It always irked me that Granddad Charles who I lived with once my single parent Mom died advocated for my father. He often said, “Give Jamel a chance.” You know let him be involved in my life. Jamel was only around the corner of Breukelen projects between his mother, Grandma Arlene’s home and Glenwood Road. But my fourteen-year-old outlook had been a nonchalant, “I’m good.” Now I think what Granddad Charles was aiming to get across was the difference between a broken home and a destroyed one. My proximity to Jamel created an opportunity to mold a father and son relationship Granddad Charles never had.
Between Granddad Charles and his sister, Grandaunt Lucillie their father was taboo. The 6 years living with Granddad Charles, stories of growing up poor never included him. Then when curiosity led me to ask an aunt to ask a cousin to ask Grandaunt Lucillie she cursed her father’s name until her last breath. Great-Granddad Eugene August Hunnicutt’s narrative from beginning to end was summed up with one central conflict: abandonment.
Curious to uncover more about him, I ordered his birth certificate. Even followed up with the D.C. vital records three months pass my patience just to hear it could take up to six months to locate. But it was Granddad Charles Hunnicutt’s death certificate that opened a door into his father’s life.
Searching through Ancestry.com I found out Great-Granddad Eugene was born July 31st, 1888 in Bennings, District of Columbia to Mary E. Johnson and John S. Hunnicutt. But there are discrepancies in the paper trail. According to the 1900 U.S. Federal Census 11-year-old Eugene is mislabeled as William Brent’s son. And his mother has been married to William for 15 years, which would mean she had to have gotten married at 16 before Eugene was born. Then in the 1910 U.S. Federal Census 21-year-old Eugene is correctly labeled as the step son of the head of the house alongside his two half siblings: Martha and Catherine. Finally, in the 1920 U. S. Census he is rooming on G Street in the household of Louis and Martha Allen and his marital status is single. But this is a sharp contrast to being married to Grace M. Johnson since November 24th, 1910. Yet they go on to have Grandaunt Lucille in 1927 and Granddad Charles in 1929.
If only his relationship with his family was as clear as his plastering career. One could just look in the U.S. City Directory in 1915 and 1932 to find his family story alongside his occupation. Then corroborate it with every found census he was of working age. But just like his relationship with his kin I have yet to discover a source that reveals he had a relationship with his father John Hunnicutt.
Great-Granddad Eugene had been drafted in World War 1 at 28 when his Draft Registration Card describes him as medium physical build, tall, black hair and dark brown eyes and listed as married. From this perspective he’s 7 years into his marriage when it reads he has a, “dependent wife.” It’s on the same card that I discover he was not only a plasterer but an entrepreneur who, “Works for himself.” According to a Lists of Men Ordered to report to Local Board for Military Duty, he was inducted into the military service on August 14th, 1918 and entrained at Hampton Institute, Hampton VA. The list doesn’t acknowledge race only the occupations of the men. Nor am I aware of his position during the war.
The years after WWI are a mystery until he has to register for WWII at 53 years old. At this point in his life, he works for the U.S. government Navy yard in Washington D.C. A federal job which suggests he had a livable salary. But when asked to name a person who will always know his address he lists his mother. He writes, “Mary Hunnicutt” (the only source that references them both with the same last name) living at 722 13th St N.W. Washington D.C. which is also the last place he lived. The year was 1941 when he was 53 years old. He died 25 years later and he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on February 1966 at the rank of private. None of these years seem to indicate any contact with his children or his once wife.
Great-Granddad Eugene left them before either reached double digits in age and his wife, Great-Grandma Grace, of at least nineteen years. Why? One could argue it doesn’t matter he did. But your guess is as good as mine. Another woman? Maybe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from World War 1? Maybe one day he simply said, “They’re better off without me.”
Rashaun J. Allen (@rashaunjallen) received his MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from SUNY Stony Brook. He’s eyeing agents to help publish his coming of age story, Christine’s Dream—A Memoir of Love, Loss & Life. He is the author of A Walk Through Brooklyn & In The Moment and has been published in TSR: The South Hampton Review and is forthcoming in The Tishman Review. When not writing he runs for the thrill of crossing the finish line. Find more of his work at www.rashaunjallen.com.