Personal History: Sunday Stealing

Who Knows Where The Time Goes

daughter, wife, niece, sister, sister, niece (Feb 2011)

This week’s Sunday Stealing is called Personal History, an interesting topic.

1. What would you like people to know about your mother?

I was thinking about this a lot this week. My father was the more outgoing and visible member of the couple. But I doubt they would have been been able to pay the bills if it wasn’t for my mom.

She was a bookkeeper at McLean’s Department Store in Binghamton, NY, then worked at Columbia Gas, not even a block away. When she moved to Charlotte, NC, she was a teller at First Union Bank, which eventually was swallowed by Wells Fargo. I probably got my love of numbers from her. When I told her we were learning base 2, which we were told was the basis of computers, she was clearly excited.

2. What would you like people to know about your father?

I’ll be writing about him on August 10, the anniversary of his death. My eclectic taste in music started with him.

3.  What was your childhood bedroom like?

HA! After my second sister was born, my father put up two walls in the dining room, built a wooden shelf into the two walls, then put a mattress on top of that. My storage was under the “bed,” though my books were around the corner on a bookcase. My dad painted the solar system on the ceiling.

Ballgame

4. What was your favorite activity as a child?

Alone: playing with my baseball cards. With others: playing softball/baseball/kickball. And singing.

5. What was high school like for you?

When we first got there, there was a certain hostility from some because my friends were identified as against the Vietnam war. But by the time I graduated, most of the school was against the war. I was on the stage crew and president of the Red Cross club. I was also president of the student government, which is how I sort of got to introduce Rod Serling.

6. Write about your cousins.

I have no first cousins. My parents were only children. Well, essentially. My mom had a younger sister who died as an infant. So my cousins were my mother’s cousin’s kids who lived in NYC and were a decade or more younger than I. Still, aside from my sisters and their daughters, they’re the closest relatives outside my nuclear household.

7.  What was your favorite food as a child?

Spinach. Totally indoctrinated by Popeye.

8. What was your most memorable birthday?

My 16th was held at the American Civic Association, so it was a real party. Lois, who I’ve known since kindergarten, gave me Judy Collins’ album Who Knows Where The Time Goes. She was afraid it might be too country for me; it was not.

9. What world events were significant to you as a child?

The integration of the high school in Little Rock, AR. Sputnik. The Cuban Missile Crisis – I didn’t really understand it, but I grokked adults all being nervous. The assassinations of Medgar Evers and John F. Kennedy. The massive 1965 blackout was the only time I ever heard my father worry about a possible Soviet plot.

To Starr Avenue

10. What did a typical day look like as a child?

During the school year, walk to school about half a mile, usually trying to vary my route. At lunch, walk home to my grandma Williams’ house for lunch, watch JEOPARDY with her sister, my wonderful Aunt Deana, back to school, then walk home with, in geographic order, Bill, Lois, Karen, Carol, and Ray. I’d walk home.

11. Write about your grandparents. 

Gertrude Williams (1897-1982) operated out of making us afraid of the boogie man. I don’t remember her husband, Clarence Williams (d. 1958), though I may have gone to his funeral. 

Agatha Green (1902-1964) was my Sunday school teacher and taught me how to play canasta. She was the first person I knew well to die, and I was devastated. McKinley Green (1896? -1980) was a custodian at WNBF-TV-AM-FM and would bring home stuff the station no longer wanted, such s the soundtrack to The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968).

12. Did you move as a child?

I moved from the second floor of 5 Gaines Street, Binghamton, NY, to the first floor when my mother was pregnant with her second child. Until college, that was it.

13. Who taught you to drive?

Several people tried, including the Okie, Uthaclena, my father, and a professional.

14. Which job has been your favorite?

FantaCo, the comic book store/mail order/publisher/convention, where I worked from May 1980 to November 1988.

15. What was the best part of your 30s?

Working at FantaCo, singing in the Trinity UMC choir

Getting to 5 Gaines Street, Binghamton

spray-painted

Les.Roger.backporch
Les and Roger Green, back porch of 5 Gaines St, 2nd floor, 1953

One of the facts I’d previously established is that Agatha Walker married McKinley Green in April 1931. But by 1936, they were living apart in Binghamton.

In the 1940 Census, they were still separated, with Mac at 98 Lewis and Agatha and her son Les at her parents’ house at 339 Court Street. My father’s last name had changed from Walker to Green, misspelled Greene in the Census.

By the 1941 City Directory, though, the three of them were all together at 10 Tudor. Not incidentally, that address doesn’t exist anymore, demolished to facilitate a bypass off of Riverside Drive.

The single useful thing found from a visit to the Broome County Clerk’s office was a record of the Order of Adoption of Leslie H. Walker, inf, [presumably infant, though he was 13 days shy of his 18th birthday] by Mr. McKinley Green. I knew this had happened, but seeing it in Book 22 of Civil Actions and Special Proceedings, page 572, was kind of cool.

