Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Another Day Out with Mom #1: Were My Mom's Parents Gangsters?

1944-45: Earl Sanders (Mom's uncle), Mom (18 years old), my Uncle Harry and his first wife, Mary Lou
My mom was adopted when she was first born, and she has always said that the people who raise you are your parents, your family. There are a few things I've been thinking about, considering the stories Mom has told me about her parents.

First and foremost, my grandparents on my mother's side met in Kansas City, where my grandma ran a dance hall and my grandpa was in charge or the bar. Now, Prohibition began in 1920 and ended in 1933. My first question is this: Did my grandparents move to California because Prohibition made them shut down their business, or did they move to California because the law Kansas City was closing in on them? Did they own a speakeasy?

Second, I'm watching Ken Burns' jazz documentary right now, and even though I know my grandparents met in Kansas City, I also know that my grandma was from New Orleans and part French and part Cherokee. I imagine, then, that she could have considered herself a Creole. She was a good cook and ran a restaurant in California and also cooked for a private girls' school somewhere in the Coast Ranges of California. According to the Ken Burns documentary, New Orleans was a pretty diverse city with lots of loose living but also lots of conservative, church-going folks. It appears that there were a number of folks living in New Orleans who enjoyed both a robust night life and going to church. I'll have to ask my mom more about her mother's early life.

My grandfather was born in Arizona, partly of Hispanic descent. During his life, as many workers during the Great Depression, he had many jobs. I know he was a cowboy and had been raised on a ranch. He worked in the lumber industry, in an underground mine in Oroville (the Lucky 7), worked on a gold dredger, and evidently had run a bar. He and my grandmother had been unable to have a child, adopted my mom, and then were happily surprised when Harry, my uncle, came along. Grandma was always very protective of my mother because my mother had been blind as a little girl and even though Mom regained most of her sight, she never really had good vision.

My grandma had another cook in her family. I'm not certain who. He retired and was feted by the US Forest Service as being a great camp cook, working up at Angels Camp in the Sierra Nevadas for a long time. Before that he worked at two night clubs in California in the Oroville area--The Palms and The Crystal Palace. These night clubs must have also existed during the Prohibition era, so they could very well have been pretty rowdy places. Mom said they both burned down, and that's probably why her uncle (or great uncle) moved on to cooking for the forest service. I once asked her if it was her uncle's fault as the cook that the night clubs burned down. "Oh, no," she said, laughing.

My grandparents' restaurant in Oroville was called the Gilmore Inn. I believe Mom said it was on Feather River Blvd. I think Mom said it also burned down. It seems like a lot of restaurants burned down in the 1930's, especially ones connected with my mom's family.

I have a lot of questions for my mom the next time I see her. It will be fun to keep her engaged, to sit on the sofa on her left side (next to her "good" ear, the one with 12.5 % hearing without her hearing aid), and listen as she tells me the story of her youth.

When I get some more specifics on my gangster grandparents, I'll pass them on to you. In the meantime, you might want to read my first book,  A Day Out with Mom, to find out what I've discovered about my parents so far.

Copyright 2014 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved


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