Going Home: The Judge Family History

Day 1: The first installment of 31-straight days of stories about my family...

“Hugh Judge came from Ireland.”

One of my aunts decided to put together a family history and that history starts with Hugh Judge. No information about which part of Ireland he came from, which part of America he came to or when Hugh made the trip.

But the family history does note that Hugh married Francelia Ingerson and had two kids; Mary and Theodore – my dad’s dad. I don’t have any pictures of Hugh, but that’s Theodore on the left in the above picture.

The family history also notes – and my family might be some kind of record holders in this department – Hugh divorced Francelia on June 25th, 1884 in Kelso, Washington.

After that, Hugh disappears into the mists of time or – like most divorced males – a studio apartment with bookshelves made of cinder blocks and planks, a beanbag chair and his collection of heavy metal albums Francelia didn’t like.

A quick scan through the Judge Family History makes it clear: we are some divorcin’ sonsabitches.

My dad had two of them, my mom has one, my sister had a couple, one brother has one and I think another brother has two…maybe three. To be honest, I’ve lost count of who divorced who when, but I’m pretty sure we get a family discount when it comes to break-ups.

“O what a tangled web we weave when we first call that divorce lawyer who advertises on the side of a bus.”

Shakespeare knew what the fuck he was talking about.  

The lesson Hugh Judge teaches us

I’m gonna go out on a limb and speculate that what we know of Hugh Judge gives us an incomplete picture of who he was.

The guy relocated from Ireland to the U.S., did it during the Civil War, got married and then divorced, so I’m guessing if you met Hugh in a bar he’d have some pretty good stories to tell. Problem is, Hugh never wrote those stories down, so now all that’s left of his life is a couple lines in a family history.

Spend time with almost any old person and they have interesting stories.

Unless you have the personality of a houseplant, it’s hard to get through 80 years of living without wrecking a car, making love to a beautiful woman – or man, depending on what floats your boat – or taking part in some activity so spectacularly stupid it would make Evel Kneivel say: “What the hell were you thinking?”

I don’t know about you, but I’m writing my stories down, which is the point of this 31-day online writing project. I’m not going to settle for one page in a family history that finishes up saying, “perhaps he remarried, but it is unknown for sure.”

When my kids talk about me after I’m gone – which the way I’m going could be any day now – I want them to say:

My dad once got hit in the chest with a live rattlesnake, took a 92-mph slider in the left kidney to prove a point and shit his pants on the final play of a flag football game.”

All true.

Write your stories down while you still remember them and remember: those stories aren’t worth a damn unless you tell the truth – the embarrassing parts are what make stories funny and worth telling.

Great stories do not start with: “The plane was on time and our luggage was there when we arrived.”

Great stories start with: “Who knew our hotel was next door to a Mexican prison?”

Which is a thing that actually happened and will be recounted before the month of August is over.

The untimely demise of Theodore Judge

So mystery man Hugh Judge comes to the U.S. and has a son, Theodore, my grandfather. Theodore is born in 1882, marries in 1904 and dies in 1917.

And if dying at 35 doesn’t suck enough, Theodore died because he drank some bad water while on a hunting trip. If Theodore bought the farm after getting hit in the left kidney with a 92-mph slider you might say he deserved it – but drinking bad water and contracting typhoid fever?

That’s some unfair bullshit and reminds us how dangerous and random life could be before penicillin, clean drinking water and dentistry that didn’t require borrowing a neighbor’s hammer.

OK, so Hugh Judge winds up in Washington, his son Theodore moves to Lawrence, Kansas – my dad’s birthplace – kicks the bucket of stale water, my dad then moves back to Washington, then Sacramento, I move to Kansas City and wind up 40 miles away from Lawrence.

How’s that for the Circle of Life, Simba?

A couple decades ago I visited the Lawrence cemetery and when I asked about Theodore Judge’s gravesite, was directed to a field with no markers.

On my “Before-Dying-To-Do-List” is making sure Theodore has a headstone.

I don’t know who will give a damn after I’m gone, but it seems kinda depressing to let my grandfather lie in an unmarked grave. So if you’re dropping five bucks on a subscription, remember: you’re helping finance a Theodore Judge headstone.

(I assume it’s understood I’ll be drinking on that money first and whatever is left over goes to Thede, so maybe he winds up with a wooden cross, not a granite headstone, but if you’ve been lying in an unmarked grave for a century let’s just say beggars can’t be choosers, so suck on it Theodore…boy, that turned ugly in a hurry, didn’t it?)

The Dating Game, circa 1917

So Theodore died from typhoid fever and left his wife, Bertha (and whatever happened to that name?) on her own with six kids.

Actually, it was five kids because one of them died not long after being born, but you still have to give props to Theodore and Bertha; six kids in 13 years indicates they managed to keep themselves entertained despite the fact that they clearly couldn’t afford Netflix.  

In those days you needed a half dozen kids because two or three would get eaten by bears on the way to school and you’d lose at least one more in some kind of threshing machine-related accident.

After Theodore died, Bertha went back to Washington and ended up marrying Theodore’s half-brother, Harvey Walthrop.

Apparently this semi-inbred behavior used to go on all the time – brothers marrying a sibling’s widow – so considering my family history this seems like a good time to make a public service announcement:

I’d like to make it clear to all my sisters-in-law – current, past and future – if one of my brothers dies, you cannot count on me. I can barely deal with my own bullshit, much less the bullshit generated by my brothers.

And Harvey was only available to marry Bertha because he had divorced his first wife – see what I’m saying about the divorces?

51 ways to leave your lover

I didn’t intend to climb out on any family tree limbs – I meant to travel in a straight line from Hugh to Theodore to my dad to me – until I came across this story about John Walthrop, Harvey’s dad.

Between 1918 and 1920 John went to see a doctor because he wasn’t feeling well and told his wife if the news was bad he’d send his watch back, which seems like a really bizarre way to communicate bad news. No carrier pigeons? They didn’t live in the Pony Express service area?

John’s wife got his watch and the family never heard from him again.

So guys, you might want to stop by Target and pick up a cheap Timex. You can then leave the house with some dramatic statement like: “I’m going to the Royals game and if they lose, I’ll send you my watch” which would be way cheaper than a divorce lawyer.

Put that in a song, Paul Simon.

On borrowed time

My grandfather died at 35 and my father died at 46, so considering the odds – if I want to record my family stories – I better write fast.

But on the other hand, I’m playing with house money and you can’t do better than that.

Tomorrow: My mom’s side of the story, The West Family History and if you want to read it you’ll need to subscribe and I’m telling you right now the pictures alone will make it worthwhile.

See you tomorrow.