''My Life In Review: Have I Been Lucky of What?''
When I began to contemplate writing a Life Review my first inclination was to start with an introduction or preface justifying or rationalizing the palpably egocentric venture. I did recognize that one of my writing foibles is a propensity for protracted preambles and prolonged prolegomena—as well as my addiction to alliteration. Thus, before setting pen to paper I grappled with the problem of defending the undertaking but failed to resolve them to my satisfaction. The result? protracted procrastination. The product? a blank page.
Then, at the end of the first week in May, 1991, I delivered a pinch-hit lecture for Candy on the Late Adulthood topic in her Life Span course. In reviewing her lecture notes I once again confronted the recommendation of gerontologists that persons in that ultimate stage should engage in the healthy and productive exercise of composing a Life Review. The day after that class I sat down at my desk, punched out the word "Ancestry" in capital letters and started to write, not a preface but a simple statement expressing my views on genealogy and presenting some scraps of information I had about my remote progenitors. That didn't take long but it tapped my memory bank and generated a momentum which has carried me through five months of nearly daily sessions at the desk devoted to developing a chronological narrative of my remembered experiences.
I have been amazed at the chain reaction of memories triggered by concentrating my thoughts on a particular period. The old memory bank spewed out a spate of specific mental pictures which had not surfaced for years. My task became a matter of composing verbal descriptions of those images and events. I have access to a few documentary references: Clotilde Blowers' Wilson-Willson and Allied Lines; A Rand McNally Atlas; The World Almanac; Admiral Dan Barby's MacArthur's Amphibious Navy; The Capstan, Yearbook of Notre Dame's Midshipman's School; The Boulder, Houghton College's Yearbooks 1935-1939; My Administrative Files; Collections of my Speeches and Essays; Jill's Journals of Our London sojourn; My Journal of our European Trip and scattered memorabilia—but the overwhelming bulk of material came straight out of my memory bank.
The central question: how reliable are those memories? Certainly they are inevitably selective and are not flawless. I discovered in consultation with Jill some inaccurate dates and mixed-up sequences of events which I have corrected but there must be other inaccuracies. All I can claim is that I have tried to be faithful to the images that have bubbled up into my consciousness. I have not "made up" events or invented situations. In some cases where I have used direct quotations I can't swear that they are exactly verbatim but they do carry the original sentiments expressed as I remember them.
This then is not a documentary history or a strictly scholarly autobiography but a verbal trip down Jack Crandall's memory lane. It is a chronological narrative of my experiences as I perceive them now. It inevitably contains embellishments which stem from the fact that it is an egocentric enterprise and, at times, an urge to be "literary" if not always literal. I have not written fiction. The characterization of persons living or dead applies to real persons and is not coincidental.
If it seems to accentuate the positive it's because there are so many positive things to accentuate. As my writing progressed I began to think that an appropriately accurate subtitle should be "A Series of Fortuitous Developments." Last summer, while conversing with Jill's nephew, Chris Carlson, I told him that this exercise was making me realize how blessed I have been. He startled me by saying, "Would you say that you've lived a charmed life?" (his tone indicated that he thought so). I cannot avoid an affirmative answer to that question.
However, as I have pointed out in the concluding paragraphs of the narrative, to attribute the many good breaks I have had to "luck," "fortuitousness" or "accident" would be to ignore the purposeful impact of my family and friends. I may have been—I was—lucky that Jill came to Houghton College and that I was able to convince her to tie her life to mine but that is not to discount all of the things she has done to make my life happy, yes, and successful. Similarly I was lucky to be the beneficiary of caring and competent parents, ideal in-laws, wonderful daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren but their contributions to my well-being and pleasure have not been accidental. The same is true of my friends Wayne Dedman, Harold Rakov, Gordon Allen, Mike Auleta, Harry Porter, Lowell Fox, Al Brown, Roger Carlson, Jim Ditzler, Dick Johnson, Jim Murray, Dick Ingraham, Wayne Herrick, Bill Vogan, Frank Dunlap, Ed Neveu, Don Wilsher et. al. I am not so much a product of a concatenation of coincidences as a beneficiary of the caring efforts of family and friends. Writing these memoirs has raised that realization to a new level of consciousness.
The conventional point to make in one's memoirs' preface is that they are written to share one's experiences with his descendants to let them know about events in his life that they would otherwise not be aware of and, at some future date they might be interested in having a more complete picture of one of their progenitors than would ordinarily be passed down in the family's oral tradition. That certainly constitutes one of the purposes in grinding out this narrative. In fact, at the outset, it stood out as the principal reason for committing my memories to the typewritten page.
However, as the writing progressed I began to realize that this exercise held intrinsic benefits and values for the writer whether or not anyone else—children, grandchildren, et. al. ever perused these typewritten pages. Such a realization squares with the claims of certain gerontologists who contend that a Life Review has a therapeutic value. I tend to shrink from the notion of equating this activity with therapy since I feel compelled to deny a felt need for therapeutic treatment. Nevertheless I must admit from traveling down memory lane a positive effect on my self-perception, an effect that can best be described as a paradoxical combination of a greater sense of humility and pride, augmented by a sharpened sense of gratitude for the many blessings I have received from family and friends.
