Sunday, February 23, 2014

Grandma, Part II

Rosie Arreda (Dobyns) DePrato, c1939

Just shortly after her eighth birthday, Arreda was left motherless. Certainly her birthday must have been a somber one, sharing a bedroom with her three older siblings while her mother lie dying in the adjacent room. Like most children of her era, she had gone through her share of childhood diseases. As a little girl, she contracted scarlet fever and ran a temperature so high her hair fell out. Her sister Eunice suffered from polio as a child, and as a consequence suffered from severe muscle wasting in her torso, arms and face; commenting as an old woman how glad she was she finally looked like everyone else her age. There was certainly sadness in this family.

But there were good times too. Eunice remembered the last Christmas before her mother died. There were no Christmas decorations, but there were presents waiting for the children on the dining room table on Christmas morning. The girls all got baby dolls made even more special by their mother's sewing talents. They all had lace-trimmed dresses and capes with lace-trimmed blankets. Brother Thomas got a BB gun, which of course is the dream of every young boy. 

Although Volney proved to be a terrible husband and a stern disciplinarian, he was not always a terrible father. He bought all the family's monthly supplies from the coal mine's company store, and on pay day he would bring the children candy and soda pop. If the weather were nice, they would all sit on the back porch and have a picnic. The children enjoyed taking their father's dinner pail to him and took great joy in stopping at the corner saloon to buy his root beer to accompany his meal. They enjoyed singing while he played his violin. And Eunice - the tomboy - especially loved playing ball and partaking of sports with her father.

It would be pure conjecture at this point to know what exactly transpired after mother Gracie Mae (Hanks) Dobyn's death in 1923. The oldest child, Belle, was only thirteen years old. Arreda, the youngest, was eight. Father Volney Dobyns was working in the coal mines every day, and he could not care for four children. Many relatives and acquaintances tried to convince him to send them to an orphanage, but they were instead taken in by their grandparents, John Price and Isabelle (Jones) Hanks, to grow up together. When Gracie Mae's body was returned to White Plains, Kentucky, for burial, so were her children returned to live with her parents. 

Whether Volney agreed to this arrangement happily and welcomed the freedom that came with it, or did so with a heavy heart, it is impossible to say. But he maintained little to no contact with his daughters. In 1930, forty-seven-year-old Volney impregnated a seventeen-year-old Ruby Faye Acuff in Arkansas. He had learned the consequences from his first encounter with an unplanned pregnancy with Gracie, and this time he did not marry the mother of his child. A son, Volney Faye "Buster" Dobyns, was born in 1931, and it is likely that his children in Kentucky never knew they had a half-brother. Although Volney spent the remainder of his life working in the coal mines of southern Illinois, he did maintain contact with Ruby in Arkansas, and he was likely aware that his namesake son with the handsome good looks and jet-black hair of his father died as a prisoner of war in Korea in 1950. Volney never married again, and he died in 1961. Although his daughters were notified of his death, none of them attended his funeral. He was ironically buried next to his wife, Gracie Mae (Hanks) Dobyns, in Concord Cemetery in White Plains, Kentucky. The wife he reluctantly married now lies at his side for all eternity.

When the four Dobyns grandchildren moved into the Hanks household in White Plains, Kentucky, they moved into a home just recently vacated by the youngest Hanks son who was just nine years older than Belle. Whereas religion played no role in their early upbringing in southern Illinois, their grandmother Isabelle was very religious and a devout Baptist. She was active in her Eastern Star lodge and often asked Eunice and Arreda to entertain her lodge sisters with their singing. Their grandfather, J.P., was in his earlier years a bit of a local politician, but at the time he took over raising his grandchildren, he was just "a poor farmer."

John Price Hanks (1862-1949) and Isabelle (Jones) Hanks (1864-1949)

The children had all settled in life on the farm with their grandparents, when yet another tragedy befell their young lives. While they were teenagers, their home burned to the ground. The Hanks lived in a modest farm home, large enough to accommodate a family of eight children at the turn of the century. To listen to granddaughter Belle describe it, it was a mansion. It may have not been quite that grandiose, but it was a nice fourteen-room home with a fireplace in most every room. While Eunice was out milking cows in the barn, she heard her grandmother shout "Fire!" Nobody was injured, but the fire, which started in the upper floors where Eunice and Arreda slept, destroyed the house entirely. Neighbors volunteered to pull some of the furnishings from the lower floor before the house was engulfed in flames. The children lost everything. One wonders if the dolls they received from their mother on their last Christmas were amongst their lost belongings. Nothing tangible remained of their parents in their lives. Children and grandparents moved next door into Uncle Charlie Hanks's home until a small four room bungalow was built in place of the destroyed farm house. The unfinished two rooms upstairs served as two bedrooms for the remaining grandchildren at home: one for Eunice and Arreda, and one for Thomas.

The J.P. Hanks home in White Plains, Kentucky, around 1916. The couple on the porch to the left is Volney John Dobyns holding his daughter, Arreda. His wife, Gracie Mae, is to his right. Daughters Eunice and Clara Belle are directly in front of them.

