Friday, April 28, 2017

Reflections on retirement day

Several years ago, my boss Gil Miller started preparing me for his retirement which would have been today, April 28, 2017. I don’t really think he was ready to retire so perhaps he was preparing himself as much as me—but he had no choice—our company requires its executives to retire when they turn 65. And for Gil, that would have been today.

I dreaded his retirement day. Not that I didn’t want him to start the next phase of his life. I guess I was just being selfish. I thoroughly enjoyed working with and for Gil and just didn’t want to lose a great work husband. But two of Gil’s children and his grandchildren lived in Texas so once he came to terms with the inevitable, he set the wheels in motion to build a new home and began preparations to join his family there. As it turns out, God had another plan for him and he never got the chance to make that move. He passed away unexpectedly but peacefully in his sleep on November 8, 2015.

At the time of his death, Gil and I had worked together about 26 years. I can’t remember exactly when he hired me but my youngest son was about two years old at the time and he’ll be 30 this year. Gil and I were a good team. We clicked immediately. I remember the first day I worked for him. We sat down at his table that first morning and he had a list of things to discuss—his expectations along with his likes and his dislikes. I’m a list maker so appreciated that he started out with one. He set the tone for how we would work together. I always knew where I stood with him. We trusted and respected each other. I could read his mind. I knew what he wanted, sometimes before he did. He always had my back and I knew it. Every year at review time, we would have the normal discussion and we ended it with a handshake and a confirmation that we were good for another year. And we had a deal—where you go, I go and where I go, you go. Occasionally, things might not be going the way he thought they should and he’d tell me “you might want to update your resume. We might need to make a change.” But things would calm down and we never had to test that deal!

Gil pushed me to learn new skills. I’m doing things today that I never would have done if I had not worked for him.

I’m Miss Practical—sometimes to a fault. We often had conversations about things happening around the office or in the world in general. I’d voice my practical opinion which may have been a point of view he hadn’t thought about and he’d thank me for bringing him back to reality.

His nickname for me was Sergeant Major. I’m not exactly sure how I earned that nickname though. I’m a quiet, introverted person and don’t feel like I boss people around. But that’s what he called me and the next thing I knew, other people started calling me Sergeant Major. I chose another nickname for myself. As a lefty, I always sat to his left so referred to myself as his left-hand girl. He stuck with Sergeant Major though.

Many years ago, a package was delivered to our office and was determined to be a possible threat. Security eventually called in a robot to deal with the package. After a short time, they decided to evacuate the building. Gil had visitors from George Mason University in his office at the time so I escorted them downstairs. He stood by my desk and patiently waited while I took the visitors downstairs and returned to gather my belongings. We walked out of the building together that day. He wasn’t going to leave without me.

Once I walked into his office and as I got behind him, asked him a question. He was concentrating heavily on whatever he was working on and turned around and said “what’d you say Hon.” He quickly realized what he had called me and was embarrassed. I could tell it was mindless and he didn’t even think about what he said but he kept apologizing to me. I thought it was funny myself.

He was always grateful for the support I and others gave him and he didn’t hesitate to tell you.

But it was not all about work. Gil was a very generous man. For years, he gave my boys Christmas presents—from the first Christmas I worked for him until they were adults. I finally had to tell him he didn’t need to do that anymore—they were big boys now. I will always think of him at Christmas time. Every Christmas he gave me Lenox Christmas dishes and decorations. My tree is full of beautiful Christmas ornaments because of him. I treasure all of them. We shared a love of Christmas music too. Or at least he tolerated my love of Christmas music. For a while, our office was down the hall, away from everyone else’s. He didn’t seem to mind when I played my Christmas CDs during the work day. Every year, I bought myself one or two new Christmas CDs. At some point, I started buying an extra CD to give to him. I remember one was by the 1970s band America. He left early one Friday and after he got home and was back at his computer, he sent me an email acting like he was singing the lyrics of a Christmas song to the tune of “A Horse With No Name.” I’m not sure if he liked the CD or if he was making fun of me!

