Fractured Family

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I marvel at families who can remain in tack and close over multiple generations. Everyone is always included in celebrations, petty differences tossed aside and forgotten. I wonder if it is the stern matriarch at the helm, herding her flock together with no excuses that maintains that closeness.

My ancestor’s families were large; my great grandfather Van Houtte coming from a family of eight and his wife Mary Clemence also from a family of eight. My grandfather was one of four children and his wife one of eight. Closeness with the families left in Europe started to deteriorate with the move to the states. The language barrier increased the difficulty and once my great grandmother died the tie was completely broken.

My grandmother wasn’t close with her siblings; she selectively spoke to or ignored family members for one reason or another, effectively breaking any tie the cousins might have to one another. Years later I would find out that people I sat next to in class were actually my second cousins. My grandfather and his siblings had inheritance troubles at the core of their family trouble.

My great grandfather, from all accounts, was as they say “tighter than wallpaper to the wall and meaner than a rattlesnake.”  Before his death he told his two sons, George and John, that he had taken care of all of the family, his three sons and daughter. They had nothing to worry about.

I knew both great Uncle George and great Uncle Johnny. My most vivid memory of Uncle George was of him coming to the house to see me when I came home from college. He always had a hundred dollar bill rolled up in his hand that he would shove into mine. “Shh, don’t tell anyone,” he would say to me. I don’t know if he knew just how broke I was, but the money sure was appreciated.

Uncle Johnny was as thrifty as his father. He was never one to pass up a fabulous deal. Story goes that he showed up at my grandfather’s house with a shiny new pair of shoes on. When the shoes were admired he finally confessed that although a great bargain, they were too small and hurting his feet.

I can never remember meeting my Aunt Leah and once I heard this story I began to realize exactly why. Before my great grandfather’s death he had moved from Mt. Alton into town and was living with Leah, who was married to Milford Kenneth Hullihen and living on High Street in Bradford. After his death the brothers went to their sisters house to discuss what had been left them by their father. Leah told them they didn’t have a cut of the money and as far as they were concerned she was dead. She threw them off of the property and shut the door.

Several years later, she reappeared at my grandfather’s door. A stranger to the child, her nephew that opened the door, he watched, puzzled, at this sobbing woman. The money was gone, spent on houses and cars and whatever else came along. My grandfather listened silently and when her tale was done, replied that his sister was dead and closed the door.

My great grandmother’s house was to be sold when all of her children were married and the money divided equally between the siblings. George never married; my grandfather lived in the house with his family until my great Uncle George died in 1980. The stipulation was that the house would always have a room in it that belonged to George. The one thing he was trying to prevent happened anyway; Leah would get her portion of the sale of the house.

Prior to Uncle George’s death, in 1978, at my grandfather’s 50th wedding anniversary, the siblings finally forgave each other when my great Aunt Leah came to the family celebration.


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