Explaining family relationships as a backdrop for what’s to come is something akin to begats in the Bible, necessary (at least to the author), but boring. As I write, I’ve tried very hard to stay away from boring in Cat Skinner – a Story of Lust, Love and Loss in the 1930’s, but you may get a taste of it here.
My cousin, Janet Peterson Esser, and I have been exchanging email about the Bateman family. Her mother, Evelyn (“Toots”) Ruth Bateman Peterson was my dad, Webster (“Webb”) Warren Bateman’s oldest sister. There were six siblings. After Toots came Raymond Wellington, then Webb, followed by Walter Harrison, Vivian Lois, and Blanche May. They were born to James (“Jim”) Robert Bateman and Tomine Teodine (“Dena”) Ramsland Bateman during the first two decades of 1900.
Thanks to Janet, I now have some details about life in the Merchant Hotel in Almont, North Dakota that I wouldn’t otherwise have. Janet verified the Bateman family did live in the hotel (she remembers visiting the hotel as a young child) while Jim operated the pool hall and livery stable across the street. What becomes obvious in our exchange of information is Toot’s natural instinct to “mother” Ray, the oldest brother and Webb, two years younger. At the time the boys left to join the circus, Toots was 17, Ray 16 and Webb 14 years old.
“I remember Mom (“Toots”) talking about how upset she was with her parents that they allowed the boys to do it [join the circus],” Janet commented in an email and later asked, “So why did they?”
I responded with facts from Dad’s own brief memoir, information Janet hadn’t known.
Ray was almost strangled to death by Professor DeNoyer, the head master at school. He might have been if the janitor hadn’t pulled him off Ray. DeNoyer was also a boarder at the hotel, paying $30/month rent. Jim lectured both boys even though Dad wasn’t in the fight. He said (according to Dad), “If you boys don’t want to go to school and behave, you can go out and go to work for your own living.” Dad and Ray thought that was a good deal and initially “rustled” jobs on separate farms working 14 hour days, seven days a week for $15/month. Dad also said about his farm job, “I think dogs had it better.” And from there they joined the circus which made one night stands in small towns in the Dakotas and Minnesota.
When Dad reflected on Jim telling the boys to go get work, he said it seemed Jim was more interested in getting rent than feeding two hungry boys. Obviously Dena went along with it or felt she had no say in the matter. DeNoyer was later sent to an insane asylum for the mentally ill and criminally insane. He died there.
While recitation of family lineage may get a bit tiresome, the stories the family relationships produce are truly stranger than fiction – and deserve to be told.