Francis Carl was born the Year of The Crash. His first five months were filled with National Prosperity, but the heady days of the Roaring Twenties ended with the stock market’s tumble late in October of twenty-nine. “Happy Days Are Here Again,” would be wishful thinking, mere, whistling by a graveyard until the decade of Hoovervilles and the Great Depression receded in Elmer Berger’s rear-view.
Safely ensconced near the middle of eight children, Carl held the title of Youngest Child for the customary length of two years; a span considered moderate in a world where family planning depended on self-control, timing, and, perhaps a thin lambskin sheath. John, the seventh Rose child, clung hard to the coveted title Youngest for half-a-dozen years before the eighth little Indian, Albert Jerry “Brody,” arrived. A final, and greatly welcomed Whoops Child, the last blossom in the Rose garden came into the world nine years after Carl’s birth.
A long line of children, six boys and two girls, with extended family that stretched miles farther than the family’s Model-A Ford could easily bridge in a single day, the Rose blossoms grew in size, love and, as is true with any group of ten people, distance and conflict.
Korea called, and Carl followed his brothers Bill and Dan in service to his country, as, in their times, did John and Jerry. Eight Roses, all born near the Saginaw River a single score of miles from the bay bearing the same name, took root in the Saginaw Valley. Carl, returned from duty with a Purple Heart, made use of the G.I. Bill and slipped away to far off Lansing, the first Rose blossom to go to University.
A quarter century after Carl entered the world, he married and eventually fathered five children of his own. Having finished his studies in Lansing, he moved his family to the middle of Illinois where he enjoyed regaling his five tykes with glowing stories about their aunts, uncles and more distant relatives.
“Have I ever told you,” Carl was known to ask his children, “about the time your Uncle Jerry saved your cousin Judy’s life?!”
Though he had told the story many times, the children, who had been taught not to lie, all would say, “No! Tell us! Tell us!” and Carl would do just that.
“Well, it happened when your Uncle Jerry had school safety patrol. Now, Jerry took school safety patrol very, very seriously. He knew that he was responsible for the lives of the children under his care, but one day his niece, your Uncle Dan’s oldest daughter, Judy, was getting off a bus and a truck didn’t stop like it was supposed to.
“Now, Judy stood there, frozen in place, this huge truck barelling down on her and about to end her life! It would have been a tragedy except she was saved by your Uncle Jerry!
“Jerry, without a thought for his own safety, tackled Judy and held her to the ground while the big truck roared over them. The truck driver, realizing too late what he’d done, slammed on his brakes and came to a screeching halt.
“That driver ran out of his truck knowing that he’d just killed a little girl, when up pops your Uncle Jerry who, after helping his niece Judy up from the street says to the driver, ‘Sir, I really think you should slow down and pay more attention, after all, somebody might have gotten hurt!’
“Now, what do you think of that?” Carl asked with huge grin.
And the five children thought that their uncle Jerry was a courageous, daring and caring man. And they were right, but the story, according to Albert Jerry Brody Kenel, was so exaggerated as to be beyond recognition.
Half-a-century after Carl had last told me the story Jerry chuckled and asked, “Is that what your father would tell you? I don’t know where Carl could have gotten that idea. Let me tell you how it happened.
“Way back in junior high I was part of the safety patrol team. One particular day I was assigned bus duty, which just meant that I was to be first off the bus to ensure the road was clear before the other kids exited.
“Now, on this particular day, your cousin Judy tried to exit and there was this car coming. So, I put my arm out to stop her. No big deal, but the bus driver hailed me for a hero,” Jerry said laughing hard. “I really didn’t do anything but reflexively stop her.
“The attention I got was kinda embarrassing because I hadn’t done anything to deserve it. There was an article in The Saginaw News, hailing me a hero, and of course the story grew until it was just crazy big like your father told you. Never seen such a mountain made out of a molehill.
“There was one good thing about it though,” Jerry added with a smile. “I got a free, all-expense paid bus trip to Washington D.C. Even got a little medal. Pretty exciting for a thirteen-year-old, but I never did feel like I deserved anything but maybe a thank you from Judy, which I’d already gotten.”
And that, my readers, is the story from my uncle and hero, Albert Jerry “Brody” Kenel.