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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Life and Living

Wild About Harry
Charles Ausherman

My father’s dad was a handsome man named Harry. As a traveling salesman for Colliers Publishing Company, he got around to most every town in the Midwest.

After his wife died when dad was six years old, Harry hardly ever took time to come home. So, his son, Raymond, was left to raise himself. Actually, I am not sure if Harry kept a home which means his son, my father, was out on the street.
Beginning in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he was born, Dad eventually learned that freight trains provided a home on wheels, and free transportation to just about anywhere. Empty box cars were easy to jump onto even for a kid. His fellow passengers were some older guys who would let him find a corner to stretch out and enjoy the ride.

How a young, twelve-year-old kid could survive this life-style is a mystery to this day. Having learned to relate to anyone regardless of who they were, Dad could make friends wherever he went for the rest of his life. I have never heard him once complain about hardship during those years he spent riding the rails. Instead he would tell of the wonders of all the cities he visited from coast to coast.

Dad’s first-hand understanding of geography became a lifelong fascination. In later years, he would sit us down in front of his huge collection of maps to share his passion for that subject.

But while my father was out there as a youngster roaming around, Harry was also doing his thing. Somehow, his gracious Southern accent, good looks and gentlemanly manner appealed to the ladies as he moved about the country.

I asked Dad what his father did for a living. He answered, "Well, son, your grandpa was a salesman who just went from titty to titty."

Some of Harry’s stopovers became "regulars." As a result, my father ended up with half brothers and half sisters who had different mothers but the same father. I’m not surprised that my parents never went into details when we were introduced to various members of this extended family.

At least once a year we would make the rounds to uncles and aunts who all bore a resemblance to Harry. Most of this branch of Harry’s progeny lived in central Indiana. I can’t remember meeting the various mothers of these people, but it is possible that our visits included some of Harry’s close "friends."

Eventually, Harry’s itinerary would include our home in Chicago where he would put up for a few weeks at a time. He was always very well-dressed and wore a clean white shirt everyday. This meant that my mother spent long hours ironing his shirts as she muttered complaints about Harry being such a dandy.

My impressions of Grandpa Harry was that he was a very cultured man compared to my other grandpa, Oscar Cronquist, who got kicked out of Sweden for being a two fisted bounder.

The two of them sharing our little house with five children and an endless number of guests often caused long backups in front of our sole bathroom, especially when Harry was grooming for the day.

When Grandma Mathilda Cronquist spent Thursday and Sunday afternoons with us on her days off, the mix of interactions became even more exciting. Having divorced Oscar, she treated him with cold disgust. However, Harry’s warm charms were too much for her to resist. They often spent long hours in the back seat holding hands in our family car as dad drove them on the traditional Sunday drives around the countryside.

Meanwhile, back home Oscar would be fuming about Harry courting his former wife. He was at an extreme disadvantage and quite helpless to match the competition from Harry.

Sitting at the knee of Grandpa Ausherman was a spellbinding experience. His slow Southern accent voiced tales of many places I had never seen. I often wondered where he would find places to stay in his travels. Was it lonely?
Later, it became obvious that a man with his looks and charm would be a great comfort to lonely ladies along the way.
There is a newspaper clipping showing Harry’s mother who was blind. The story goes on to say that she appreciated her son, Harry, reading the Bible to her everyday. She also spoke to the reporter about her father, a Methodist minister, who officiated at Abraham Lincoln’s funeral. She remembers the funeral train she saw as a little girl.
Harry died in a tragic car crash in Indianapolis, which also killed the lady with him in the back seat, undoubtedly holding hands.
© Charles Ausherman September 2009

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