My Grandfather’s Letter

I never knew my father’s father, Theodore L. Barry. He died 5 years before I was born. But a few years back, a distant relative sent me a letter my grandfather penned in 1948. In it, Grandpa Theodore summarized much of his life for a niece. In this letter, I finally “met” my grandfather. I also learned that he nearly committed an act that would’ve prevented me from being born. 

As a young man in southern Indiana, Theodore met and fell in love with a young lady. He writes, “I was in love with Viola [—-], one of the sweetest girls in 100 miles of New Salisbury. I was sure in love with her. Finally we were married. We had two boys, Russell Barry and Ralph D. Barry and Jessie B. and Marie B. I was in love with my children and my wife. She was a dream.”

However, the dream shattered. While Theodore was working on a streetcar in Louisville, his wife was evidently seeing another man. “Then before I knew anything of what was going on, my wife took my 4 children to her folks and she went back in town.” The next time he saw her, she was with her new guy, a large man with a “sandy” complexion. She wouldn’t let Theodore see his own children. 

Theodore felt betrayed, stabbed in the back and kicked to the wayside. When at last his anger and bitterness overflowed, he decided to take revenge: “I stepped on the streetcar and my intention was to kill both.”

However, before he reached his destination, Theodore changed his mind. Regardless of how justified his anger at the other man and his heartbreak over his wife’s betrayal, he couldn’t do it. Perhaps his love for Viola stayed his hand. He simply couldn’t commit such an act. 

“I was heartbroken. I mourned for my children, but I kept my job and stayed in Louisville for quite a while.”

Yet, Louisville held too many painful reminders of the life he’d lost. So, Theodore received a letter of recommendation from Louisville Railway (the streetcar line) and relocated to Detroit, where he began a new life once again working on a streetcar. In time, Theodore met a woman name Violet Lechner, who worked in a store at the turnaround for the streetcar. Friendship grew into love, and Theodore and Violet married. He and his second wife had 6 children, and my father was the youngest of them. (I’m the youngest son of a youngest son of a youngest son.) Theodore eventually launched into successful business ventures, and he and Violet enjoyed many happy years together in Michigan.

Theodore L. Barry in his real estate office in Detroit.

But what if Theodore had acted on his furious impulse to end two lives? He wrote, “Had I shot both of them, I would not have been a free man today, so thank God.” Thank God, indeed. Venting his anger in gunshots would’ve destroyed others, plus the rest of his own life. But by letting go of his anger, by refusing to hate and moving on, he eventually regained peace and enjoyed many happy years as a successful businessman and family man. 

Eventually word reached grandpa that his first wife in southern Indiana had died, so he was at last able to reconnect with his first 4 children. He visited them in Indiana, and they visited him in Michigan. 

Of course, I’m personally glad my grandfather managed to release his anger and start over. If he’d gone to prison, my dad never would’ve been born. Me neither. 

Theodore Barry visiting southern Indiana on his 1909 Indian Motorcycle. (Note the Detroit banner.)

Anger, hatred, and rage are dangerous. If we allow them to sweep us up and we lash out with words or weapons, sure, we can hurt our targets—but we can also hurt ourselves and prevent many future blessings from happening. It’s a truth worth reflection.

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” Proverbs 29:11

“A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” Proverbs 15:18

“But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.” Colossians 3:8

Theodore and Violet Barry with Grace, the first of their 6 children.

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