EDWARD ALONZO CONROY
MAN OF MYSTERY
by Edward Alan Conroy Sr.
Each generation is shaped by the problems of their time, the traditions, and the mores of their society. If you think you have surmounted and broken with the traditional factors in your life period, you are just fooling yourself. Whether we battle against the current of our times or go with the flow, to some extent, we all are swept somewhere by the force of the current.
Edward Alonzo Conroy was my father. He was the grandfather of Edward Alan Conroy Junior, Colleen Nancy Conroy, Shannon Lynn Conroy, and Michael Patrick Conroy.
He was familiar with the end of World War I and as soon as he was old enough, he joined the United States Army. This was when they were still wearing their flat, little, W.W.I "doughboy" helmets. Part of the uniform of those days required that they wrap their legs with long scarf-like materials called leggings. His career in the Army did not last long because he had epilepsy and was given a Medical Discharge. Since a Medical Discharge is still an "honorable" discharge--or was at that time, the Army sent condolences when he died.
When he was born, the world was quite different than it is now. The United States was being flooded with immigrants--mostly from Europe. The new comers were not too popular with the old-timers. People from Ireland, Italy, and Sweden were considered trash. Sometimes they were not allowed to buy things in "upper-class" stores and many restaurants would not serve them. So the African-Americans, Blacks, Colored People, Negroes, or whatever they might be calling themselves today were not the only race that prejudice was practiced against--although their lot has obviously been the worst.
Edward Alonzo Conroy was looked down on because he was of Irish extraction. On top of that, he had epilepsy which, in those days, was thought to be the result of bad breeding and a major mental defect. Its cause, now known to usually have been the result of a head injury during birth, was unknown at that time. Like people OF ALL TIMES, what was not understood was feared and reviled.
He was born May 11, 1903, in Duluth, Minn. At an early age, he and his family moved to Portland, Oregon. Soon after the move, his father, Edward Harrison Conroy, then only 30 years old, was killed in an industrial accident--in 1906. Edward Harrison Conroy is buried in The Lone Fir Cemetery in Portland, Oregon. This tragedy was one of the many major factors that shaped his life.
Another tragedy that he endured and that all of us Conroy's still endure is that there was a bad fire at one of the houses he lived in Portland. All of the family records and just about all the family photographs were burned-up. This made Edward Alonzo Conroy's search for his roots even harder. In fact, in the one surviving photo album, which I now have, is a picture with childish pencil-printing on the back that says to the effect, "I think this is Grandpa Conroy."
During the rest of his youth, the other major factors that shaped his life consisted of his mother presenting him with step-fathers. His Mother, Tina-Louise Conroy had bad luck with husbands and every one she wed later died on her. I don't know if this was that unusual for that era--perhaps not. Prior to powerful unions, working men were a very expendable lot. I do not know how many men she wed but this I do know: Her first husband was probably Edward Harrison Conroy. She had another husband with the last name of Bryant and another with the last name of Rader. She may have had others but Rader was the last. In any case, she outlived them all.
NOTE: According to L. Helen Conroy, all of her husbands were buried in Portland's Lone Fir Cemetary-- side by side. This means, that upon finding Edward Harrison Conroy's grave there, the other ones in that row should be her other husbands.
In fact, on my last visit there (1996) next to Edward Harrison Conroy's marker--marked E.H. Conroy--was John J. Rader, Tina's last husband. If Bryant--who I think was her second husband--is also buried there, I did not locate his grave.
E.H. Conroy is buried in the South-East quadrant of the cemetary. Upon locating the road in that quadrant that runs East and West. Walk along this road until you find a larger reddish monument with the family name of "Perterson." Turn inward at this monument and about 40 feet in, in the same row, you will find E.H. Conroy's grave. E.H. Conroy lived from 1876 to 1906.
Also interesting to me was the grave of John J. Rader, who lived from 1872 to 1936--the year I was born. According the the family, I was born before he died which means that he had to die within 3 1/2 months after I was born. Yet I seem to have a memory of a shadowy figure known to me as Grandfather Rader!
