One week ago today, my fourth grandchild was born. She is the first child of my last child; the baby girl of my baby girl. Yes, I am a happy grandma and a very proud mama, but why does being a Grandma mean more to me than any other role I have ever held? I would say that most likely has something to do with my Grandma, my namesake, Margaret “Ellen” Savage Rebman.
We learn by example. I learned much from my childhood and my grandparents. Both of my grandmas were named Margaret, but my mother’s mother used our mutual middle name as her first. Everyone called her “Ellen,” but for me and three other very special children, she was “Grandma.”
My father’s mother had experienced a severe car accident in a Mustang convertible that left her in a wheelchair for as long as I can remember. My childhood memories of visiting “Grandma King” as she would be known for the last surname she acquired by marriage, were filled with the strange smells and sights of retirement homes. I wish I would have had a chance to know the woman who I hear from my uncle spent summers vacationing in Canada hunting with my grandfather. But that woman was a distant memory by the time I was old enough to carry on a conversation with my Grandmother.
My mother’s mother was an entirely different story. My childhood memories are full of beachcombing trips and my first time on a salmon charter boat complete with my grandparents and mom.
My Grandma and Grandpa (Ellen and John) lived on the beach in a cove on Hood Canal at the base of Puget Sound in a little place called Union, Washington. It was a slice of heaven. They moved to Olympia to be closer to their great-grandchildren after my second child was born, but my memories of them were on the Canal.
A CB Radio handle she adopted fit her well, “Beachcomber” fit Grandma as well as “Monkey” fit me. Many of the summer days I spent with my grandma were on the beach in front of their home. Grandpa had built a dock jutting out of the bulkhead between their home and their neighbor’s summer home. It was the perfect place to fish off the end of and catch the ugliest fish you ever saw… but grandma’s cats loved them.
The cats grandma allowed me to feed my catches to were actually strays. As an adult I now realize being so close to the water, the only way to keep rats away was to keep cats around. My grandma was pretty smart that way about a lot of things.
Ten days before I turned forty, my second son and his girlfriend became the proud parents of a baby boy, Aydin. My first grandchild and only grandson to this day. He changed my life by making me a grandma.
Very soon after Aydin was born, his mother decided to continue her education. By taking a class here and there, she could continue to be active in school, yet still feel she was fulfilling her duty to her son. I agreed to help out.
The daily traveling to my baby grandson’s home, then taking his mom to school and spending time with him and sometimes my mother who worked on campus was an incredible opportunity to bond with my grandson. This also allowed Aydin’s great-grandma to see him much more than she would have had an opportunity to if we weren’t visiting her at work. A few hours a day, every weekday for a three month period of time, I had “grandma duty.”
In 2010, I finally had the opportunity to meet my twin granddaughters, Saphira and Serulea, daughters of my estranged firstborn son and his wife. They were just getting ready to turn two years old. The girls were living with their mother’s mother, Mary, and their little sister B.
Our visits have gotten more frequent over the years. Currently, we live only about a mile apart and we TRY to go to church together each Sunday. It is a crazy new experience for me to live just down the road from these now preteen girls and we are having a lot of fun getting to know one another.
As I held my daughter’s daughter last week… this precious new life… I reflected on what being a grandma means to me. What “duty” do I have to these little girls and one lonesome boy?
I am a different woman than I was when Aydin was born. Jaina’s grandma will not be the same woman Aydin’s grandma was. I’m eleven years older than I was back then. But I am younger.
When Aydin was born, I was living out of a bed. My arm always had a fabric band on it to protect him from coming into contact with the deadly narcotic that kept me able to be active at all. When Aydin came into the world, my body was heavily dependant on the pain management of opiates.
In 2009, when Aydin was three, I said farewell to opioids. It was “grandma duty” that got me out of bed during severe withdrawals and gave me the impetus to keep on trying. One week ago, I saw my daughter display more strength than I thought possible when from her tiny frame she gave birth naturally to the most perfect little angel I have ever met.
My grandchildren are my heart and soul. They are my mirrors. I anxiously await the journeys we shall experience together. I am just thankful to Heavenly Father I am here to be able to get to know these wonderful little people He has seen fit to share with my family.
