Say "Hello" to Gus and Ruth

(1 of 3) This Model "A" Ford roadster was the first car that Gus and Ruth Brailer owned. Still in the Army, Gus was stationed at Fort Washington, Maryland. Taken in 1930.
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Let's meet Augustine Edward Brailer. He was your great-grandfather. You would have loved him and he would have loved you.

Right at the beginning, you and my Dad should be on a first name basis. He was always "Dad" to me but "Gus" to everybody else including little kids who knew him. So, children meet Gus. Gus, meet the children; Zach, Nick, Hannah and Phoebe.

My father died on December 20th, 1964 ... about a year before your Dad was born. Your Uncle Mike knew him although Mike was very little when my Dad passed away. Dad was given an honored soldier's funeral at Arlington Memorial Cemetery on Christmas Eve, 1964. His widow, your great-Grandmother Ruth Brailer was there and so were your Grandmother Geneva and I, and many, many of Gus's friends. He had made a lot of friends in his lifetime. He was an easy guy to like. And he was easy to admire.

I hope I can do him justice.

Dad was born in August, 1905 into a Catholic family in Mt. Savage, Maryland --- west of Cumberland. He had 4 brothers and 5 sisters. His mother died when he was young. I don't know what killed her ... poor medical care and exhaustion I suppose. His father lived a long time and I knew him. We lived near Washington, D.C. and so we could drive to Mt. Savage from time to time (car travel in those days wasn't as quick and easy as it is now). The Brailer family lived in a frame house about halfway up the mountain. Dad was born in that house. Most of his brothers and sisters lived in or near that place all their lives.

Dad left Mt. Savage when he was very young. He had little formal education --- just eighth-grade --- when he left home. But all his life he carried with him a love of learning and the unshakable belief that he could learn to do new things.

As near as I can figure, he and a couple of other fellows from Mt. Savage went to Wheeling, West Virginia and found jobs with the Westinghouse Air Brake Company. Somehow, Dad convinced the Company that he knew how to run a metal lathe and so he got a job as a machinist making brake cylinders. I have no idea how long he worked there.

The next thing about his life I know for sure was that he was in the Army after World War I and was stationed at Fort Washington, Maryland. He was a member of a Presidential Honor Company ... was an excellent marksman ... a member of the Post bowling team ... and served for some time as one of the Honor Guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

He was hospitalized for a period of time at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for something pretty mundane (ulcers, I believe) and while he was there he met my Mom. She was working for the U.S. Government ... young, footloose and fancy-free. And like many young ladies, she would go to dances for the soldiers at the Hospital.

There are photos around of Mom and Dad after they were married and while Dad was still in the Army ... he in his uniform and she in her "flappers" fashions. They were a handsome couple. It was still the 20's ... the "War To End All Wars" was over. The Great Depression was yet to come. It was a brief interlude of tranquility in the 20th Century. The last time of innocence.

Dad eventually got out of the Army and went to work as an orderly at St. Elizabeth's Hospital for the Insane in Washington. There he worked until the mid-1930's. I was born by that time and although I was quite young, I can remember when he lost that job and why. It was Christmas Eve and Mom and Dad drank a toast to the Holiday just before Dad went to work. His boss detected the smell of wine on his breath and fired Dad on the spot. That was not a Merry Christmas.

Right now, it's time for you to learn more about your great-grandmother Brailer.  Mom was born March 1st, 1900 near Paris, Missouri. She was a farm girl and lived in a couple of places in northeastern Missouri (and southern Iowa, too, I think). Mom had two brothers and two sisters. Her father lived until just a few months before I was born in 1932 but her mother died when she was 12 years old. Since she was the oldest girl she had to take on many of the household jobs that a farm wife would normally do in order to keep the family functioning. And she went to school as well. She had a high school education ... worked as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse went to business school ... was married briefly and then divorced ... and went to Washington, D.C. to work for the government. She was employed at the Veteran's Administration for many years.

I know very little about her father, Charles Huff for whom I was named. He was reportedly a gentle man but with great strength. I have heard stories of his ability to swim across the Mississippi River near the Iowa-Missouri border with the greatest of ease and then swim back. The river is wide there and the current is strong. So that was no mean accomplishment.

My aunts and uncles were all farmers, and good ones, too. Mom never cared for it. She was a city girl at heart. Eventually, she made her way to Washington, D.C. and went to work as a typist at the Veterans' Administration, As a single girl in Washington, she and other young ladies in her office would travel on weekends to the places that could be reached from Washington by train. In those days, the railroads offered lots of passenger excursion trips. For a woman in her time, Mom was a venturesome gal.

She also enjoyed plays and musicals a lot and she liked to dance. Dad and Mom were very active in square dancing in the years after World War II. Dad taught himself how to call square dances. He learned from phonograph records and eventually became a popular square dance caller in the Washington area. It was an avocation but he was good enough that square dance groups paid him. He and Mom were a "package deal" ... she would go along to help teach beginners or fill in as a spare dancer while coffee and refreshments were being prepared by one of the ladies in the group. These groups customarily met at someone's home or possibly in a church social hall.

Mom was a very talented seamstress. She made many of her clothes. She also crocheted and quilted. At one time she had a very large collection of porcelain dolls ... mostly collected in second-hand stores. Some were gifts from friends. Dad gave her several over the years. So did I. And most of them were dressed in doll clothing she made by hand. The dolls were sold at auction in Iowa in the mid1970's but I have one doll that she kept with her until she died. It is one of my most cherished keepsakes.

Unlike Dad who lived life to the fullest until the day of his death, Mom just faded away. She (in Iowa) and I (in Los Angeles) used to write letters but finally she could no longer comprehend things. Her mind and memory progressively failed her. The doctor in that little town felt she had hardening of the arteries of the brain. I suspect she had Alzheimer's Disease but we'll never know.

In the last several years of her life she lived in a nursing home. She passed away on July 3rd, 1980 in Keosauqua, Iowa. But in my mind's eye, even today, she is still a young lady with sparkling eyes who loved to read and travel and square dance with my Dad.