Tragedy can be defined as an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe. ¹ My maternal grandmother, Ruberta (Hood) Lane was no stranger to tragedy.
Maw, as we called her, was not warm and fuzzy like my maternal grandmother. My dad was her oldest son. He left home in his late twenties. We only visited Maw four or five times during my youth. I don’t ever recall being hugged by her. Small pieces of the puzzle have emerged through the years that helped me understand why my grandmother was so cold.
Maw married my grandfather, William Everett Lane, on March 12, 1913. ² He was seventeen, and she was eighteen. My father was an eighth-month baby. Maw was the mother of six children by the time she was thirty. Life was not easy for the couple.
My grandfather worked at a box factory in Caruthersville, Missouri, during the early days of their marriage. As the depression deepened, he most likely lost this job and was forced to go into farming. According to my father, he was a sharecropper. For those who could afford to own land, there was a route to economic success. For people like my grandfather, with little or no cash to buy land, the option was to work the land in return for a share of the crops. Eventually, my grandfather went into carpentry. As the United States began to come out of the depression, he started building houses. ³ By the end of the 1930s, things were looking up for the family.
Then tragedy struck. On June 4, 1939, my grandfather was running errands. His last stop was to fill up his car with gas. As he pulled out of the gas station, a Greyhound bus struck his automobile. Later, in testimony, the bus driver said he sounded his horn, but my grandfather pulled his car into the path of the bus. ⁴ My grandfather was killed instantly. The unfortunate bus driver, W. G. Piguee, was charged with manslaughter. When my grandmother refused to press charges, the charges were dismissed. ⁵ More information about my grandfather and the accident can be found here.
Maw was on her own to raise her two youngest daughters. Fortunately, newspapers reported the Grey Hound Bus Company settled with my grandmother. However, I haven’t found any proof of the settlement. Trouble began to brew between my father and grandmother after the death of my grandfather. My father told me that his mother wanted too much of his paycheck from him. That is why he moved away from home. What he didn’t tell me was he was married and had two young daughters. A relative told me the death of his father changed him. He received a settlement from the bus company and started drinking and running around. His marriage deteriorated, ending in divorce.
Two years later, the United States entered into the battle arena of World War II. In 1944, Vernon, my dad’s brother, was employed in St. Louis as a primer assembly machine adjuster by a company that manufactured small arms. He was married and had two young children. On March 7, 1944, Vernon joined the Navy. He wrote several letters to my grandmother that explained a lot about the family dynamics. My dad had received a deferment from the U.S. Government and wasn’t required to serve in the war. And, he and his first wife, Nima, had split for good.
The last letter that Vernon wrote to my grandmother was from somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Here is the transcription edited for brevity but not punctuation.
Mar 18 – 45
I first got your letter and was real glad to get it and know you are all well. I was glad you went by and seen Evelyn and the boys. I would give anything in the world to see them. Well maybe it won’t be too awful long until I can see them. Well Mama I am going to stop for the night the lights will be going off soon and I will finish this tomorrow. Well Mama I am going to try to finish this letter now. Mama I just first heard that this might be my last letter for a while so if you don’t hear from me soon don’t think anything and I will keep writing and send them when they do go off. And Mama when I come home I will try to let you know and you be sure to be at my house when I come home. And if it is possible we may come down there on one week end. Well Mama I am going to knock off for now and keep writing me real often and I will do the same tell all the girls hello and tell Bell I haven’t got time to ans. her letter so it will go off today and this will be the last one for a while but I will ans. it tomorrow but I don’t know when it will go off. By for now Mom. I love you lots and lots.
Vernon E. Lane S 1/C
What my grandmother didn’t know was Vernon was about to board the U.S.S. Kimberly. The destroyer departed San Pedro Bay in the Philippines on March 21, 1945, for radar picket duty. ⁶ The ship was attacked on March 26th by two Aichi D3A dive bombers. One enemy plane crashed into the aft gun mounts, injuring sixty-one men. Vernon, seriously burned, was transferred to the U.S.S. Rixley military hospital ship on March 30th, where he died of his injuries. He was buried at sea the same day. ⁷ You can read more about Vernon here.
Thousands of miles away, my grandmother received a Western Union telegram advising her of the death of her son. It must have been bitter-sweet when the war in the Pacific Arena ended three months later, on September 2, 1945. ⁸ I hope she had some comfort in knowing that he was part of the thousands of men and women who fought successfully to end the war.
A few years back, I visited with a cousin that I hadn’t seen for fifty years. She had in her possession the purse of my grandmother. You can read about Maw’s purse here. Within were receipts, receipts that meant something to her. The original telegram advising of my uncle’s death was also there. The items went back to the early years of her marriage through the time of her death. These bits and pieces of her life showed me that Maw possessed a bit of sentimentality.
I understand now that my grandmother was cold and aloof to protect herself. She had lost her father when she was a child. She lost her husband and son within six years of each other. Her oldest son turned his back on her probably through misunderstandings on the part of both of them. As a result, she wrapped her body in chilliness to protect her soft heart within from further hurt. I feel for my grandmother and wish that I could have known her better.
¹Google Dictionary, https://www.google.com
²Tennessee State Archives, Tennessee State Marriages, 1780-2002: 13, Lane-Hood; digital images, Ancestry.com, “Marriage Record, Lake County, Tennessee,” Tennessee State Marriages, 1780-2002 (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 Jun 2015).
³Vandivort Lumber Co. supply list for the Dillman servant house; privately held by [NAME AND ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE]. These items were in a purse owned by Ruberta Lane.
⁴Obituaries, The Republican, Caruthersville, Missouri, 1938-1943 (Steele, Missouri: Frances Funderburk, 2005), Caruthersville, MO Library Copy: 21.
⁵”Case Against Bus Driver, Held After Crash, Is Dismissed,” The Democrat-Argus, 13 Jun 1939, p. 1; digital images, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 18 Jan 2019).
⁶Wikipedia, U. S. S. Kimberly (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Kimberly_(DD-521) : accessed 23 May 2015), U. S. S. Kimberly, (DD-521).
⁷ Documentation of injuries and death for Vernon Everett Lane aboard the U.S.S. Rixey; Unknown Series, [NAME AND ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE}; National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis.
⁸End of World War II in Asia, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/End_of_World_War_II_in_Asia#