I want to talk about the many brave men and their families who make up the Veteran heritage that I have discovered during my genealogical inquiries.
My grandfather, George Ronald Slighte, was the first soldier in his family. Coming from a Canadian family full of sailors, his family moved from Port Hope, Ontario to Oakland, California while he was still a babe in arms. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, he only took a few days to get his effects in order with his bride, Margaret, before heading out under General MaCarthur in the Pacific theater.
George’s bride’s father, Orville Foley, had served in the Navy in the previous World War. My great-grandfather Foley was a known in our family as a bit of a scoundrel. His death records confirmed the family rumors weren’t entirely based on fiction. The extracurricular activities that Sailor Foley had engaged in during the war had left him with syphilis. He died of complications of that disease many decades later in California. My great-grandmother Hazel who had married Orville as a teen and given her heart to the boy become sailer, had her heart broken when her young husband came back with the disease and divorced him. My grandmother never knew her father and was raised by her mother and her family, the Brees.
My great-grandmother’s family the Brees were members of a different type of Army. Their service was in the Salvation Army. After having converted to the religion Yorkshire, England,, they helped to spread the assistance organization far and wide across the United States of America in the dawn of the 1900s. Lt. Col. George Bree and his bride Clara would eventually retire in the Los Angeles area. The Brees assisted men and women who were in trouble understand that they were still children of God who deserved another chance.
My Mother’s Side
As I began to research my mother’s side of the family years ago, I was disappointed that I hadn’t been more curious when I was younger. Both my maternal grandparents passed away before my interest in genealogy was sparked.
My mother’s father’s family came originally from the Gros-Réderching, Moselle area of Lorraine, France in the border region currently between Germany and France. Giggles were not restrained when I was looking it up and found that the area my family comes from is the intercommunality CC du Pays de Bitche.
When I looked back through my Rebman grandfathers, the first clue of active service to the United States was found in the 1930 census. George Warren Rebman, my mother’s father’s father, recorded that he was a Veteran of the Spanish-American war. George Rebman also registered for the draft in 1918 at the age of 42.
I have to admit I remembered very little about the Spanish-American War from history class. When I looked it up, I was surprised that my great-grandfather had fought in this 3 month war in 1898. He was 22 at the time and that was to begin a bit of an exploratory time of his life. He was briefly married and divorce in Cripple Creek, Colorado before Great-Grandpa Rebman was to land in Washington state and settle down with Great-Grandma Essie Maude. My grandfather, John Edward Rebman, was the third of their six children.
George Warren Rebman’s father was Andrew Rebman. My second great-grandfather Andrew Rebman was a Private in the Civil War who served in the 120th Illinois Infantry. Andrew was the first of my Rebman line born in America. He enlisted six weeks before his thirtieth birthday.
On my mother’s mother’s side, my FIFTH great-grandfather, Alexander Huston was born in Pennsylvania in 1745. He served Pennsylvania and the colonies in the Revolutionary War that was to see the birth of our great nation. He died in February 1814 in Montgomery Ohio at the age of 69 and was buried there with his family.
I learned a lot while researching this. Some of the research had been performed in the last few years by myself and others, but other pieces I actually was forced to seek out and verify today. This was a fun project, I recommend that everyone go through their family tree and find the heroes this Remembrance Day weekend.
For those who are interested in such a project, I personally used both Ancestry as well as Family Search in my research. My investigation was assisted greatly by the US 1910 and 1930 censuses both of which requested information about military service.
Good luck and I hope many happy treasures are uncovered for your family!
My father had always said we had ink in our veins. So many of us worked in publishing, on both sides of my father’s family. When I began to delve earnestly into my family history, I soon discovered that when your family works on the backside of the paper, they are more likely than likely going to have their stories printed on the front.
When I entered the family history center that stormy April afternoon, I had one thing on my mind; I had never seen a photo of my father’s father. I was 46 and I had never seen my grandfather’s face.
I typed his name into the search bar on the site, Newspapers.com, “George R. Slighte,” the results came back instantly.
