I guess you could say Walter was my young grandpa. He was only 35 when he was struck by a train 91 years ago this month.
Walter was headed to Irondale, Missouri, to pick up some cement. A freight train was stopped on a siding near a railroad crossing just south of town. Walter drove his small Ford truck through the crossing, not realizing the freight train masked his view of an oncoming passenger train.
Walter left six kids and a pregnant wife. My mom, who was born four months later, never even met her father.
I’ve imagined the train accident that took Walter’s life 100 times, but it wasn’t until I was working on my genealogy recently that I realized Walter lost his mother when he was just five years old. His sisters, 10 and 12, were probably left to care for the three younger siblings while their father tended the farm. For the first time I see Walter as a lonely, scared little boy.
Walter knew what it was like to lose a parent. He would have hated leaving his poor kids behind. As fate would have it, Walter’s widow Bertha got cancer and died when my Mom was 7. My mother grew up at Missouri Baptist Children’s home. She said she turned to her heavenly father because she never knew her earthly one.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend I am reminded how lucky I am to have had the love and guidance of my mother through my entire life. And I remember my young grandpa who grew up without his mother and never got to know the joy of seeing his own children grow up.
COMING WEDNESDAY: Writers-World Series continues with “Cubsessions: Famous Fans of Chicago’s North Side Baseball Team.”