Why write?

For years, in all sorts of conversations, all sorts of people told me I should write my life story in a book. Perhaps they were suggesting this because a book silently sits on a shelf and gathers dust. It is much easier to ignore than a living, breathing, speaking, shameless agitator. I have read a few memoirs, many biographies, and several autobiographies. Not all of them were by famous people. Several of them became famous after their memoirs became bestsellers. I don’t hold any illusions of grandeur on that account. I’m not from the right demographic. I was born at the peak of the baby boom, in a lily white suburb in middle America to parents who met in law school, the youngest of four children: two girls, two boys, evenly spaced, two years apart each, boy, girl, girl, boy.

My Great Grandma Ingham in her parlor. Cranford Williams Ingham’s mother.

My folks came from very different backgrounds. My mom grew up in a small town in Wisconsin until she was about eight, when they moved to Edina, the new, rich suburb of Minneapolis. They had live-in maids and nannies all through the Great Depression. Her father, my first namesake, Cranford Williams Ingham, was an executive with State Farm Insurance. Cran considered himself to be a very proper man. He smoked a pipe, was Episcopalian; to say he was thrifty would be a major understatement. He couldn’t bear to watch or listen to children eat, so he made my mom and her younger brother, my uncle Pete (Cranford Arthur Ingham) stay in the kitchen with the help to eat. They received quite an education on the ways of the world from the help. By the time I was born in June of 1955, Cran had married his third wife, Wathena Meyers Ingham, who we all called “Aunt Wathena”. She had been one of my dad’s legal secretary’s and my folks set her up on a blind date with grandpa, and they got married within the year, and it lasted until they died, he in 1977, she a couple of decades later. Aunt Wathena became my godmother at my infant baptism in the Episcopal Church.

Cran divorced my grandma, Jane Edith LeMay Ingham. She suffered depression and was alcoholic. Of course, Cran was also alcoholic, but he was higher functioning. Jane’s mother was a nasty woman who destroyed both of her daughter’s marriages and lives by never accepting their husbands and always saying terrible things about them and setting up impossible situations, etc. It was so bad that before my older brother was born, my mom told our great- grandmother that we would never know that she was related to us. She had ruined her daughters’ lives and damaged her grandchildren’s lives. She was not going to have a shot at another generation. My mom was good to her word. As it turned out, we did meet her once without knowing who she was. We did not find out that we had a living great-grandmother until we went to her funeral in Menomenie, WI, in 1969. It turns out, she had outlived both of her daughters, so it fell to my mom to make the arrangements. We stopped by the funeral home on our way out to Ohio to visit my dad’s mom. The place was empty for the visitation. I wandered into another room. It was set up with an old man half sitting up in an open casket for a viewing. That was the first time I saw a corpse. I hung out alone there with him until it was time to go. It was more comfortable than with my family and the closed casket in the next room.

We proceeded from there to Racine, WI, to pick up my dad’s older sister, Aunt Betty Lund. We continued on to Youngstown, Ohio, to visit my dad’s mother, Mae Wise Coulter, in a convalescent home. She would come home again, once after that to her house that she shared with her longtime boarder and housemate, Aunt Phoebe. Mae was Holiness Methodist, but not fanatical about it. She was a practical woman. Her husband, Joseph “Freeman” Coulter, was an atheist, or as they called them back then a “free thinker”. No one called him by his name. they called him Free or Freeman. He was an auto mechanic. He loved his work. He liked his drink. He worked hard. He made decent money all during the Depression. He managed the business and brought the profit home for Mae to manage. Mae gardened and had a little Upjohn business on the side as well. During the Depression, Mae was always sending one or another of the four children out the door with meals and sacks of produce, sometimes with envelopes of cash included to various neighbors who had fallen on hard times. At any given time, they were supporting two or three other families. They were wearing threadbare clothes and going with very little to do it. Free was happy working. As long as dinner was on the table; his work uniform was laundered; his lunches were packed and he had a bit for the pub on Friday night, he was happy as a clam. Times were tough on everyone. From the stories my dad, his sisters and brother told, I think the Great Depression was the happiest times there were in America! And they seemed to be much happier for those who were sharing than for those who were not.

The stories families tell shape the lives of the people raised in those families. Some of the stories are true.

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