For Jane on her 100th Birthday

Today is the 100th anniversary of my mother’s (a) birth.

Jane Hunt was born at home on August 2, 1911 in Columbus, Ohio.
Her mother was Alice Thoman Hunt. Her father Charles O Hunt. Alice’s parents Emerson Thoman and Elizabeth Jane (Snyder) Thoman (who I was named for), were transplants from Leetonia, Ohio (Columbiania, Ohio) in northeast Ohio, close to the Pennsylvania line. The Thomans had been in America since the around the mid 1700s when the settled in the York County, Pennsylvania area. The Hunts came to America in the early 1700s settling in Sussex County NJ and eventually moving southwest to Perry County, Ohio.
Emerson and Lizzie owned a grocery on S. 17th Street in Columbus. The family, and as far as I know, lived above or behind it. Alice graduated from Columbus East High School in 1906, with a diploma in Latin and Literary Studies. She took a job as a clerk in the shoe department of The Bee, the second largest department store in the city. tHAT same year, Emerson Thoman (l) died at the age of 43. Alice was devoted to her father and was grief stricken. Five months later she ran off to Newport, Kentucky with Charles O Hunt, who worked as an ice man (probably for Alice’s brother-in-in law Lewis Richardson), and had been a friend of her father’s and connected to the grocery somehow. Alice and Charlie were both 21, when they married. I don’t know why they ran away, but I can guess. Lizzie didn’t approve. Jane claimed that the marriage was an attempt to “get her father back.” It didn’t work out quite that way (CORRECTION: I just verified that Alice was 18 when she married Charlie O. She lied about her age in Newport. I still hold my theory about the objections, though).
Alice and Charlie O set up housekeeping in the Thoman house on South 17th. The 1910 census indicates they lived there with Lizzie Thoman and 19-year old boarder and railroad man, Charles McCornack Gibson, originally from Chicago. Alice made no secret of the fact that she enjoyed the company of men other thanCharlie O. She frequented downtown dances while Charlie O stayed at home with the girls. When the dances let out, he’d walk down to meet her, hide in the shadows, and wait for her to say goodnight to whatever gentleman was accompanying her.
Then things began to get strange.
Around 1915, Charlie O decided to head out to Oklahoma and make his fortune in the new state (and probably pull Alice into line.) He took Alice with him, leaving Jane and Mary Ann with their grandmother. I have been unable to learn exactly what happened next, but Alice suffered her first breakdown in Oklahoma. It is impossible to learn today what her diagnosis was, but I suspect, due to later hospitalizations, that it would have been what was then called dementia praecox–schizophrenia.
Charlie O, who had found work as a painter, or interior decorator as he liked to call himself, (he came from a long line of carriage painters) came home from work one evening and found Alice asleep at the kitchen table. She didn’t wake up for a month. Alice was sent home to Columbus and probably committed to Columbus State Hospital. Charlile O stayed in Oklahoma. Soon his parents and a few other family members joined him. Then somebody filed for divorce. As far as I know, Jane never saw her father again, though he stayed in contact through letters.
By August 1917 Alice was back on the street and married to Charles McCornack Gibson, (l) the boarder, with whom she and Charlie O had shared their home. Of course, this brings up many questions about the menage a Charles, but no one is alive today to answer them. From that marriage forward, even decades later, Jane always referred to Charles Gibson as Daddy Gibson, who for his short time with Alice (as it turned out) gave her and Mary Ann love, stability and normalcy they’d not again have for a long time.
The newly married couple continued to live at the S. 17th home where they met. On July 19 1918 Alice gave birth to Charles Emerson Gibson, the “most beautiful baby”Jane had ever seen. There are very few pictures of Alice with Baby Charles, but he was clearly loved by Daddy Gibson who took dozens of pictures of him. Jane and Mary Ann doted on him as kind of their own personal baby. On Sept 5 1919 Baby Charles was scalded to death when, standing in his walker, he reached up, pulled upturned a steaming pan of water on himself. He was 13 months, two weeks and two days old. The picture on the right was taken on his first birthday.
Within months Alice and Daddy Gibson were in Chicago living with an uncle. The girls went by the the name of Gibson and developed a relationship with Daddy Gibson’s mother Addie and his younger brothers (l) On September 12, 1920 barely a year after Charles Emersons’s death, Alice gave birth to her second son, Donald. The death of Baby Charles would certainly have aggravated Alice’s mental condition, and the pregnancy would have made it worse.
Then things got really crazy.
