For as long as I can remember, I knew that I once had an uncle Roman. For just as long, I knew that he died as a teenager when he was climbing over a fence while hunting and a gun discharged.
I did not know who comprised the hunting party on that November day in 1933, but I knew that my father, two years younger than Uncle Roman, wasn’t part of it and that the boys’ father was. Roman was 15.
When I was in my 30s and interviewed my father about his life, I learned that after Roman died, my impoverished grandfather ran for township trustee — with the express purpose of making money to pay the undertaker.
Just a few years ago, now in my 50s, I was working on the life stories of a woman whose best friend grew up next to Grandpa and his family. That best friend and her siblings had, some years before, written their own life stories and compiled them into a book. One of the brothers wrote about their next-door neighbor, my grandfather. He mentioned the hunting accident in his recollections — and included the detail that it had been my grandfather’s gun that had fired. I always had thought it was Roman’s own gun that went off.
My grandfather died in 1967, so I didn’t have many years to know him. But in life and in the photographs I have seen of him, he always struck me as sad, somber, sedate. I can’t help but wonder what he was like before his son died.
Last fall I learned a little about newspapers.com and immediately ran Roman’s name through the database of our local newspaper. I found a letter to the editor written by his teacher from the preceding school year. I am grateful that she took the time to write it, as it gives me some idea of the boy he was and the man he might have grown up to be.
Christine Bartholet wrote that she would always remember Roman “as one of the most noble and dutiful pupils I have ever had,” and she recalled his “truth, honesty, loyalty and kindness.”
She went on to share that “his class standing was excellent and this was shown when he graduated from the eighth grade in 1933, ranking as second highest in Marion Township. Had opportunities been possible, with his standing he would have had a bright and prosperous future.”