Apparently several of his step-fathers offered to adopt the young Edward Alonzo Conroy. But he had already adopted a "fighting stance" that he would retain throughout his life--and he would have nothing to do with anyone that wanted to take his Conroy name away from him. I can imagine that this attitude seemed like a slap in the face to those step parents who truly may have wished him well. In any case, according to Edward Alonzo Conroy, he was mistreated by most of his step-fathers and the only one he liked was Rader. This was especially significant because his mother had other children--but, except for Bryant, I do not know for certain who fathered these children, what their names were, or where they or their offspring might be. This is part of the mystery.
Edward Alonzo Conroy never explained or described his step-fathers' mistreatment. This was his way. If he could not say something good about someone, he did not say much about them at all. He certainly never harped on their errors. Even when his first wife, my Mother, divorced him and the judge served him with a very raw deal, he said little--and seemed to be more hurt than angry. All this was a part of his understanding of what was required of a man in his time and the unwritten code of honor in the times he lived in. This system of honor was admirable but perhaps confusing to us in these different times. The code he followed was: Men should be men and accept whatever God or fate dealt them, without complaining.
In any case, his feeling about family was that only full-blooded Conroys could be totally included as members in this category. Anyone not named Conroy was suspect--especially Swedes--who he did not like at all--from his associations with them in Minnesota.. This attitude also was applied to Conroys that did not live up to his high expectations. Because of this, all the Conroys after him will probably never know too much about their family's history. According to my Dad, I had a "Conroy" uncle back East. This uncle visited with us when I was quite young and although I do remember meeting him, I do not remember his name or where he was from. There also were, according to my Dad, some real Conroy's living along the Oregon coast somewhere--but he said they were such backwards, hill-billy types that he did not wish to us to associate with them.
Also, according to Dad, until Colleen and Shannon came along, there had not been a female born to the Conroys in eight generations. However, in the old photo album I have, there is a picture of a woman that is definitely a Conroy and has the classic Conroy nose, etc. So Dad must have been wrong OR the unknown lady married into the Conroys and her genes provided the Conroy nose.
My Father never said that he had a half-brother but he did tell me that I had an Uncle Stanley. He often visited with my Uncle Stanley but I had no idea that he and Dad were half-brothers until I had grown up. Stanley Bryant was the son of Tina Louse and her husband whose last name was Bryant. Dad hated Mr. Bryant and I think that some of this distaste rubbed off on his feelings about Stanley. At the same time, Dad did treat Stanley with care and consideration. But several times over the years Dad would mention his frustration with whatever Stanley was doing or his disapproval of Stanley's attitude.
I think Dad also had a half sister named Doris. Doris and her husband apparently moved around a lot. I did meet her many times, but usually the meetings were in motels or in houses they were renting for a while. I have no idea what Doris's maiden name was. Dad seemed to be more approving of her than he was of Stanley. I am also not certain that she was his half sister since he did not refer to her as "my Aunt Doris."
So Dad had a lot of things to overcome: He was Irish, he was epileptic, and he was ashamed to have had so many step-fathers. He was also fiercely and foremost a Conroy. It was his purpose in life to increase the worth of the Conroy name, and to show the world that he was a better person than it thought him to be. To this end, he worked hard at his jobs, went to night school, and became involved with organizations that either associated their members with the upper classes or by-passed them.
I think the latter is especially significant since I did much the same thing in school. Not being members of the upper classes or those with political power, my friends and I were snubbed by all the Fraternities or Sorority Sisters--especially the one called Yanto. So we organized our own group--no little feat because it was illegal to belong to or to be a member of any club that was not sponsored by responsible adults, and approved by the schools. Our club was called Yosc--similar to Yanto, isn't it? Yosc stood for Ye Olde Sportsman's Club. The club's main charter was to sponsor fellowship by organizing fishing and hunting trips. But the club's real purpose was to show the Frats that we did not need them, did not want them, and could have a lot more fun than they ever thought of having. It was extremely successful in this endeavor and we made certain that no high-society, spoiled, rich kid ever got admitted to our club.
Edward Alonzo Conroy's view of the world around him was colored by the things that had happened to him, and his position--in a society much more stratified than ours is today. He found a refuge in the Masonic Lodge. This was his way to by-pass society's restrictions. The Lodge was beyond normal society. Its members knew secrets that no one else was privy to. They evoked and invoked powers unknown to non-members. And they helped each other. Many members became more wealthy and more famous because their brother Lodge members were devoted to helping them. Many member's main allegiance was to their brother members--not their relatives, friends, employers, employees, country or diety.
