Alfred Duryee Guion, my Grandfather and the author of most of the letters I post, wrote his autobiography while on an around-the-world tramp steamer cruise, at the age of 75. He had plenty of time sailing slowly from port to port, to look back on his life and put it down on paper for future generations.
The story of my boyhood would not be complete if I failed to mention my sister’s and my favorite cousins and playmates – the Duryees – Adele, Nan and Dudley. Dud was my own age, the girls a few years older. Adele, who was three or four years my senior seemed at my age to be old. Their father, whom I called Uncle Eddie, was my mother’s cousin and although he had perfectly good and respectable parents, he turned out to be the black sheep of the family. Alcohol was the cause.
In these days we would have regarded his failure as a disease and taken medical means to correct it, but at that time no such charitable view was taken. My mother, who always saw the best in everyone, claimed that he was always gentlemanly when sober and had perfect table manners. Before he had started downhill he had met and married a charming girl named Mary Blakelock. My folks were very fond of her and so was I. She had beautiful brown eyes, a nice complexion, a jolly disposition and got along with her drunken husband as best she could while the children were little. But personal abuse, the bad example and squandering on drink the money his wife earned finally resulted in her leaving him and bringing up her family alone.
On the oldest girl, Adele, fell the principal task of bringing up the younger ones while her mother worked during the day. And to the great credit of them all, the children turned out well. It was probably this early example of the curse of drink and my father’s strong feeling against saloons that I grew up with the feeling that they were dens of iniquity, and even to this day I feel ill at ease whenever I go into a place where there is a bar.
The last time I saw Uncle Eddie was on 42nd Street, New York, where he was marching up and down with a sign strapped high above his shoulders announcing the opening of a new restaurant. Such folks were called “sandwich men”. This form of advertising is no longer used unless it is by “pickets” in front of a plant where a strike is going on.
This reminds me of an incident which happened to me years later one night when I had been working overtime at my office in downtown New York and had boarded a subway train for Grand Central station. I was the only passenger in the car with the exception of a very seedy looking bum, much the worse for drink, who sidled up to me and started a conversation. He asked what my business was and when I replied “advertising”, his face lighted up and he said he was in the advertising business to, adding, “But ain’t it hell when the wind blows”.
If you are enjoying these stories of days gone by, why not share them with a friend. They might trigger a happy memory for them to share with their family. I believe that it is the traditions and stories a family shares that hold them together.