Thursday, October 11, 2018

My Father’s First Wife—From Pa’s to Jaws

Peter Warren and Ann Gordon Newlyweds

My husband recently asked me what I was working on in and I said "my father's first wife's fourth husband." Here's the second in the series Relatively Speaking, profiles of the characters I have discovered in piles from the past. Here I introduce you to Ann Gordon.

My father’s first wife was Ann Gordon from Bethel, Maine. I never heard good things about Ann. Just that she went on to get married four or five more times. It was really only three more times. And that my father was "on the rebound" after the divorce. And that this was hard for him.

So who is this Ann, this marrying kind, this Helen of Troy who launched 1,000 marriage certificates?

For some reason my father had and kept all their wedding photos. That ought to tell you something. A pack of 8 X 10 prints were still in an addressed manila envelope when I found them. I am not sure I was meant to find them, but after my parents died I found a lot of secret family records and photos.  They left me a pile of information and I’ve had a pile of questions ever since.

But by all appearances they had a lovely wedding in Maine in June 1947. He was 31 and she was 21.
What went wrong?

She left the marriage with my father after a few short years and married someone in the neighborhood. Cape Elizabeth, Maine is a chichi suburb of Portland and there are well to do without to do lists, and it would be easy for them all to be intertwined. Cape Elizabeth is only about this big “.” And they all had to know each other, right? In October 1951 Ann becomes Mrs. Norman Millet Thomas.

So this Norman Millet Thomas was interesting. He was an artist about whom it was written: “There are few US artists from the twentieth century whose artistic diversity and breadth of life experience can rival that of Norman Thomas. His accomplishments ranged from Pulitzer Scholarship, to combat artist during World War II, publication in Life magazine, sculptor for the US Coast Guard War Memorial, producer of a 1961 film banned by the Mexican Government, and influential member of Studio 88 in California. His friends and circle included Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and David Siqueiros.” More on Norm.

 Sounds cool right? Boom! He is out after three years and she is remarried in June of 1954. The next dude was the treasurer of the University of Maine in Bangor. Harry W. Gordon. And she is marrying someone with her maiden name. How convenient. Now she can be Anne Gordon-Warren-Thomas-Gordon-Bowie. Or just Anne Gordon twice. So now she has gone from being the wife of an artist to a wife in academia.

Next move--it is time to get out of Maine I guess. Her fourth husband, with whom she stayed until she died in 1996, was Williams Cadwalader Bowie. Williams was blond with hazel eyes and 5 11’ according to his draft card. But she seems to have hit the jackpot with him, they had a house at 38 Cow Bay Road Martha’sVineyard, check it out. A property last sold for $10 million.

And Mrs. Williams G Bowie is immortalized as an extra in the movie Jaws, playing the role of an "Edgartown Hostess" in the dock scene.  

All right Ann, I guess you did okay for yourself. Certainly by my standards with that oceanfront property and a membership at the Edgartown Yacht Club and a house in Florida too.  Edgartown Hostess is not a bad title to end up with. I don’t think my father would have gotten you there.

But I think you may have wreaked a little havoc along the way, in my father’s life anyway. On the other hand, just like The Butterfly Effect, if you hadn’t married and divorced my father I wouldn’t exist.  So, thank you.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Ganna "In Woe and Weal"

Ellen with Lynn and Virginia

Relatively speaking...I've been digging around in the past. Old photos, old documents, and paperwork, and I decided to write some profiles of the characters I have discovered. First let me introduce you to Ellen O' Sullivan Seifert, my maternal grandmother.

I have been stuck by the tragic life of Ellen O'Sullivan Seifert. Born in Pontneuf, Ottawa on July 17, 1878 to Irish immigrants.  Her father, Owen O’Sullivan, was a wealthy farmer with a “dreadful drinking problem.” Her mother, Jane McCarthy had 10 children, six girls and four boys and only the girls survived. Ellen ends up falling in love with Gustavus Otto Seifert, and he is from a pretty good family.  His grandfather was a German jeweler and owned Seifert Jewelers. But oh dear, when they go to get married there are problems because she is a Catholic and he is a German Methodist. They couldn’t get married in Quebec City where she lived, and had to get married in Ontario where he opened The Imperial Laundry.

