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Memories of Carl Greene

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Here’s a photo of my mother, Mary Alyce Greene Anderson. It was taken in 1941 or 42 when she was living in Long Beach, California, where my father was stationed during the first part of the War. (Soon after he left for the Pacific, she realized she was pregnant in Parkersburg. She raised me alone until Dad came back when I was a year and a half old.) I really like this photo, taken while they were still together in California, because she seems so happy Mary Alyce (1919-1989) was the second surviving child of Carl Brown Greene (1882-1949) and Gertrude Blanche Holdren (1885-1929). She was, she once told me, named for her grandmother, Mary Adkins Greene. In the note I wrote to accompany the photo of Gertrude, I said that my mother was fourteen when her mother died; but I think my memory failed me: The notes I’m looking at right now, made when Mother was alive, give her mother’s death date as 1929. That would have made my mother ten years old at the time, and that jibes with the feeling I always had from her, a sense that she lost her mother at too young an age and that she felt the absence throughout her life.

Carl and Gertrude’s first child was a son named James, who died when less than a year old. Next was Phyllis (1914-1979), whose only daughter, Anna [Keenan] (b. 1940), still lives in Vienna, WV; and then came my mother. After Gertrude died, Carl married Stella Nuzam (born around 1934); and they had one daughter, Patricia Ann. Pat has lived in the Chicago area for many years.

Carl died in 1949, when I was four and a half. I wish I had some real memory of the man, but unfortunately all I’ve got is a composite made up of odds and ends that I’ve been told about him. He worked for the trolley line that ran through Parkersburg; and my Mother often recounted how, when she was still alone with me, Carl B. would come by on Saturday afternoons to take me for a ride on the trolley. We could go for free, and we’d stay on as it took its entire circuit through the city grandson, and me soon fast asleep.

In his latter years, Carl prided himself on his active membership in several fraternal organizations and, I think, the Eagles. He also liked to go out dancing on Saturday nights: After Dad came back from the service, sometimes they’d all go out together (Stella Nuzam, the step-mother, was a teetotaling Nazarene and stayed home.)

I wish I’d been old enough to go along on those evenings out, because Carl sounds like he was a really interesting man. He was a snazzy dresser, as you can see from the first photo I sent. Gertrude seems to have been the same, based on the photo I sent of her. Not only did she own a millinery shop, but most of her sisters had careers outside the home, from Alice Ballentine, who ran a bank in Marietta (because, it was said, her husband, who had started the bank, was a little too fond of drink), to Odie, who never married but who for many years worked at the Pentagon.

Gertrude’s family had a farm not far from the Greene farm in Newport: According to my notes, it was just about where the Ohio River dam is today. In a photo that I have, the house actually looks much like the Greene house. (My mother was able to go to California to be with my dad during the War because she sold, for $500, the share she had inherited of the Holdren farm.) Apparently the Holdrens didn’t approve of Carl and Gertrude getting married, because, according to my mother, the two of them flagged down a riverboat on the Ohio and eloped to Pittsburgh.

That wasn’t the first time Carl had done such a thing. When he was sixteen, the story goes, he lied about his age, joined the Navy, fought in the Spanish American War, and sailed around the world. I’ve got photos of some of the vessels he was on and a journal that he kept. Mom said that he had a ship tattooed on his chest. What a guy!

I myself am a college professor, a cultural anthropologist, and a writer. Carl’s life and world should seem fairly remote to me; but I have a few of his hand tools, and when I use them, I inevitably think about how much character he must have had. I envy the richness of his experience, his seeming to live life to the fullest. After Kim told me about her email exchange with you, I found myself thinking about the line, Let us now
praise famous men. I had to use Google to get the rest of the quotation, but the whole thing (in the apocrypha to Ecclesiastics, I discovered) goes, Let us now praise famous men and our fathers in their  generations...There are some of them who have left a name, so that men declare their praise. And there are some who have no memorial, who have perished as though they had not lived. Carl, bless his heart, was in the latter category. He didn’t have much of a memorial, either figuratively or literally: Stella scrimped on his headstone, and I almost never get to Parkersburg to tend it. But I think he had to have been a very cool guy.

I think that people often become interested in genealogy to see if they’re related to famous men which the Greene family certainly has its share of. For my part, and no doubt it reveals the cultural anthropologist in me, I’m at least as interested in men and women like Carl B. Greene, the ones who have no memorial but who, if you look at their lives, were good and interesting people. If I belonged to the VFW or the Odd Fellows or the Eagles, I go to the lodge this evening to him and his memory.

Richard L Anderson

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Carl Brown Greene

Gertrude Greene

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