Monday, August 22, 2016

One solitary life

This post has been one hundred ten years in the making. It's about my Dad, who was born in 1906 and died in 1967. When I say "Dad" please do not make the mistake of thinking that I am referring to my biological father, about whom I know very little, only his name, his place and year of birth, and his place and year of death. Other than those few facts, my biological father has always been a non-entity to me, what our old blogging friend Putz used to call "an ignoble enigma."

No, this post is about the man who married my mother when I was five and raised me from then on. He was my Dad. Sometimes I loved him, sometimes I hated him, sometimes I feared him, but at long last I have come to respect him as a man who tried to do the best he could in spite of his many flaws. The reason is simple: I have a few of those too.

I apologize (British: apologise) in advance for the orientation of a couple of the photographs. I have worked diligently to get them to cooperate but to no avail, alas. If you are reading this post on a smart phone or an iPad you should be able to manage the problem simply by rotating the device, but if you are reading this post on a desktop computer it might prove a bit more difficult unless you stand on your head.

I'm not sure, but I think this may be Dad as an infant in Tomah, Wisconsin, in 1906. This picture was made available by my cousin Barbara Brague Bradley who lives in Arizona, so it might be her father (my uncle Art) instead, but it looks so much like another photo I used to have (but have misplaced) of my Dad in his christening gown that I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Dad was always the blondest of the Bragues.

Dad was the youngest of five boys. There was also a baby sister, but she died in infancy. Here are all the brothers after the family had moved from Tomah to La Crosse, Wisconsin, on the Mississippi River. If you start at the top left and go clockwise, the brothers are arranged in order by age: Art (the oldest), John, Leo, Dan, and my dad, who went by his middle name, Ray, but was sometimes called Ted. Because my uncle Art is wearing his Army uniform and served in France, this photo must have been made around 1917 or 1918. My dad would have been 11 or 12 at the time. Dad's real name was Clifford R. Brague but when he was young he signed his name Ray C. Brague, inverting his first and middle names, and most people knew him as Ray. I never heard him called Ray. By the time he came into my life he was always called Ted.

I forgot to tell you that I don't know how to crop photos either. If you look closely, you can see my cousin Barbara's fingertips, out of focus, at the upper right.

In the next photo, made a couple of years later, the brothers are joined by their parents (my paternal grandparents), Edith Lillian (Johnson) Brague (1877 - 1938) and Elmer Ellsworth Brague (1866 - 1949). They are still at the house in La Crosse, but Art was no longer in the Army and Leo had enlisted in the Navy.

Around 1921 the Brague family moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where they remained for many years. My grandparents and all of my uncles are buried there. Most of the grandchildren, though, have scattered to the four winds.

Here is my Dad at around thirty years of age with his parents in Cedar Rapids. By this time Art had four children of his eventual six (Dick, Shirley, Peggy, Isabel, Sandra, and Barbara), and John had three daughters (Trudy, Elaine, and Daveen). Leo married but never had children. Dan, father of two small children (Donald and Evelyn), died of a brain tumor in 1936 and my grandmother died in 1938. My dad enlisted in the Navy when America entered World War II and left Iowa behind forever.

This post is getting a bit long so I have decided to split it into two parts. Perhaps I will have solved the upside-down photo problem by the time Part Two is published. Hope springs eternal in the human breast. For now, you don't have to stand on your head (unless you really want to, of course).

Thank God for small favors.


  1. True parenting has very little to do with blood and shared genes.

  2. Memories of family are so important to hold close. I do not know the circumstances of your biological father and it is none of my business. I do think it is sad that he was not a part of your life. When another person steps in to become a parent to a child it is a wonderful thing. As long as no abuse is involved of course. Most people go through a time of love, hate, and fear of their parents. Too often the respect comes with maturity. Thank you for sharing about your father.

  3. Perhaps I am being too inquisitive but what was your biological father's last name?

    I am looking forward to Part 2.

  4. I didn't have to stand on my head to see your photos so I'm guessing you either fixed them or you wrote this post standing on your head. But a fascinating tale nonetheless.

  5. The photos are all the right way up so well done there, and thank you for such an interesting post; I always find family histories and photographs from the past like this fascinating and look forward to the next one *beams a smile his way*

  6. I love old pictures and old people and old family stories. I never knew my father and my mother never married so my family tree lists to one side. As a result, I was very close to my mom's brothers (my uncles) and my maternal Grandpa, so I still had loving 'dads' to look up to! Looking forward to part 2!

  7. I love these old photos, especially the first one with the feisty looking baby and every fence post leaning a different way, and the house looking like it might be leaning too.