Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sarah's Son Jim – Mischievous Boy, Mischievous Man

Of the four children who grew to adulthood in the household of William L. and Sarah Eva Howe Salyers, the one most likely to pull pranks and play practical jokes was James Richard.

Jim and his twin Mary Alice were born 6 April 1910 in Carrollton, Kentucky. I didn't meet either of them until the 1960s. Even though Jim was then in his 50s, I could see the little boy in him. He liked to tell jokes. Like all of the Howe-Salyers descendants, he was inquisitive about any topic that came before him. He liked to tease, and he was a little bit full of himself. I think his Aunt Leonora Alice Howe was likely on target circa 1912 when she referred to toddler Jim as "a little dickens."

Jim circa 1935, in his mid-20s

Jim attended Carrollton High School but got his diploma at Madison High School in Richmond. His parents had moved the family there so first-born Bob could attend Eastern Kentucky State College (now university) but still live at home. Jim attended the University of Kentucky and, like his brothers, joined Kappa Sigma Fraternity. He graduated from UK with AB and MA degrees and began working in adult education and vocational rehabilitation of adults with disabilities.

Jim and Lee, circa 1943

On 17 May 1941, Jim married Harlan County native Lee Rose Pope in a simple ceremony at Cumberland Falls, Kentucky – a location that was both beautiful and geographically convenient to relatives of both bride and groom.

Like many of his peers, Jim served in the military during World War II (1942-1946). During service in the U.S. Army, he won battle stars in the Rhineland Sector of Europe and worked as a clinical psychologist and psychiatric assistant at an Army hospital. Popular ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and pal Mortimer Snerd helped Jim promote the Army's psychological testing and treatment for soldiers and veterans.

Ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, James R. Salyers, and "dummy" Mortimer Snerd, circa 1945

By 1951, Jim worked in downtown Louisville for the Area Medical Office of the United Mine Workers Welfare and Retirement Fund. When I met him in the 1960s, he was still working for UMW. At some point, his job included traveling to the homes of miners who had filed disability claims. He interviewed them and took 16mm movies to document their problems with mobility or health issues.

In fact, Jim shot a lot of 16mm film over the years. His movie camera was his constant companion, and he left behind stacks of metal film cases full of scenes from his work and from family gatherings and celebrations, everyday activities, vacations, sporting events, and everything else imaginable. After hours of editing and splicing, my husband had the family scenes digitized to DVD. He then donated a copy of that DVD plus all of the original reels to the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort.

The Salyers Brothers (from foreground): Jim, Bob, David
Jim did a lot of still photography, too, probably more than anyone else in the family. He shot selfies before selfies were cool! The selfie on the right shows Jim with his brothers Bob (center) and David, circa 1960. The brothers captioned this image was "The Salyers Mafia."

Like his mother, Jim had a keen interest in genealogy and family history. Much of the information I have about him comes from his application to The Filson Club (now The Filson Historical Society) of Louisville. The application, complete with a four-generation family tree, is dated 10 December 1958. If you want more evidence of his love of family history, visit the library of the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort and open the Salyers surname file. You'll notice that somebody has written on several of the pages with crayon, usually red. Jim had a habit of labeling documents, letters, and photos with crayon. The first time I researched that file, I had no doubt who had contributed those crayon-embellished pages. I think there are papers donated and crayon-marked by Jim in the library's Carroll County and church files, too.

Like his parents, grandparents, siblings, and cousins, Jim paid attention to politics. He made it a point to meet elected officials, and he supported Democratic Party platforms and candidates. He ran for political office only once, as far as I know, in the primary for state representative of Kentucky's 34th Legislative District in Louisville (1965). He lost by a substantial margin.

James R. Salyers and Colonel Harlan Sanders

Jim was always flamboyant, to the point that his nieces and nephews referred to him fondly as "Crazy Uncle Jim." As he aged, Jim became more eccentric. He wore cream-colored or white suits in the style of Colonel Sanders. Note the photo of the two men, complete with Jim's signature crayon mark, which probably pointed to information he had written to the left of the photo in an album. He drove a big Buick with seating for six – except he kept the passenger and back seats full of books, files, newspapers, and all manner of "important things." His life-long tendency for name-dropping became more pronounced, and he referred to famous people he had merely seen from a distance as if they were his long-time friends.

James R. Salyers, circa 1984.
Jim died on 16 September 1985 in Harlan, Kentucky, leaving no direct descendants. The loss of a relative is sad in itself, but the saddest part of losing Jim was losing the family history he kept in his head and in boxes and bags. We could not find those records, letters, notes, and family artifacts after Jim and his wife moved from Louisville to Harlan in the early 1980s. Only after his death did we learn that his wife had burned all of those family treasures. Explaining why she did it would take another blog post. Bottom line: By that time, both Jim and Lee were dealing with dementia and were convinced they had been wronged by his Salyers relatives – even though various members of that family had gone above and beyond to care for them.

There's advice in this for all families. If you have one relative who holds most of the family history, make sure you are making copies or audio recordings all along. Don't assume those facts and stories will be there for you when your relative passes away.

No comments: