Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Grand Uncle Jim

Yesterday, I got a package in the mail that surprised the hell out of me.

(That would be a good thing, right? Nobody wants hell in them. So, yeah, it surprised the hell out of me.)

My Uncle Jim...

(OK, before we go any further – or farther, for that matter – let’s get some genealogy out of the way. My name is Jim. I have an Uncle Jim. I also had a Grand Uncle Jim. You just can’t top an Irish family when it comes to originality in names.)

Anyway, my Uncle Jim sent me a package in the mail. It contained a whole bunch of interesting family artifacts – a couple of old catechisms, a passenger list from a cruise to Bermuda that my grandfather took when he had a job there one year, my father’s credentials as a delegate to the state Democratic convention in 1962. How these all came to be in my Uncle Jim’s possession, I don’t know. Probably a good thing they did, though, as he has a sense of history and doesn’t just throw things in the trash. Instead, he mails them to me.

(That’s just a joke, of course. I love getting stuff like this in the mail. I guess I’ve become the unofficial caretaker of family ephemera, and it’s a title I’m glad to accept.)

The most interesting things in the package were those concerning my Grand Uncle Jim.

My Grand Uncle, James E. Sullivan, was a member of the Massachusetts General Court. That is, he was elected as State Representative from the 19th Suffolk District in Boston, which was comprised of parts of Roslindale and Jamaica Plain. This was for the 1945 – 1946 legislative session. He had previously run for City Council and he would later run for Sheriff of Suffolk County. Between those times, and after his stint in the legislature, he served as Commissioner Of Public Buildings under James Michael Curley, who was either renowned or reviled depending upon which side of the tracks you grew up on.

Grand Uncle Jim was one of the sharpest people I’ve ever known. The man could cut to the core of an argument quickly and his logic was impeccable. He was an accountant by trade and he had the accountant’s eye for detail. However, he did not have the stereotypical timidity of an accountant. If opportunity knocked, Uncle Jim wasn’t one to say, “Who’s there?” or “Wait a minute while I throw some pants on.” More likely, Uncle Jim would be waiting on the front porch when opportunity was coming up the walk.

He was a neighborhood guy, from the old school of Democratic politicians - guys who didn’t apologize for making a decent living for themselves, but who always looked out for the little guy while doing so. It was their belief that government should work to benefit the fellow who needed a helping hand. And if they got a piece of the pie along the way, too, so what? That’s how the system worked. The only ones getting screwed were the Republicans and they already had theirs.

The best piece of history I received yesterday from my Uncle Jim – in many ways a carbon copy of Grand Uncle Jim, and I’m sure he knows I mean that as a high compliment – was the following. It’s an ad, of course, and was probably used as a campaign handout, too, but the conception is mighty clever. If not perused too carefully - especially in that more innocent age - it might have been taken for a complimentary editorial, especially with the addition of the cartoon.

(I'm willing to accept the possibility that it really was an editorial. Who knows how flowery the Parkway Transcript was in those days?)

[Please click on the image to enlarge for easier reading. It's still not easy on the eyes, but it's worth it.]

Isn’t that wonderful? Could you imagine someone being that ballsy today? No, of course not. Nowadays, he’d be ripped ten new ones before lunch. Back then? That’s how the game was played. He was elected, by a healthy margin.

Grand Uncle Jim died in 1969. Here’s the obit, from the now-also-gone Boston Traveler:

I only knew him after he was retired, but I personally owe him a debt of gratitude for his having introduced me to the Red Sox and instilling in me a love for the game of baseball (and its cousin, softball) that endures to this day, both as a fan and as a player.

Thanks, Grand Uncle Jim. And thanks to you, too, Uncle Jim. You're pretty grand yourself.

Soon, with more better stuff.


David Sullivan said...

It’s amazing to see that my loser father had so many wonderful relatives.

One of the greatest tragedies of my fathers abandoning my siblings and I was the fact that we never got to know and have the support of the Sullivan side of our family (which is ironic because my two boys will be responsible for carrying on the Sullivan name)

I have telegrams "Uncle Jimmy" sent me for Xmas in'65 and my birthday in'66.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, brother-in-law, Jim for stirring up memories of many happy days spent with the Aunts and Uncles and in-laws.

Anonymous said...

See, I love this kind of history.

It's real. It's about how real people changed their part of the world.

Be sure to archive all of this stuff for all the little Sullivans, so that they will grow up knowing that they are a part of something bigger.

BTW, it's not bragging - it's history and heritage.

endangered coffee said...

I think the editorial writer for your grand uncle also wrote for Topps Baseball Cards circa 1967. Great stuff!

fuzzbert_1999@yahoo.com said...

Cool stuff to have, keep, and pass on isn't it! Wish I had some similar stuff in my files, but I only have a molasses label and a refrigerator magnet calendar!

Unknown said...

You've got quite the family tree Suldog.

Rebecca said...

I think things like that are fabulous. Unfortunately, I don't have anything like that going around in my family; but that's where I come in! I save everything so that my children's children will be able to enjoy those types of things. :)

Betty Blog said...

I think it's great that your family passes stuff along, aside from bad genes, we don't do anything like that in our family - I wish we did!

Suldog said...

Thank you, friends.

David - I hope you know this already, but if you have any specific questions, always feel free to ask me. I'l fill you in as much as I'm able.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting blog!

I've got one quick question: Why do you refer to him as you "grand uncle" and not your "great uncle," which is the common terminology for a grandparent's brother?

Was this something unique to your family, or do you know others who use the terms "grand uncle" and "grand aunt" rather than "great uncle" and "great aunt"?

Thanks in advance for your reply.

Suldog said...

Hello, Grammar Guy!

It's strictly my own quirk. I've never understood why it's your grandfather, but not your granduncle. Same generation, but different prefixes? If you have some etymology to lay on me concerning why it should be as commonly given, I'm willing to learn.

By the way, the odd capitalization is also my own quirk, in case you wondered. Just a bit of respect for my ancestors. I don't know if I'm completely consistent with it, but I try.

Thanks for stopping by.