A CHARACTER I REMEMBER
by Susie Belle Seggar
I sat trying to think “Who has been a character I have known?” Well, of course—my father, Ralph Kerns. He began as the eighth child of a poor Missouri farm family. By number eight, his mother, Mary Elizabeth Herring Kerns, was tired, very tired, and no wonder. She had been a school teacher, and a very pretty one, who, when first married, probably had great hopes of prospering on a family farm which she inherited from her father. By the time Ralph came along, she had worked extremely hard to end up barely scraping by. Ralph told me many times of having cabbage and potatoes for dinner, or if there happened to be fried chicken, he would always end up with a wing after the platter went around the table to the other nine people seated there. He was 12 when the Great Depression started and after living through that hardship became the ultimate deprivation oriented person through the rest of his life. With that life stance it became apparent that he was driven to accumulate as much wealth as possible—he was both frugal and foolish. Even though he had only an eighth-grade education, he managed to leave a sizable inheritance to me, his only child. He did this through laboring as a butcher in Armour's for most of his adult life, and becoming a car salesman. When he was about 40 he had business cards made with “Colonel Ralph Kerns” as his title, and a picture of himself wearing a Stetson hat, and showing his gold tooth with a big smile.
He could be both charming and charismatic, but also somewhat mean, devious, and obnoxious.
Growing up in the same house with him as his only daughter was most of the time confusing. He claimed to love my mother, and would be either extremely apologetic or mean as hell after being out drinking and/or carousing. For the most part, I decided it was best to “steer clear” as much as possible.
He always claimed Fannie, my mother, “led him down the Primrose path.” Most of us in the family thought it quite unfortunate that such a sweet, gentle woman married such a bombastic individual who could be a bit like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.
In terms of the foolishness in his “character” status, he had been known to collect insurance money from various misdeeds, such as burning down a barn on one of his farms, or making sure an apartment house caught on fire, as well as a perfectly good automobile which was being driven from Utah to Missouri and just happened to catch on fire 50 miles from its' intended destination.
Ralph loved being the center of attention and often indulged in poker games, sometimes winning big, but just as often losing big. He was also a “grand champion of chaos.” I've sometimes thought my tendency to be quiet in large groups, or classes, has come from watching Ralph be what has been termed a “blowgut” and never wanting to be grouped in that category myself.
In spite of his idiosyncracies, and tendency to portray himself as someone others envied,
he remained an active church-goer through his married life after he was baptized into the LDS Church when I was three years old. Even when he was excommunicated when I was about 20, he continued to pay tithing and attend church. Later he was rebaptized and sealed in an LDS temple to my kind-hearted and ever forgiving mother.