Thursday, June 02, 2011

A Personal Memorial: Brother Vic Honors a Mystery Grandpa, George F. Pollock the First.

The circumstances surrounding the death  and burial of our grandfather in an unmarked grave has been cloaked in mystery. In this modest new grave marker for George F. Pollock the First, shown here, there is a story.

For decades, his burial spot in Mount Hope Cemetery in Boston was unknown and unmarked until my brother Vic discovered it.  He decided to investigate. What he found was surprising, actually troubling, and he decided to do something about it.

He solicited donations from me and his other siblings, Marion, Ruby, and Reggie and we all paid up.  He went out and bought the marker for $1,100,  had it placed, and now dutifully plants Memorial Day flowers at the now honored resting place of George Francis Pollock the First.

In the photo, Vic is shown with the marker that is there because of him.

Why no marker for our grandfather for so long? Why now? Why would Vic take the trouble to provide a gravestone for a grandfather  he never knew and then respectfully -- even lovingly -- plant flowers there every year?  In his investigation, what did Vic learn about our mystery grandpa?

Let’s start with Vic and who he is.

He spent 24 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, retiring as a Drill Instructor.  Yes, Drill Instructor, barking at recruits and scaring the bejesus out of them.  This is the tough side of Vic nowhere in evidence as he fiddles with flowers at his grandpa’s grave.  It is a side that made him push himself, while on active duty in the U.S. Marines,  to take college courses and earn  bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

He doesn’t talk much about his service to our country and never about being wounded in combat in Vietnam, where he took grenade fragments to his midsection.  A year ago, the cumulative toll of that wound left him unable to take food, weak, weighing barely 112 pounds -- and at death’s door.

No thanks, said Vic. His attitude was: Got too much I want to do, so how do we fix this thing?  By some miracle, he found a young VA surgeon, Dr. Vivian Sanchez, with the same can-do make-up, the right set of surgical skills and experience, and the willingness to do what it takes.

Vic had not been able to take solid food for months and it was literally killing him.  Dr. Sanchez had to move quickly. But she ruled out a short-term patch job that previous surgeries had been. They had let scar tissue build up, blocking food, and making failure of Vic’s gastrointestinal system a matter of time.

Dr. Sanchez  proposed rebuilding his gastrointestinal system.  It would be highly invasive but she had performed the procedure successfully many times. Vic knew it  and had confidence in her.  Seeing a chance to get his life back, he gave the go-ahead for the surgery.

Dr. Sanchez basically started from scratch, undoing previous half-hearted surgeries. She performed a highly creative and delicate resection, cutting out food passageways with scar tissue preventing passage of food and then reattaching. When I and my siblings visited Vic, he was in terrible pain and weak. By the look of him, deathly, full recovery  didn’t  seem possible.

Released from the VA hospital  to care at home,  Vic took nutrition intravenously for weeks under the care of a visiting nurse. Slowly, gradually, with his companion Marianne with him every step of the way, he was able to get off the feeding tube and begin to take a little solid food.

It has been all up from there.

Today, a year later, Vic savors food like never before. His weight has gone back up to 140 and is rising. He is busy with yard work, doing things around the house, and gradually building up muscle.  He and Marianne pack lunches, which he can wolf down, and go off fishing for the day on the lake near his home. They are planning weekend trips and vacations.

In the long, hard process of getting his life back, Vic’s remarkable determination has been on full display. For him, this is business as usual.   After the early death of our father, George F. Pollock the Second, at 27, and prompt abandonment by our dysfunctional mother, Vic spent his childhood in foster homes, as all five of us did.

In uncaring foster homes, with no known family, Vic was literally on his own from an early age. His only relief from the searing pain of no family came when he ended up in the same foster home with our youngest brother Reggie.

The move was not for Vic’s sake.  It was to accommodate the foster “parents.”  They needed to replace the income from a departed foster kid, me.  Just turning 17 and no longer willing to be a meal ticket, I had walked away to make my own way in the world, creating a “vacancy” for Vic.

