“What is your grandmother’s name?” the first grade teacher asked my mother. “Mary Field” was the quick response. ”And what is your grandpa’s name?” My 6-year-old mom was ready with an even speedier answer. “My grandpa’s name is Fred Field, You Son of a Bitch!”
As my mom much later explained it, “Well, that was how Grandma Mary always referred to him. I thought it was his full name.”
My mom fondly remembers her Grandpa Fred as a quiet and very kind man. “Grandma was always yelling at him, though,” she told me. My mom’s older brother Paul concurred. “Yeah,” he said “Grandma Mary was what you’d call a fishwife. She called him every name in the book.”
Both siblings agreed that they’d learned the majority of their cusswords from Grandma Mary’s lively discourses with her husband Fred. “He never talked much, though,” my uncle Paul said. “But what do you expect? How could they get along? She was Irish and he was English.”
I myself did not know that my great-grandfather was English until I was in 6th grade. It was a happy surprise. By 6th grade I had become a rabid Anglophile. I watched British TV shows. I lost myself in picture books of London and the English countryside. I wistfully told my mom that I wished I was English. “How cool would that be?” I asked.
“You are,” my mom informed me. “A little bit anyway.” This was news to me. She explained about her English grandfather, Fred Field. At that point, I had not yet learned that he was a possible son of a bitch.
I was ecstatic. So somewhere in the mix of Poles, Ukrainians, Rusyns and Ashkenazis there was an Englishman?! In the middle of all those unpronounceable, practically vowel- less, “Can you spell that for me again?” names there was a FIELD?!
I asked many questions about my English great-grandfather but my mom had very few answers. He liked to hunt. He played the violin. He was quiet. Sat in a chair and stared out the window a lot. He seemed sad. Although Great Grandma Mary swore at him quite frequently, Fred Field never raised his voice.
Then my mom remembered something funny. “He had a brother named Chester that used to visit sometimes. Haha. Get it? Chester Field! Like the cigarettes.”
For several years now, I have been wanting to find out more about Fred Field (YSOAB) What was he like? Did he actually deserve the sharp-tongued assaults that Great Grandma Mary constantly lobbed at him? Where in England did the Field family originate? Did I possibly have ancestors who came to America before the 1900s?
I found his 1953 obituary in the Erie, PA newspaper archives. Nothing of interest there. Nothing that I didn’t already know. I looked up his gravestone on a site called Findagrave. Although he is buried locally, I am not one to visit cemeteries. A picture of his and Mary’s shared grave appeared when I clicked on his name. His obituary was also on the site. But not from the Erie Daily Times. Fred’s death notice was also printed in his hometown newspaper, the McKean County Democrat. I excitedly scanned down the new obit. No brother named Chester. I read the notice again more slowly. It was puzzling. I called my mom and asked her how many children Fred Field had. “Only two girls,” my mom answered. “Just my mother and my aunt. ” I had another question. “What year was Grandma Goldie born?” “My mother was born in 1916,” my mom replied. “Why do you ask?”
I took a breath and said, “Fred Field, you son of a bitch.” According to Fred’s hometown obituary, he had sired NINE children. There was, unbeknownst to my mom and uncle, a first wife. Eliza Field was married to Fred for 22 years and bore him 7 children. The obit stated that Fred and Eliza were divorced in 1917. A year after my grandmother was born.
Both my uncle and mother were astonished to find out that Chester was Fred’s son and not his brother. But who was Chester’s mom Eliza? I clicked on her name and read her death notice. She was Canadian. “Oh yeah, ” my mom remembered. “He was a lumberjack in Canada when he was young.”
In 1895, a twenty-year-old Fred Field returned home from his Canadian lumberjack gig with a Miss Eliza Reid. They married July 4th of that year. Six months after their summer wedding, Chester appeared on the scene.
It had to be freezing that December day that Chester was born. Smethport, PA is a bitterly cold town in NW Pennsylvania. Even today Smethport often breaks low temperature records. It is still wild and rural with harsh winters.
Of course Canadian Eliza was no stranger to the cold. But she had to have been scared. Only 6 months earlier, she was a 19-year-old girl living with her family in Sadowa, Ontario. Now she was a new bride giving birth to her first child among her husband’s family. There must have been a fire that was kept burning.
I wonder if Fred’s mother Nancy attended the birth? Eliza would have needed strong women around her. Was her mother-in-law present when grandson Chester came into the world? Mother Nancy Field had given birth to her 7th and last child, Claude, only 3 years earlier. Her youngest son and first grandson would be playmates.
Eliza became a farm wife. Two years after Chester, she gave birth to her and Fred’s second son Carlyle Archibald Field. 1898 saw the birth of their first daughter Bertha. I believe that Fred must have been thrilled with his first daughter. My mom always said how he adored his daughters and granddaughters. The birth of his first little girl had to have been a special day. The next 7 years gave Bertha four little sisters.
