking about joining the Marines”!

Burton Lee Roberts Army
An “extra” young “18” year old Burton Lee

Burton Lee Roberts “ran away” from home when his was sixteen.  It was 1935.  He was in the Army now!

 

 

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Burton Lee Roberts and The Ghost of Christmas Past

“Are you the Spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold to me?” asked Scrooge.

“I am!”

The voice was soft and gentle. Singularly low, as if, instead of being so close beside him, it were at a distance.

“Who and what are you?” Scrooge demanded.

“I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.”

“Long Past?” inquired Scrooge; observant of its dwarfish stature.

“No. Your past.”

Perhaps Scrooge could not have told anybody why, if anybody could have asked him; but he had a special desire to see the Spirit in his cap; and begged him to be covered.

“What!” exclaimed the Ghost, “would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give? Is it not enough that you are one of those whose passions made this cap, and force me through whole trains of years to wear it low upon my brow?”

Scrooge reverently disclaimed all intention to offend or any knowledge of having willfully “bonneted” the Spirit at any period of his life. He then made bold to inquire what business brought him there.

“Your welfare!” said the Ghost.

Scrooge expressed himself much obliged, but could not help thinking that a night of unbroken rest would have been more conducive to that end. The Spirit must have heard him thinking, for it said immediately:

“Your reclamation, then. Take heed!”

It put out its strong hand as it spoke, and clasped him gently by the arm.

“Rise! and walk with me!”

(Quote from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)

 

Skecth from The Project Gutenberg EBook of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
Skecth from The Project Gutenberg EBook of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Some people seek to extinguish the light of their past, when in fact, that light is the beginning of our reclamation.  Let us rise and walk.  Let us raise our past as a means to enter our future.

Photo from early 1960s Christmas card
Photo from early 1960s Christmas card

Everything about my dad’s behavior suggested he loved Christmas.  He became as giddy as a school child, something I think he missed growing up.  His involvement and participation in family activities virtually went “through the roof” at Christmas.  He secured the tree and set it up.  It was Mom’s and our job to decorate it.  He collaborated

Dad oversees the excitement.
Dad oversees the excitement.

with Mom to buy the gifts and selected many all on his own.  He really knew what a little boy wanted!  I think my mother did most of the wrapping but I wouldn’t be surprised if Dad helped.  He posed for Christmas picture postcards one year (See above).  He bought the long play Christmas albums that filled our house with seasonal cheer.  He was the last one to bed on the eve and the first one up on The Day.  Long before light he made sure no one else could sleep by pounding up and down the hall on those old wooden floors in our seventy-year-old pier-and-beam house.  One year he was so excited about an unknown

The Christmas watch stand
The Christmas watch stand

gift from our neighbor Colonel Garrison that he instituted, for the one and only time mind you, an “open one gift on Christmas Eve” policy.  His was a gold pocket watch stand.  It was meant to hold an old Elgin railroad watch he bought from me for $3.00 back in the 4th grade!  (That’s another story for another day.)  The watch and stand set on my desk for many years and now occupies the top of a foldout desk positioned behind my work area.  With the exception of one year, Christmas was my favorite time to be alive and belong to the Bob Roberts’ household.

My dad had ghosts from his Christmases past.  My older brother David observes the strain in his memoirs, “…I know that Dad and Grandpa didn’t get along very well and I never saw Dad show any affection toward Nanny…” [1][i](That’s Dad’s mother, our grandmother).  David makes this statement even though most of people thought of Dad as a “hugger”.  There was clearly some “history” in those relationships.

I was the middle child and the second child of the same sex in our little family.  I had all the symptoms.  I was a pest and had an insatiable curiosity (nothing to do with being a middle child).  I constantly peppered Dad with questions.  On the very rare occasion he allowed me to peak into his pain, it was hard for me to understand.  I remember pestering him one day about his dad.  I had spent so little time with Papoo and he was so reserved, I knew almost nothing more than what I observed.  So, I kept peppering Daddy, “What was your dad like?”   “What was Papoo like?”   Finally frustrated, he blurted out, “He was a mean, old, bitter, blankety blank!”  But he didn’t say blankety blank!  I backed off that day and later thought as I crawled toward adulthood, how much those very words could be used to describe Dad.  He had become what he perceived his father to be.  We both needed some understanding, some healing.

