Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Ship Has Sailed

Brighton is brought on board for a new adventure.

October 17, 2014, marked the beginning of a dizzying number of back-and-forth emails resultant from the poorly defined, but significant, genetic connection between myself and Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty as indicated by AncestryDNA.

It couldn't have come at a worse time. 

While I was finally putting the pieces of my puzzle together, and coming tantalizing close to solving the mystery presented to me the previous February, Brighton's puzzle pieces were still scattered, missing, and not fitting together very nicely.

Bright had moved into an assisted living center in Denver, Colorado, on the very same day I had made contact with the Donna, his friend and his staunch supporter for three decades, and as of late, his primary caregiver and watchdog. After a fourth surgery for spinal stenosis on 20 March 2014, Brighton had suffered through significant post-surgical dementia, hospitalization, seven weeks of rehabilitation at a skilled nursing facility, and another repeat hospitalization. He had finally been moved into a beautiful, modern, well-equipped assisted living center on the western suburbs of Denver. While I spent most of 2014 chasing down his far-flung Daugherty relatives, he was fighting for his life. And winning.

Unfortunately, the hard-earned victory Brighton has finally achieved tasted bittersweet. He had gained the freedom to live independently after a grueling physical battle that his physicians and surgeons had deemed impossible. Brighton Daugherty's lust for life was evident. He has a large personality and a charming, yet commanding, presence. He had spent over eight decades repeatedly reinventing himself, not just in name, but as well as in deed. The path he had chosen to take was paved with passion, adventure, creativity, and wonder. This path was not neatly paved, nor was it dotted with street signs and traffic signals. Brighton's chosen way of living was burdened by very few rules.

Assisted living facilities have rules.

Additionally, since his earlier 2011 spinal stenosis surgery, and its subsequent respiratory arrest and near-death experience, Brighton had been the victim of worsening degrees of dementia. The brain injury resultant of this surgery marked a significant decline in his mental health, and it was hoped by his doctors that perhaps he would improve with familiarity and routine. Having recently been bounced from hospital to medical facility, his apartment condemned due to a black mold infestation, and his personal belongings confiscated for cleaning, the bulk of Brighton's 2014 was hardly the epitome of "familiarity and routine." Now that he was settled into a new facility and the bulk of his belongings finally delivered to him by the foot-dragging, legal-wrangling corporate entity that owned his apartment building, it was hoped that stability would be forthcoming.

But for Brighton, the transition was accompanied by confusion, agitation, and a dislike for the gnawing realization that he was being marginalized by society as a bothersome old man with mental and physical limitations. For a man who had sailed the Pacific Ocean in a boat of his own construction, an afternoon of Yahtzee with a bunch of "living dead people" was not his idea of an adventure. He was barely in residence for five days before the staff called his contacts frantically looking for him, as he had left the building without notifying anyone. He had returned safely later in the afternoon, but one of his visitors that night indicated that on that particular evening he was in a foul mood.

This was not an ideal time to reveal to him that he had a daughter in Indiana, and a grandson who had been doggedly pursuing his trail.

Truthfully, the week Brighton was struggling to adapt to his new situation, I was largely unaware that he was even the grandfather I had been so tenaciously seeking. With the combined AncestryDNA results indicating that Brighton and I were nebulously, yet closely, related, the working hypothesis was that Brighton's brother, Thomas Richard Daugherty, who had died seven years earlier, was my mother's father. Thomas was older and closer to my grandmother's age. He was not yet married, and was presumably living in South Bend, Indiana. His younger brother, then known as Jim Daugherty, was only nineteen years old and was thought to have been still at sea on the U.S.S. Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Regardless, Donna's love for Brighton  and her interest in genealogy compelled her to tell me all about my presumed new great-uncle and tidbits of information she had learned of the Daugherty family throughout her years of acquaintance with Brighton. The emails flew back and forth by the dozens. And today, when I look at the timeline of events, I am amazed at how quickly everything fell into place. When the events were actively unfolding, I was lecturing throughout Ohio, away from home, and the process seemed painfully and frustratingly slow. As quickly as I was being fed details, I was asking more questions.

Within twenty-four hours of initial contact, Brighton's raw data from AncestryDNA was uploaded to to solidly identify his relationship to me that AncestryDNA would not reveal. Four days later I was already purchasing a Y-DNA test kit from FamilyTreeDNA. My previous months of research had indicated that Brighton was the last male Daugherty of his line. His only brother had no sons, and even if Thomas Daugherty was my grandfather, my mother did not carry his Y-DNA. It died with him. Tom and Bright's father, Ira Daugherty (1886-1943), was the only one of three brothers to have children. His great-grandfather, John Henry Daugherty (1852-1939), was the only son to live to adulthood. So even before I knew which of the two Daugherty brothers was my grandfather, I knew that Brighton was the only living male descendant of Daniel Daugherty (1803-1880). Being on the cusp of revealing my grandfather's identity hadn't curbed my thirst for DNA. Without it, I would have never found him. Hell, without it, I would have still presumed Frank Strukel was my grandfather. But this marriage of my genealogical and scientific backgrounds is a potent drug. It will forever yield to me amazing gems of knowledge, clues for further research, as well as keep me woefully impoverished.

Thomas Richard Daugherty
South Bend Central High School, 1942

Since I had already been chasing Daugherty descendants, I knew a great deal about the family. I had located the high school graduation photo of Thomas Daugherty, and I gazed upon it trying to see the similarities between my mother and myself. I had already been prepared not to see a lot of resemblance between my mother and her father, as she seemed in some photos to be a carbon copy of her mother, Helen. Truthfully, I was hoping to find traits that skipped a generation and explained why I looked more like the mailman than my own parents. I regrettably did not see it in the face of Thomas Daugherty.

I had sent a copy of Tom's photo to Donna with several other charts and graphics and information about the Daugherty family. Brighton and his siblings were not close as adults. Their mother had died in 1980, and since that time the two younger boys and two older girls had settled in vastly different parts of the country. Tom and Jim were as different as two brothers could be, but of the whole lot of siblings, they still had a mutual love and respect for each other that was not seen between any of the others. Whereas Brighton had gone to visit his brother Tom in Florida, and they had sailed the Caribbean together, he had no present knowledge of his sisters, and was unaware if they were even still living. He presumed not. When he was shown pictures of the brother of his youth and photos of the old South Bend, Indiana, Central High School, Brighton was pleasantly surprised and talkative of his family and his past. This is something that Brighton rarely did. The past was the past, and he distanced himself from his family for a reason. This attitude was worrisome to me. With his intermittent confusion and often hostile dismissal of useless trivia and conversations about days gone by, what would he be willing to tell an unseen, unknown relative pestering him for information? Would attempting to dissect his family detail by detail be an exercise in futility? And would he even care to meet newcomers so late in his life? Would he embrace a new family, or wave it away as he had done the old?

This nagging worry was compounded with shock and joy when Brighton's DNA data was processed and available from on 22 October 2014. I would no longer be grilling a presumed great-uncle for disembodied memories of a dead brother or far-flung facts regarding the Daugherty family in general. I was now handed the possible opportunity to meet my grandfather. The endpoint to my journey was not just the academic knowledge of an appropriate family name to which to marry my DNA. It was now embodied by a fascinating, living, breathing, larger-than-life man battling with the demons of old age. My grandfather. I had to know everything about this man!

But still, Brighton knew nothing of the situation.

I was suddenly tasked with trying to figure out how a nineteen-year-old presumably at sea with the United States Navy met my twenty-nine-year old married grandmother and mother of three living in Elkhart, Indiana. And Donna was taking on the responsibility for determining the right time, the right place, and the right way to tell Brighton he had fathered a daughter sixty-eight years previously.

Reminiscing about the past after seeing Tom's 1942 photograph was a good sign. Perhaps it was time to test the waters. Stir the pot. There were now plenty of theoretical discussions swirling about regarding what may have transpired in the spring of 1946. Could Brighton possibly remember a woman who factored so briefly in his long life and distant past?

Two days after confirming Brighton as my grandfather, my mother's AncestryDNA results were posted. Her two closest matches were Brighton and me. We were both "Parent, Child - immediate family member." The connection was plain, and not just the "Close Family" that I had received with my results. On the same day, Brighton was shown a picture of Helen Marie (Timmons) Miller taken in 1946. He again looked upon the face of the woman who somehow, somewhere caught his eye that fateful spring long, long ago.
Before handed the photo of my grandmother, Brighton was prefaced with a vague statement that this photo had cropped up in some ancestry work for him, much like the photo he saw of his brother days before. His eyes lit up instantly, and he said, "she looks familiar!" When told that the photo was from 1946 and the woman in it was 29 years old, he responded immediately with, "Oh no, she is too young to be 29. She's more like 22!"

Could he really have a memory of one woman who played such a tiny role in his life? Or did she just possess the general traits of every other pretty girl of the postwar Midwest that caught his eye? Perhaps Helen's gap-toothed smile inherited by both her daughter and her grandson struck a chord of remembrance in Brighton's oft-confused mind. It was evident nonetheless that the awkward decade age difference between the two was probably not perceived by the then 19-year-old Jim Daugherty, much as it was recently dismissed by the 87-year-old Brighton. He did not push further regarding the woman's identity in the photo.

By October 26th, just four days after our DNA confirmation, the snowball rolling downhill was gaining too much momentum and becoming far too large and cumbersome. It was a secret that could not be contained for much longer. A good portion of Brighton's belongings had finally been returned from his previous apartment, and he was able to surround himself with items he had not seen in nearly a year. Although there were still days of impatience and confusion, he was learning to accept the comforts  along with the inconveniences of his new home. It was decided that Brighton should be told immediately about his new family. On the first day that he was largely his charming, witty self without too much confusion, he would be told. But it had to be on a day that the friends who already knew of the impending reveal could be available to help him absorb the information. If left alone immediately after receiving such mind-blowing news, his confusion might be intensified. All that could be done now was to wait for such an opportunity.

On the same day, I had emailed Donna many photos of my mother from her infancy to the present, with many photos of myself as well. I had already been sent a few photos of Brighton, but there was not a good sense of his features over the span of his lifetime. I could not really see a strong family resemblance, but I could not discount it either. Perhaps if he saw pictures of his daughter and grandson, he might see familial features I was unable to perceive.

On October 28th, Donna took several printed photographs and enclosed them in the greeting card illustrated at the beginning of this blog. Each photo was labeled plainly with a black Sharpee. Brighton could refer to them when he was alone, and he could absorb the identities of his new family. The card, with its nautical theme and subtle Asian artistic influences, perfectly embodied the things Brighton loved. Beyond all other things, Brighton loved a good story, both hearing them and telling them. His lifetime adventures had been the source of many, and to Brighton, living in an assisted living center in Denver, Colorado, signaled the end of his exploits.

The card and its booty were tucked away for Donna's Tuesday visit. She was ready to tell him about a daughter he never knew existed. If he was surly and stubborn, or confused and disoriented, Tuesday was not going to be the day. But she could now keep the information at her fingertips, ready for the perfect moment to surprise Brighton with a new adventure. A new story. A new beginning.

At 7:41 p.m. that evening, I received an email.

"The Ship Has Sailed."

Friday, March 6, 2015


Harold Teen, long-running comic strip from 1919 to 1959

Harold Daugherty was not the only boy growing up in America in the 1930s and 1940s with that particular moniker. In 1927, Harold was the fourteenth most popular name for boys. Although it never broke the Top Ten list, it remained one of the top twenty names given to boys from 1899 to 1935. So Brighton's dislike for his given name was certainly not borne out of the misfortune of carrying something unique and bizarre and embarrassing, like Hercules or Hezekiah. It was just Harold.

But the name Harold just didn't suit the young man. He had no other nicknames as a boy that I am aware of, and his mother adored the name she had bestowed upon her baby and favorite child. But it was also name she also used to torment him.

"Harold! H-A-R-O-L-D!!! Harold Snodgrass, get in this house right now!"

Interestingly, I find no reference to a Harold Snodgrass in fiction, radio, or popular culture. Perhaps it was just a ludicrous pairing of names that elicited the mental image of a frumpy old man or a nerdy awkward boy that caused Brighton's mother to giggle with glee when she employed this means of addressing her son, while at the same time causing him to wince, red-faced from embarrassment. Even in the modern world, the combination is used arbitrarily as a source of derision. In an article entitled "The Art of the Pseudonym," from Shelf Actualization, the authors discuss creating a new identity. "Make it cool. It's a pen name, for crying out loud. It's your one chance to throw off the chains of being Harold Snodgrass and become Alistair Gilchrist, Emory Stanton, Thibadeaux Sykes or Jewett McFadden." Harold Daugherty would become quite adept at reinvention, his change of name being just one of the forms it would inhabit.

Harold Daugherty was no Harold Snodgrass, but he wasn't a hip or popular Harry or Hal either. Regrettably, one seldom bestows upon themselves a nickname as a child that sticks. If your mother calls you Harold, your siblings call you Harold, your teachers call you Harold, the world calls you Harold. Whether you like it or not. Harold did not like it.

But as Harold became a teenager and his persona became one of his own making, his dislike for his name intensified. 

"Harold Teen" was an immensely popular comic strip in the United States. Debuting in the Chicago Tribune in 1919, it was the only comic of its time to feature an adolescent main character. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Harold Teen spoke the lingo of the teenagers of his day, coining such slang terms and expressions as "paintywaist," "Yowsah!" and "Fan mah brow!" Harold Teen became a pop cultural phenomenon, spawning movie versions of the comic strip character in 1928 and 1934, and a Chicago-based radio show in 1941.

But as Harold Teen's creator, Carl Ed, aged, his connection to the teens of the 1940s grew more distant. And although the character Harold Teen joined the Navy during the war years, the popularity of the comic waned, and the main character was considered an irrelevant joke for pre-War youth.

When Kate Daugherty moved into a new rental house in South Bend in 1943, all of her children but the youngest had finished school. Harold Daugherty left South Bend Central High School and entered into Washington High School. The school was filled with teenage children of the predominantly working-class Polish west side communities, and a fresh-faced Irish-sounding interloper was a perfect target for testosterone-laden bullies. The boys treated the artistic, fashion-forward Harold Daugherty roughly. He hated it.

And they taunted him with "Harold Teen" Daugherty, a mocking parody of what a teenager was supposed to be.

Harold Daugherty had a middle name, although his birth certificate does not state it. His brother, and his two sisters all had middle names, but none of their birth certificates reveal more than a single first name. Brighton insists that upon his confirmation into the church he was allowed to choose his own middle name. Although choosing a confirmation name is a custom practiced largely in the Roman Catholic Church in this country, the Daughertys went to a Methodist Episcopal Church. There appears to be a custom amongst the African Methodist Episcopal Church where confirmands choose a new name, but it is rarely seen in the modern Methodist or Anglican denominations. But Brighton insists that he chose his own name, although the age at which he did so varies upon the time he tells the story, and to whom he tells it.

I was to find out that Brighton is a master story teller. Sometimes the story is factual. Sometimes the story is based on fact. And sometimes the story is just that: a story, a fanciful tale of daring-do and whimsy. Brighton just happens to be the main character in all of the above.

The middle name that Harold was given by his parents, or perhaps the middle name he chose for himself, was James.

Harold James Daugherty.

The first reinvention of the man occurred when he left Harold Daugherty to his tormented childhood. When Harold quit high school at the age of seventeen to join the United States Navy, he became James "Jim" Daugherty. 

Jim Daugherty was the man who returned home from the Navy in 1946 and met my grandmother, Helen Marie Miller, for at least one very fateful encounter. Jim Daugherty was the young man of the 1950s whose travels and adventures you will learn about at another time.

But the grandfather I had found after my DNA-laden journey was a man named Brighton Daugherty, and it was actually well over a dozen emails into my flurry of correspondence with Donna that I thought to ask, "Where did Brighton come from?"

The response I got harkened back to his days in Hawaii. In 1963, while living in Lahaina, the villagers of this sleepy but historic town learned to love the haole newcomer, and they called the six-foot Jim Daugherty, "Beeg Jeem," or "Kimo," the Hawaiian form of James. It was not until Jim built his own 40-foot trimaran in 1969, that the other sailors and harbor locals knew him by his yellow-and-white boat propelled by the sail he had made embellished with a giant, bright orange sun. His early morning habits and his conspicuous and oft-sighted boat gained him the nickname "Bright Morning Sun." And so, Bright - or Brighton - was born, and the name became his unofficial designation from that time forward, appearing on all forms of identification and legal papers.

Clever little story, isn't it?

Did I tell you my grandfather was a story teller? Let him tell you how he got the name Brighton.

Wait... spotted doing naked yoga in the early morning hours by an innocent young child? What does this have to do with a big sun on a sail? The only similarity between the two version of the origin of his nickname lies in the phrase "bright morning sun."

In the past, when confronted with such disparate versions of the beginnings of his life as Brighton, he has chuckled, and with his charming smile, innocently asked, "Oh, is that the version I told them?"

Yes, Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty, loves to tell a story.

This writer has been an advocate of seeking the truth long before the players in this drama had been identified. But who is qualified to assess what the "truth" really is? And is one person's truth a fallacy to someone else? As time passes and memories fade, what survives? The truth in its bare-bones form? Or a greatly embellished version of it?

What is the truth?

In 1992, Brighton's wife, Gay, relayed the following:

"Jim became Brighton during the late 60's and early 70's when there was a wonderful revolution in thinking and a shift in societies [sic] values triggered by the Viet Nam war. During that era our names were Bright & Gay Morningsun and our mailing address was ℅ The Seabreeze, Lahaina, Maui, Hi. We enjoyed the whimsy of the times."

Or as his niece told me, 
"...when Jim (his original name was Harold James Daugherty - but he HATED his name)... hooked up with Gay... they decided together to legally change his name. Since she was "Gay," he chose "Bright," or Brighton as the formal name."
Bright and Gay. How cute. Almost nauseatingly so.

But that makes for a terrible story.

I really needed to meet this man.