''My Life In Review: Have I Been Lucky of What?''

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Hugh and Dr. S. J. PickenMy Life in Review by Jack Crandall


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

"I'm roarin' Jack Crandall, the Boy Wonder born in Houghton, New York, Town of Caneadea, Allegany County with proud, but poor parents."

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.

Early Life 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."