Part 25: A Bet on President Truman and A Bill Paid. Or maybe a bill was paid.
Updated: May 17
Below Riley Shepard and wife number three, Alix Taran, and their young son, Richard.
It’s Friday, May 15, 2020. Here in Seattle, COVID-19 is spreading slower than before, but it is still spreading every day in our area. Rumors and misinformation about the virus continue swirl around.
In the past two months, 36.5 million people have filed for unemployment in the United States. Confirmed deaths for the Corona virus is at 86,000, but it’s hard to know exactly how many died in our country before hospitals and doctors were aware of what was happening. I have a sister in California who became ill in the middle of February. The symptoms got worse instead of better, and by March 4th she wasn’t answering her phone. We called her over and over, no answer. I even called her building manager.
Finally, she picked up her phone. She could barely speak, could not stop coughing, and she had a fever of 105. I made her go to the emergency room, and they gave her a prescription for antibiotics and sent her to get a chest x-ray. The whole time she couldn’t stop coughing, had trouble breathing, and seemed to be dazed. She was never called back in by any of the doctors she saw for a follow-up, but her symptoms matched those infected with the virus. Who knows how many people were infected?
Let’s get out of here. This year sucks.
The photograph at the top is my father with his third wife, and their son, Richard in a peach tree. The black and white photo was taken around 1950, in back of the house in Jamaica Estates which was owned by Alix's parents. Below, my half-brother Richard on his second birthday, November 4, 1950.
Going back to the fall of 1948 in New York, where Riley wasn’t Riley, he was known to his third wife and her parents and sister as Dick, short for Richard. He also began using the name Dickson Hall.
Alix became pregnant and gave birth to a son. They named the baby Richard Alexander Shepard, his first name from our father, and the middle name, Alexander, for his maternal grandfather. Richard was born on November 4, 1948. It’s confusing, with all the names, now there’s a new person named Richard, and my father had gone by that name most of his young life. Although “Richard” is what Dad’s entire family called him, and then people knew him as Riley, he was now going by Dick.
Richard (brother) told me that the night of his birth at the Doctor’s Hospital in Manhattan, Riley had made a bet that Truman would win the presidency. He used those winnings to help pay the hospital bill.
Either before they had their baby, or after, Riley and Alix moved to Hollis, New York, which is located in Queens. Not long after, although Riley seemed to be making money, they had to move in with Alix's parents.
As mentioned in previous blogs, I grew up knowing about Alix and my half-brother. I won’t repeat the stories I was told by my father, what he said seems unlikely to me now. I realized that my father had to have a “story” of how his marriages ended, a story that would cast him in a good light.
The journal my father kept had a paragraph about what happened between him and his wife. Dad wrote in his notes that Alix had found a journal he was keeping back then. She read it, and that’s how she found out about all his other relationships. Alix kicked his ass out. I’m surprised he kept a journal filled with such damning information just laying around the house, but also it tracks with my father’s strange behavior and lack of executive function.
The house was large, and Alix and Richard lived on the second floor which had its own kitchen. My brother wrote that his grandfather, who emigrated from Kyiv to the United States in 1912, would throw dinners or lunches for his Ukrainian friends, and he cared for the fruit trees and gardens surrounding the property. Richard’s grandmother would make cherry wine and store it in the basement. Richard was close with his grandparents, and he always assumed he took after and looked exactly like his grandfather. The whole house was open, and buzzing with activity. Richard had strong bonds with his childhood friends.
Donald Trump, the same age as my brother, lived around the corner, but none of the other kids liked him, to put it mildly.
After her relationship with Riley, or Dick as she knew him, Alix never remarried.
Meanwhile, Richard grew up.
My brother wrote this, I put his words in Italics. I think he sent this to me sometime after Riley died in 2009.
Standing at the top of four stairs leading down to the side door entrance and the basement, I remember someone leaving and someone standing next to me, perhaps two. I was four, I think. It is all I remember of my father— just someone going out the door and I have no memory of a face from that moment, and afterwards I don’t remember him not being there. That was over fifty years ago and life went on normally.
The kitchen stairs leading to the side door were located in our rather large home in Jamaica Estates in the Borough of Queens, New York City. My childhood friends were a fast, hidden short cut through the neighbor’s back-yard, which I frequently crossed but needed to avoid their obnoxious, but nonetheless slightly dangerous big dog. They were and are my closest friends. Paul lives in Maryland, close to our farm in Virginia, and Angelo in Florida. Donald Trump lived around the block.
