Thursday, April 23, 2009

Just the facts, ma'am

When my grandparents had been married a few years, Grandma was cleaning out a hutch cabinet and sort of wedged into the corner was a photo of an unknown individual. On the back was written something about this being "my father" and the man's surname was Davis, all in my grandfather's handwriting. When confronted with the photo, Grandpa Lee apparently became angry and ripped up the photo, leaving my grandmother confused about who he really was.

Over the course of their married years, he would apparently tell a few pieces of his early life story. He said he was from Asheville, North Carolina and that his surname had originally been McNeill, not Davis. He said he lied about his age to join the Navy where he served as a pharmacist's mate. He always said he was born in 1915. During his time in the Navy, he had been sending money home to save for medical school. And that when we came home he found there was no money. This occurred sometime during the Depression. And as we know from today's lousy economy, funds are tight and that it was even worse then. His father was named Charlie and had a temper, there was a falling out and he left home, never to be seen again by his McNeill family. He left the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains and went west to California, apparently arriving with only 45 cents in his pocket.

Lee died an early death likely of a heart attack in 1971. In the 1980s, my grandma began to search for his family. She wrote a letter to the Asheville newspaper where they published a note in their human interest area. It may have even been under a specific genealogical-related column. She got a few responses from a couple of people who recognized the few names she had been able to provide. One response proved to be the most useful. The respondant gave her the name of Lee's cousin who was a minister living in Hickory.

The cousin told a story of how Uncle Charlie (Lee's father) was a stern man and had a temper. While on a Navy furlough, Lee had a terrible disagreement with his father, snuck out a window and was gone. They never knew what happened to Lee and whatever searching they did was to no avail. I guess he was always the unspoken question that nobody ever wanted to bring up.

So what are the facts versus the fiction of this family saga? Stay tuned.

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