Vernon discovers his dad has died

In my quest to learn about my biological great-grandfather Zygonia Ray Shearer (who understandably went by the name “Ray”), I’ve written several posts over the past couple of years (see here, here, here, and here). Despite my investigative digging, I still know almost nothing about who Ray was as a person. Today’s post won’t shed much light on Ray, but it will help understand how his son—my grandfather, Vernon C. Black—dealt with the death of his father.

As I have a good amount of extra time on my hands on account of the mandatory shelter in place orders stemming from the coronavirus pandemic (I still have to work from home, but I save over two hours of commute time per day), I’ve decided to start digging through the family history letters and postcards I’ve digitized but not yet written up. There’s a goldmine of information in this correspondence.

Today’s post is about one of these initially overlooked letters—actually two letters. These letters are from just before Christmas 1937. Vernon was 21 years old and had apparently borrowed money from his mother to strike out on his own, traveling across the western U.S. to find work and his future. Shortly before he wrote these letters he landed a door-to-door magazine sales job that I’ll discuss in a later post.

A few days before Christmas 1937—to be specific, on the afternoon of December 19, 1937—Vernon Black checked into the Hotel Belmont in Portland, Oregon, at the corner of NW 6th Avenue and NW Everett Street (click here for a photo of the hotel today). He picked up some hotel stationery and an envelope and wrote a letter to his family back in Lebanon, Kansas. Although he states that he’s staying in Portland for another week, the letter was postmarked the next day in Canby, Oregon, almost 20 miles south of Portland. The letter arrived in Lebanon, Kansas, two days before Christmas.

Sunday evening

Dear Mother:

I was dreadfully sorry to hear of Ray’s death, it gave me the funniest feeling, I don’t know why. Why didn’t they let me know—I’d at least think they’d let his own son know about these things. I know I haven’t lived with him or anything like that but its just the idea of him being my father. This is a funny world. If you have his obituary please send it to me I’d at least like to see and read it. His poor wife and kids, I wish I could help them. Well, I must forget about it.

I got your letter last night and was glad to hear from you, we just got to Portland about 4 this afternoon. Say, do I have any mail at home for me? If so who from.

Yes, I had the Bus Co send that refund to you because I knew you’d put it in on what I owe. See I bought a ticket to Idaho Falls and never used it but just went to Twin Falls and I got this job, so I sent the ticket to get a refund.

I’ll be in Portland this week and part of next.

So Marjorie Lovett is married, still hope Winnie isn’t thinking about it. She’ll be a beauty operator yet, I know she will. She’ll be a good one.

Have a Merry Christmas,

Love Vernon

c/o Roy Coulson



Glad to get your picture. The boss’s wife said you sure look young. Quite a complement, I think, and they think George is sure cute.

Hope you like the paper, I want to send the Good Housekeeping later on. Hope Dad likes the Path finder.

Sorry Beth and Dick can’t get along. I wanted to see her out here but don’t guess I’ll get to. I don’t suppose I’ll get to see Henry or Jennie either.

Well, I had better write George & Dad a letter. Whats wrong with Anelia—she had better write. I’ll send you folks some presents when I get a few cents above expenses.



I found no photos with these letters, but I strongly suspect that the photos below are the ones that Vernon’s mother Catalina Black sent to Vernon in 1937 (I apologize for the low resolution scans—I scanned these almost 30 years ago. When I find the originals I’ll scan them again in high resolution).

I did not find a letter to his father with this letter, but I did find a letter to his 10-year-old half-brother George C. Black that was written on the same letterhead (and so, presumably, at the same time):

Dear George,

Say, was I ever glad to get your letter. Write every time Mother does. You ought to be out here in the mountains + you’d have plenty of snow to sled ride on. It’s not cold here but it is up in the mts.

Hope Santa Claus is good to you.

How do you like school this year? Do you ever talk to Warren or Dana. When you do till them I think about them.

Merry Christmas

Your big brother


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