My Fathers American Dream
Martha Jean Sutton was 13 years old when she was married to Homer Harley Lemley- literally twice her age- in rural Arkansas in the 1940's. By todays standards that would be an offense worth arresting him for. But in southern, poverty stricken Arkansas in the early part of the 20th century, it wasn't unheard of. Daughters married older men at young ages. This is a picture of Homer and Leland in the foreground and Martha in the background... My grandmother was still a child when she divorced my biological grandfather. The divorce paperwork states physical abuse, which should not be surprising considering the situation. When she left, she was not able to take my father with her. And my father was just a toddler when Homer died in a car accident. The same man who had married a child & then physically abused her, also had served his country in the military, and then had saved my fathers life with his dying breath. There's always more to a person than any one thing can show... One of the few pictures that we have of him from 1941 in Ft Leonard Wood. He was in a car accident and the car flipped into a ditch filled with water. Homer was trapped in the car upside down in the water, but he held my father up out of the water & kept him alive until someone found them. After Homer passed away, my father was raised by his grandmother. To my understanding, my grandmother tried to get my father back, but it wasn't going to happen in that time & place, so she had to wait until he was a teenager to have the relationship that she wanted with him. My grandmother went on to remarry twice before the age of 20, until the last time- her fourth husband, Ernest Sutton, the love of her life. She was married to him until January 2011 when the only grandfather I'd known on that side of the family passed away. She had a 5th grade education and a difficult early life, but she'd gone onto to live a rich and full life with a son and 4 stepchildren, had a long and happy marriage, and had even owned her own business and been a successful real estate agent at points in her life. She is currently suffering from the final stages of Alzheimers, but her family and her history were important to her & I will carry it on for her. My father was raised by Mary Elizabeth Lemley in Selma, Arksas, along with a passal of cousins, aunts, & uncles in impoverished conditions. He picked cotton and learned to farm and work hard. When I see this picture of my father, I think of my mothers words and it breaks my heart a little. She said "I just see this sad, parentless little boy" and she's right. But he did love his grandmother deeply and all of his family, and I'm sure that the pictures don't reflect the happy times that existed. They're where he comes from and what made him into the man that he is which in itself says a lot. He was drafted into the Army at the age of 17, to fight for his country in Vietnam. He left behind his high school sweetheart & went to war. He did his first tour and when he came back he reinlisted and went back to fight again. After that he stayed in the Army for the next 20 years until he retired and it's another part of what made him into the man that he is today. While in Vietnam, he was awarded the Bronze Star. During his first few years in the military, he married and divorced Beverly, his high school sweetheart, then married and divorced his second wife, Sharon, and then finally met and married my mother, Coralee Gail Cassler. She was 18 and he was 26 at the time and he was still technically married to his second wife. But they fell in love and along came me & a marriage. Things weren't easy. My father worked 2 extra jobs on top of his military service in order to help them get ahead while my mother stayed home to raise me and my sister. He worked as an auto mechanic on the side or whatever job he could do to give his family the life he wanted them to have. As a military family, we moved regularly; we lived in Germany several times, New Jersey, Washington State, Colorado, Texas, Pennsylvania... During all those moves my father was a hard worker who kept investing and educating himself. He had never actually finished high school, but once he got out into the world and knew where he wanted to go in life, he got his GED and then took college classes while in the military and obtained his Bachelors Degree. My mother went to work as well once my sister and I were in school and she felt we were old enough for that. So they became a two income household and my father could stop working so many jobs. My mother has her own story that I am course proud of, but I'll save that for another day; today is my fathers story. All through the moves in the military, my father believed in investing in real estate. As soon as they were able, my parents bought their first house, and bought and sold their homes as their tours of duty ran out. My father understood the value of owning your own piece of land & it has served him well throughout his life. When I was in 7th grade, we moved one last time, to Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, which is where my father finished out his 20 years in the military. He retired as an E6- Staff Sergeant, from Fort Ritchie, in Cascade, MD. While we were living in Pennsylvania, his interest in local politics took hold and he couldn't keep himself from getting involved. His first foray into the political arena was to start a group called BEWIT (Better Education Without Increasing Taxes) as a protest to what was happening locally with our school district. He caught the attention of the constituancy and shortly thereafter ran for the school board. In 1987 he ran for State Representative for the 87th District of Pennsylvania. He had only lived in the area for 2 years and had only been involved locally for a little over a year, but still managed to bring home ---- of the votes. Our family was so proud of him, even though he lost, he had accomplished so much. After he retired from the Army with 20 years under his belt, he did attempt to move the family back to his home of Arkansas, but that was short-lived. We lived there for only about a year and a half before things went wrong, health issues, a fire, and realizing we simply had to come back to the Northeast as that's where our home had become in all these years and that's where the friends and family were that my parents had become so close to over the years. Since moving back to Pennsylvania, my father has retired a 2nd time from a Masonry institute and my mother finished out her career with the FDA and they are now comfortably retired. He still is highly active in the local political scene and works tirelessly on the local school board and has close friends and his family nearby and has built a life together with his wife that many people would be jealous of. My father took a rough life that he & my grandmother started out with and accomplished so much. My grandmother went from being married at 13 with a 5th grade education to being a succesful business woman with a marriage to be admired and an amazing family of her own. My father went from being a basically parentless child in povery in Arkansas without a high school education, to being a decorated soldier, obtaining a college degree, pursuing his political interests, and becoming an outstanding leader in his community. This is what the "American Dream" is to me, taking what life hands you & working to become the best that you can be and finding your happiness and success in that. I am so grateful for what my family has taught me about life through their examples.