Looking back, it was like a movie. We indulged in dangerous activities, stupid stunts, model railroads, bike racing, frog hunting and rebuilding (mostly Angelo) decrepit cars. We still keep in touch. So, I never missed my father because you can’t miss what you never knew. I was too busy in any event.
I’ve seen the pictures of my father, my mother and me taken in an apartment in Hollis, New York, I think, where we apparently lived before moving to the house in Jamaica. I have no memory of that, of course. When he left, I assume my grandfather and grandmother were already there, living on the first floor, while my mother and I occupied the second. I lived there until I left for university when the house was sold, and then my mother purchased a beautiful house in Mt. Tabor, New Jersey in 1969 where she lived until 2008.
My mother rarely talked about Dick— her reference to Richard Riley Shepard. But when she did, much of the monologue involved references to bounced checks and unpaid debts with warnings to me not to turn out like him—whatever he turned out to be— of which I had not a clue. However— and it was a big “however” — at other times when the critique was not rolled out, then the photo albums, sheet music and tales of reviews of radio broadcasts were on display.
She described him as a song-writer, which was true, radio personality, also true, and itinerant preacher— coming from a Baptist background in the South— which I suspect he was not. Except for her favorite quotes allegedly arising with my father was that there were two ways to make boatloads of money in the United States— religion and politics. I doubt he said that—must’ve been Mark Twain or Tennessee Williams. But, maybe he did.
My aunt— my mother’s sister— never, ever mentioned him even in a whisper. She was self-absorbed, worked in one corporation for her entire career and traveling the rest until she married. My grandfather and grandmother also never spoke of him at all that I can recall.
Prying details from her was like opening an oyster; I rarely made the attempt and in any event, I was not interested. It was not a difficult childhood with a house in perpetual motion, plenty of close friends, and… well, it was New York. ---Richard A. Shepard
Below is a photograph of Richard at age 17 in Saltzburg. He went to Europe often, sometimes with his mother, and later he studied in Moscow.
It's interesting to me that Riley convinced people back then that he was a preacher. Growing up with him, I noticed he'd pretend to be religious if the situation called for it.
Late in 2005, I became obsessed with Ancestry.com after watching a film called "New York Doll" about the life of Arthur Kane, a former bass player for the band The New York Dolls. I spent a year digging around my father's side of the family when I realized, because of that film, that the Mormons kept track of a lot of our ancestry and put it online. Something to do with saving our souls after we die. I recommend the movie, too, which I think was made by a Mormon kid. Before the movie, I had no idea how much information was waiting for me on that site.
Through the ancestry site, I met distant cousins, who shared what they knew. I called up a woman who was a distant cousin, and she gave me all her paperwork. We kept in touch by mail, but she has since passed away.
One day, I was digging around, and I realized that the Shepards of North Carolina, the descendants of Rev. Riley Shepard, had their own forum. Remember, he had 18 children, so there are so many of us. There were many notes to sift through, and I went down a rabbit hole. I drove my husband crazy, because I was addicted to that site, like some people get addicted to porn.
One of my young clients said, "Ancestry? Stacya, that's like something my old aunt would be into."
I felt bad for a moment. But then I was back at it, and I found this note:
Richard A. Shepard (View posts)
Posted: 20 Apr 2004 8:20PM
Looking for information on Riley Shepard, country-western singer on the east coast, mostly in New York City, in the late 1940s. Probably born in North Carolina or South Carolina and had three or four brothers. Moved to the west coast in the 50s. Any information would be appreciated.
That is how I found my half-brother. I regretted not finding him sooner. I regretted not finding all of my siblings and relatives sooner. Richard's career is in international development, and back then he was working in Kyrgyzstan, so we flew to a place easier for us both to get to in Europe. My husband and I met Richard in Prague in 2006 or 2007, then later, when Richard came to the U.S., in Virginia.
He looked so much like my father, when I saw him I couldn't articulate at all, and I don't remember anything I said, or if I made sense or not. I'm guessing not.
Here's some photos of our meetings. In Prague at a French restaurant:
Left: David Silverman, Center: Stacya Shepard Silverman, Right: Richard Shepard
In Virginia with our half-sister Leslie:
Left: Leslie Sullivan, Richard Shepard, Stacya Shepard Silverman
That same trip to Virginia, Leslie, who was born in 1960, and her brother, Graham also met us. We all talked about how impossible it seemed that there would only be four of us. We were right.
Next, Riley, or Dick, or whatever name he was using, "really screwed it all up," to quote my brother, Richard. He really did screw it all up. One thing is painfully true, Richard was much better off without this particular dad.