Under a photo, I read the words exactly as I had just typed: “George R. Slighte,” then the caption continued: “31, Pacific war veteran, surrendered to police as a driver of a hit-run car. -Tribune photo.”
I continued to read the story below his photo. It first detailed his surrender by phone, after striking an unknown object the night before. He was arrested and held that Christmas Eve day.
As I sat in the sparsely populated Family History room of the Stake Center, the hum of the computers and microfiche reader behind me and the constant quiet conversation of the volunteers on the computers to the right of me seemed to fade away as I was drawn further into my grandfather’s story. The bits and pieces I had been told as a small child hadn’t included anything about an accident. As I studied his face on the screen searching for similarities in my own and my children’s, I longed to know more about George’s life.
My grandfather’s sad tale played out like a soap opera in clippings from the Oakland Daily Tribune where both his brothers, Tom and Ray, worked. His father and he were also printers, working together at a private print shop at the time he enlisted in the Army a few years before.
The printers at the Tribune knew the story behind George’s brave service to his country and possibly they included his tale to temper the words that were so difficult to tell about another holiday drunk driving tragedy.
My memories about my grandfather were scarce and very confusing to my child mind. My father, in loud angry, insulting words, would describe how my brother was not named after his father, George, because my mother didn’t think George was the type of man you named a child after. My mother debates that statement. I grew up knowing this to be true. No matter who had said it, my perception was that my family thought George was a bad man. As I continued to read the words about his service to our country, my attitude about the grandfather I never knew changed. My respect for the hero that had served our country began to grow.
Through the mouths of several generations, a phrase was highlighted in my memory, I knew that he was injured in World War II, “hit in the back of the head by a Jap rifle,” was always how it was told. I was never told where, although a recent trip to the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. found me on my knees at an impression of the words, “New Guinea” in the concrete. Here it was in black and white:
“Slighte, a printer, who enlisted in the Army five days after the Pearl Harbor attack, was partly paralyzed during the fighting on New Guinea in 1943 when he was struck on the back of the head by a Jap rifle butt.”
The results of George’s injuries, untreated, created a domino-effect of trauma that is still echoing four generations later. Although our family attempted to erase George’s death through disposing of his photos and forbidding to speak of him; that didn’t keep his own son, then a great-grandson from following in his footsteps in the manner of their deaths. Sitting in that Family History Center, I realized that my own post-traumatic stress disorder could be directly traced to my grandfather’s service.
“George and his wife have one child, Ronald, 1 ½, and expect another early next year.” The last sentence shuddered through me. The other they expected, would be my aunt Pegi; My father was Ronald. Adversity hit the little family at it’s core before my aunt was born. Tragedy was to be her life for her first few years. The only years she was to share on earth with her father.
The one memory that was shared with me from the time I was far too young to comprehend its relationship to my abuse, was the memory my father carried about his father’s death. I don’t remember how old I was the first time I heard the words from my dad, “he took off his watch [speaking about his father], gave it to me, then went in his office and closed the door. The next thing I heard was a gunshot.” My father was four years old at the time. His little sister was 2. The man who was to cause my own mental illness, experienced the trauma that would be the undoing of at least two more generation’s psychological health on that day.
For the first 46 years of my life, one thing I knew about my paternal grandfather was the method of his death. I had no idea why, or who he was before he died. I had never seen his face. The day I saw his face, I also found another article in the Oakland Tribune about George Ronald Slighte. This piece confirmed what I knew to be true as well. It ran twenty-one years to the day from his grandson’s, my brother Jason’s birth, on 6 June 1949. It was printed on page 7:
In the three years since discovering those clips about my grandfather, George Ronald Slighte, I have continued to search for more clues.
The newspaper clippings continued the tale backwards and forwards in time from 1932 to 1999. My grandfather’s and father’s tales and traumas wove through the press. The ink in our veins was in fact splashed upon the front pages.
A newspaper person, a journalist, printer, typesetter, editor and even the errand boy all know one thing: Everyone sees what is on top of the fold on the front page. It is the display copy in the newspaper boxes, it is what was shouted from the corner newsboys. In my children’s generation the term translates into the readable webpage upon loading. Above the fold lies the news. Everyone and no one wants to be there.