Les was in the military in 1945 and 1946. I know from anecdotal information that he had a variety of jobs, including delivering flowers, before and after his service.

McKinley was a porter at Wehle Electric, but usually, he was a laborer. In 1947, he started at WNBF radio and Tv, as a laborer, and by 1956, as a janitor. He stayed there until he died in 1980.

No perceived miscegenation

My parents were married on March 12, 1950. They looked for a place to live in town but were thwarted. Potential landlords thought my mother, who is very fair, was white and that they were an interracial couple.

They subsequently moved to 5 Gaines Street, on the top floor of the two-family dwelling. It was owned by my maternal grandmother, Gertrude Williams, and presumably, her siblings, though she outlived them all. She and her sister Deanna (d. 1966) lived about six short blocks away.

Back in the 1890s, the resident was someone whose last name was Archie, which was a variant of the family name Archer, so it had been in the family for a long time.

Gaines Street is a single short block, notable growing up because the Canny’s trucks would go from Spring Forest Avenue, take a right down Oak Street, a left across Gaines, and another left onto Front Street and head out of town to NYC, Syracuse, Albany, Scranton, or wherever.

The directory says Les worked as a chauffeur at Niagara Motor Express, or elsewhere through 1957.

Meanwhile, by 1954, Mac and Agatha had moved upstairs at 5 Gaines, with my parents moving downstairs. This was likely predicated by the fact that my mother had her second child, Leslie that year.

New job

In the 1958 volume, Dad is an employee of the Interracial Association at 45 Carroll, not all that far from where he grew up. He’s listed as the assistant director the following year. The organization morphed into the Broome County Urban League in 1968.

I know Les was doing lots of other things in this period: arranging flowers at Costas, painting, and singing. By 1964, he was at IBM, a job he hated. So when my homeroom teacher, Mr. Joseph, told me my father was crazy for leaving IBM in 1967 for an OEO program called Opportunities for Broome, I shrugged.

When I’ve visited 5 Gaines Street in the past, I’d noticed that the hunter-green asbestos siding was now brown. What I didn’t notice is that the brown was sprayed on. And not particularly well on the side of the house, because the green is still partially showing on the side.

This was one of the first stops on the Roger Green magical history tour that I went on recently.

Lydster: beware the card shark

gin rummy, go fish, poker

card sharkAs an avid card player since my youth, I had tried but failed to interest my daughter in playing a number of games over the years. For instance, at the (almost) annual hearts game at our house, I gently tried to gently show an interest, but she had not.

But when the two of us were on one of our college excursions, she asked to play gin rummy. Basically, it involves the two players being dealt 10 cards. The players alternating drawing cards from the remaining deck, or the top card discarded by the opponents. The idea is to create three or four cards of the same rank (sevens, jacks, e.g.) or runs of three or more cards consecutively in the same suit (6, 7, 8 of hearts, e.g.).

What’s strange is that it was only this summer that she decided that she’d just learn how to play online. It was the game my grandfather, McKinley Green, and I used to play for years when I was roughly 10 to when I went to college when I was 18. So it was our “thing.”

It is my favorite two-person card game, and my daughter turns out to be quite good at it, beating me about 60% of the time. Oddly, this pleases me tremendously. The budding card shark also started wanting to play Go Fish with me, another game she did not really embrace as a child. She beats me at that too.

Poker

She wanted to learn how to play poker. I had always been of the opinion that poker wasn’t interesting unless you had 1) three, or preferably more players, and 2) wagering, even if it’s pennies from the change jar. It wasn’t a game I’ve played a lot, and there are a myriad number of ways to play.

Of course, the first thing we needed to do is teach her the relative ranks of poker hands.

From lowest to highest: High Card, One Pair, Two Pair, Three of a Kind, Straight (five cards in numerical order, but not in the same suit), Flush (five cards in the same suit, not in numerical order), Full House (three of a kind plus a pair), Four of a Kind, Straight Flush (five cards in a row, all in the same suit), Royal Flush(10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace, all of the same suit), Five of a Kind (only possible with wild cards).

After some frankly boring experiments, we came up with a game where each player got five cards face down. Then there were two common cards, face up. Each player could trade any cards in their hands. It was surprisingly engaging, trying to fill in that inside straight generated enough excitement to play any time we had some downtime.

Also…

Not exactly a card game, but my wife, my daughter, and I played a truly rousing game of Sorry. It was strange. I’d say, “I can’t get hit unless one of the others draws an 8,” not a common card in the deck. They drew an 8; ouch! I told my wife, that if I draw a 10, I’d go back one space and hit her piece, and I did. If this match had been recorded, it’d be on ESPN forever. We were all within 8 spaces of going out. My wife won, but it was truly quite exciting.

