THE IRISH IN ME (part 2)

Dad and my sister 1948

Dad and my sister, circa 1948, Hialeah Race Track.

During our childhood, my mother, Alberta LeGendre, spent a lot of time keeping her 2 daughters far away from the Irish part of our heritage (with the exception of Aunt Mary).

And with good reason.

Mom’s family might’ve been a bit dysfunctional, but compared to my dad’s side of the family they were veritable angels.

Since it’s nearing St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll write a bit about the history of a side of the family known for it’s boxers (and I’m not talking about the shorts) and it’s drinkers; specifically, my dad’s 2 brothers and a father I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

What I write below is almost word-for-word from my mother’s memoirs, written on November 10, 1989.


In my opinion,  Bob was an undiscovered child prodigy who never had an opportunity to develop:

  • He had an untapped math mind. He didn’t know an addition sign from a minus sign or a multiplication sign from a division sign; but he could add, subtract, multiply, and divide in his head faster than most people can figure on paper.
  • At any time, Bob could tell you the exact amount of money in his pocket; including a breakdown of the bills and coins. He wouldn’t write checks, but the first of each month he would bring our checkbook up-to-date, and seldom look at it again until the next month.  Yet, after I had written any number of checks, he could always tell me the exact amount of our balance.   (I was very lax in my bookkeeping—as long as I knew we had over $300 in the bank, I felt secure.)
  • Bob had the uncanny ability to identify people in group pictures. Often, I would watch as senior citizens would show him their old grade school class group pictures.  Almost instantly, Bob would put his finger on the person’s location in the picture. (It was a natural art with him and he enjoyed doing it.)
  • Bob was a walking encyclopedia regarding animals and fish.
  • Bob could work on any number of projects at the same time and finish all on time and with perfection.
  • Bob had a beautiful tenor voice.


(After being removed from the orphanage)

Bob learned to drive and was the family chauffeur. A duty he accepted willingly; and the fact that his father trusted him was a good ego booster.  Bob would drive his father wherever he wanted to go during the day or night.

(Bob had deep sympathy and sorrow for all mentally and physically afflicted persons, and was always ready and willing to help anyone who needed help.)

Evidently, Bob considered his father helpless and assumed the role of “his father’s keeper”.  Bob did not drink himself, but would remain at the bar and watch the people, until it was time to take his father safely home.

(Interestingly Mary Dempsey Ziegler doesn’t drink at all.  Bob would occasionally buy a beer to have with a cheese sandwich at home.  Yet, they both seemed to enjoy the atmosphere of a bar. Bob liked to play shuffleboard or stay in the background and watch the people.  While on the other hand Edward and Jack guzzled alcohol.)

Once, while driving the family’s Model _? Ford, Bob looked around and ran in a ditch.  Throwing his dad, sister, brothers, dog and himself into a muddy ditch.  The radiator ruptured, severely burning Bob’s arm.  Robert Sr. applied first-aid and they all pushed and shoved until the care was back on the road.

  • Jack was thrown out of the car and was standing in deep grass, sound asleep with a puppy in his arms. (The puppy was one of a litter of pups born that morning.)

Bob had gotten a job as laborer with the county road department and was working on the construction of one of the Lake Worth bridges.  He worked hard, fast, and steady and the foreman liked his work.

The family dog was hit by a car and bit a hole in Bob’s hand when Bob attempted to remove the dog from the highway. Bob had to be off from work for several weeks; and made arrangements with the foreman for his brother Jack to work in his place, during his absence.   Upon Bob’s return to work, the foreman said that Jack never showed up; and they had to hire someone else.

1933 April 12, St. Louis, Missouri:  Jefferson Barracks, Robert L. Dempsey Jr. CC6-1553, enlisted as a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  Worked on the Reforestation project. Transportation furnished to Two Harbors, Minnesota from St. Louis Missouri.  Officer-in-charge at Grand Marais was E. C. AYER, Capt. Inf.

  • The $21.00 a month he earned was sent to his father.

1937 March to April 1942, St. Louis, Mo.  Bob was employed by the Modern Piano Moving Company, 2304 Breman St., St. Louis, Mo.   He loaded, unloaded and wrapped (to prevent damage in transit) pianos and furniture, and delivered to proper address or stored.  He also drove their trucks.

1942, April 4:  Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis.  Mo.”  Bob entered active duty, Army serial number 37179879.  Basic training 521, Truck Driver, Light 395, Fork Lift Operator 188, Rigger 189.  Stationed for two years at the Air Force Supply Depot, Macclesfield, England.

  • Date of separation from service:  26 October 1945.  Fort MacArthur, California.

In 1945, WWII ended.  I was working at the Papago Park Prisoner of War Camp – Security and Intelligence Office – and was transferred to the US Army Corps of Engineers.  Where I continued to work until I resigned – when we moved to Florida in October, 1946. 

1945 October 26:  Bob returned to Phoenix, Arizona, upon discharge, to a much welcomed reunion.  Because of the shortage of housing, it was necessary for us to buy a travel trailer and have it parked in a trailer park, where we lived during our stay in Phoenix.

  • I had deposited all of Bob’s monthly allotment checks in a savings account, which came in handy during his transition period and afterwards. It was a welcomed surprise for him.

Bob worked at several temporary jobs before going to work for two men who had started a soap manufacturing company in Phoenix.  He liked the work and was thinking of buying shares in the company, when it became apparent that he was allergic to the soap.

1946 August:  Bob was depressed and wanted to see his sister, Mary Ziegler, whom he hadn’t seen in years.  He bought a round trip bus ticket to Hamilton, Ohio, where she lived and worked as a waitress.  While there, their brother Jack called and asked Bob to go down to Florida and visit with him before returning to Phoenix.  Bob called me and I thought it was a good idea.

Several days after arriving in South Florida, Bob called and said that Jack was working in a Police Department as Assistant Chief of Police and the Chief of Police had offered Bob a job as a policeman.

(Work Bob really enjoyed, especially the contact with the young children of the area.)

I had always wanted to see Florida and felt this was my opportunity.  I sold our travel trailer, packed everything I could in the car (1936 Buick, 8 cylinder, 4 door sedan, with over 200,000 miles registered on the odometer), and made arrangements to ship a few cartons by express.

It took me eight days to drive from Phoenix to South Florida, without a spare – most of the way:

  • A rear tire blow-out in Lordsburg, NW. The station manager was unable to find a spare replacement tire anywhere in the city.  No new tires were available until I got to Fort Arthur, Texas.
  • Most of the route was two-lane roads full of pot holes and crumbling from long neglect.

The people I encountered along the way were very nice.

It was about 5PM when I arrived at the police station.  Bob was over at the park playing baseball with some of the young people.  The Chief of Police and other policemen were anxious to have some “fun” at Bob’s expense.  A car was sent over to the park for Bob.  They asked me to sit in a chair near a desk.  Three policemen were standing in front of me, when Bob arrived.  They started accusing Bob of everything they could think of as they slowly moved aside  and Bob saw me.  We had a wonderful reunion.


Next:  The relatives from hell.