We shared a love of bird watching and often compared notes. Each of us quickly texted pictures of special birds we spotted to each other. The spring of 2014, I found an eagle nest in Manassas and immediately texted him a picture of the eagle in the nest. He wrote me back asking for directions. I thought he was kidding but he quickly let me know that he wanted to know where the nest was. The next day he was in Manassas to see the eagles for himself. I ran into him several times at the nest. One time I remember my husband and I seeing a man in the field, we felt too close to the nest. I told my husband “look at that idiot out there … he needs to get away from the nest.” A half hour later, I find out it was Gil! One year, I was lucky enough to spot three different flocks of Cedar Waxwing. On two of those occasions, the flock stuck around for several days so I took a lot of pictures. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a Cedar Waxwing, but they’re beautiful and it’s a special treat to see them. He was so jealous that year. That Christmas, he gave me a Hallmark ornament of a Cedar Waxwing bird. I loved it and it gets a special spot on my tree every year now.

Sometime in late 2014, Gil told me about his daughter and grandchildren having fun with an elf on the shelf. Anyone who knows me knows about my elf on the shelf named Athya so of course I had to share some of Athya’s pictures with him. Afterwards, he asked me to send him some of my pictures, which I did. Christmas Eve I get a text message from him sending me a link to the video he made using my Athya pictures and a Christmas story he had written. It was priceless! He’d planned to do another video for 2015 but that wasn’t meant to be.

When both my mother-in-law and father-in-law passed away, he came to their funerals. It was bitter cold on the day we buried my father-in-law but Gil was there.

The last time I saw him was a Wednesday in October 2015 before I left for a trip home to Atlanta. I would be gone for 10 days and when I returned, he would be on a planned business trip. He left the office before I did that day and as he headed out, he stopped by my desk and said, “I won’t see you for a while” and then we said our usual goodbyes. Sadly, he was right. I never saw him again.

His wife and I often talk about the fact that he broke his deal with both of us. But I can’t hold that against him. He wasn’t ready to leave this world when he did. He wanted to see his grandchildren graduate from college and they were nowhere near that.

So today, on his birthday and retirement day, I’ve spent time reflecting on the many good years I had with my work husband. He was a good man. The day he passed away, I lost a colleague, a boss, a work husband, but most of all a friend. Happy birthday in heaven Gil. I miss you.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Three little Athya’s portrait

Howard Athya, Jim Athya, and Mary Athya (ca. 1934)
This beautiful portrait is of Howard George Athya, James Jem Athya, and Mary Margaret Athya—three of George Durie Athya and Bertha Edna Smith’s children. George and Bertha had a fourth child—their first born named John Thompson Athya—who wasn’t living with the family at the time the portrait was taken. Instead, he lived with Bertha’s mother Amanda Larimer Horne Smith and brother Benjamin Gordon Smith. Amanda and Ben moved John into their home in late 1926 or early 1927 in hopes of making life easier for Bertha, who was pregnant with Howard at the time. The move was supposed to be temporary—just until Bertha got back on her feet after Howard was born—but it turned into a long-term stay. John had visited the Smith household many times and was comfortable being with his grandmother and uncle. He liked it there and as young as he was, decided that’s where he wanted to live. It hurt Bertha’s feelings but she realized it was for the best.

I estimate this portrait was taken circa 1934. The frame is blue and silver with a decorative scalloped edge and is 10” x 16.” The portrait was probably taken in Apollo, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania but may have been sent out for framing. The back has a sticker on it that reads “A Midwest Studios Portrait, Portland Oregon.” The framed piece is in excellent condition on the front. The paper covering on the back is slightly torn but in pretty good shape as well. I assume the framed piece once belonged to Bertha and George before being passed to Mary, and then to my husband. Mary Athya Murphy was my mother-in-law.

Howard Athya, Jim Athya, and Mary Athya Murphy (ca. 2004)

Friday, April 14, 2017

Hayden Edgar George

The George family (from the left:
James. Julia standing in front of James,
mother Mary with daughter Raleigh in her lap,
Hayden standing beside his mother, and
Ennis standing in front of Hayden).
Hayden Edgar George, son of Raleigh David George and Mary Willie Hollingsworth, was born in Smyrna, Cobb County, Georgia on July 21, 1882. He was the third child of six—James England George, Bertie George, Hayden Edgar George, Ennis Adele George, Julia Cleo George, and Raleigh Mae George. Hayden was the husband of my first great grand aunt, Lillie Della (Dell) Lankford. Dell was the sister of my great grandmother, Alice Beman Lankford.

Hayden was just five years old when his older sister Bertie died in 1887. She was buried at Smyrna Presbyterian Campground Cemetery in Conyers, Rockdale County, Georgia.

