As a child, I grew up around the corner from my maternal grandparents, Leroy and Donna Clary Barmes.
I spent many glorious hours with my beloved grandparents who were still young, 42 and 40, at my birth. To add to their youthfulness, they still had sons, ages 12 and 10 years old, at home when I was born.
Grandpa Leroy and I went on many excursions throughout the city of Elwood, and even to nearby Alexandria and Anderson, Indiana, which was about twenty miles away.
Grandma Donna also took me with her to run errands throughout the city, and I remember often going to downtown Anderson when she shopped. She also rode me around on the back of her bicycle, but what I remember most is spending time in the kitchen with her as she prepared meals, or baked for endless hours.
I was her sous chef, or probably more along the lines of her mess maker in whom she indulged tremendous patience. As we busied ourselves in the kitchen, I was often perched on a stepstool to reach the top of the cabinets where I was afforded the opportunity to roll my own noodles or assist her with the annual Christmas cookies.
Obviously, since my baking and cooking skills are worthy of an entire comedic blog shelf of its own, what I remember most is the conversation with my grandmother. I don’t ever recall my grandparents, like my mother, talking down to me; they always engaged me in adult-like conversation. I was born a little adult.
Our cooking sessions were also my lessons in family history. I don’t know if my grandmother felt it was her duty to pass on so many important and precious stories, or if I was just that child who asked tons of questions.
I do know I asked many questions and loved listening to stories told by my grandparents, their parents, all my great uncles and aunts, and even my great/great-great uncles and aunts that I was blessed to know throughout my life.
My grandmother was two years younger than her brother, Ronald Monroe Clary. Uncle Ronald, whose namesake was also my mother’s younger brother, Ron Barmes, was the mystery great-uncle, much like my great-great Uncle Glennard who died on Iwo Jima during WWII at age 19.
Uncle Ronald died at age 15 following a fall or being thrown from a horse at the family farm.
I’ve been working on a lengthy, but inspiring project, and the past few days the focus has been on the events surrounding his tragic death. It’s probably been 48-50 years since Grandma Donna told me the story of Ronald’s death. I finished 90% of the project this evening and it occurred to me I’d never seen his obituary.
My first reaction, upon locating the obituary in a 1937 edition of The Elwood Call-Leader, was very similar to my grandmother’s response upon learning bad news, a loud, “Dear God, Almighty.”
Since first hearing this story fifty years ago, I’d suddenly found his death in print. It no longer seemed to be just a story told me by my grandma as we baked in her South A Street kitchen.
Seeing the announcement/obituary hit me. Hard.
My next reaction confirmed the consistency of my lifelong study of my family’s history and genealogy quests. I’d remembered Grandma Donna’s story clearly, all these years.
Ronald, almost 16, and soon to be a senior graduating from Summitville High School in the spring of 1938, took the horse back to the woods on that Friday afternoon, June 18, 1937, and never returned.
There’s speculation as to the cause of his death: did the horse trip over a rock or had Ronald been thrown?
My great-grandmother, Belle Jones-Clary, barely standing 4′-10″ and my even smaller grandmother at 13, carried Ronald’s limp, unconscious body back up the lane from the woods, and trampled a wire fence to lift his body over into the yard.
I don’t know the following details other than a snippet of a conversation my great-grandfather, Garrett Clary, shared about the incident when I was perhaps around kindergarten age.
“We were standing there by Ronald’s bed there in the hospital and a catholic nun came in. She checked around with some things and got ready to leave. I asked where the doctor was and she pointed to the end of the hall. I stepped out and found him over by the window. ‘Doc, my son is in bad shape and you’re standing out here doing nothing to help him.’ He looked up and he says, ‘Mr. Clary, I’m sorry but there’s nothing else I can do. Your son is dying.’ I know I reeled back a few feet. It was the first time it occurred to me that my boy was not going to make it. I had to tell Belle but I waited until her parents got there so they could help us through it.”
Grandpa Garrett’s account is one I had never shared when discussing Ronald’s death. For some reason, it felt too personal to share a parent’s personal sorrow. Now, that I’m deep into this project, Ronald’s story seems to finish up a chapter for me, personally.
Grandma Donna always said I had her older brother’s kind personality. From all accounts, Uncle Ronald was a kindred spirit to his mother: kind, gentle, always smiling and loving to all. He wasn’t the prankster like my grandmother, their Uncle Alphie, or their maternal grandparents, Joel Monroe “Roe” Jones and Anna Greenlee Jones.
Only one person, Harriett Mock Church, is still living who remembers Ronald. Grandma Donna’s sister, Aunt Joyce, nine years younger than Grandma, was about three or four when Ronald died.
The story of Uncle Ronald, who died twenty-seven years before my birth, will always be a mystery with only enough hints to weave together his story. This evening, a section of his life-quilt was pieced with others after locating his obituary.
I was standing next to my great-grandfather, Grandpa Garrett, as we bid farewell to my 35 year old uncle, Ronald Barmes. Through his sobs, I heard Grandpa Garrett cry, “I lost both my Ronalds in June… fifty years apart.”
I have two uncles named Ronald. One, I knew and dearly loved. The other I never knew but seem to find him, like my Uncle Ron, a part of my life, and still with me.