Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Clara and Frank

Learning about my father’s family was a huge stride in trying to understand him.  And I did have a big need to understand him. 

Grandma’s stories about Dad’s childhood gave me insight into his early struggles in life.  Spending as much time as I did with my aunts and uncles told me even more about the family I was born into.  But something was missing.

I’d never seen my grandfather, to my recollection.
What role did Dad’s father play in making him the man he was?  The man who had to drink, who couldn’t sleep more than a couple of hours at a time, who worked hard to help take care of his family.  A man who so wanted to have a normal life, a home for his wife and children, while at the same time ruining the very life he wanted. 

There was no way when I was a child that I could have put together a kind of character profile or synopsis of the life of my paternal grandparents.  It remained a mystery to me.  When my grandfather Frank showed up on Sander Street when I was 12 years old, watching him through the living room window only added more to the mystery. 

I had heard some, but not enough.  Now there he was standing on my sidewalk.  Why could he not come in our house?  Why was Grandma hiding with me behind the window?  Why was my father so nervous, and why did he come in and literally beg Grandma to come out and see her long-ago husband? 

Grandma wouldn’t go out of course.  “I told you, Raymond, I never wanted to see him again.” 

If she was angry at Dad for allowing the man to come to our house, she didn’t act it.  I think she rather enjoyed seeing him from a distance, though she did not want him to see her.  Was this some kind of closure for her? 

I would have given anything to break loose of Grandma’s hand on my arm, to run out the door and down the long wooden porch to stand up close to the man who was my grandfather.  I would have watched and listed to the interaction between my own father and his father.  I wanted to know how they felt about each other, if they loved each other.  He'd come to see us, hadn't he?  Did that mean he cared?  Did this stranger who was my grandfather care about me, his first grandchild?  And my sisters and cousins?  He wasn’t allowed to see us, so how could I know.

I was old enough to understand this was a form of punishment for my grandfather.  His family felt he didn't deserve a regular visit.  He’d failed in the worst way.  Once again it was my father who had the burden of dealing with the situation.  Just like he’d had to throw his father out of the house so many years ago, now he had to deal with his return.  He had to protect his family from his own father again.  It was easy to see my father was not happy in this role.  

That was the first and last time I saw my grandfather Frank.  I’m not sure if it was the last time for my father and Uncle Norb, who had also stood on the sidewalk that night with his father.  I just know Frank Bernard Dean died shortly after that night.  I’m positive it was the last time Grandma saw him.  She did not go to the funeral, nor did either of her daughters.  My mother and father, and Uncle Norb and Aunt Vera all went.  I was certainly not allowed to attend, though I pleaded with Mom and Dad to let me.  It was Grandma who decided my fate, however.  I believe Dad would have taken me with them had Grandma let him.  She came and watched me, my sisters, and cousins, the day of the funeral. 

From that time on, at various times my curiosity resurfaced and then lay dormant for long stretches of time.  I never anticipated I would find anything more about my grandfather.  I never intended to really.  It just happened. 

I picked at shreds of information over the last few years and then just let it be for a while.  I finally gave up diligently seeking and dabbled with research off and on.  Then it took on a life of its own.  

Revelations appeared when least expected.  I began feeling like I was meant to discover the story, find the answers to the long-held questions.

In the process, I discovered my family history, my ancestors, and then slowly the pieces all came together to knit a story. 

I’d already been writing, small pieces here and there, a chapter for a nonfiction book, an online guest blog, so I knew I had to write this family story.  

Frank & Clara                                            

A year before my paternal grandparents, Frank Dean and Clara Wehrle, were married, Frank Bernard Dean  joined the ranks of the Ohio Soldiers, fighting World War One, serving as a Private in the 10th Company Pensacola Coast Artillery Corps at Fort Barrancas, Florida.

        Ohio Military Men, 1917-18  Frank B. Dean

Frank B. Dean
Serial Number:
1214 Freeman Ave., Cincinnati, O.
Enlistment Division:
Regular Army
Enlistment Location:
Fort Thomas, Ky.
Enlistment Date:
30 Apr 1918
Birth Place:
Cincinnati, O.
Birth Date / Age:
20 4/12 Years
Assigns Comment:
10 Co Pensacola Coast Artillery Corps Fort Barrancas Fla to 12 July 1918; Battery E 49 Artillery Coast Artillery Corps to Discharge Private American Expeditionary Forces 5 Oct 1918 to 8 March 1919. Honorable discharge 22 March 1919.
Volume #:

Frank was awarded an honorable discharge on March 22, 1919, and one month later, on May 7, 1919, he married my grandmother, Clara Wehrle. 

Frank’s address at the time of his marriage was 314 Main Avenue, Elmwood Place. 

Clara Wehrle’s address was 1216 Poplar Street, Cincinnati, in Over-the-Rhine.  The Williams Cincinnati Directory in 1919 lists Joseph Wehrle, Clara’s father, a “laborer,” living at the same address on Poplar Street.  Clara was living at home with her family when she married my Grandfather Frank. 

Clara Wehrle, Probably as a Bride in 1919

The above photo, from my Aunt Dot’s collection, was likely taken for a special occasion.  The white dress shoes, or boots, and white embellished dress tell me this was probably one of my Grandma’s photos taken the day of her wedding to Frank.  I would imagine, knowing my grandmother like I did, that any pictures including my grandfather would have been either destroyed or given back to him after he left.

Frank was 21 years of age on December 23rd, 1918.  His occupation then was woodworker. 

Clara, age 23, was working as a "Box Maker," or "Marker."  The handwriting is not clear, nor is the document.  For the actual book, the record will be enlarged to full page size, which is easier to read.

This document was the missing link to finding my grandfather online.  Frank's parents are recorded as John Dean and Nellie Cramer.  With that information, I was able to find records for both of them, which led to records for their parents, meaning Frank's grandparents, both paternal and maternal.  

I'd already discovered Grandma Clara's parents and grandparents.

Chapter 5 will be "The Deans and the Cramers," and Chapter 6," The Wehrles."

Stay tuned also for an updated Table of Contents.  We're getting close to finishing.


  1. I really like your narration of the scene from behind the window pane. I wish I had something like that to draw upon for the memoir I am writing. I think you are doing yours in the right order because you had some common experiences with your parents and grandparents.

    Since mine is more of an exploration working down two generations from my husband's great grandfather to his father, trying to find the common threads woven into the fabric of the family, my approach has to be different. But you have done some very fine work here!

  2. Thank you, Debra. That means a lot, coming from you, since I admired your work so much. Writing this is a lot harder than I anticipated, and I'm never sure I'm doing it the best way. Thanks again.