The children all attended White Plains High School in White Plains, Kentucky. The eldest Dobyns child, Belle, was the first to leave home. As described previously, there was word of good work to be had up in the factories in Mishawaka, Indiana. The Depression was in its early years, and having a secure job meant a great deal. A move northward in search of work was not a petty decision to make. Nearly 400 miles away, there was no running back home easily if things did not work out, or if you became homesick. Belle came to Mishawaka and secured work at the Mishawaka Rubber and Woolen Manufacturing Company, locally known as Ball-Band, in 1929. She would send a portion of her pay back home to ensure that her sisters, Eunice and Arreda, finished high school. When Eunice graduated in 1932, recently-married Belle came down to Kentucky to visit and brought her sister back to Mishawaka with her, where she too went to work for Ball-Band. When Arreda graduated high school in 1934, she followed, and gained employment in the same factory.

Although their brother, Thomas Gilbert Dobyns, also went to Mishawaka for short while in the early 1930s, he moved to Taylorville, Illinois, where he too became a coal miner like his father. He reunited with his father Volney who lived nearby, and they maintained civil contact. Thomas raised a family of nine children in Taylorville, where he died in 1992. The Dobyns sisters were fond of their brother, but they did not have the bond with him that they had with each other. And as for their father, in 1947 Arreda said "that even to this day she knew nothing about her father and would not know him if she met him on the street as he had never returned to see the family or find out what had become of them." There was no love lost there.

Clockwise from left: Rosie Arreda (Dobyns) DePrato, Clara Belle (Dobyns) Clark,
Eunice Adele (Dobyns) Barnard and Thomas Gilbert Dobyns, 1960s.

Belle took after her father in her love for fine things, and she was labeled the "prissy" sister. She unfortunately replicated her mother's role in marriage, entering into an unhappy marriage with a divorced man in 1931 who openly cheated on her throughout their marriage. He left her a widow in her fifties, after which she never remarried. Eunice took after her father in her love of sports and her love for life, and perhaps her drawn appearance left from childhood polio allowed her to invest more time and energy into her boisterous personality than into maintaining her beauty. She did not marry until she was in her thirties, and when she did it was to a man who was a hopeless alcoholic. Unlike her mother, she chose not to stay in a relationship in which she gained little happiness, and she divorced him. She was nearly fifty when she married the love of her life, Glenn Barnard, in 1962. Arreda, my grandmother, met and married Raymond Ezio DePrato as has been discussed previously, in 1939.

Raymond and Arreda (Dobyns) DePrato, 1939

Arreda's personality was more like the mother she lost at such a young age, although unlike her mother she was blessed with a husband that adored her. And although she worked for a short time at Ball-Band after her marriage, and briefly at Robertson's Department Store in South Bend, her life revolved around being a wife, and hopefully a mother. As her sister Eunice said, "Arreda inherited [our mother's] aptitude for cooking, house keeping and sewing, all of which she could do with expertise." The grandmother I remembered was loving and affectionate, but in 1947 a social worker described her as having "a quiet manner and seemed a little serious although [it was] felt that she could be jolly with her friends." The same social worker made exceptional notice that "she never saw Mr. DePrato but what she was neatly dressed and well-groomed even though she did not know the worker was coming. She was a good housekeeper and enjoyed all the duties that went with caring for a home and family. She did practically all of her own sewing. She had made slip covers, drapes and curtains for the house which were almost professional in appearance." When the social worker questioned many friends of the family at the same time, everyone of them commented that she was "an exceptionally good housekeeper." Yes, Arreda was very much like her mother.

None of the sisters could have children. And this was the way it was always worded to me. It was never that they chose not to, or just did not have any, but they could not have any. There was never a satisfactory reason given for this, and it was certainly a question I felt completely ill at ease to ask, although I always questioned it in my head. I am not sure to this day if anyone knows the answer. Perhaps it was genetic. Or maybe it was just bad timing. After all, Belle was married to man whom I would suspect was not eager to have children with her, and Eunice did not marry her first husband until nearly forty. There have even been sinister whispering about abuse at the hands of their father. But no concrete answers will likely be forthcoming.

Arreda, married at twenty-three, with her husband Raymond, enjoyed a happy marriage, and they desperately wanted children. But after three years of marriage no children had graced their home. Ray and Arreda sought the help of Dr. David Condit, an obstetrician in South Bend, Indiana, in 1942. He supposedly could find nothing wrong with either of them, but despite two years of treatments, the conception of a child was not destined to happen. Ray and Arreda made an application for an adoptive child with the St. Joseph County (Indiana) Department of Public Welfare in 1944, but they never completed the foster home study, because at this time a child would enter their household.

In July 1944, Annette, the sixteen-month-old daughter of Arreda's first cousin was placed in their care. Although the "cover story" was that Annette's mother was a struggling widow, it appears that the father of the child abandoned the both of them. The plight of a single mother in 1944 was just too much for Annette's 26-year-old mother, and she agreed to have Ray and Arreda care for her daughter in their home until she could provide a more stable environment for her. Although she remained a part of the DePrato household for several more years, there was the inevitable knowledge that she would return home to her mother. It just made my young grandparents yearn more for a child of their very own.

On 22 October 1946, they happened upon this advertisement in the South Bend Tribune which would  finally lead them to their own child: 

WANTED any couple interested in adopting baby, please write Mrs. Dorothy Turner, ℅ General Delivery, Elkhart, immediately. Replies strictly confidential.

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