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Header: Jess Anderson in Madison Wisconsin
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Biological Family
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My parents gave rise to my sister, me, and my brother during their respective first marriages. They divorced when I was 11. Soon afterwards, my father remarried; he and my stepmother had seven children before their divorce. When I was 18, my mother married my stepfather (they had been lovers a long time), who had one child from his first marriage.

My dad's second family was never a large factor in my life, though on my rare visits to their house in Evanston, my heart was torn by the obvious fact of the children being starved for even simple affection.

My stepfather was an important factor, however, especially during my teens, until his sudden death from a heart attack the year I was 29. So I include him with my own parents and my siblings. Both my brother and sister have children and grandchildren (all very nice), but I have no plan to write about them at this point.

  • My mother was Cleo Lorraine Ashley, born in Toronto, Ontario on May 12, 1909. She lived to be 83 and was unquestionably the major shaping force in my life, from my birth to her death in 1992. She quit drinking at 65 (the booze had always been a barrier to trust for me). During those last years we became incredibly close, helped possibly by the fact that we were very much alike. We used to joke that this similarity scared hell out of both of us! At any rate, she was a most intriguing person (I still miss her every day, and she still shows up in my dreams as a person who is both dead and living at the same time).

  • My father was Jess Anderson, Jr., born April 19, 1907 in Newcastle, Pennsylvania. His dad was a coal miner and a drunk. His mom died when he was 7, and he never got along with his stepmother. He went to work in the mines when he was 16, left home at 21 and ended up marrying my mother in Yonkers, New York when he was 24 (1931), in the worst part of the Great Depression. He died in the Jacksonville (Illinois) State Hospital in 1963, a couple months shy of 56.

  • My stepfather was H. Benjamin McIver. I believe he was two years younger than my mom. He was born in a little Illinois town called Roodhouse. He truly loved my mother, though it took me a long time to see any virtue in the person. He died suddenly in 1964, supposedly of a heart attack.

  • My sister, Sandra M. Berthene, was born March 23, 1932 in Chicago, so she's three years older than I am. Soon after she was born, my parents moved to Peoria, where all three kids grew up. She lives in suburban Minneapolis.

  • My brother, Stephen A. Anderson, was born in Peoria on December 8, 1940, so he was 5-1/2 years younger than I am. Three times married and divorced, he lived in Sacramento, California for the greater part of his life. He died at age 61 on May 2, 2002, at a Veterans Administration care facility in Martinez, California. His final resting place is the military cemetery at Ft. Snelling, Minnesota, near where his son (also Stephen A. Anderson) lives.

  • Two aunts (my mother's sisters) and one grandparent (my mother's mother) were very dear me when I was young. The younger son of one aunt, my cousin Byron Ades, was about my same age and was destined to play an role in my budding sexual life. I've included some brief comments about these other family members.

I experienced very limited family feelings of the conventional kind with any of these people when I was young. Perhaps the closest we ever came to it was at those relatively few evening meals when calm and order prevailed. Mostly we just dreaded the seemingly inevitable outbursts of my perpetually drunk old man.

My emotional attachment to my mother did not get underway, really, until the year I was 40, after which we became more nearly close friends than an ordinary mother-son pair. Neither of us was all that conventional as an individual, I suppose. Well, I should say that I was conventionally dependent as a small child, but by the time I was 10 or 12, there was great distance between my mom and me, and it only increased until she quit drinking.

Though my sister and I have become closer in recent years, as an independent adult my sense of family ties, especially since my mother's death in 1992, has mostly been bound up in my relationships in extended families. There is a link about that.

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