As the narrative unfolded and the recounting of events moved along I found much that was satisfying and pleasant to recall, little to regret. I realize that that statement smacks of smugness, but I hasten to add that I do not regard myself as the author of the fulfillments, the happiness and successes that have marked my life. With a different set of families and friends it could have been quite otherwise.
I close this protracted preface by registering the hope that some of my descendants will get some fraction of the pleasure in reading about my life that I have enjoyed in living it—and writing about it.
My ancestors, a fragmentary genealogy
While I am proud of my parents and grandparents I have had little interest in genealogy and exploration of my extended ancestry has been slight. The lack of interest in genealogical matters stems from the fact that as the explorer moves back through successive generations the number of ancestors increases by geometric progression. Thus if I were to trace the eleven generations of Crandalls in America I would be dealing with 2048 male and female progenitors! The problem is compounded by our patrilineal system which forever focuses on the male surname. Therefore to follow only the "Crandall" line of descendant is to ignore most of the persons who have made a genetic and cultural contribution to my heritage. However, I have had some interest in and have acquired a smattering of information on the ethnic origins of the first forbears of both mother and father to come to America.
The first Crandalls to arrive came from Wales and settled in Westerly, Rhode Island in the 1640s. They became followers of that "religious renegade" (from the Puritan point of view), Roger Williams, and the early generations of Crandalls in the colonies produced several Rev. John Crandalls of the Baptist persuasion. One of those Rev. John Crandalls ditched his missionary work in the Massachusetts Bay Colony circa 1670, fleeing to Rhode Island to escape Puritan persecution. It appears he had little interest in becoming a martyr like the Quakers who remained. While, as far as I have determined, the Crandalls were hard-working, God-fearing people of "the middling sort"—farmers, artisans, as well as clergymen—few became historical celebrities. The only one I am sure about is Prudence Crandall, a woman ahead of her time, who braved the wrath of her Connecticut neighbors by admitting blacks to her Female Seminary in the 1830s—She was eventually forced out of town, moving to Iowa, but persisted in championing the rights of Negroes and women until her death at the age of 90.
It really goes without saying that eleven generations have yielded a spate of Crandalls (only God knows how many) and they are scattered around the country if not the world. A considerable number live in the Southern Tier region of Western New York. I have encountered the largest number since moving to Bemus Point; thirty-six Crandalls are listed in the Jamestown Telephone Directory. Their relationship to yours truly remains unidentified.
The account of my earliest years is necessarily based on what I've been told, mostly by my parents. It is safe to assume that their reports are colored by parental bias. I was born about a month early, a product of induced labor because mother's health was endangered by an excessive amount of albumin. It was a cold February (the 9th) in 1919. Dr. Al Lyman came to the house to officiate and the delivery took place in a downstairs bedroom which later became the dining room. Mother always insisted that I weighed ten pounds. Because I was premature that poundage figure may raise the issue of credibility in the reader's mind. It has in my own but I have found no contrary evidence. Thus it seems safe to say that I was a bouncing baby boy, my father's first offspring and the proverbial "apple of his eye." In fact, Mother often said that my head looked like a Northern Spy apple.
At the outset it appeared there would be no problem in naming the infant. Dad had long proclaimed that if he had a son he would call him Jack. However, Dr. Al resisted writing what he regarded as a nickname on the birth certificate and turned to Mother for an appropriate recommendation. She proposed that I be named after my father i.e., Curtis John Crandall Jr. Dr. Al erroneously inscribed John Curtis Jr. on the certificate. That error was not discovered until I enlisted in the Navy twenty three years later. The Navy insisted on a photostat copy from the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Albany. I had earlier occasions to use a birth certificate but the copy was always supplied by the Caneadea Town Clerk. He knew my name was really Curtis John Jr. and so wrote it on the copies furnished. Thus all my legal documents up to the time of my Navy enlistment proclaimed I was Curtis John Jr. For the next four or five years after that I had to sign numerous affidavits declaring that Curtis John Jr. and John Curtis Jr. were one and the same person. In actual practice I have always been known as and called Jack—neither Curtis or John. So Dad won out much to my later satisfaction.
He impressed my name, with certain embellishments, on my consciousness early on. One of the first things he taught me after I had begun to talk was a little spiel designed to impress, even startle, anyone who asked me who I was. My learned response: "I'm roarin' Jack Crandall, the Boy Wonder born in Houghton, New York, Town of Caneadea, Allegany County with proud, but poor parents."
My formal education began in September, 1924 when I entered the first grade in the district elementary school, Caneadea District School #6. The white frame building had two classrooms serving all eight grades. The "little room" contained grades one through four while the "big room" was the setting for grades five through eight. At that time about forty pupils were enrolled averaging five per class. Instruction was provided by one teacher for each room. Each teacher's busy schedule consisted of four subjects per grade. The school day was composed of two three-hour sessions, nine to twelve and one to four with ten minutes for "opening exercises" (a joint session) and two fifteen minute recesses (morning and afternoon).