The pre-adoption birth certificate

ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED

lesgreen.wwii
Less than a year later…
The state of New York lied to me. When I ordered my father’s pre-adoption birth certificate in March 2020, they told me it would take 15 months. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. I figured that the deadline would be shot to heck and that September 2021 was a more likely delivery date.

I was right about September, but wrong about the year. On September 4, 2020, I received what I’d been seeking from the state Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics.

On the birth record was a stamp: This is not the current birth certificate on file.” It indicated that Leslie Harold Walker was “Known as Leslie Harold Green.” Father was listed as O.W. (out of wedlock), as I suspected. Mother was Agatha Walker, colored, born in Pennsylvania, who worked as a domestic. Les Green, of course, was my father.

More intriguing was the process by which McKinley Melvin Green adopted Leslie in September 1944, only a couple of weeks shy of Les’ 18th birthday. The report was quite a bit of legalese, with a dearth of periods. “Said parties having severally and personally appeared before me.” And “an investigation into the allegations of the petitioned proposed adoption being made by… the Department of Child Placing, Broome County Welfare.”

A good idea

Still no full stop. “It duly appearing that the moral and temporal interests of the said child, Leslie H. Walker, will be promoted by said adoption… The said McKinley M. Green is in all respects fit and proper person to adopt said child… The said McKinley M. Green has duly agreed to adopt said child and to make him his own lawful child…”

It goes on. “It further appearing that the said child, Leslie H. Walker, and the mother of said child, Agatha H. Walker, have duly consented in writing to such adoption.” Wait, there’s more. “And to a proposed change of the name of said child to Leslie H. Green….” It gets all “ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED.”

This is fascinating to me. McKinley and Agatha were married in 1931. But by 1936, they were no longer living together. In the 1940 Census, when Mckinley was residing in a boarding house, Agatha and Les were staying at Agatha’s parents’ house. But they were both listed as Green, or actually misspelled as Greene. In a 1942 photo in a Binghamton newspaper, Leslie Green was one of the Boy Scouts and McKinley one of the fathers.

After I was was about a year old, McKinley and Agatha lived on the second floor of 5 Gaines Street, while Les and his wife Trudy and I lived downstairs, along with my future sisters.

Also interesting to me is the fact that the change form for the adoption indicates Leslie H. Walker as an “infant” on September 13, 1944. He was 17 years and 50 weeks old at the time. What would the procedure have been if it had gone through two weeks later?

Les Green, born Leslie H. Walker

new amended birth certificate

Les Green.Savannah GA.1998My new discovery is that I now have evidence that my father was born Leslie H. Walker in Binghamton, NY. I had been misled that it might have been Wesley Walker, based on the listing in the 1930 Census.

After failing to find a birth certificate in Wilkes-Barre, PA, where I thought he might have been born, I read some genealogical clues. One suggested the New York State Archives, in the same building as the state library in Albany.

I discovered a set of microfiche. It lists every birth in New York State – excluding NYC – by year, and alphabetically within the annual listing. For 1926, “Walker, Leslie H., Bing, 26 Sept.” I have to think it was no accident that Agatha named him similar to Raymond C. Cone’s elder daughter Lessie.

Now I could apply for his real birth certificate. The birth certificate I’d seen since 1974, dated from 1944, listed McKinley Green as Leslie Green’s father. I now know it may have been the “real” birth certificate. Or a legal fiction. Thanks to Melanie for the following:

According to this: “As a portion of the estimated 6 million adoptees, our New York adoptees have two ‘official’ birth certificates. The original one, which truthfully states the information about their physical birth, including their original names, their natural parents’ names, the hospital, doctor, date, time and weight, becomes forever sealed under a court of law when their adoption is finalized.”

Birth certificate #2

“At that point, the new adoptive parents are issued a new amended birth certificate which might or might not state the real birth information such as date, time, hospital and weight, and replaces the natural parents names with the adoptive parents names ‘as if’ the child was born to them. The name of the child is also reborn and all identity from the point of finalization on is replaced.”

Ha! So the registrar didn’t screw up. McKinley and Agatha didn’t lie. And this suggests heavily that McKinley Green actually adopted Leslie H. Walker by 1944, though my father’s surname shows up as Green as early as the 1940 Census.

Since November 2019, obtaining Original (Pre-Adoption) Birth Certificates are now available for adoptees from New York State. “Direct Line Descendants” are also eligible to access it. “A Direct Line Descendant is a child, grandchild, or great grandchild, etc. of the adoptee.” I qualify.

I’ve applied directly to the City of Binghamton office of Vital Statistics. New York State’s queue for old birth, marriage and death certificates is about 15 months.

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