To advance in the Masons, you had to prove your intellectual superiority by memorizing, by rote, massive amounts of information that was intricate and complex. You had to show your mastery of the beliefs and rituals by being able to recite them, word for word, correctly, when called upon to do so. My father proved his superior intellect. He became Master of the Lodge and afterwards, he would always be known as a Past Master.
It would be appropriate at this point, to mention for my children's sake that the children and grandchildren of a Mason are entitled to a special membership in the Masonic Lodge (men) or in the Eastern Star (women)--barring other, more complex problems that might prevent this. This means that you may join but your children may not--unless you do join. There are other ways to join, but not on the priority basis accorded a Mason's family members. Since I have never had the urge to join such an organization, this privilege will end with your generation. If you ever have had the urge to become involved in a Lodge, I advise you to do so--so that future generations of Conroy's will also be accorded this privilege.
During Dad's life, many self-help books were published--but they were quite different than those we have do day. They were "How To..." books designed to make you successful by teaching you a trade or hobby that would bring you more money, recognition, and/or success. Edward Alonzo Conroy had always liked animals. So, at a very early age, he began raising animals. He raised prize-winning English Bull Dogs and sold them. He raised Rhode Island Red chickens and sold their eggs and their meat. He raised rabbits. He became a Bee Keeper.
For each type of animal he raised there was a corresponding club--with other raisers and their families. There was a Rabbit Club, a Racing Pigeon Club, A Rhode Island Red Club, and a Dog Raiser's Club. At each club, Dad's easygoing personality and natural good sense made him many friends. He also gained many friends in the Lodge. Dad was the kind of guy that was always willing to lend a hand, become "active"--such as run for an office in a club and was always an active person. One time, at one of the many county-fairs (where Dad usually entered his animals in some judging competition), a person's animal got out of his cage and attacked other people's animals. While everyone stood there shocked, afraid, and aghast at the disaster in the making, Dad rushed forward, stopped the slaughter, and put the offending animal back in its cage. I was watching this--being one of those frozen in disbelief--and no one else moved until the whole thing was taken care of. Then everyone thought my Dad was a hero.
Near the end of his life, he was still raising his favorite animals--which had become: Bees, Racing Pigeons, and Californians--white rabbits with black tails, feet, noses, and ears. I didn't much care for the Bees but did a lot of traveling into central and eastern Oregon where Dad kept his hives. In case you didn't know it, the Bee Keeper's main income is from the farmers--who pay him to keep his hives near their crops. The production of honey is a secondary by-product. Even stranger, is the fact that bees wax could be, pound for pound more profitable than either hive rental or honey sales--but there is very little wax in a hive compared to the honey.
Dad, like all bee keepers, had a strange and special relationship with these insects. There seems to be some sort of recognition from the bees that the bee keeper is a friend. In any case, keepers are seldom stung, and when they are stung, it is done in warning, not in anger. I have seen my father carefully thrust his entire bare arm into a seething swarm of balled-up bees and carefully scoop-up the queen. Taking the queen, with most of the bees on his arm and the other following, he walked over to a new hive he had prepared and placed the queen inside. Within minutes, all the bees had taken up residence in the hive. There is a legend that when a Bee Keeper dies, the bees hold vigil, until the end of time, over his grave. Every time I have visited the grave when the weather permitted such a happening, there have been bees flying around Dad's grave. (And I am not the only one to have noticed this.)
Other great trips were made into parts of Oregon to release Racing Pigeons. The night before, the Club meets to band the birds and register the numbers on the bands. Special clocks are synchronized and handed out. Sometimes, someone in the Pigeon Club or a hired person takes the whole lot--all of the pigeons in a truck to the place where they are to be released. Other times, everyone takes their own to the release area. And sometimes the pigeons are released at a particular time. Other times, they are just released upon arrival and the time is recorded. On the day of the race, all the pigeon fanciers stay home. They set the "traps" at the entrance to the pigeon roosts or pigeon houses and begin watching the skies for their flock while keeping the special time clocks near at hand. Finally the time will arrive when they will see one or more of their flock circling the pigeon roost. So as not to spook the birds, they will stay out of sight.