Otto Seifert

They had two pretty little girls—Eileen May Seifert (my mother) and two years later Virginia.

Lynn at 6 months

Okay, so they are a nice little family unit, and the business is going well, and Otto is kind of cute with that big stash, and he’s busy. Laundry was delivered by horse drawn carriages through the ice, and they lived next to the stables where the horses were kept. One night he comes home from work, goes into the living room to read the paper, kisses his little 8-month-old Virginia goodnight, and next…Ruth the maid shrieks that Otto is dead. He is 44.

In his obituary Otto is described as “a whole hearted self sacrificing gentleman, a fair and honorable competitor, and an affectionate and lovable father and husband.” Of Ellen they say he was “blessed with a true and loyal helpmeet in Mrs. Seifert in weal and woe. In the true wife the husband finds not affection alone, but a companionship and help to which no other can compare.”

It was mostly woe after that for Ellen. Not much weal.  She has a baby and a toddler, her husband dies suddenly and then the evil in-laws tried to leave her with nothing. They decide not to ship the wedding silver from Seifert jewelers. They went to court over the laundry businesses and tried to cut her out of the inheritance. 

But our heroic Ellen fought! She got lawyers and ancient documents in elegant handwriting attest to the cases that she won.

On the farm, father Owen O'Sullivan in hat

Owen, Ellen, Jane, Virginia (others unknown)

So Ellen had to sell the house and the business and go back to the farm in Ottawa.

In photos my mother's little sister Virginia looks like the golden child. The blonde curly hair, the big blue eyes, the faerie-like appearance. She is five years old and has a leaking heart valve, and boom, Virginia dies.

Now Ellen has lost 50 percent of her young family. This ruins Ellen and pretty much my mother too, who for the rest of her life thinks she should have been the one to die. My grandmother rents her clothes and shreds her soul, convinced that God is punishing her because she left the Catholic Church.

Star of the Sea
She moves with two of her spinster sisters to Old Orchard Beach, Maine, a favorite summer getaway for Canadians.  Ellen the Survivor acquires and manages two pieces of property, one a hotel and one a guest house where she lived. This big brown shingled house right on the beach, was called The Star of the Sea, at One Atlantic Avenue.  I spent summers there as a child. The hotel was The Sea Side House, just a block from the ocean.

My mother meanwhile was glamming it up in London Ontario, hanging out with Queenie Freeman the heiress to the Bronfman Seagrams fortune.  And running with this fast crowd she had the misfortune of meeting a handsome cad named Jack Holroyde. They got married and had a son named John. Within no time Jack was cheating on Lynn and she had to divorce him. One Jutta Walters, is named in the divorce documents. Lynn gets full custody of John and moves in with her mom in Old Orchard Beach in 1941.

There you have Ellen, a single working mother, with Lynn, a single working mother raising John, the only child of these two very strong women. And Ellen spent the rest of her life working her ass off. Running two guest properties, enduring World War II, hurricanes, taking care of John while my mother worked, managing the cooking, the cleaning, the eccentric house guests, a stand on the beach that sold hotdogs, the repairs, the upkeep, the shopping.

A Ganna visit

I don’t remember her well at all. She came out to Arizona, where Lynn and my father Peter and I lived, twice for Christmas. I called her Ganna. She called me Bossy Gillis. I was four when she died.

Ganna in Arizona

I can’t help but picture Ellen’s life as somewhat joyless. So much work, so much endless work, all that responsibility, in a dark little town in Maine, haunted by the tragedy of Virginia and Otto and all that Catholic guilt.  But what a strong woman, man, super strong, super hero strong. 

Ellen in Maine

One of the condolence letters to my mother says, “I remember the day we traipsed sand through the house. Your mother never said a thing about sweeping it up. She just served elegant meals and read our tea leaves.”

My mother used to read my tea leaves in high school.  She too served elegant meals. 

So to Ganna, I am sorry you had such sadness in your life. But you raised a great girl who raised me. Lynn Seifert Holroyde Warren was really something else. Thank you.