International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Life and Living
fathers dad was a handsome man named Harry. As a traveling
salesman for Colliers Publishing Company, he got around to most
every town in the Midwest.
After his wife died
when dad was six years old, Harry hardly ever took time to come home.
So, his son, Raymond, was left to raise himself. Actually, I am not
sure if Harry kept a home which means his son, my father, was out on
Beginning in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he was born, Dad eventually
learned that freight trains provided a home on wheels, and free transportation
to just about anywhere. Empty box cars were easy to jump onto even for
a kid. His fellow passengers were some older guys who would let him
find a corner to stretch out and enjoy the ride.
How a young, twelve-year-old kid could survive this life-style is a
mystery to this day. Having learned to relate to anyone regardless of
who they were, Dad could make friends wherever he went for the rest
of his life. I have never heard him once complain about hardship during
those years he spent riding the rails. Instead he would tell of the
wonders of all the cities he visited from coast to coast.
Dads first-hand understanding of geography became a lifelong fascination.
In later years, he would sit us down in front of his huge collection
of maps to share his passion for that subject.
But while my father was out there as a youngster roaming around, Harry
was also doing his thing. Somehow, his gracious Southern accent, good
looks and gentlemanly manner appealed to the ladies as he moved about
I asked Dad what his father did for a living. He answered, "Well,
son, your grandpa was a salesman who just went from titty to titty."
Some of Harrys stopovers became "regulars." As a result,
my father ended up with half brothers and half sisters who had different
mothers but the same father. Im not surprised that my parents
never went into details when we were introduced to various members of
this extended family.
At least once a year we would make the rounds to uncles and aunts who
all bore a resemblance to Harry. Most of this branch of Harrys
progeny lived in central Indiana. I cant remember meeting the
various mothers of these people, but it is possible that our visits
included some of Harrys close "friends."
Eventually, Harrys itinerary would include our home in Chicago
where he would put up for a few weeks at a time. He was always very
well-dressed and wore a clean white shirt everyday. This meant that
my mother spent long hours ironing his shirts as she muttered complaints
about Harry being such a dandy.
My impressions of Grandpa Harry was that he was a very cultured man
compared to my other grandpa, Oscar Cronquist, who got kicked out of
Sweden for being a two fisted bounder.
The two of them sharing our little house with five children and an endless
number of guests often caused long backups in front of our sole bathroom,
especially when Harry was grooming for the day.
When Grandma Mathilda Cronquist spent Thursday and Sunday afternoons
with us on her days off, the mix of interactions became even more exciting.
Having divorced Oscar, she treated him with cold disgust. However, Harrys
warm charms were too much for her to resist. They often spent long hours
in the back seat holding hands in our family car as dad drove them on
the traditional Sunday drives around the countryside.
Meanwhile, back home Oscar would be fuming about Harry courting his
former wife. He was at an extreme disadvantage and quite helpless to
match the competition from Harry.
Sitting at the knee of Grandpa Ausherman was a spellbinding experience.
His slow Southern accent voiced tales of many places I had never seen.
I often wondered where he would find places to stay in his travels.
Was it lonely?
Later, it became obvious that a man with his looks and charm would be
a great comfort to lonely ladies along the way.
There is a newspaper clipping showing Harrys mother who was blind.
The story goes on to say that she appreciated her son, Harry, reading
the Bible to her everyday. She also spoke to the reporter about her
father, a Methodist minister, who officiated at Abraham Lincolns
funeral. She remembers the funeral train she saw as a little girl.
Harry died in a tragic car crash in Indianapolis, which also killed
the lady with him in the back seat, undoubtedly holding hands.
© Charles Ausherman September 2009
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