The third and fourth grade years left no vivid memories of highlight events or incidents, but I continued to enjoy school and the related activities. In fact, I preferred the school year to the summer because there were few playmates and except for the trios with Dad and Mother, little excitement to match that of school days.
The fifth year brought the thrill of moving into the "big room" and having a male teacher, Mr. Fred Byron, one-half of a husband and wife team, for his spouse, Bessie, took charge of the "little room." He was a kind, conscientious man and an effective teacher, especially in English and history. They became my favorite subjects. The titles of my first textbooks in American History were Explorers and Founders of America and Makers and Defenders of America. I also derived much pleasure from the sports activities during the recesses, especially baseball in the fall and spring.
A shocking incident highlighted that year. I have called it the "Big Stoop Story" and have recounted it more than several times in lectures in my college classes. The protagonist or antagonist (victim or villain?) was called "Big Stoop," always behind his back, never to his face. He was fourteen, nearly six feet tall, solidly built, well-muscled, strong and in the fifth grade for the third year. While we were aware that he was considerably less than an intellectual giant we looked up to him literally and figuratively because of his physical attributes and prowess. He was the only boy who could hit a home run on the ball diamond behind the school. If any of us could get the ball over the plate he could hit it over the fence. Thus, in the fall and spring he enjoyed near heroic status. Those Western New York winters were long—so long—and he was out of the spotlight but "on the spot" for his academic deficiencies. For him it was a winter of discontent and he became depressed, restive and surly.
That February a couple of eighth grade boys, eager to break the monotony and ennui of those interminably dull days concocted a plan to stir up some excitement and enlisted Big Stoop as a fellow conspirator. Their scheme could be called a tardiness strike. They put it into effect on a blizzardy February morning. With opening exercises underway about three or four minutes the first conspirator burst into the room stamping the snow off his feet, flapping his arms and noisily depositing his coat, hat and overshoes in the cloakroom. Then he swaggered back to his seat, About two minutes later the second boy repeated that performance and after a similar interval the third did the same. Opening exercises had been turned into a shambles.
Despite the complete disruption Mr. Byron was surprisingly tolerant. Taking the bad weather into consideration he could understand some justification for tardiness and rather mildly chided the boys for their noisiness. However, the next morning the boys resumed the same routine. When the second conspirator stormed into the room Mr. Byron discerned the pattern and perceived the plot. He rushed up to plotter, number two, grabbed him by the shoulders and roughly whisked him to his seat, jamming him down and shaking him until the bolts in the cast-iron base began to loosen and flecks of blood appeared on the plotter's wrist.
At that moment "Big Stoop" charged into the room and surveyed the scene with a sullen stare. The James-Lang theory of emotion claims that the more the emotion is expressed the greater it becomes. Mr. Byron was furnishing striking evidence of the validity of that theory. Letting go of the second conspirator (perhaps saving his neck, we thought) he rushed to the front of the room and clutched Big Stoop's right shoulder. The perennial fifth-grader shrugged him off as if flicking off a pesky fly. The teacher then made the biggest mistake of his pedagogical career. He kicked out with his right foot, directing it toward Big Stoop's backside. When his foot and leg reached a posture parallel with the floor Stoop swiveled around, grabbed it sending two hundred pounds of flabby pedagogue crashing to the deck with the powerful pupil on top.
We were spellbound with fright, fearing we might be witnessing a murderous assault. Mrs. Byron moved in to rescue her husband by pulling hard on Big Stoop's hair. Suddenly he relaxed his hold, got up and just stood there sullenly but somewhat shamefacedly. When Byron regained his breath and was able to get up he pointed to the door and wheezed, "Out." That marked the end of Big Stoop's academic career.
We were beside ourselves with shock and apprehension. When recess came we huddled outside whispering our horror-struck reactions. Then someone said, "There he is!" Sure enough across the road from the schoolyard in the old canal bed loomed the menacing figure of our ex-hero. We heard little about him after that. We did hear later that he had been arrested as a juvenile delinquent. Certainly his life was blighted.
I have often wondered whether a longer baseball season and a shorter winter would have made a difference in his life. And what if he had been less strong and a bit brighter? After all he did not organize the conspiracy. The boys who did were not thrown out of school. They were not strong enough to confront the teacher the way he did even if they had wanted to. Was he more victim than villain? In any case he provided the most dramatic event of my largely tranquil elementary school years.
I can recall no startling development in the sixth grade. The next year geography joined history as a co-favorite subject. Jerry McKinley and I took two eighth grade classes along with our seventh grade courses. Jerry and I became pals sharing our love for sports as well as our affinity for school. He was quite diminutive but had good athletic ability. In the summer we would try to scrape up enough players for baseball but could rarely recruit more than enough to play "three 'ol cat" (five).