After my mother had her stoke in 2007, I began to know my dad better. As a Christmas present I’d given him a little black notebook with instructions to please write down memories of his life. It wasn’t a surprise to me that he complied. I think it helped him after my mom became sick. And it helped us. He wrote. I read. I edited. He approved. I found out things about him and his life that I hadn’t known. I heard stories in more detail. But most of all, working on this project formed the basis for a closer relationship, something that had gotten lost amongst my mother’s needs in the last decades of her life.
My parents’ personalities complimented and aggravated each other. Where she was sentimental, he was fiercely independent. Janet clung to the past. Charlie forged ahead into the future. She laughed, and he often earned one of his nicknames, “Grumpy Crumpy.” But I admired and loved him. We understood each other. We argued, but they were good and productive arguments. He never held a grudge – his anger passed quickly.
Wallingford, Connecticut was a small town. My parents were born there and grew up there, and their families knew each other. Charlie was a close friend of my mom’s brother, Francis Hall. They hunted together and spent time with their other high school friends at a cabin near Tyler Mill called “The Shanty.”
In a letter to my mom at college in 1938 my grandmother mentions my future father.
“Not a visitor today except Crump and Cooper. I hadn’t seen Charlie Crump since last summer until this afternoon.” – Agnes Biggs Hall
My dad loved animals, especially horses, and spent as much time as he could at his aunt and uncle’s farm in Northford, Connecticut. But he never looked like a farmer. He had style, and he demonstrated it early.
He wouldn’t want me to write anything about him that sounded like an obituary. He hated the cemetery, he hated funerals, and he never “dwelled in the past,” as my mother would have said. He was what people describe as a self-made man, and he was proud of it.
After high school graduation in 1936 Charlie got on a bus and headed west. I always thought he’d run away from home, but in a letter to his parents he says,”
“When I get home I’m going to make you go someplace for a rest Dad. I’m big enough to look after the shop [my grandfather owned a printing shop] at the desk now, you’ve done more for me than anything in the world by letting me take this trip – I wouldn’t have missed it for 10 new cars, so I ought to be able to do a little something for you now.” Charles G. Crump, September, 1936
He was away from Wallingford from June until October. On a ranch in Montana he milked cows, herded horses, cooked meals, acquired his favorite nickname, “Buck,” and found himself a life-long identity as a cowboy.
When summer ranch season ended, he went to California and worked for a time for Lee Duncan, owner of Rin-Tin-Tin.
“Well, well, well. I have a job, – and guess who with! Lee Duncan – the man that owned and trained Rin-Tin-Tin…He saw me on the street the other day with my big hat on and stopped and asked me if I’d like a job taking care of his horse and dogs and helping him in general.” – Charles G. Crump, September, 1936
He returned to Montana for many summers after that, and sometimes took us with him when we were growing up. When asked what my father did I always answered, “He’s a cowboy.” Stockbroker was too hard a profession for a young girl to understand.
My grandmother Hall was right in a way about him being a “playboy,” but sometime in 1941 he began in earnest to court my mother. When cleaning out the basement at my parents’ house a few years ago I found boxes and boxes of letters written back and forth between my engaged, and then married, mom and dad. But the one thing I looked for and never found was a record they made together on their honeymoon in New York City in 1943. In those days there were little booths where you could make your own record – audio selfies. They sung together “Let me call you sweetheart.” Their two pleasing voices harmonized like professionals. Even now, when I hear it only as a memory, the happiness they shared in those heady first years of their life together shines through.
On Monday: The Little House in the Glen