My grandmother, Matilda Rosa Mattingly, was born in 1880, in Washington, IN. According to her second marriage application to Charles Crooks, she listed my Great-grandfather, Alexander, as having been a “teamster”. Matilda’s mother, my great-grandmother, was Laura Ann Summers. For about the last 12 years of her life Great-grandmother Laura was committed to the Southern Indiana Hospital for the Insane, Evansville, IN, where she died in 1900.
My father seems to have been a bit of a con-artist in his early years. He’d been befriended by Dr. Richard Hochwalt at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Dayton, OH, probably during the illness of Robert's first wife, Verda Mae, mother of my older brother and sister, Bobby [deceased] and Pat. Robert later placed the children in St. Joseph’s Orphans’ Home, Dayton, giving them the impression that when he remarried, he’d take them out of the orphanage. Family legend has it that he “procured” a copy of Dr. Hochwalt’s signature and affixed it to a certificate which he got by taking a mail-order course in physiotherapy. He then called himself “Dr. Allagree” and, after marrying my mother, set up shop in their home. The earliest, and practically only, pictures I have of my father are in a white uniform. My mother, who served as his “nurse” [I learned years that Mom had wanted to be a nurse!], lived in mortal fear that they’d be found out and raided by the authorities. Mom once commented: “The sad part about it was that he was good at it [physiotherapy]...and he showed progress in patients...”
Mom's recollections of my father weren't at all positive. She said my father rarely spoke about his experience of studying to be a Brother of the Sacred Heart [in Metuchen, NJ] when he was a young boy, except that he had left because of rheumatic fever. His name in religion was Brother Paulinus. She said he later used to roller skate under the name, Bobby Crooks, the name he adopted for a time after his mother, Matilda Rosa, remarried Charles D. Crooks. My oldest sister, Pat Pont, has a picture of Dad with a notation, “Bob Crooks - Indiana’s Roller Skating Champion 1917 - 1918 - 1919 - 1920”. Mom said he never spoke much about his parents. When I asked Mom if there were happy times, she remembered him taking her to a hotel downtown where there was a good band. My father was apparently a good dancer, and they’d have a few drinks and spend the evening dancing. And there were times, for example, “at the lake” [seen in a number of the photos I have] where he treated both of us well. Mom said that generally my father “acted like he was crazy about you...kinda showing you off all the time...” She said that he had worked striping cars for some of the time they were married, something he continued in later years, and also had the physiotherapy office off and on.
My recollections from this period are vague and sporadic. I don’t actually remember my father at all, even though I have several photos of me with him and my mother between the ages of 4 months and 2 years, all reflecting apparently happy times. Of the 11 pictures of my father which have come down to me, five are of him alone and six are of him with me, either as a baby or young child.
When I was 2 1/2, in 1939, the year that Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli was elected Pope, my father deserted my mother and me. My father had left us, apparently on the pretext of having to go out of town, and promising to send money to Mom, though it quickly became clear that his intention was to leave permanently. He had precollected what his “clients” owed him, and left Mom and me high and dry, absconding with the money.
Here is how I eventually learned that I had four half-brothers and three half-sisters. Though I’d grown up as an only child, I discovered in 1952, my sophomore year at Brunnerdale Seminary, that I probably had a half-brother and a half-sister. I was working in the laundry one day with old Sister M. Liberata, C.PP.S. She asked what my father’s name was. When I told her it was “Robert Joseph”, she said that she’d known two children at St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Dayton with the name Allagree, and she thought that was also their father’s name. I remember telling her that it couldn’t be: “I’m an only child.” It raised a question in my mind, and I couldn’t wait until my mother’s next visit so that I could ask her about it. She finally admitted to me that my father had been married before, that there were two children, Patty and Bobby, that his first wife had died of tuberculosis, and that he had put the children in St. Joseph’s Orphanage, promising to come and get them once he was married again. He never did. Mom remembered him bringing them for dinner on several occasions. On one of my later summer vacations I remember calling my sister, Pat, and having a brief, but pleasant conversation. Inexplicably, we both simply let it go at that.
In 1950 Mom learned that my father was living with a common law wife and had two sons, Bobby Gene and Bobby Joe, whom he’d also recently abandoned. Jean later married a man named Selig, who adopted the two boys, both of whom went by the surname Selig. My father was arrested in mid-April, 1950, in Chillicothe, then transferred to the Montgomery County jail in Dayton because he’d never paid my mother any child support for the previous 10 years. Shortly after he appeared in court and agreed to pay, he disappeared again, and the case was never pursued. Mom felt strongly that someone within the police or legal system had conspired to make this possible.
My oldest sister, Pat, had gone to Julienne High School in Dayton with my Aunt Janie and my Aunt Sue, with whom she graduated. In August, 1988 I asked Janie if she had Pat’s address or phone number. Coincidentally, she’d recently received the latest Julienne alumni book, and Pat was listed. It took me several weeks to work up the courage to call Pat, but I really wanted to know if my father was still alive and where he lived. Pat, I think, was initially surprised when I called, but nevertheless pleased. In answer to my question, she told me that Dad had died in 1973. She told me about the funeral, and later I filled in many more details from various sources.
In 1989 my former wife, Cheryl, and I flew back to Ohio to visit my mother, then 74. My newly-discovered younger brother and sister, Joe and Julie, drove up from Chillicothe to Dayton where we met for the first time, after which Cheryl and I went back with them for a week’s visit with my youngest sister, Patty Ann, their mother, Jean, my father’s last wife of nearly 25 years, and all the nieces and nephews. Several days later Joe took us to visit our father’s grave in Lucasville, OH, where, with deep emotion, I offered prayers for the dead from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. I've been there to visit one other time since then. I learned from my family that Robert had known that I was ordained a priest in 1964, and had carried a childhood picture of me with him, which the family gave me. I later wrote and spoke about this visit and its aftermath: “...in 1989, after discovering that I had four half-brothers and three half-sisters, I go to Lucasville, OH, to visit my father’s grave. A week later I dream that he and I meet. In the dream we converse without words, then slowly turn and walk off together. I feel the greatest peace I’ve ever known...”