On Christmas Eve day, George’s face fell above the fold. On the front page of the local section, his story ran in all it’s glory. The word in the black and white print that made me gulp, when I thought of the service the article delineated so well below it, was “surrendered,” I only could imagine how my grandfather felt at the same word.
Surrender. After having his head literally bashed in by the butt of a rifle, then carried over a ragged mountain range for eight days by natives, I imagine “surrender” was the last word George would have ever wanted attributed to him. But there it was in black and white.
This 5’6” man, my grandfather, stood the same height as both my grandmother stood and now I stand. For a man that’s not too tall at all. But he stood those five feet six inches proudly. He stood up for what he thought was right. This time he knew he had done wrong and it was time to stand up and say that too.
In my immediate family, I have tried to teach my children the value of telling the truth. Sometimes that was difficult, withholding a punishment you thought well-deserved just because the child came forward. As difficult as it was, such actions proved to teach the lesson that my grandfather already understood: No matter what, it’s always best to tell the truth.
The Tribune went on to describe how his honesty was not rewarded. He was found guilty of vehicular manslaughter and the family sued for wrongful death. The legal results of those cases have since been lost to the annals of time, but the personal result was clear: George was a broken man.
What wasn’t delineated in neat black-and-white newsprint, was the toll George’s actions and injuries were to take on generations to come. Trauma is like that. One traumatic event in a person’s life can scar generations not yet conceived in ways never imagined.
“Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be caused by any trauma such as first-hand abuse, sexual abuse, witnessing any type of violence, car accidents, personal injury, or seeing death firsthand, not only in war. Although PTSD is commonly associated with veterans at war, this group in reality only accounts for 38.2% of all diagnosed PTSD cases. The other 61.8% is majorly made up of victims of abuse or violent crime” (Cole).
When my four-year-old father witnessed his father’s suicide, my grandfather effectively handed down the PTSD one generation. When my father acted out in his own trauma and abused myself and my brother, this non-genetic disorder of the brain was to affect yet another generation: My brother’s son passed in the same manner as his grandfather, down to the caliber of the gun.
It is not uncommon for a family to have a tendency towards PTSD. There has been recent research that indicates susceptibility to a PTSD response to trauma is possibly up to 40% genetic. In 2012 UCLA geneticists discovered two genes that appear to be linked to the development of PTSD (Schmidt, 2012).
SgtMaj. Casey D. Cole, USMC (ret) feels that the plague of PTSD-related suicides has to stop. So much so that he testified in front of a Senate committee on Veteran Suicide in 2011 about a simple programming addition that could be made into the Department of Veteran’s Affairs’ (VA) automated answering prompts that would immediately connect a veteran who is calling for help to a person who can do so. That has currently been implemented. Since this happened, the number of veteran suicides has fallen from the infamous “Twenty22Many” to twenty every day. While we all agree that is still far too many, it is less. I was thankful to have the opportunity to thank SgtMaj. Cole for not only his service to his country, but also for his service to generations of families yet to be conceived.
As I learned about my grandfather’s service, and his life before both the accident and then his tragic death, I learned to respect the man that he was. Upon realizing that our family probably carries at least one of the genes that make us all more susceptible to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder reactions to traumatic events, I realized that we have opportunities ahead of us as a family to help future generations by becoming more informed about this disorder.
Cole, SgtMaj. Casey D, USMC (ret). Personal Interview. 12-13 Oct 2016.
Department of Health Services, State of California. “Certificate of Death: George Ronald Slighte.” State file 49-042891 1 and 2 of 2. Certificate issued on APR 30, 2002.
Certificate barcode number 001380964.
Frissa, Souci, et al. “Challenges In The Retrospective Assessment Of Trauma: Comparing A Checklist Approach To A Single Item Trauma Experience Screening Question.” BMC Psychiatry 16.(2016): PsycINFO. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.
King, John Charles. Personal Interview. 18 September 2016.
National Archives and Records Administration. “U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946: George Ronald Slighte.” Ancestry.com Operations Inc. 2005. Provo, UT, USA.
Oakland Tribune. “Accident Death Results in Suit.” Oakland, California. 12 Jan 1947. Page 13. Print.