Dad’s “ghosts” from his past chased him into his future – and “haunted” him.  He had “demons” he allowed to control him.  He had an addictive personality.  He was angry and often depressed.  He was a binge alcoholic.  Once he started drinking he couldn’t stop.  He was one of those who had to stay completely away from alcohol.  If he chose to drink, it would eventually lead to the loss of a job and income for his family.  He joined Alcoholics Anonymous for a while and had modest success.  But the “ghosts” of his past drove him to the darkness rather than the light.  One year it would be on Christmas.  No season was immune from the “ghosts”.

Unlike his parents, Dad and Mom were not religious.  I’ve often joked that the only time I heard God mentioned in our home growing up was when it had a “damn” attached to it.  They allowed us to go to church but I can’t remember seeing them in a church service more than once or twice.  Dad had little time for religion or religious people.  Yet he was instrumental in my own salvation.  Here’s how.  (1) Dad taught me to respect and respond to authority.  He was a strict disciplinarian.  (2) I didn’t want to become like my dad.  So, when the Supreme Authority of the universe invited me into His grace through Jesus Christ, I responded in the affirmative.  Dad had taught me to respect and respond to authority.  Six years later I entered the ministry.  I eventually developed into a very religious person and I don’t mean this in a good way.

One week while attending a Christian conference the Lord helped me understand the principle and the power of a negative focus.  I had been so focused on not becoming like Dad that I became “just like” him.  Oh, I didn’t smoke, drink or cuss.  I didn’t have all of the same addictions.  But, I was proud, boastful, opinionated, angry, controlling and at times controlled by my own “ghosts”.  I had become like my dad.  I needed to be forgiven and to forgive.  And to top off the week, God impressed me to go home to Dad; not to confront him about the failures of his past but to ask his forgiveness! Honestly, I had already forgiven him for any real or imagined mistreatment in my past.  It was time for me to ask his forgiveness.  Here’s why.  For many years, through my relationship with Jesus, I had the power to respond correctly to my dad and any perceived wrongs.  I had not availed myself of His strength.  I too was angry and bitter.  I needed Dad to forgive me for my wrong responses.  So I made a trip home to see him.  It would be our third and final significant spiritual conversation.  He forgave me.

A few years before Dad’s death I learned something I believe eased some of his pain.  I’ve written about it previously.  I learned Dad’s grandmother had been convicted of participating in the murder of his grandfather.  Dad’s dad never really knew his father and was raised as an orphan.  Maybe this knowledge helped him understand Gus Roberts, his dad, a little better.  Maybe he knew that even though it did’nt excuse his dad’s misdeeds, it did help us to potentially understand them.  Maybe.

For the last eight years of Dad’s life, he was as “sober as a judge”.  In fact, he was a judge!  I think Dad enjoyed those years and I know Mom did.  He was eventually named Citizen of the Year in Krum, Texas and buried with honors in 1988.

Rest in Peace Dad.  Your story will be told.

I share this because I can only share Dad’s story from my perspective.  I need the reader to understand what this perspective is.  I have the historical record.  I have my memories.  I have the relationship we shared.  I don’t have the final say.  I’m not the final judge.  I’m someone who believes in bringing the past into the light to propel us into a better future.  And dear grandchildren, never forget, I am the “teller of tales”.

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“What!” exclaimed the Ghost, “would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give? Is it not enough that you are one of those whose passions made this cap, and force me through whole train of years to wear it low upon my brow?”

Scrooge reverently disclaimed all intention to offend or any knowledge of having willfully “bonneted” the Spirit at any period of his life. He then made bold to inquire what business brought him there.

“Your welfare!” said the Ghost.

(Charles Dickens from A Christmas Carol)

 

[i] My Journey:  The Autobiography and Family History of David L. Roberts by David Lee Roberts.  January 2015.

Merry Christmas to my gracious readers of this simple blog.  I’m grateful and thankful for you!