Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Page 1 – The Intelligent Cat

(This contains much family history and, as previously stated, is designed to be a record for my children. You may find it interesting or utterly boring but feel free to read it or skip to Lila’s clipping of the day.)
How lovely that Lila, or my great-great grandmother, would begin the collection with an allegory about cats. Was she a cat lover or did this just convey the message she wanted to impart? Is cat loving in my genes? Is intolerance for petulant children ingrained in my fibers? I would argue yes for both conclusions.
Lila would have been about 12 at the turn of the century. The book predates that time so I now ask myself if my great-great-grandmother actually started it or if we simply see a young girl's thoughts. We definitely see a girl still present in these pages and then a woman as the years progress. Ferdinand "Ray," her husband, would prove a hard man and Lila’s life was not one of connubial felicity, by all accounts. She gave birth to seven children that I know of, though I didn’t know most of these great aunts and uncles except through the family stories and accountings.
Lila had a strong faith that seemed to sustain her through difficult times, though the end of her life became nearly untenable with F. "Ray," as my Aunt Sandy recalls, and Lila preceded him in death in 1955. He passed away in 1959. Both are buried in Edgewood, Iowa. My great grandfather was a distant man as evidenced in his writings. He spent his career as a postal carrier and would-be writer. He did not share Lila’s faith or compassion or, it would seem by his writings, even a desire to know and be known. Lila obviously busied herself with her children and she taught a Sunday school class of boys. When she died many years later, the boys from her class would be her pall bearers.
Her children do not seem as touched by her faith and were, apparently, not immune to the difficult atmosphere of their home. Only one of them, that I know of, claimed to embrace a Christian faith, though many of her actions in life didn’t bear evidence that would substantiate the claim and the final decision on that, as it is with any of us, is left with God Himself. That one child was my grandmother, my father’s mother.
Lila’s children included Ralph Minkler who would go on to become President of Borden’s Chicago Central District and realize great financial success, distancing himself from the family. His home was reportedly featured in Better Homes and Gardens. He was also later named in a Federal Trade Commission Violation where the company he worked for did not prevail. This was sent to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and the ruling was not overturned.
At one time he offered to remove my grandmother’s children from her home and raise them. My grandmother and grandfather lived very poorly and he wanted to see my errant teenage father in military school. However, that idea wouldn’t have succeeded because my father didn’t have the grades. When he did join the military, a short time after he and my mother married, he was sent home only a few months later with a general discharge and deemed “emotionally unfit” for military life. This must have been quite serious because it was during World War II when bodies were definitely needed. This was the first official indication, for his part, of much that would go tragically wrong in our own home.
Then there was Robert “Bob” Minkler. He reportedly acquired a gold mine in California and bought a great deal of property in Fresno, California. He eventually sold it and moved away but not before my grandmother and grandfather had pulled up stakes in Oelwein, Iowa and moved to Fresno. Both my grandparents had been born in Iowa, my grandmother in Edgewood and my grandfather in Strawberry Point. They had returned to Oelwein from Springreen, Wisconsin where my grandfather had been working, and now California seemed like the next best idea.
There was another brother, Richard “Dick” Minkler. He succeeded financially as well and lived in Kansas the last I knew. The daughters included Dorothy who would marry two millionaires (not at the same time….) and live in various places, eventually settling in Santa Barbara. She pursued writing and one day, at her typewriter, went blind and passed on shortly thereafter from an inoperable, non-malignant brain tumor.
Marion was another daughter and she was only and ever described as being extremely heavy (over 400 lbs.) and plagued with the diseases obesity brings, eventually succumbing to diabetes. My own mother reports that she had a “colorful” past and was the humorous one of the family. She had one son, Mickey, who was like her in nearly every way. I met all these people only once at a family reunion. Aunt Evelyn was the baby and I saw her several times while I was growing up. The only other child was my grandmother, Nana to us, but actually Marjorie Rae Stone after she married my grandfather, Bradley. Except for Dorothy and Marion, Lila’s children were all long-lived (Aunt Evelyn still enjoys life in her own apartment) – and my grandmother lived to be 91. I’d like to find Evelyn and ask her many things.
That’s a little history for now of Lila and the children she bore. How her book and memories came to live with me is a story for another day and steeped in tragedy, secrecy, and family tumult.
So we begin with a clipping ostensibly about a cat. Three clippings appear on the first page but I’ll keep each posting confined to one at a time. This is the text and from this point forward, I will always copy it exactly as printed including any typos, capitalization, etc. I want to keep it as true to its original form as possible.
The Intelligent Cat
By Emma Churchman Hewitt

A CAT of great intelligence,
If I’ve been told aright,
Has lately found a curious way,
Of venting petty spite.

His fur is long, and soft, and thick,
And white as driven snow,
And underneath his chin he wears
A jaunty sky-blue bow.

Now, when he has things his own way,
And nothing runs amiss,
He’ll sit and purr, and blink, and dose,
And then he looks like this:-

(image is on the picture of the page)

But you must know as well as I,
Things sometimes go astray,
And that it’s quite impossible
To always have one’s way.

So, when he doesn’t get his “right,”
He goes off with a hiss,
And in the coal he’ll roll and roll,
And then come back like this:-

(see image)

When boys and girls can’t get their “right,”
They act just like this cat.
Of course, they don’t roll in the coal;
They’ve too much sense for that;
But still, whate’er the special tack
They take, they every one look black.
©Copyright 2010


  1. Very interesting family history, Robynn. Did Lila write that story? Or did she just save it? I'm a little confused...

  2. I am finding this very interesting so far Robynn. I wonder if your great-grandmother was as good a writer as you are? Love Di ♥

    P.S. The poem that she liked was cute, I wonder if it reminded her of her children!

  3. DJan - These are all clippings Lila saved. When it's just her writing or note, I'll be sure to indicate that so there's no confusion. I'll cite the authors, too, of any piece where a name appears, as in this one by Emma Churchman Hewitt.

    Diana: Thank you for the compliment. I don't have a lot of Lila's own writings, but I do have notes in the book. My great grandfather, though a hard man, was an astonishing writer. And yes, I can tell that much of what she selected was intended to influence her children.

  4. Oh, Robynn...this is a goldmine...and might serve later as inspiration for a piece of could write!! Love the poem! This is so fascinating! Hannah and TWM will be so glad you did this!!! ~Janine XO

  5. Interesting stuff - I love skeletons in closets - so keep it coming.


  6. Amazing family history... I can see where you get your humour from...

    How interesting to start a journal with a cat poem...

  7. Am just finishing reading a book called People of the Book (Geraldine Brooks? have such awful memory) which is steeped in history... and now I can once more submerge myself in past times!! Loved the poem, can quite see why your GG (great grandmother)would want to keep it. Seems like she had her own 19th century blog... but without the computer! xx