My father deserves a chapter all to himself, as does my brother Steve. My Uncle Bob and Aunt Mary, and their daughter, my cousin Roberta, played a really small fraction in my life. The same applies to my father’s father, who wasn’t a good person, (on my parents’ wedding day he approached my father complementing my mother’s beauty and saying “She’s a nice piece of ass. Could I fuck her sometime?”). His wife Edith, my grandmother, had early onset Alzheimers (or simple dementia) and was difficult to talk to. When she spoke it was a kind of sing-song of repeated words: “Uncle George is in Australia, he must be dead by now.” She remembered how to play the piano. She’d played church organ in Canada with my father pumping the bellows at her feet. She couldn’t learn new music and just repeated the same hymns over and over kinda mechanically, stiff and almost comically robot-like. Since at the end of her life my mother also had Alzheimers I may have inherited that tendency in both sets of genes. But if I get onto that kind of thinking: both of my parents had strokes too! It was after one of my mother’s that she began her mental decline.
My second cousin Jim Ackerman wanted to balance the stories that he knew Grace and Helen told me. He loved his Uncle Jack, my mother’s father, who’d tell wonderful tales, make his nephews laugh, play games, and generally was a good-fellow-well-met. Of course my mother had told us a lot of negative stories, so when I returned to Southern California Steve and I determined to meet Jack for the first time.
We had to go through various neutral relatives we hardly knew, but we tracked him down not far from Compton and made an appointment. We met one morning on Jack’s patio. It was like meeting a caricature of a person. “How’s your mother? Rest her soul!” (She was still alive.) Jack wanted to set the record straight: he’d stayed with the woman who had been the reason for the divorce (she stayed inside the house). His voice was kinda sing-song, like someone who barked for a side-show. There was something of Steve in him, or vice versa. The story-teller, the hustler, the con artist that sometimes endeared Steve to his audience, was obviously Jack’s standard mode of operation. Steve and I left in complete agreement that this was almost a case of psychological derangement. Jack believed what he was spouting. It was only about a year later that we learned that he’d died of a stroke.
This is the place for me to tell a few good stories about Nana, our fine, beloved grandmother, Grace. Though a little heavy (befitting her age when we knew her), she was proud of her legs and always wore high heels and stockings. She was quiet, loving, caring, and helpful. When she was recovering from her throat cancer she lived with us for years. She taught me card games and we laughed like drunkards while playing double solitaire. Once when on Christmas eve I played Silent Night on the viola, my parents rudely sent me packing, Nana came to my bedroom where I was still crying and said I could play for her anytime. She helped with the cooking, cleaning, ironing, etc., never to my mother’s standards, but in spite of this they got along. They were always close. They had weathered the depression without a “breadwinner.” It had just been the two of them sometimes sharing a boiled potato as the day’s only nourishment. This privation was certainly my mother’s motivation to get a degree and become a teacher. Mom always praised the scholarship money she got from FDR’s programs. How they managed financially I’ll never know. I don’t have crazy stories about Grace, but just her recollections of growing up on a farm in 19th century Montana. Cold, horses, snow, and freezing are the words I remember. It must have turned warm in the summer, but all she told Steve and me were stories of the cold. She also told of a beau that died before they could marry. She never mentioned Jack. That was a sore subject. She was an independent lady with her own (small) income from menial work. I have one crazy story for which she was literally the by-stander. She never drove; one night after work, when she was waiting for the bus, a taxi accidentally rammed the car in front of him. This caused the taxi’s trunk to fly open and the spare tire to get propelled out, hitting Nana in the forehead. We got a call in the middle of the night and my folks went down to the hospital to bring her to our house. She’d been knocked out and there was a scar, but she recovered with no long-term problems. She never lost her mind. Even when she was in the final months of her life, dying in a nursing home in California, she sent funny letters to me in New York. When she couldn’t write she dictated her final notes to a woman in the next bed who could. I was amazed that my folks took a cruise when she was in her last days. It was the summer of 1973 that Diane called and left a message of Nana’s death on my answering device. It was a strange, lonely, really nightmarish ending to a sweet life. There are other stories to tell about my relatives, but they’re so weird, humiliating, or disgusting, that I prefer to let them die with me.
Family Tree Stuff: Grace Vilate Parker Ackerman’s mother was Fannie Aldred (1855–1947) born in Suffolk, England; her father was Thomas Armstrong Parker (1850–1923) born in Quebec, Canada. His father was Salomon Parker (1804–?). Grace was born in Montana & lived from 1885 until 6 September 1973.
The original Ackermans came from the Netherlands: James Harvey Ackerman the 1st, born in Amsterdam, settled in Passaic, NJ. James Harvey Ackerman the 2nd, was born in Passaic and left home at age 17 eventually reaching Wilmington, Illinois where he met and married Ella Bell Brown, born there in 1860. Her father’s name was Johnathan Lisander Brown, of English parents. Her mother’s name was Lucy Lustacia Stover, of Scottish parents. They had seven children: Harry Creely, 1878; George 1880 (died in infancy); Alice Ann, 1881, born in Colorado Springs; Ralph Waldo, 1883; James Harvey 3rd 1885; John Wesley (Jack) 1887; Florence Rachel, 1891, born in Grand Junction, Colorado. Jack died 2 September 1986 of a massive stroke;
My paternal grandparents were born in England, my father in Canada. My grandmother’s maiden name was Ball.
Though not a blood relative, Diane, Steve’s wife, became the sister I never had. Much easier to love than Steve, I’ve shared some tough times with her and she always was kind, thoughtful, and positive. She and I were co-trustees of my father’s estate and we shared that year-long task without a single “discouraging word.” Diane continued to her death to be a friend and relative of the highest order and I thank her for her presence in my life. When my father was ill towards the end of his life I was in Hawaii a lot and Diane always took the time to visit and care for him. Dad loved Diane like a daughter.
Until recently I hardly knew my nephews or their children. Time and distance made it difficult. Also we have little in common. Todd and his family are born-agains and Steven Douglas and his family knew little of me until recently. In 2017 they visited O’ahu and we met and chatted, but we hardly connected. I must seem a strange beast. In 2021 the family was here to install their daughter Ari at UH Manoa. In the spring of 2022 they returned to remove her and her stuff. After my broken back in November 2022, Steven Douglas offered to fly over and help me after I was discharged from the PT facility. That visit turned into a great relationship that we’ve developed. Steven Douglas loves Dennis too and he returns every two months for a ten-day stay during which he helps us tremendously, whether house work, fixing light switches, or taking our books and CDs to the Friends of the Library. We’ve also had some video calls with his kids. His oldest, Anthony, is getting married next month (October 2023). Steven Douglas is inviting us to move to Santa Rosa, CA to rent a house he owns just down the block from his regular dwelling. We’ll discuss the timing of this.
Cousin Roberta’s daughter Gayle and family visited once and they’re nice. Being strict Mormons (Roberta and her husband fell out of the Church), we have very different basic assumptions.
Jim and Lorraine Ackerman’s daughter, Nancy, is friendly, has visited us on the Big Island and O’ahu. Now we phone each other once in a while and I always enjoy her engaging, happy, chatter.
On the next page you can wade through photos of the family (or not).