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Ann Kathleen Otto


Grandfather Purl

         Anna turned to Purl. "What do you think Father and Mother would think of our plans?"

         "I doubt they would understand why we're leaving the land. I'd hope they wouldn't be disappointed about that. They would surely be disappointed in me."

          Anna didn't respond to his comment. She was still too shocked over Purl's turn of events.

                                —Excerpt from Yours in a Hurry


It's hard to write about your grandfather's early life when working with records, oral history, and childhood memories. How can we know what changed an allegedly ornery, over-active child into a quiet, somewhat passive, adult? My mother and her twin sister were afterthoughts, so their father, Purl, was in his late 30s when they were born, and in his 60s when I first remember him. Tall, with a tuft of white hair, he was an impressive figure for a small child. He had beautiful cursive and used it when writing my mother, according to family members, his favorite, long letters after she left Marion to live elsewhere.

Unanticipated History

I knew he was the third of eight children of an upper middle-class family, and that his parents died when he was around 13. He and his siblings were separated to live with relatives, and he and his only brother were sent to the same home for a short time. For reasons we don't know, the arrangement didn't work out, and he subsequently went to two other foster homes. Could the reason be his behavior?

I look at photographs. The first is taken shortly before his parents died (left), in which he looks self-assured.

   The next is several years later, around 1908, and he's with cousins, uncles, and other relatives (right). His jacket sleeves are  too short, and his  trousers are too short for him—hand-me-downs? He looks oddly out of place. Fast forward to 1911 (bottom left), and we see a more self-confident version of Purl. But as you'll find reading Yours in a Hurry, he is still uncertain of his future. He lost all of his inheritance as soon as he got it. What will he do when he leaves the service?

A Bigger World

An earlier blog told of his travels throughout the Pacific in 1908 – 1912.

Little is written about the military during the period between the Spanish American war and WWI, but a historian led me to some resources, one of which is a first-person account written by someone in his regiment. The family history was correct: Purl was stationed at Pearl Harbor and Corregidor in the Philippines when those then small harbors were being upgraded to accommodate larger ships; the race for global power was beginning. The only item of his I have from this period is a post card he sent from Japan.

Life Choices

Family drew him back to Ohio, but not to the county he came from. He married a widow, Susan, with a small child, and he worked in the shipping area of the Erie Railroad in Marion. He used his free railway pass to visit his sister, Anna, in San Antonio at least a couple of times over the years since she wouldn't come home. A special bond remained between them. He wasn't close to his other sisters, although most lived only a county away—on land they inherited. Was he ashamed over losing his inheritance?

He and Susan had seven children, including the child from her first marriage. One had a minor mental disability. Three sons served in WWII, one of whom was lost, not to physical injury, but through the trauma of losing a wife and child who left him during the war. That son went to the Northwestern states, and was rarely heard from again.

How I'll Remember Him

Will I remember my grandfather sitting on the green and white metal glider on the front porch waiting for the many relatives who often came by? Or, sitting in his stuffed chair in the corner of the living room, looking at the small black-and-white screen TV, watching any sport that was on? Or arguing politics (he was a life-long Republican) with anyone who would engage?

It's harder not to remember the younger Purl now, the hardships and life experiences that changed him from a head-strong youth to the grandfather I remember. This blog has been harder to write than I expected; most labors of love are.



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