When the pigeon lands, it will walk into the special doors near the top of the pigeon-house. Since they have been let loose many times before--for both races and for practice flights--the pigeons have been through these same doors many times before. But this time, as they move through the doorway, the small flap behind them closes and they are caught and confined within a small barred space that has replaced their normal doorway in. Then the owner runs out, grabs the pigeon, cuts the band off of its leg and places the band in the special clock. The clock then stamps the time and date on the band. That night the club meets again. The bands are looked at, maps are looked at, and corrections/adjustments for those living nearer or farther from the release site are made. Then the winner is announced.
Many of the "animal-raiser-clubs" have other, purely social functions. These consist of Christmas parties, picnics, pot-lucks, dances, and other entertainment-type gatherings. Dad had more friends that any 100 normal people.
Dad began raising the rabbits named "Californians" because they were a rather new breed that had a lot of room for improvement. He bred Californians until he had some that were so good, no one in Oregon could match his rabbits in the county fairs or the State Fair. Then he made them better until no one in Oregon, Washington or California could beat him. He started making a fortune selling breeding stock. He started his own Rabitry, called the Conroy Briar Patch Rabitry. The he started entering his rabbits in contests in the mid west and on the east coast. Before long, he was the recognized King of the Californians. Then he did something no other American had ever done with rabbits: He took them to Canada and beat the Canadians--much to everyone's surprise.
Rabbits were a nice hobby for Dad and sometimes paid for themselves with a little extra left over. He had business cards and stationary made for him that showed him holding a prize-winning rabbit. His establishment was the "Conroy Briar-Patch Rabbitry."
His second wife was a very pretty photographer's model named Lola. Lola had a heart of gold but unfortunately, despite the fact that she came from rich parents and had a privileged upbringing, she was quite "lower-class" in actions and beliefs. At first, Dad could overlook her vulgar use of slang and her "commonness" because of her beauty. But as time went on and she did not seem to even want to upgrade her status, he became disenchanted with her and did not treat her in the manner that she thought she should be treated. Lola began drinking. She became an inattentive mother to her daughter Joyce--who got in trouble. Dad, who had been contemplating adopting Joyce, found that his suspicions of anyone not a "blooded" Conroy confirmed. So he refused to adopt her, ever after.
I will not go into the incorrectness or correctness of his actions--or lack thereof--since I do not believe in judging others--even if you have walked many miles in their footsteps. But to say the least, Joyce, who never knew any other father, and who went all through school with the Conroy name, was very upset when she found out that she was not entitled to that name.
I do not know if Dad knew this, but I knew that as his and Lola's marriage waned, she began cheating on him. I do know that he did understand her drinking problem and when she refused to do anything about it, they were divorced.
While he was married to Lola, he worked for the Union Oil Company. This turned out to be a very nice place to work and his benefits and retirement were quite lavish. After the divorce, while still working for Union Oil, Dad had a serious heart attack. The Company doctors examined him and decided that his heart condition was too serious for him to continue working. They gave him early retirement. Union Oil's benefits took over and he was awarded $1000.00 a month retirement pay. This was at a time when the average worker was earning $300.00 a month! When he reached normal retirement age, his income would actually become less--and more in line with what was normal for those days.
Later, Dad met, courted, and married L. Helen Conroy. This was the good woman that cared for him in his old age and deteriorating health. All Conroy's should be thankful to this lady and the sacrifices that she made in the caring of Dad.
Dad's heart problems kept putting him in the hospital. Towards the end, at one time, he was hospitalized and a temporary pacemaker probe was placed through the wall of his chest so the probe could touch his heart to keep it going. The rest of the mechanism was taped to the outside of his chest. This time, while in the hospital, the minor operation, therapy and drugs combined to affect his mind. Although he was okay sometimes, there were episodes where he would loose track of where he was and what he was doing. Several times, he asked me to "hold him up so he could breath." Then he would ask me to "take him out of this place."
Once, while I was talking to him, he closed his eyes and the heart-monitor went flat-line. This set off an alarm at the nurses station and a "Code Blue" was called. Unfortunately, all the regular doctors were out to lunch and most of the nurses were on break. Although a crowd gathered in his room to help, they were short of help. Therefore, I was asked to stay and help them. Since Dad was a heavy man, they needed me to turn him. I got to see all the things that one really doesn't want to see--like the long needle on the end of a syringe that they plunged directly though his chest into his heart. When I rolled him over, the probe made contact with his heart and it started beating again. The loss of contact apparently was the reason for this sudden problem. I found that by moving him back and forth and watching the heart monitor, I could keep his heart beating--the nurses called this "achieving capture." So I moved him back and forth, keeping the probe in contact until the doctors got back from lunch. So where and what was this understaffed hospital? It was part of the Kaiser Health System.
