Sometimes, when a family's story unfolds, something comes up that is so big, so unusual, or so shocking that the observer just feels the need to stop and consider it. In the case of examining the roots of baby Fay—the sweet infant featured with her mother in a hundred-year-old photograph I recently found in an antique store—my goal has been to find a way to return the picture postcard to a family member. To do this requires examining the various branches of the family, exploring marriages and children and home towns. It also, unfortunately, causes us to sometimes stumble upon news which is devastating enough, even to total strangers, to take our breath away.
We've experienced that before, here at A Family Tapestry. Remember—at least if you've been reading along here for a while—stumbling upon the horrible crash just before reaching home for a relative in the Irish family whose Christmas photo album I had found in northern California? Finding that news report was one of those moments.
And here we are again, looking over the shoulders of another family, watching their family history unfold as we try to figure out how to connect with them long enough to send them this little memento—and unexpectedly stumbling across the pain of a family tragedy.
Fay's uncle Clifton was a little over eight years older than she was—more like an older cousin than any member of the previous generation. In a way, he could even have been like a big brother. Of course, I have no idea how closely the two of them kept in touch, though Fay may have indeed followed him out to the west coast from their home in Elko, Nevada.
But when you see the newspaper articles about what happened in December of 1940, it is hard to simply read through them passively without realizing the anguish the family must have felt.
Two days before Christmas that year, the San Francisco Chronicle headlined the terrible storms that had been sweeping the northwest, calling the source of the problem a hurricane. The front page on December 23 fretted about damage caused by eighty five mile an hour winds, coastal storm warnings, downed telephone lines, flooded highways and landslides.
In a brief companion piece alongside the lead story, a traffic report noted, "Three Killed in Bay Area Auto Crashes." One was Fay's aunt, Clifton Kleckner's wife Elyner.
Apparently confused by a heavy downpour of rain, Clifford A. Kleckner, 31, salesman, 160 Liberty street, last night drove his car around the safety gates at the San Bruno station crossing in the path of the southbound Southern Pacific Streamliner.
The article went on to explain that, by the time emergency personnel had arrived on the scene, Clifton's wife was already dead. He, unconscious with a fractured skull, was removed to a local hospital, where he was listed in critical condition. As we've already discovered, he died less than two days afterwards.
Perhaps I'm already sensitized to such tragedies owing to the experiences my husband and his siblings went through in their own family—the long saga I've shared here about Frank Stevens, his son Kelly, and his brother Gerry. I've learned from family members how hard it can be to endure the aftermath of such unexpected losses.
Whatever the reason, though, I just had to take a break from the search for the family of baby Fay to remember that sometimes, a family's story contains pain points. As family historians—whether for our own families, or in telling the story of others' families—we need to respect that.