Thursday, September 6, 2012

Raymond, Part 1: Everybody Loved Him.

Raymond Clarence Dean
Born 24 Feb 1920, Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio

I was told that the first time I laid eyes on my father, I yelled to high heaven.  Here was a stranger, a man trying to hold me, and I kicked and thrashed for all I was worth.

I then heard it didn’t take long for me to not only warm up to my father but that I absolutely fell in love with him.   

The family story goes that by the time my father returned from war, almost a year after my birth, I was completely spoiled beyond all hope by his family.  I was the first grandchild and the first niece to two aunts and two uncles. I spent at least half my time since birth at my Grandma Dean’s second-floor apartment on Clifton Avenue, next door to the Prosit CafĂ©. 

Private Raymond C. Dean
Name:Raymond C Dean
Birth Year:1920
Race:White, citizen (White)
Nativity State or Country:Ohio
State of Residence:Ohio
Enlistment Date:10 Aug 1942
Enlistment State:Ohio
Enlistment City:Cincinnati
Branch:Branch Immaterial - Warrant Officers, USA
Branch Code:Branch Immaterial - Warrant Officers, USA
Grade Code:Private
Term of Enlistment:Enlistment for the duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months, subject to the discretion of the President or otherwise according to law
Component:Selectees (Enlisted Men)
Source:Civil Life
Education:Grammar school
Civil Occupation:Semiskilled occupations in mechanical treatment of metals (rolling, stamping, forging, pressing, etc.), n.e.c.
Marital Status:Married

My mother, during this time, while my father was serving in the army, was taking care of her mother, my grandmother Cecile Leeds Jones, who was dying of breast cancer at her home in Morrow, Ohio.  My grandmother died in September 1943, just days short of my first birthday.  Mom told me that my grandmother loved me more than I’d ever know, and having a baby granddaughter was a true blessing in the midst of her terrible suffering with a disease that wasn’t easily handled in the 1940s. 

Me, BettyAnn Cecile Dean, born September 22, 1942,
 in Dayton, Kentucky,
while Mom was visiting with  relatives.
I’d been cared for almost exclusively by women before I met my father.  My mother, Grandma Dean, and my two Dean aunts who were still at home.  After a few years, though, I became my Dad’s side-kick.  By the time I was six, I’d already gained two younger sisters, and Mom was okay with letting me hang out with Dad.  I was a curious child and easily got into trouble constantly searching for adventure. 

I had to be kept busy.  At Grandma Dean’s this wasn’t a problem.  Someone was always teaching me new things.  Grandma taught me words and how to put them together, how to spell.  She told me stories.  I lived for her stories.  My aunts, Dorothy and Clara, taught me how to sing and dance, how to entertain suitors who came calling.

Mom, with her hands tied up with a four-year-old and a new baby, became frustrated with my need for attention.  This would change within a few short years as I became old enough to help take care of the babies and my mother herself when she suffered what were called “nervous breakdowns.” 

But in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, I was “Little Ray,” the name my father’s friends gave me, because I looked so much like him.  I was proud when they called me that, and I was proud I looked like my father, because I thought he was the most handsome man alive.

BettyAnn, about age eight

Among all the things I was curious about, my father was toward the top of the list.  Grandma's stories of  my Dad's entire life history intrigued me.  The story that most kept my attention was about my father having to throw his father, my Grandfather Dean, out of the house because he was drunk and hit Grandma.  I grew up thinking about that story and asking Grandma to tell it to me again and again.  I waned to understand.

That story and the one where my Dad went to work on the streets selling newspapers and shining shoes during the depression to help take care of his family played over and over in my mind, where I gave the characters life and watched them move through constructed scenes.  When the nuns in Catholic school in first and second grade told Dad I "daydreamed" a lot, they were right.  I daydreamed Grandma's stories.

I knew my father drank.  Beer mostly.  Grandma explained that my grandfather was "a drunk."  That's how she put it.  She said that's why my Dad had to throw him out.  Because he was mean when he drank.  She said my father started drinking in the saloons when he began working on the streets as a teenager because the grown men inside the bars would invite my father in and buy him a few beers.

Grandma made it clear to me that my father was "a good man."  Not like his father.  I can't remember my grandmother ever losing her temper with Dad.  Even when he drank too much, Grandma never said a word. Dad's younger siblings loved him; that was easy to see.  "He protected them," Grandma said, when they were younger.

He did a lot of fighting to protect his brother, my Uncle Norbert, who just could not help starting fights with bigger and meaner guys.  When Uncle Norb drank, he got mean like his father.  He liked to say Ray had his back, meaning my father, who was bigger and a better fighter.  All of the Dean boys, just like their father, learned to box in the ring and barehanded on the streets.

When Dad drank at the family parties, he told jokes and teased.  And he was really embarrassing.  But neither Grandma nor his two sisters got angry.  Like Grandma, they loved him.  It was like they merely tolerated his behavior and wore sad smiles.  He was the big brother who always tried to take care of them and protect them.

My Aunt "Dot" (Dorothy) talked to me about my father when I stayed with her and Uncle Bill .  Aunt Dot always had a soft spot for my father.  She consoled me so many times because of the life my father's drinking imposed on my mother and us kids.  She taught me so many things that helped me get through some really hard years.  She gave me some coping skills I wouldn't have otherwise had.

I told Aunt Dot when Grandma told me how my father had gotten sick when he was a boy, with first rheumatic fever and then subsequent Chorea's disease, a neurological condition that causes muscle twitching and odd movements.  (Chorea's disease was aptly called "St. Vitus' Dance" by the Catholics because of the dancing-like legs of the patient that reminded them of the patron saint of dance.)  My aunt remembered that, and both of us felt sorry for my father.  It was just like he was born into the world for hardship.

At that early age, knowing those stories, my father was a hero to me.  He was bigger and more exciting than any movie star.  Combined with sadness for him having been so sick as a boy with a condition that left him impaired in many ways, I was devoted to him.  I never repeated Grandma's stories to him because something about my father let me know he didn't like to talk about the past.  Not about his father, his sickness, the war, the depression.  None of those things.

I just loved being with him and the exciting life he lived away from our home.

The saloons and the back-room poker games, where I'd stack his quarters, dimes, and nickels, and he'd show me his hand and explain the art of the game and how to bluff.  And how the neighborhood men and close friends and drinking buddies of Dad's sat at the round wood table and welcomed me being there and treated me respectfully because they loved and respected my father.

The walks downtown and back, stopping in stores and window shopping, helping him choose gifts for my mother, drinking Coca-Colas from soda counters.

Going to work with him and watching his serious side, his total concentration on the work at hand, his pride for a job well done.

Going to the Reds' games at Crosley Field that Dad lived for, especially the night games.  How he explained the game to me, and we ate hot dogs and popcorn and walked home in the dark.

 And then, in just a few years, I would become confused as I watched my father start to lose the star quality I'd attached to him.

It's a hard thing for a little girl to want to hang on to the life she's known and the love she's felt, knowing she's going to have to find her own way in a different kind of world.  It's hard to grow up when you're ten years old.


  1. This is a difficult type of life story to tell, but so much more necessary to tell than hide away. I've pondered those same childhood feelings as I work on recounting my husband's family experience, too. I can relate to what you are expressing--and thank you for saying it!

  2. Thanks, Jacqi. For a long time I wrote just the family history facts and included the documentation. But I really wanted to tell the stories, the good ones and the bad. Because that's what heals, and that's what will impact our children and grandchildren. It was mostly to tell the next generation. And I've moved away from any blame years ago. I was blessed to grow up as well as I did.