Going through the house - so much to go through - my sister found this photograph of my grampa when he was a doughboy. This is as good a time as any to tell his story as it’s been told to me over the years.
My grampa, Ira, was the fourth of five children. He had three older sisters - Myrtie, Effie, and Bessie - and a younger brother Willis for whom my father was named. His parents died within three days of each other of typhoid fever when he was five years old, out at Turkey Creek, Louisiana. Some say that the children had to ride back to their grandfather’s in Opelousas in a wagon with the corpse of one of their parents.
The family was split after that, with Grampa being sent to California to live with an uncle. They didn’t get along, and after a year, Grampa ran away and lived under an assumed name in a newsboy’s home. He was only six years old! The headmistress liked him, and gradually Grampa trusted her enough that he shared his true identity. That led her to find another uncle, this one back in Louisiana, and he was sent back home for the rest of his childhood.
Perhaps around ten years later, Grampa lied about his age to get into the army. He was shipped out to the Philippines where he was stationed at a frontier outpost. It was not a great place to be. One day at reveille the call came for a new pole vaulter to be sent to Manila for some sort of Army athletic competition; the regiment’s pole vaulter had been taken ill. Grampa was first to respond. At the competition, he made a dad-blame fool of himself. He didn’t know a thing about pole vaulting, but he knew enough how to get out of that frontier outpost to Manila!
Fast forward a few years, and America enters World War I. Grampa was commissioned a second lieutenant - Granny said that was “as low an officer as you can be and still be an officer” - and shipped across the pond. On his first day in France he walked into the officers’ mess and before you know a sergeant called out from across the room: “HEY! Aren’t you that pole vaulter from Manila?!”
After the war, Grampa was still poor, of course, and returned to Opelousas. One day he was walking up the front walk at a house where my granny, Mary Ella, was visiting from New Orleans. She was in the kitchen cooking or something, took one look at him, and said to her friend “That’s the man I’m going to marry.” And she did! The married in the parlor of her mother’s boarding house on Canal Boulevard in New Orleans, and Grampa was so poor he had to get married in his Army uniform; he couldn’t afford a suit. I vaguely remember from a newspaper clipping (who knows where it is now) that Granny wore a green traveling suit with a fur scarf. But through ups and downs, they lived happily ever after.