Part Six: "I Often Wonder What Went Wrong..."
As mentioned, when I was in college, my father mailed me a journal-memoir, around thirty pages, and the beginning start to an autobiography. I realize now that this journal was a condensed form of the enormous, loose- leaf, more detailed journal found in the missing boxes. When my father sent me the shorter journal in 1987, he wasn't speaking to anyone else in our family but me, and this made me panic a little bit. I didn't want to be the only one. Dad was capable of cutting people off completely. Soon I helped patch things up with Dad and my sister, Lisa, after a squabble between the two of them spiraled out of control. I told my father Lisa was sorry, and I told Lisa he was sorry--- although that wasn't the case. Anyway, it worked.
Lisa has been incredible helpful in gathering up information and snooping around.
When my father died in 2009, I was contacted by Dave Sichak, who wanted to write up an obituary for a Hillbilly music website. I used Dad's 30 page biography as source material for this obituary. I had Dave list 16 of my father's stage names, pen names, and who-knows-what-for names. (My father named me Stacy, and he was furious when he found out I'd changed my name, and mostly refused to acknowledge the change. His reaction was surprising, after all, he had way more than the 16 names I listed back then. I recently found another one of his pen names. Or was it an alias?)
Together, Dave and I crafted an obituary about his colorful life and career.
I've photographed some of the journal pages here so you can see how detailed Riley was. In these notes, some on bits of scrap paper, he put his entire life together. Here, he admitted things I've wondered about, like what ended his relationships before he met my mother. He writes about his regrets, he lists every single woman he was ever with, every single town and city he lived in, (no matter how briefly), every film he saw, every Broadway show, who he worked with and where, and what was going on in history each year of his life. He wrote about politics, war, culture, music, radio, and the deaths of famous people.
To refresh the Shepard clan: Zedoc is my father's father, Lula is Dad's mother, Mary his mother's sister. I don't call them my grandfather or grandmother because I never met them.
Riley didn't keep in touch with his relatives. As a matter of fact, he seemed to want to avoid them, but wanted to talk with me about them. He told me his mother had seizures, that his Tindal uncles were cruel, that his grandmother was the matriarch of the family. He seemed to admire her business skills, and described her as a powerful, strong woman.
Here is how his journal reads, not straight through, but going over and over details during the same time period focusing on differing memories. I've retyped things close to the way he typed it, his notes are in italics.
Born: October 21, 1918 at Wilmington, N.C. on Castelhane Road. Historical events; WWI ended on Nov 11, 1918, 21 days after I was born. Grandma Tyndal operated Brickyard and owned several houses plus real estate.
Oct 21, 1919: 1 yr old. No memory. Zedoc operated a grocery store meat market. Lula Shepard had epilepsy So did Mary Tyndal Race riots in Chicago (get details) 21 days later Parents: Lula Tyndal Shepard and Zedoc Levi Shepard Elder brother: William Shepard Elder brother: Maurice Shepard—died at 3 months of age Younger brothers: Floyd Shepard & Victor Earl Shepard Maternal grandparents: Louis Tyndal & Martha Merritt Tyndal (They had 7 children; Louis, Lena Belle, Linwood, Lillian, Lonnie, Lawrence & Lula) Paternal Grandparents: Riley Shepard & ? Shepard RS was married twice. Sired 19 children, included 2 sets of twins. Cousins: Lindwood & Mary had two daughters: Hazel & Goldie Cousins: Lillian Married Kirby Daniels, and they had four children: Mabel, Edna, Helen & Kirby Jr. 2nd Cousin: Wilbur Brown.
After this entry, he begins again on a new page, adding different details and some opposing information. Remember, he's close to 70 years old, trying to remember people he hadn't seen for decades.
Lula was on of seven children—Lena, Louis, Lillian, Linwood, Lawrence, Lonnie—born to Martha Brown Tyndal and Louis Tyndal, Sr. Zedoc was one of 22 children sired by Riley Shepard, farmer and Baptist preacher, who was married twice. Don't know names of either wife or most of their children. Oct. 21, 1920: 2 yrs old. No memory. Mamie Smith, first blues singer on phonograph records, had a hit: CRAZY BLUES. Big Bill Broonzy arrived in Chicago. First commercial radio broadcast: KDKA, Pittsburgh, Pa. Oct. 21, 1921: 3 yrs old. No memory. Oct. 21, 1922: No memory 4 years old. Floyd Shepard was born on Jan 13. Calvin Coolidge was elected President of the USA.
Dad spelled Tindal this way: Tyndal. On this entry he says his grandfather had 22 children, instead of 19 he noted on the other page. From my own research, I have Rev. Riley Shepard as having had 18 surviving kids. Also, there’s no evidence that Martha Tyndal had the name "Brown" in her family. Her full name, according to my research, was Martha Amelia Merritt Tindal.
Here's his first memory from early childhood. In the sentence "Black family in Alley house", I'm not sure why Alley is capitalized, but I shall view it as a poem and leave it that way.
My first memory is the store my father operated on, I think, Nixon St. Then, clearer, the two-story building at 1118 N. Fourth Street, the front bottom floor being a grocery-meat market store. I remember chickens and a pony or horse in the backyard, and the house behind ours owned by Granny. She also owned the property on Swan in which Louis lived... plus other property around town. I remember: Linwood and Mary, his wife, lived on the top floor with their daughters: Hazel and Goldie. Mary, like Lula, was an epileptic. Shooting marbles, playing cowboy, drawing, Easter egg hunt, Model T Ford (had to crank it), Grandpa Riley's birthday party near Jacksonville..... Father cutting his thigh while slicing meat. Black family in Alley house behind ours and black women and son in little shop next door.
Below is a snap shot of a small scrap of paper from his journal. When I first came across it, I read it over and over. It's heartbreaking. It's a poem I suppose, and something I'd like to explore in upcoming blogs.
Next, more of Riley's journal and stories about his youth in North Carolina, plus more fact checking of the "Hidden Brain" podcast.