According to Jane, in an unsuccessful suicide attempt, Alice threw herself into Lake Michigan after learning that Daddy Gibson had “another wife,” he’d failed to divorce before marrying her. Alice cried she’d been “living in sin” with him and had given birth to two bastard children. Jane saw her take the dive.
I find the motive implausible. The time frame doesn’t add up. Charles Gibson had lived continually on South 17th Street from at least 1910 until the marriage except for 6 months of active duty Army at the end of Word War I. Even then, he was stationed in Columbus and Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, He had no opportunity to acquire a wife under Alice and Lizzie’s noses. And, if he had one, why would he have taken on the burden of two small stepchildren and have another baby, after the death of the first, with a mentally unstable woman, all in a fraudulent marriage?
When Alice threw herself in Lake Michigan, I think Charles Gibson had bailed or at least was planning to and told her so.
And he certainly did after the suicide attempt. Alice returned to Columbus possibly for “treatment”at Columbus State Hospital. Apparently Lizzie Thoman, upon the departure of the new Gibson Family for Chicago, had returned to Leetonia, so while things were being sorted out, Jane and her sister lived with a makeshift family of Seventh Day Adventists.
The girls eventually went to Leetonia, and later to nearaby Salem, Ohio to live with their grandmother Lizzie and various relatives. Donald seems to have been shipped back and forth between Chicago and Leetonia/Salem until he eventually settled with his dad in Chicago for good.
Alice was transferred to Massillon State Hospital, closer to Salem, where she lived for the next 40 years with some short term releases in between. She was officially released in 1962, when the State, as it does every few years, orders mass releases of mental hospital inmates to balance the books. Fortunately, Jane was able to find her a private home to live, where her peculiarities were tolerated. She died in Spring 1966 of breast cancer. As a side note, 1941, Alice’s only sibling, Carrie Thoman Richardson, died in Columbus State Hospital, according to the death certificate made out by the hospital, of a “fractured right hip” and previous unlisted “injuries.” Mental diagnosis: unknown.
Whatever went on between Alice and Daddy Gibson, by1923, Charles Gibson was married again and the father of a daughter. He had a son in 1926 and a another daughter in 1931. Jane never saw him again. He died in Chicago in 1968.
Before Jane even entered high school she worked after school in the kitchen of Salem Clinic, (now Salem Community Hospital) with her grandmother Lizzie Thoman, setting up plates and cleaning the kitchen. When Lizzie became terminally ill with breast cancer, Jane became the sole support of her family, which sometimes still included Donald. By her senior year, she worked not only at the hospital after school, but also as a semi- live-in nanny for three little girls. Their father, Dr. Gail Roose and his wife, encouraged her constantly to strive for the best she could be. Despite the work schedule Jane was a member of the Salem High School Girls Basketball Team and performed with the Dramatics Club. In her senior year she played the lead in the school play and decided she wanted to be a professional actress. Her name would be Jane Hamilton.
In 1929, Jane graduated 7th in her class (actually tied for 5th, but the students were ranked alphabetically.) The Quota Club offered her a free ride to the college of her choice, which she turned down because by that point, Lizze could no longer work.
While her friends went off to college, (her best friend ended up at Purdue) Jane took a job at Farmers National Bank as Assistant Bookkeeper. A born nitpicker, this was the perfect job. Sometimes she’d have to stay until midnight to balance the books, by hand, to the penny. Today she would have ended up a Vice President.
Jane loved kids and wanted them. She never had what might be considered a “normal” family and she wanted one. Or better put, she sought “normalcy.” The year she married my dad an infected ovary was removed, (which, I suppose nowadays wouldn’t happen), halting any chance of biological motherhood. Ten years later I was adopted. For years after that she endured trying to teach me homemaking skills only to be met by the response to the right.
Jane’s biggest fault was that she cared what people thought about her. Really cared. I suppose this came from the experience of dropping from an upwardly mobile family lifestyle into scrubbing floors for pennies, and the fact that she had a crazy mother everybody knew about, but most were too gracious to mention. She had too much responsibly at too early an age. Duty, and shall we say a bit of bossyness (but not overly bossy) defined her.