Talking to his doctor after this incident, I was told that because of his weakening heart, he would probably never leave the hospital alive. And if he did, the doctor thought his chances of surviving more than 4 months were extremely unlikely. However, Dad survived and lived for many years afterward. But he never again was the active person he had been all his life. Helen made heroic efforts to care for him but as he got worse, he began falling and she was just too small and weak to get him up. The number of hospital visits became greater and the stays were longer. At one time, his partial recovery was delayed so long the hospital would no longer keep him and Helen had to temporarily put him in a Rest-Home. Dad did not like this at all and begged everyone that visited him to get him out of the place. I could not help. He could not have taken care of himself and I would have had to quit work to care for him. Such is the lot and way of the end of a man in our society in the 20th century. Finally, Helen could no longer stand it and took him home--where he remained pretty much an invalid for the few remaining months of his life.
One night Helen called me. Dad had just been admitted to the same hospital where the heart-probe incidence had taken place. He was not expected to make it through the night. I jumped into the car and drove to the hospital. In the darkness of the room I gazed down on the living face of the man who was my father--for the last time. Helen insisted that I go home since there was no reason for both of us to keep vigil. I got the idea that she wished to be alone with him. I went back to look at him one more time. Astonishingly enough, he woke and was quite alert. We talked awhile, carefully skirting the current situation. Then he fell asleep and I left. Very early the next morning Helen called me to tell me he had died.
Now, at this time, I believed in the eternal life of the soul. Therefore Dad did not die, he had just left his body behind and gone on to a place where he was rid of the pain and suffering. I knew that I was feeling sorry for my self, and that I really should rejoice for him as he had gone on to a better place. But, as I was to find out, beliefs and feelings can be entirely two different things.
I went, alone, to the funeral home to visit Dad's body, to say my last and private good-bye. It was a very stupid thing for me to do. Alone in the room with the casket that contained Dad's body, I looked at his face and was glad to see that they had done an exceptional job of restoring his natural looks. There were blushes on his cheeks again. He looked so good, it seemed to me, that he just might be lying there asleep, not dead. That is when I thought I saw him move!
I blanked out at this point. I had never done this before nor has it ever happened since. But I have no memory of what happened next. A good hour later, I "came-to", behind the wheel of my car, headed east, toward Mt. Hood. I have no memory of how I got there.
A postscript: Dad did not die of heart failure, he died of cancer! Kaiser didn't even know he had cancer. They attributed all of his problems to his heart. I know there are good doctors at Kaiser, but it is my belief that their health care is not too good most of the time.
So what kind of person was Edward Alonzo Conroy? He was successful in his efforts to pull himself upwards in society. He kept the Conroy name so it could be passed on. He was comfortable with both the high-society people and the poor and disadvantaged. He had a very large number of friends and was usually liked by even casual acquaintances. One thing I always was aware about him was that he knew something about everything, sometimes it was just a little knowledge--but he knew something--about every subject on Earth. You had no chance of ever coming up with something he had never heard of. He was an home-grown intellectual.
He especially loved the out-of-doors. He was particularly fond of eastern Oregon, where he liked to camp, fish, and spent years exploring. On one trip of exploration that he shared with me, we drove on dirt roads where we never saw another car for two days. One whole day we never saw any signs of mankind-- except for the very poor dirt road! We once came across a working gold dredge, and on the same day we saw a wolf in plain daylight (they weren't supposed to exist in Oregon at that time). It was a wild time in an Oregon that still had many "out-of-the-way" places that the general populous did not access. I doubt that the same thing could be experienced today. He loved his grandchildren and I am sure that in his eyes he was content to know that the future would produce more Conroys. He was also a man who, right or wrong, abided by the code he got from his society.
And so ends my tale of my father and his life, and how it affected me and all of us.
According to L. Helen Conroy, Doris, mentioned above, WAS Edward Alonzo Conroy's half-sister. Her married last name was MacGruder. She is now dead. However, the last I heard, Olive Bryant, my Father's half-brother's widow was still alive and living in Seattle.