I can only guess that Fred felt the extreme pressure of supporting a wife and 7 little ones with the meager earnings of his portion of the Field family farm. Sometime around 1907 Fred packed up the entire family and ditched farm life for city livin’ in Rochester, NY. Fred and Eliza’s youngest daughter Martha was born in New York in 1908. Martha was their only baby not brought into existence on the family farm.
Not many clues exist about their life in Rochester from 1908 until 1910. It seems that they were all living together at the time of the 1910 census. But by the 1915 New York state census, one of their children was missing from the lineup. Little Bernice, Fred’s middle daughter who was 5 years old and living with her family in 1910 was not listed along with her sisters and brothers.
Where did Bernice go? There is no mention of Bernice beyond the child’s listing in the 1910 census. In fact she is never referred to again. Neither Fred nor Eliza’s obituaries mention their middle daughter. Both obits indicate that there were 7 children. Neither lists Bernice.
A genealogy site I found briefly states that Fred and Eliza gave Bernice away to a couple who adopted the child. How does that happen? How do parents just give one of their daughters away? What about the 4 other daughters? Did they miss their sister? What happened to Bernice? I couldn’t find out any more information.
Wouldn’t that be hard for a little girl? To leave her parents and siblings to go live with another family? It doesn’t look like anybody had contact with Bernice ever again. Was she taken away to a different city? Was her name changed? Did her sisters ever see her again? How do you erase a child from your life?
Information about the Field family and their life in Rochester is practically non-existent. In October of 1914, Carlyle Field, only 17 years old, was shot in the leg. He must have recovered because he and older brother Chester served in WW1. Chester came back to Rochester after his service but Carlyle stayed on in the marines for a few more years.
In 1917, Fred and Eliza’s children had probably forgotten much about their previous Pennsylvania farm life. They had been at least 10 years off the Pennsylvania farm. Bertha was 19, Ruby, 17, Marguerite was 14 and Martha was 10. That year got off to a horrible and tragic start.
In March of 1917 Bertha Field was putting newspapers into the basement furnace when a backdraft caught her dress on fire. She desperately tried to escape by breaking out a basement window and screaming for help. A neighbor rushed over but a frantic Bertha had made her way up the basement stairs and collapsed at the top. Only Chester was home asleep upstairs. By the time Chester was awakened by the commotion, his sister had already burned to death.
As patriarch, I guess Fred would have to be strong for his wife and remaining children. Bertha’s little sisters had to be inconsolable. Chester, being the only family member to witness the horrific event must have been deeply affected. And Eliza…Eliza, the mother who in the space of a very few minutes lost her first daughter, could not have been anything other than completely grief-stricken.
Only problem with that scenario is that Fred wasn’t there. As in he was not even in Rochester, NY anymore. He was in Erie, PA with his mistress, Mary Clancy, and their 5- month-old baby girl, Goldie Jean. Goldie was my grandmother and Fred’s 6th daughter.
I don’t know how Fred received the news of his eldest daughter’s death. Did he get a telegram? Did Chester perhaps make the long drive to inform his father of the awful news? Did Fred attend the funeral? I can’t believe that he would avoid his own daughter’s memorial service. But tensions must have been high. It hadn’t even been a year since Frederick Albert Field fled Rochester with his pregnant mistress. How did he greet his children upon seeing them again for the first time in several months? Little Martha was only 10. Did she miss her dad? Did she think he had come back to stay and comfort his children through this tremendous loss?
How did he greet his wife upon seeing her again? Did they even speak? Did he have any words of condolence for the mother of his dead daughter? Could she even look at him?
Fred didn’t stay. He had a mistress, baby daughter and new job back in Erie, PA. He became a maintenance man for a large estate and kept that job until his retirement 35 years later.
Fred’s wife and children remained in Rochester to grieve their loss without him. At some point later that year, his divorce from Eliza was final. Eliza lost her daughter to a fire and her husband to a mistress all in the same terrible year. An entry in the Rochester newspaper noted that Mrs. Eliza Field and family wished to thank the community for the support and comfort during their recent bereavement. Fred was not mentioned.
And it was a terrible year. As 1917 started drawing to a close, tragedy was not done with Fred Field. Fred’s youngest brother Claude was walking home from a night out at a local bar when he was shot in the head, robbed and dragged into a nearby barn. It was Fred’s father, Joseph, who found the boy.
The murderer was quickly found and imprisoned in the Smethport jail. Fred and family had another funeral to attend. Claude Field was a toddler when Fred’s first son Chester was born, so I have to believe that Fred’s children made the trip from Rochester to Smethport. They had all spent their first years together on the family farm. An uncle that was so close in age had to also have been a childhood playmate.