Jane was particularly sensitive about her dad, Charlie O’s second marriage to The Rev Viola Hunt (l), a tent evangelist from Oklahoma City via Arkansas. Viola started out with Aimee Semple McPherson; then graduated to her own tent. During the Depression she and Charlie O took the tent show through Oklahoma and Texas, settling in Brownfield for awhile, where Charlie O died of prostate cancer in 1943. If Jane had any desire of ever seeing Charlie O again, the tent scotched the deal for her.
She had a real thing about hair, too. Mine in particular. She was convinced I did “weird” things to it just to embarrass her. When I was dating my ex-husband she refused to let him in the house because he had long hair and didn’t wear socks. Actually, she was right about him, but for the wrong reasons. These concerns weren’t limited to me. My Aunt Mary Ann and my dad were also guilty of embarrassing her due to whatever struck her embarrassment quotient at the time. And clothes! At one time she thought pant suits were for hippies, but ended up with a closet full of them. Most of them burnt orange.
Conservative my nature, Jane had a surprisingly liberal mind and stood by principle and friendship, even if other people didn’t like what she did. She once got herself dismissed from sitting on the jury of a capital murder case because she didn’t want to be put in the position of sending someone to the electric chair. An active Republican, she dumped the party over Nixon and Agnew. Early one Christmas morning in the 1970s she went downtown and bailed her handyman out of jail after he’d been arrested for assault and battery( or maybe even attempted murder) for fighting with his stepson. The handyman’s wife was angling for a divorce and Jane saw through it.
Jane’s best friend at in the late 1950s-early 1960s was our African American cleaning woman, Elsie Reynolds. Jane would clean the house before she came so she wouldn’t have to work too hard. And, of course, she didn’t want Mrs. Reynolds to think “we” were slobs. They would have two-hour lunches where they discussed Dwight Eisenhower and… ahem… ill-behaved husbands and children. When Mrs. Reynolds died suddenly, Jane was heartbroken. And angry. She found herself the only white person at the funeral, even though Mrs. Reynolds had worked for dozens of white families over the years.–and Jane knew who many of them were.
Starting in the early 1980s Jane began to suffer from health problems. The local Dr. Feelgood (the snaggle-toothed husband of one of Dr. Roose’s’s little girls now grown up) pumped her full of bad meds that scrambled her brain. Actually, that’s the way he treated all his elderly female patients. I later learned complaints had been filed against him by not only patients and their families, but by the local homecare service provider who said she had 19 cases of questionable treatment in her caseload. Jane simply refused to give up the doctor and the relationship with his wife she’d had decades earlier. The gory details are unnecessary here, but I was finally able to ditch the guy and after a couple months Jane returned to normal, except she no longer drove. For the last three years of her life she was able to continue her work with the Salem Historical Society and help bring history to life, something that had become her passion–and social life.
I was with Jane when she died in June 1989. She’d had one stroke, and then the day before she was to be transferred to a rehab facility she just gave out. I don’t care what “they” say. I was not happy to see her go to “a better place.” This place was just fine.
Jane and I had a complicated relationship, much of it adversarial over nothing; some of it adoption related, but mostly not. She was over protective, and in retrospect, didn’t want me to go through the things she had, though the possibility of that happening was nil. I never doubted for one moment, though, that she didn’t love me beyond anything else in her life. She used to say, “Your mother is your best friend.” I’d think yeah yeah. But it’s true. At least it was for me. There are times now I could certainly use a mom. I didn’t appreciate her like I should have. I wish I’d known more about her–the real Jan– but she was good at facade. She told me that when she was little she thought somebody had told her (and I have no doubt they did) “big girls don’t cry,” so she never did. I knew the stories, but I just didn’t get it. It’s taken me a long time to get it.
Jane was a private person, but not secretive (except about her age, claiming that it’s not a kid’s business how old their parents are.) She used to say that if I ever wrote anything about her, she’d disown me; that, after I showed her a poem I’d written about her, and had performed at a few readings in Columbus. Obviously, I’ve broken that “promise” but it’s too late for disownment now. I guess at some point in our lives we need to get this stuff out. I know this is a basically a political blog, but this is as good a place as any to write about Jane on her 100th birthday.

