Written June 21, 2009
I had an
uncle by the name of Ralph Thomas Buckingham, born in 1907. Our
family never called him anything but Ralph. But now, as I
uncover more details about his life, I discover that he had a
nickname, first among his classmates and later among his co-workers.
Buckingham family, including my mother and her two brothers, grew up
on an isolated farm in
moved to the big city of Byesville (population 2,775 in 1920).
entered the Byesville public schools as the eldest of three
Buckinghams, the kids called him Buck.
the old Byesville High School building as I photographed it in 2001.
And to the
left, in a photo taken 75 years earlier and labeled Buck
by my mother, Ralph sits on the BHS
steps in the spring of his junior year.
time he graduated with the Class of 1927 (right), he was parting his
hair in the middle.
So was his
brother, judging from the picture below of the three Buckingham kids
in September of that year: Ralph, Anna, and James.
graduation, Ralph took some business courses at Bliss College in Columbus.
mothers labels on the photos below imply that these were two of
Ralphs girlfriends. On the left, Bucks Best
Girl from November 1926; on the right, Bucks
Blue Haven from September 1927. She might
have been referring to a hit song published that year: When
whippoorwills call and evening is nigh, I hurry to my blue
heaven. A turn to the right, a little white light, will lead
you to my blue heaven.
was leaving his Ohio blue heaven.
He was off
to a really big city, Detroit, where he had a job with the
S.S. Kresge Company. (That former dimestore chain is now known
"Buck" had become an assistant buyer at Kresges
General Offices. And he had met Esther Rauschenberger.
who lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was three years younger than him.
They were an item by May of 1931, when this picture was taken.
my cousin Linda Ralph and Esther's granddaughter for
passing along this photo and the next dozen. The three below
are also dated 1931.)
Esther were married on July 2, 1932, at the home of an Ann Arbor
minister, just a mile from Michigan Stadium.
pm ceremony was followed by a reception for 12 people at the home of
the brides parents. These pictures were taken there on
the family farm.
bride wore a smart afternoon gown of tea rose crepe and net with a
small matching jacket fashioned with capelet sleeves, according
to newspaper accounts.
accessories were eggshell in color, the picture hat being of eggshell
horsehair, and her gloves, eggshell lace mitts.
sister Viola (or Vi) was the maid of honor, and Ralphs brother
James (or Jim) was the best man.
honeymoon, Ralph was apparently able to take an eight-week
vacation. Following the ceremony, the couple left for a
northern motor trip and will be at home late in August in Detroit,
where Mr. Buckingham is employed.
long, the couple had a son, Jerry, born in 1934.
later came a daughter, Carol.
would be my first cousins, but they were half a generation older than I.
I joined the family in 1947, my grandmother Emma Buckingham posed
(below) with her three grandchildren: me on her lap, flanked by
Jerry and Carol.
Here I am
on Jerrys lap at our new house
in Cambridge, Ohio, probably in 1949.
are Jerry and his wife Cam (short for Camille), all grown up in 2004.
subsequent career was summarized in Westernews, the
newsletter of the Western Publishing Company.
Racine, Wisconsin, Western Printing and Lithographing Co. produced
Little Golden Books for children. Ralph became a vice president
of a Western subsidiary, the Whitman
to the newsletter:
as he was known to his colleagues, began at Whitman in 1939 as
product manager for a stationery line.
years later, he joined that companys retail division and in
1950 assumed responsibility for its regional chains and mail order houses.
was appointed a Whitman vice president in 1957.
thereafter, he was transferred to New York City in
charge of its large, national variety chain accounts in the east.
1960, Buck was promoted to eastern regional manager under a Whitman
finished his career in Racine as
general sales manager from 1962 (the photo at left is from December
1963) until his early retirement in January, 1964.
helped my father Vernon Thomas set up an important adjunct to his
business. Customers of Vernon M. Thomas Chevrolet who wanted to
buy their cars on time could finance the sale through
GMAC or a local bank. But now, with the help of some capital
from his brother-in-law Ralph, my father could offer another option
to customers who were good credit risks: financing directly
through Vernon M. Thomas Chevrolet. On those installment plans,
my father could collect the finance charges himself instead of
letting some bank make the profit.
Four and a
half years after Ralph retired, I took the picture below at his home
in Ann Arbor. The occasion was one of our Cousin
Reunions in July of 1968.
story has a sad ending, because a few months later, Ralph was greatly changed.
As I wrote
following the 1969 Cousin Reunion: I saw one of my uncles
for the first time since he fell down a flight of stairs and suffered
a brain injury. He's had brain surgery and has made an
unexpectedly good recovery, but he's still not anything like he was
before the accident.
walks like a man of eighty; his voice has changed; he has tunnel
vision, and hearing only in one ear and that very weak. His
memory is poor: he can't remember incidents from the past, and
he can't put together a conversation of more than a couple of
sentences because he forgets what he was talking about.
realizes what's wrong with him, and he seems to feel very insecure;
he wants to be as much as possible a part of what's going on, but
because of his limitations all he can do is listen with a very intent
expression, agree with some of the things that are said, comment on
what's going on right at the moment (That's a nice corn field
over there), or ask simple questions (How far is it
to where we're going?). At times, though, he seems to be
quite aware of what's going on and makes surprisingly appropriate
comments. Any further improvement is expected to be slow.
took care of Ralph for another 11 years until he died on March 27,
1980, at the age of 72.