Vic left his previous foster home in spectacular fashion, by tossing a brick through the kitchen window and taking off. Now, by pure happenstance, Vic and Reggie had each other and they became as close as two brothers can be. I describe them as being  “joined at the heads.”  (The medical term for the condition is craniopagus.)

As such, judging from their sighs and knowing looks when the three of us are together, they consider me, well, different.  While they can hardly be more the same; I can hardly be more different. They yin; I yang. They were both U.S. Marines; I was in the U.S. Army. Vic and I  have different views on cemeteries and honoring the dead. And so on.

I say, “Vive le difference!” They say, “What the blankety-blank is wrong with that guy?”  When we go fishing, the only reason they don’t toss me overboard is that they know I’m a swimmer and would show up on shore.

Yet we remain brothers and have a lot of laughs when we get together (often at my expense, of course.) In  time of need, there’s no question that the three of us are there for each other.  Several years ago when Vic was pulling his life apart in Oklahoma and was sick and down -- not his usual can-do self -- Reggie and I flew there and brought him to Massachusetts.

The three of us drove across the country together and our sister Ruby took Vic in while, as usual, he bounced back and got his own place within a year.  No matter what the life trial or health scare, Vic’s iron determination always wins out.

I called Vic just before this Memorial Day to see when we could get together.  He mentioned that he and Marianne were going to Hope Cemetery in Boston  to put flowers on the grave of our father, George F. Pollock the Second and the newly marked one of  George F. Pollock the First.

As George F. Pollock the Third, I felt a pull to go and asked if I could go along. Vic said fine.  And so four of us, Vic and Marianne and Barbara and I, headed out for Mount Hope Cemetery, with Vic chauffeuring. In Boston, his GPS had a nervous breakdown and we got an unexpected, interesting tour of the city.

And now a flashback to the genesis of this visit to Hope Cemetery:

The initial prod for Vic’s now annual cemetery visit came from Marianne. Every year she plants flowers at her parents' graves for Memorial Day. But one year, because she knew Vic's family background, or lack of it, she bought extra flowers in case he wanted to put them on his father's grave. Since she had the flowers, Vic thought it would be a nice thing to do.

After planting flowers on the graves of Marianne's parents, the two of them went to Mount Hope Cemetery in Boston to do the same for Vic's father.  When they asked a cemetery caretaker where the grave of George Pollock was, the caretaker came up with two George Pollocks! They were buried a short distance from each other.

Two?  Was the caretaker sure? Yes, the caretaker said, he had internment cards for two George Pollocks. He led them to the first grave site, that of our father, George F. Pollock The Second. He is shown in the photo. Vic is a spitting image of him. Vic placed the flowers at the foot of the headstone. Then the caretaker  led them to where the second George Pollock was buried, some 50 yards away.

The caretaker stood on the spot, which was unmarked, and said, "here, along with two infants." Vic looked at Marianne. Marianne looked at Vic. Vic decided then and there to find out who this second George Pollock was, who the infants were, why the grave was unmarked, and what happened 65 years ago.

Vic and Marianne went to the Massachusetts Office of Vital Records. There they found that the unmarked grave was that of our grandfather, George Francis Pollock the First. His death certificate said that his death in 1937 at 47 was a suicide, by "luminal poisoning." The certificate said that he had swallowed a fatal dose of some 100 tablets. His occupation was listed as "limousine driver."

The two infants with him were Clarence R. Pollock, one year, 11 months, buried November 8, 1924, and William H. Wilkins, one year, five months, buried on July 8, 1925. According to Lillian Cloyd, daughter of George F. Pollock the First and his wife Evelyn and sister of George F. Pollock the Second -- our aunt --, they were Clarence's parents. She said William's parents were her sister Pearl and Gerald Wilkins.

