It was 1931. My grandparents, Russell Tiffen Lemon and Clara Herr, had been married 10 years and still no children had blessed their union. My grandmother had an older sister, Vera Herr Robinson, whose husband had left her because, the family story goes, she was too wasteful of food. Vera had had 5 children with Floyd Robinson before he left for the grocery store one day in 1930 and never came back, so she moved into a warm, snug brick garage my grandfather had built in his backyard to house his car. The car stayed outside and Vera and her children moved in. Vera was 28, her sister Clara 26. They were close, as sisters are and shared everything with each other. Clara and Russell helped feed and clothe the Robinson family and provided a warm place for them to live. I do not know the particulars of this story, but I know when I was a young girl, I was encouraged to write to my great-aunt Vera, who lived in
Ohio, which I did. She wrote back, too. There were whispers among my cousins that my grandpa and grandma weren’t my grandparents, that my father and his twin brother had been adopted by the Lemons, but I was young and knew better than to ask for an explanation from my parents. As I grew up we cousins talked more and I learned that yes, my grandparents were my grandparents, but in a different way from other grandparents. The story I heard was that my grandma couldn’t have children and her sister could, so an arrangement was made where a child would be conceived by Vera and given to Clara and Russell to raise as their own. Shocking! I remember feeling shocked and uneasy. As I grew older more of the story was revealed to me: Russell Lemon was the father of the baby–which turned out to be a set of twins–that was given to him and Clara. Whoa. Even as an adult the idea was scandalous. Vera had remarried and moved away, but her children were more than cousins to my father and his brother, they were best friends. I called Shirley Robinson Betham Mama Shirley and her husband, Dale, Daddy Dale. Our parents were constantly at each other’s houses, playing cards, going out, having meals together. Shirley and Dale’s children were more like siblings to me and my brother than 2nd cousins. But never did I talk to my father about the rumors and stories I had heard until I grew up and had my own family.
When I asked my father, he said, “My father is my father and that’s all we’re going to say.” I accepted that. Then I got passionate about genealogy and broached the subject of a DNA test to my father. Again he told me, “My father is my father and that’s all I’m going to say.” He told me he didn’t want any DNA
testing to be done on him or on any of us. I respected his decision though it frustrated me no end. My Uncle Dick, my father’s twin brother, and gotten me started doing our Lemon side of the family, and while he was willing to tell me the story of his and my father’s births, he had no proof. So we just went about discovering our Lemon side of the family as if they really were our Lemons.
My uncle died in 2003 and we never talked of DNA, it wasn’t as big a “thing” as it is now. I’ve already told you what my father had to say on the subject. My dad died in 2010 and I miss him every single day.
Last year, Knapper, my husband, bought me a DNA kit from Ancestry.com for Christmas. I figure if my dad gets angry about my testing for the truth behind the stories, there’s not much he can do about it. I mean, he already doesn’t talk to me anymore. 🙂 I followed the instructions and sent out the kit on the 1st Monday in 2015 and waited anxiously for the results, which finally came back yesterday. Looking at my matches on Ancestry, I have discovered that the family stories are true: I am matched with others who have my grandfather Lemon’s mother’s genes. Her name was Eva Wilder. My mother’s parents are from Kentucky. Eva’s family is from New England. My Grandma Lemon’s side of the family is also well-documented, her maternal grandparents were both born in Germany. I am 58 this year and this story has taken a very long time to play out. I am so lucky to have been so loved by my grandparents, who loved all of us utterly and made it known in a hundred thousand little ways. And I was loved by my Aunt Bill, which is what we children called Clara’s sister, Vera, who so generously gave of herself so that Clara could have a baby of her own to love.
Michigan, Marriages, 1868-1925,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/NQM3-ZJY : accessed 15 February 2015), Russell Lemon and Clara Herr, 08 Oct 1921; citing Pontiac, Oakland, Michigan, v 6 rn 621, Department of Vital Records, Lansing; FHL microfilm 2,342,745.
1930 Census record: Vera and her children are found living on Northview Court, though Vera and the children are several lines above Russell and Clara:
Year: 1930; Census Place: Pontiac, Oakland, Michigan; Roll: 1017; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 0050; Image: 412.0; FHL microfilm: 2340752