Would you like to hear more about our landlord? Shall we call him "Eldoras T."? Or Emperor of Lilac Road? Or just King Midas? Mentally, I've called him all sorts of fancy names; but when you hear his life story and learn how he grew up - the hard way - your heart softens toward him. I missed him on rent day, October 1, but he came one week later. I stopped the washing, got out the mending basket while he was writing the receipt, and then cornered him for that fascinating life story. His life continues to be daring and colorful, even at 79. Just the day before, we had a terrific wind-and-rain storm, that came up so suddenly, no one was prepared for it. Mr. T. was up on a bungalow roof (on this street). His ladder blew down, and left him stranded - not high-and-dry, but high-and-wet. Unperturbed, he waited until his woman tenant, racing home from the store, set up his ladder for him. By that time he was drenched - but the experience never fazed him. You remember that his father, a colonel heading a Michigan regiment, died when the hero of our story (born in March 1862) was only five months old. I thought his mother must have died soon after - for he had spoken about living with another family. But now I have the story straight. You recall that, in 1862, neither the negro nor the white woman had become emanicipated. When the colonel died, a brother of his widow came from his home in Ohio (near Cleveland) to take charge of affairs. He took one child under his own wing, then told the mother of a good home for the baby. A kind-hearted couple, neighbors of his, denied children of their own, would welcome "Dory" as their very own. For seven blissful years the child looked upon this couple as his very own parents. They showered him with kindness. Large and mature for his years, he was given a horse to be his very own, a cow to milk and care for, and two little pigs. He was a "natural" for farm life, and his foster parents, Mr. and Mrs. C., trained him carefully in farm work, but never sent him to school. In November following his seventh birthday his foster-father, driving a pair of skittish colts to the cider mill, lost control of them. The wagon overturned, and kind Mr. C. - the only father "Dory" had ever known - died of a broken neck. The next spring, when the child was eight, Mrs. C. took to her bed with an incurable disease. As she was about to die, she called Dory to her bedside and told him the sad news. Then she told him she was not his mother. To this day, he says, he can feel that shock, and the surge of anger that swept through his young body. He had been deceived; and that great injustice had blinded him to the good - the kindness - the love showered upon him. He refused to enter her sick-room again. In a day or two she was gone. The lonely disillusioned little boy gathered up his few belongings, tied them up in a big red bandana handkerchief, and set out - past the barn. Through the sugar camp - to an unknown world. He had his own money, mostly "shin-plasters," as he called them. (Civil war paper money, worth from 3 cents upward - to a dollar.) "Where did you go?" I queried. "I ended up on a sheep ranch in Missouri, but how I got there I'll never tell you. I can't remember one thing beyond the sugar camp." The sheep owner had a hog ranch just over the border line into Kansas. There, the boy, very large for his age, who had proven his ability with sheep, was put in charge of feeding and watering 2500 hogs. It seems unbelievable, but I can only say that our hero, Mr. T., is given neither to bragging or fibbing. He was given the salary of $5 a month and a tiny furnished room at one end of the mammoth corn-crib.
Another "rancher," as Mr. T. called him, came along and made the boy a better offer - $8 a month, if he would come and take care of this man's cows. He deserted the hogs, and went with the more generous employer. "Dory" was quite happy here, for he liked cows better than pigs or sheep. Mr. Worthington, his new employer, took him hunting, and taught him how to use a gun. The boy became an expert marksman. This ranch was very close to the "barracks" - Fort Dodge, Kansas. Dory often slipped over there to watch target practice; he asked for a try at it. The soldiers were so impressed with his skill (Mr. T. put it more modestly) that they told the colonel about it. The colonel - Col. Wood - set up pennies, wedged in a split board, at a distance "about from here to the garage" (which Virgil estimates about 70 feet). Each penny the boy hit was his for keeps. Each time he missed he forfeited two. The fact that he acquired a nice "penny-pack" is proof of his skill. William Colt, the founder of the Colt Arms Co. of Hartford, Conn., came out to Fort Dodge to demonstrate the superiority of his firearms. He did some fancy shooting with the Colt revolver and rifle. Then the soldiers showed off their child prodigy. Mr. Colt took a great fancy to the boy, and, upon Col. Wood's advice, took him home with him to Hartford. There he was a member of the family and a part of the firm until he was 24 years old. He never went to school in his life. At the age of twelve, while testing the barrel of a rifle that had not been properly locked at the shooting end (I can't remember the terms), the thing back-fired and robbed the boy of his left eye. But his one good eye is so extraordinarily clear and keen and beautiful that you never miss the other. That boy stayed on with Mr. Colt until the long strain of gun-testing threatened his one good eye. The Dr. demanded the young man's release. His thoughts then turned to the mother had had not seen since his infancy. He came to Ohio - to the place where he learned somehow that his mother lived. A neighbor took him to his mother's home. She was washing. The neighbor said, "Mrs. H., (for she had married again) do you know who this is?" No, she didn't know. "This is Dory." With no show of emotion she studied his face. "Yes," she smiled, "this must be Dory. He looks like his father." A few leading questions from her, then she said, "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll finish my washing." As quietly as that she received her long-lost child. But under that unemotional surface the young man sensed all the mother-love. She was his mother. He was her son. Nothing else mattered. They took up the thread of life as if it had not been broken. And now the little orphan, who never had a day's schooling, owns 19 homes in Cleveland, spends his winters in Florida with a devoted wife and daughter, and together they have traveled all over the world. (But I do wish he could scrape together enough cash to paper that back bedroom.)
Florence B. Taylor
Next -10/23/41 - Col. Charles Sweeney. The Holy Land