Raleigh David George died in Rockdale County, Georgia on March 23, 1891 leaving Hayden without a father at the young age of three. Raleigh was buried in a plot beside Hayden’s sister Bertie at Smyrna Presbyterian Campground Cemetery.

Hayden’s mother Mary and his sisters Julia, Ennis, and Raleigh were living in Doraville, DeKalb County, Georgia when the census enumerator came to visit on June 1, 1900 but Hayden was not living with them. His older brother James was living in Greene County with his wife Gussie and father-in-law William Harris McCarty, a Civil War veteran. I’ve looked in the surrounding areas in Doraville and Greene County but so far haven’t been able to find Hayden during that census year. He would have been 18 years old so certainly could be living on his own by then. But where? Hayden’s mother Mary was a dress maker and his siblings were at school. His sister Ennis was enumerated twice in 1900—the first time on June 1 with her mother as noted above. She was enumerated as Eunice on that record. The second time was on June 6 and the census enumerator recorded her as a pupil at the Georgia Academy for the Blind on College Street in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia.

On April 15, 1910, Hayden lived in Penfield, Greene County, Georgia with his brother James and his family. James’ father-in-law William lived with them as well. Hayden’s sister Julia and her husband Augustus Hamilton Clark lived next door. Julia’s neighbor was my 2nd great grandmother Mary Ann (Wilson) Lankford (widowed and 58) and two of her children, Oliver Wilson Lankford (age 20) and Lillie Della Lankford (Dell, age 17). Five months later, Hayden married Dell, Mary’s daughter with James C. Lankford, in Greene County on September 19. Together they had four children—Dell Louise George, Mary Winnie George, Marguerite Elizabeth George, and Hayden Edgar George Jr. They didn’t wait long to start their family. One day before their first anniversary, Hayden and Dell welcomed daughter Dell Louise, who was most likely born in Greene County on September 18, 1911. A year and a half later daughter Mary Winnie was born in Greene County on March 12, 1913.

Greene County, Georgia marriage record for Hayden and Dell

Sometime after Mary’s birth in 1913, Hayden moved his family to Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia. They were living at 53 Crew Street when Hayden registered for the World War I draft on September 12, 1918. He was working as a switchman for a freight yard at the time. Hayden recorded his physical description as tall and of medium build, light blue eyes, and light hair. Although only 36 years old, Hayden was already balding, noting that he was “bald on top.”

It's believed the man is Hayden
but that needs to be confirmed.
The woman is unknown.
By January 17, 1920, Hayden, Dell, and their three children had moved a few doors down to 65 Crew Street where they rented a home. Hayden switched occupations and was now an automobile machinist. He told the census enumerator that he could read and write. An early Christmas present arrived on December 6, 1920 in the form of baby Marguerite. I can’t find a birth record for Marguerite but assume she was born in Atlanta. I assume that for Hayden Jr. as well, born on March 15, 1922 since both the 1924 and 1929 Atlanta city directories show Hayden and Dell living in Atlanta. In 1924, they lived at 505 Pulliam Street. By 1929, they had moved back to Crew Street, living at house number 608. Hayden continued to be a machinist through the 1920s.

On April 8, 1930, Hayden and his family lived at 429 Crew Street in Ward 2 of Atlanta where he rented a home. The census enumerator noted that Hayden was 28 and Dell was 18 when they married. He also incorrectly recorded Hayden’s name as Clayden. Hayden continued to support his family as an automobile machinist. Dell wasn’t working but their daughter Winnie worked as a telephone operator. Atlanta city directories for 1935 and 1936 show Hayden and Dell living at 62 Clarke Street SW. In 1935, Hayden worked as a foreman but no occupation was listed in 1936. Was he working? He was only 54 years old so too young for retirement at that age.

Hayden’s mother Mary (Hollingsworth) George died on January 6, 1935. She was buried beside her husband and daughter Bertie at Smyrna Presbyterian Campground Cemetery in Conyers.

A year and a half later, Hayden died in Fulton County, Georgia on September 18, 1936. He was buried at Penfield Cemetery in Penfield. If I recall correctly, he’s buried near my great grandmother Alice Lankford Callaway. I remember seeing Hayden’s grave every time I’ve been to Penfield Cemetery and over the years, that’s been quite a few times.

Hayden's stone at Penfield Cemetery

Friday, April 7, 2017

The secret is out and just who was Vernell

Earl's photo album, Hawaii (late 1940s)
Every family has its secrets. It’s just human nature. My husband was in his 40s before he learned a secret his parents kept from their children for many years.

