Mama Remembered: Her brother’s baby boy

Last week I published an excerpt from Mama’s book about a visit she made to her older brother Gene and his wife when they were first married.

Gene was really Mama’s half brother because he was her dad’s son from his first marriage and he was about 8 years older than Mama.  When Gene was 18 years old he married Blanche who was 15 years old and a year later they had a baby boy whom they named after Gene and called “Junior”.

Here is the story from Mama’s book, I Remember, about  “Junior”:

When I was 12 years old we lived on a farm a couple miles from Lansing, Kansas.  My older brother, Eugene, lived in Kansas City, Missouri with his 17 year old wife and 9 month old son, Eugene Lawrence.

Dad and Mom let me take the interurban and go to Kansas City to visit Gene and Blanche.  I was there about a week when things began to happen.  Junior had the whooping cough.  That poor baby coughed so hard.  But Blanche didn’t take his illness too seriously and naturally, I took my cue from her.  So I didn’t think he was that sick.

One afternoon she said, “Let’s take Junior for a walk.”  She bundled him up and put him in the stroller.  It was a pretty day in June.

We went by to see a friend of Blanche’s who was older and had several children.  The youngest were twins about a month old.

Blanche didn’t take Junior in.  She left him in his stroller on the front porch.  She didn’t want to expose that woman’s children to the whooping cough.  But the lady heard Junior coughing and she went out to look at him.  She was alarmed.  She said, “Blanche, that baby is awfully sick.  You had better get him to a doctor right away.”

She asked me if I would stay with her children if she went with Blanche to take Junior to a doctor.  Of course, I said I would.  There must have been a doctor close because they were not gone too long.  The lady came back alone.  The doctor had told Blanche to take Junior right home and put him to bed.  He gave her some medicine to give the baby.  He told her to grease his chest with vapor rub and keep him covered up.

When the lady came back and told me this, I ran all the way back to their apartment.

That night was horrible.  The doctor spent most of the evening there.  Their apartment was on the second floor, so I spent that night sitting on the stairs.  I could hear Junior breathing clear out in the hall.  He died soon after midnight.  What a terrible night that was.

The next Sunday, after the funeral, I went home.  I can remember my dad sitting on the porch steps with his head in his hands and his shoulders shaking with sobs.  I put my arms around him and cried with him.  That was in 1920.

Uncle Gene isn’t mentioned in this story and I think I remember Mama telling me that he was out of town working when this happened.  He was never able to forgive Blanche for the death of their son and it wasn’t too long until he divorced her.  Years later he married sweet Aunt Peggy but they never had any children.

Whenever I read this story I wonder what happened to Blanche.  And how the death of her son influenced the rest of her life.

In the last paragraph it sounds to me like Mama’s parents weren’t there for the funeral, and maybe they didn’t even know about Junior’s death until 12 year old Mama told them when she returned home?  What a solemn duty for such a young girl.

I looked through the old albums and couldn’t find one picture of Uncle Gene and Blanche.  My guess is that isn’t an accident.  I can picture Mama’s loyalty to her beloved older brother making her throw any pictures that included Blanche away after the divorce.  But I did find this picture of Uncle Gene with his step-grandma, my grandma’s mother.  It was taken in 1923, three years after Junior’s death.

The picture of baby Junior shown at the top is the only one I’ve ever seen of him.  Of course, no one in the family today has any first-hand memories of the short life of this little baby boy, but my oldest sister has the picture hanging on a wall in her home with other old family pictures.  I like that … Junior isn’t totally forgotten.

5 Responses to Mama Remembered: Her brother’s baby boy

  1. Hilary says:

    What an awfully sad story .. and not uncommon for the time. I believe I had an aunt who died in infancy due to misdiagnosis/mistreatment. It must have been so difficult for your mother at age 12 to deal with this loss and how it affected her brother and family. I’m glad Junior is remembered… and shared thanks to you.

  2. Sandra says:

    Hilary — It is a sad story. But I remember as a child being fascinated by that picture of Junior which hung on the wall in my grandparent’s house, and the story of his early death.

  3. What a beautiful baby he was. I have a photo of my grandmother’s little brother who died before she was born and there’s a sad little story there too. Life wasn’t easy then–still isn’t, but in a different way.
    Thanks for sharing this story! V.

  4. Tim King says:

    A sad story, Sandra, not only because of the baby but also because of Gene & Blanche. -TimK

  5. Sandra says:

    V — You are right … different times different problems. But I think they didn’t over-think things back then. Life was hard and they just dealt with each twist and turn as it came. Certainly not the sense of entitlement that permeates society today.

    Tim — The failure of their relationship is as tragic as the baby’s death isn’t it. I don’t know the exact statistics (but I wouldn’t be surprised if you do because of all your writing about marriage) of failure of marriages after a child’s death, but I think I’ve heard it’s very high.

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