It was reported that Claude Field was well thought of in the community. His father Joseph could not even testify at the trial for becoming too overcome with sobbing grief to even speak. I recently visited the Smethport cemetery where most of the Field family is buried. It is small and forgotten. Not even maintained anymore except for a yearly mowing and weeding by the local Boy Scout troop. Most of the stones are barely even readable but Claude’s stood out. It was bigger and obviously much more expensive than the ones belonging to his parents, aunts, uncles and siblings. I’m guessing that the town came together to buy the headstone for Claude’s family.
Eliza and the children continued to live in Rochester. In 1920 Eliza was still in New York but not for long. I would love to know how this happened but, by 1921, Eliza had returned to her adopted town of Smethport. She came back to the area where Fred had brought her, 19 and pregnant, to become a young farm wife and mother. I wonder if it made her nostalgic. Places can have that effect. As the seasons changed did she remember her children’s births? Was she reminiscent about those early days on the Field family farm?
I can’t know if nostalgia was behind her move back to Pennsylvania because she had another reason to settle and live out the rest of her life there. She married Fred’s cousin! Certainly she must have met Fred’s first cousin Clarence Cadwallader Hutchins at Field family gatherings. Clarence was a widower with two daughters. I hope Eliza had a happy second marriage. They remained together until his death in 1948.
Back in Rochester, Fred’s second son Carlyle became a hero in 1924 when he stopped two runaway horses from trampling a group of children. Both his legs were broken in the process. He was honored by his fellow Marines for this even as he recovered from his injuries. I will never know if Fred heard of this, was proud or even visited his injured son.
Almost a year later Carlyle died of meningitis leaving behind a wife and new baby girl. Fred lost another child but, of course, I have no way of knowing if he attended the funeral. Carlyle was laid to rest by his fellow Marines in a military service. There must not have been much help for military wives in those days because Carlyle’s wife and baby went to live with a wealthy family. Young Mrs. Field had taken a job as a live-in housekeeper. I don’t know if Fred ever saw the little girl.
In 1927 Fred’s brother Orlo died of septicemia almost a year after the poor man had broken his leg in an automobile accident. The leg never healed and the infection eventually killed him. 1928: Fred’s brother Burr was overcome by gas in a Utah mine and died shortly after being carried out of the mineshaft. I don’t know how Burr Field went from Smethport to Utah but it does appear that he was quite prosperous.
Other than the death of his mother in 1933 and his father in 1936, it seemed that the rest of Fred’s life in Erie was relatively uneventful. He and Mary Clancy Field lived in a small apartment on 4th and State Street. The apartment was provided by the estate for which Fred worked.
Both my mom and uncle tell me that their Grandpa Fred was a quiet man. “Well he couldn’t get a word in edgewise,” said my uncle,“what with Grandma always yelling at him.” My mom remembers that her grandfather was almost always sitting in his favorite chair staring out the window lost in thought.
Was he remembering Bertha? The first little girl to be born to him and Eliza? Was he thinking about Claude? Did he ever zone out while Mary was yelling at him and remember Eliza, the young Canadian woman who surely must have been smitten by the tall American lumberjack? Was he thinking about the daughters he left behind in Rochester? My mom only remembers visits from Chester. Was he estranged from his other children?
But Fred wasn’t always melancholy. Sometimes he called square dances as he played the fiddle. He enjoyed hunting and often returned to the wilds of Smethport to shoot game. It was always a great show when Fred came back from these trips. City-bred Mary Clancy Field never ceased to be thoroughly disgusted by the dead animals Fred brought home for her to cook.
My uncle and his cousins always amusedly listened through the keyhole to their grandma Mary’s post-hunting tirades. Fred expected his wife to cook his fresh kills and Mary angrily told Fred Field (you son of a bitch!) to get the dead creatures off her kitchen table. It’s almost certain that all the other women in Fred’s family – his mother, sister and heck, probably Eliza – had no problem with (and were probably very adept at) dressing and cooking any animal that their husbands brought through the door.
By the mid-1950s Fred finally had enough of his harpy second wife and took another mistress. He began courting a fellow septuagenarian. “A nice old widow lady,” said my uncle. Fred moved out of the little State Street apartment and into the widow lady’s home where he remained for 2 years until his death.
Mary Clancy Field, of course, did not take Fred’s abandonment graciously. (Ironic, right?) “I’ll piss on his grave!”, she declared to anyone who would listen. She lived two more years after he did so she may very well have taken the opportunity to do that. Nevertheless, they are buried together.
They are very intriguing, these stories that happened to the ancestors that came before me. I am endlessly curious about these real people, their real emotions, stories, relationships. I hope they all found some happiness in the midst of the tragedies and complications that made up their lives.
RIP Fred Field, You Son of a Bitch.