My in-laws lived an hour’s drive from us so when we visited, we’d let them know what time we planned to arrive. They would watch for us and greet us at the door. But the day we discovered their secret was different—only my father-in-law Earl greeted us that day. He let us in the house and pointed us toward their bedroom where my mother-in-law Mary sat on the bed. This was unusual because normally their bedroom was off limits for anyone but them. She called us in and patted the bed telling me to have a seat. There were papers scattered on the bed and as I sat down, one of them caught my attention—a marriage license—their marriage license. I asked if I could look at it and she said it was okay. And that’s when we learned their secret. As I read the license, we learned that in 1951, my then 22-year-old father-in-law, who resided in Herndon, Virginia and worked as a pressure operator, was a DIVORCED man when their marriage license was issued in Montgomery County, Maryland. Wow, that was unexpected!

Earl and Mary's marriage license

I feel certain it was no accident that she had their marriage license on the bed when we arrived. One or both wanted us to know about this. They both knew I did genealogy as they had helped me with their families. I don’t know whose idea it was to share this that day, but they were both in the room at the time. Mary on the bed beside me and Earl standing quietly by the door watching the exchange. I looked at both and questioned what I was reading, wanting to be certain what I read was correct. Earl confirmed that it was true and then in his stern way, told us that we were not to talk about this to anyone until after they were both gone. So, we didn’t!

Just this month we learned that my brother-in-law has known about the divorce for 38 years and never mentioned it to my husband or their sister. He was still living at home and discovered the marriage license while looking through a cabinet. He probably wasn’t supposed to be looking through the cabinet so kept that piece of information to himself! My husband mentioned it to him when we learned about it and found out he already knew. My sister-in-law learned about it a little after we did. But we still didn’t talk about it. Just this past January, my husband’s cousin asked if he knew about “the divorce,” which means other family members knew about it but didn’t talk about it with us. I wonder who else knew.

We know her name was Vernell Z and that at some point she lived in Los Angeles, California because it’s listed on a news clipping we found after Mary passed away. The clipping was a legal notice published in the Western Reserve Democrat in Warren, Ohio in 1950. I’ve researched Vernell on but so far have been unsuccessful in finding anything. Here’s what the news clipping tells us:
Legal Notice
Case No. 58288
The defendant, Vernell Z. Murphy, whose last known residence was 2126 Clinton St., Los Angeles, California, will take notice that the undersigned plaintiff Earl L. Murphy, filed his petition against her in the Court of Common Pleas of Trumball County, Ohio, on the 25th day of February, 1950, praying for divorce and equitable relief on the grounds of extreme cruelty and gross neglect of duty and further known as Case No. 58288.
Said case will be for hearing on or after the 15th day of April, 1950. 
By: Albert W. Marowitz, His Attorney
139 S. Park Avenue, Warren, Ohio
Published in W. R. Democrat
Mar. 2, 9, 16, 23, 30, April 6, 1950
As you can see, the legal notice contained another surprise—the grounds being extreme cruelty. With that being the case, I was happy to see it was my father-in-law filing for the divorce and not Vernell.

The only other clue I found is a small leather address book that belonged to Earl with an anchor and USN imprinted on the cover. Inside, I found an entry for Miss Vernell Tarkington. Above her name is Mrs. Alice Tarkington of Los Angeles, California. I don’t know if this is her but Vernell is an unusual name and assuming she was related to Alice, she might have lived in Los Angeles which was the last known address for Vernell Z. Murphy. But I can’t prove that’s her.

The page in Earl's address book that lists Miss Vernell Tarkington

We have Earl’s photo album that contains pictures taken in Hawaii while serving in the U.S. Navy. Many of the pictures have been removed. Before he passed away, Earl told us they were “her” and that Mary removed them. Guess you can’t blame her.

Many photos were removed from the Hawaii album

They’re both gone now so I decided to write this blog post to share what we know with our children. All three of Earl and Mary’s children gave their permission to publish this. And as mentioned earlier, both Earl and Mary told us not to talk about the marriage until after they had passed away. So now it’s all out in the open and we can freely talk about it if we want to … or not. By the way, they were married for 55 years.

Mary and Earl on their wedding day
January 12, 1951

Mary and Earl on their 50th wedding anniversary
January 12, 2001