Cory Lemmon wasn’t entirely named after his father, Cory Oscar Lemmon.
“When they had me,” Cory said, “well, the old man said he wanted me to be named after him. My mother said, ‘I’ll never do it.’
“He said, ‘I want him to be named after me,’ and he just really bellered on and she said, ‘All right. But the name’s Cory Lemmon and nothin’ else.’
“He said, ‘Well, how ’bout the middle name?’
“‘No middle name. Cory Lemmon and nothin’ else.'”
“He drank and ran around with other women,” Cory said. Other people thought he was the “best guy that ever lived, but he’d go out and get drunk and his mind would just go. I can remember another thing when I was real small. Dad came home one night, drunk, and had a buggy whip, that would sting and cut. He was gonna whip us all. My brother Freeman was big enough; he run up and grabbed him and took it away from him, and run. He knew the old man couldn’t catch him.”
Cory’s mother, Mary Etta Conner, met Cory Oscar somewhere in Ohio near Perrysville, north of Columbus and just a little east of Mansfield. When she was young, Mary Etta’s family lived in a one-room log cabin. There was a ladder to a loft upstairs and that’s where she slept. It was cold up there and sometimes she’d wake in the morning and there would be snow on her bed that had drifted in through the cracks as she slept.
Mary Etta only went to school until the third grade. Times were hard and I suspect she was needed at home. She met and married Cory Oscar Lemmon in 1896 when she was 16 years old. He was 28. “In those days, it wasn’t too much to get married early like that because they didn’t have nothin’ to look forward to,” Cory’s wife, Anna Adams Lemmon, later said. “And if they got married, the parents didn’t have to worry about ’em.”
Cory was the youngest of the eight children that Cory Oscar and Mary Etta had. Cory was just a young boy when Cory Oscar ran off and started another family with another woman. So Cory pretty much grew up in a single-parent home, but his mother was a strong, capable, and determined woman.
“I went to school through the eighth grade,” Cory said, “and then I had to quit and get a job and help Mom. I only made $3.00 a week during the Depression. The worst part about it was, my mother and I had to live and pay rent all winter on that $3.00. She worked at the mill, but she didn’t make any more than enough to get us some beans and gravy.”
Despite the poor example set by his father, Cory grew up to be a responsible family man and father. He worked as a milkman and then as a used-car salesman.
My mother was his oldest daughter of three children. My father was in the army and stationed overseas when my mother was due to deliver my oldest sister. When the time came to go to the hospital, my grandfather took her, and then sent a telegram to my father in Germany.
He and my grandmother held a Christmas party every year for their three children, grandchildren, and eventually great-grandchildren. During these events, my grandfather wandered around the room snapping photographs with his latest toy, a Polaroid camera. He loved auctions and had a garage full of trinkets and boxes of stuff he had bought. Neighbors used to come to him if they needed a cork, or some little random thing. He gave me a brass floor lamp one time after I was rattling around in the garage with him. In later years, when he played checkers with my little boys, he refused to just let them win. He said when they won, they would know they deserved to win.
In 1992 we celebrated Thanksgiving at the home of one of my cousins in Piqua, Ohio. I had all four of our children by then. Our youngest was one year old. So I might have been distracted and my memories aren’t very clear. I remember only a few things from that Thanksgiving. I remember sitting on a sofa in a small, dim room, so characteristic of many of the homes in that small town. I remember somebody brought oyster dressing for the meal, because I’d never had it before. And I remember as we were leaving, watching my grandfather, wearing his overcoat and dress hat with my grandmother holding on to his arm, shuffling slowly down the steps, and across the sidewalk to his car.
I never saw him again.
Today I am thankful for all the men and women who came before me, who sometimes persevered in less than the best of circumstances, and who had perhaps a large, or even only a small part in making me who I am.
I am thankful for all the men and women who will come after me, and in whom some small part of me may live on.