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12 Replies to “For Jane on her 100th Birthday”

  1. What a remarkable story! We really never stop missing our parents, do we? I am quite sure she wouldn’t have disowned you over this; in fact, I think she would have felt the respect you obviously have for her,as I did.

  2. A great tribute to your mom and the ones who came before her. After reading this, I had such a good feeling for your mom. Your family story started me thinking about my own family and I’m motivated to dig some more into the past. Every family has it’s own, unique flavor and you have captured yours so well!

  3. Lovely post and what a history! Your mom had a lot to overcome. I love the picture of little Marley and Mom by the sink. My Mom and Auntie had the same experience with me trying to teach homemaking skills! It just did not take at all.

  4. Yu know, M. Kidnap, when I was writing this yesterday, I thought it would e a great movie. And there is so much more I want to know and won’t find out Like the whole Menage a Charles . Even if Jane were alive, I doubt I’d have the nerve to ask her.

    I’m fascinated by Charles Gibson, who in “real life” may have been boring. Who knows. He was handsome and virile, and I’d love to know the hold Alice seems to have held over him, at least for awhile. He must have known Jane and Mary Ann from the time they were born, and cared greatly for them, but I can’t say I blame him for getting out.

    I always knew these stories, but only pieced them together a few days ago. Although I didn’t write about it, I think dysfunctional families like adoption, erase history. Family members alienate each other, they lie about them. People are separated for life. If you talk about it there’s something wrong. Adoption, however, puts the state’s seal of approval on this bad behavior which ludicrously makes it OK.

    Divorce, abandonment, insanity, death all change the family dynamic as does adoption. Differently, of course. In 10 years Jane lost 2 dads to divorce, a mother to insanity, on brother to death, and another brother to divorce. She was hauled back and forth between states, lost schools and friends. For all intents and purposes, in her case atl east, some of those “lost”people ceased to exist even though they were alive, and one was distant and crazy. I know kids have little control over their environment, but in this case there was no control Everything went crazy, and I’ve just touched on it

    I’d love to know what was wrong with Alice and her sister. Grandma was just “weird” to me, and I can’t even nut my finger on it I”m sure today, whatever it was, would be controlled through medication. As far as I can tell which isn’t far at this point) insanity didn’t run in the family.What made Alice and Carrie, her parents only children, into mental wards of the state?

    I think there’s a story here that goes way beyond the actually story. The treatment of women’s mental health and treatment in general, generational family dynamics, mobility.

  5. This is a great portrait of your mom and the situation she grew up in. In spite of past conflicts you can see her courage and hard work, qualities you share with her. I too had conflicts with my adoptive mother but more than 20 years after her death I find it’s her good qualities that I remember most.

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