Our grandmother, Evelyn, who died in 1956 at the age of 64, was in the habit of having a child almost every year. Altogether, she had 17. Vic suspects, but cannot yet confirm, that she had one child before her marriage to George Francis Pollock the First.

Family rumor has it that the child was put up for adoption. In 1916, after three girls, she had her first son, George Francis Pollock the Second, our father. Also according to family rumor, our dad had a twin named Patrick but Vic has not found documentation for this. He has documented that I am officially George Francis Pollock the Third.

Following are photos of us honoring the First and the Second:

Of my two previous namesakes, one killed himself at 47. The other, our father, died at 27 of a cerebral embolism brought on by rheumatic heart disease with mitral and aortic stenosis. At 73, I've lived almost as long as the two of them combined.

As an official "the third," I felt like I got a big social promotion. I was no longer some common former ward of the state. I had three roman numerals after my name. I had pedigree. My body language said, a little respect, please.

At the cemetery, I started complaining about feeling morbid as George F. Pollock the Third around the graves of the departed George F. Pollock the First and George F. Pollock the Second.  Marianne did not feel for me. “Hey, you tell everybody you’re George F. Pollock the Third, what do you expect? You play, you pay.”

As we were leaving the cemetery, I asked Marianne if she would like to kiss the ring of George F. Pollock the Third.  She passed.

There may be no George Francis Pollock the Fourth.  I wanted to named my oldest son, Greg, George Francis Pollock the Fourth. But as his mom and my former wife recently recalled, she "hated the name George."  The best I could do was to name him Gregory Francis Pollock which gave us the same initials, GFP.

Greg, you're now free to choose your own name. If you want to, you can change your first name to George and become George Francis Pollock the Fourth.  We'll have a crowning ceremony.

I won’t be buried in Hope Cemetery or, for that matter, in any cemetery. I’ve explained why in an earlier story.  But what if a future thoughtful Vic put a marker in a cemetery, or anywhere else for that matter, recording that George Francis Pollock the Third had lived and died on this planet?  Would I object? No.

It would be nice to be remembered. Below are Vic and I at our grandfather's grave.

And I’m sure George Francis Pollock the First and George Francis Pollock  the Second feel the same way about our visit remembering and honoring them.  Thank you Vic for making it happen. And I’m sure both of them also thank you.

But, you know, I’ve been wondering  about Evelyn Pollock, the First’s wife and mother of 17 kids, and our grandmother?  She is buried in nearby Cedar Grove Cemetery not too far away from her husband, George F. Pollock the First. What was she like?

Lillian Cloyd, one of Evelyn’s 17 kids, says that her mom and our grandmother was a “great person” and a wonderful mom. However, she was dirt poor. Lillian said, “She never had a cent. We were on Aid to Dependent Children. She was lucky to be able to feed us, but she always did. Many times she got up early on cold winter days to make a fire and get the house warm before getting us kids up. Somehow, she kept us all together.”

Why no marker on George F. Pollock the First’s grave? Lillian has a simple answer. “She was too poor,” she said. “She couldn’t afford a marker. Every cent  she had went into feeding and caring for us kids.” She said the two infants were buried in her father’s grave for the same reason, grinding poverty.

Last year she visited her Mom Evelyn’s grave, which has a simple marker. She went  with her daughter Ginny and placed flowers and a solar light.  Also buried in her mom’s grave, Lillian said, is her own daughter, Barbara Jean, who died at 3 ½ months. “Pneumonia,” she said.

I asked Aunt Lillian if later this summer she would like to visit  the grave of her mom Evelyn and daughter Barbara Jean.  “Yes,” she said instantly.

So Vic, up for a ride to Cedar Grove Cemetery? Who knows  how much the visit might mean to Aunt Lillian, to us, and to those that we remember and honor? 

George Francis Pollock the Third

(All commoners may now bow. Oh, Marianne, can’t you just bow? What’s the harm?).

Finally, here is a short video of Vic telling us why he comes to Mount Hope Cemetery every year:

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