Samuel D. Slade
May 1, 1913 – October 15, 1973
Daddy was the son of a shyster lawyer (David Harold Slade) and a Vaudeville comedienne (Agnes Simonds, stage name Agnes Lynn). The lawyer parked his wife and son, along with his tough stage-mother mother-in-law (Sophia Augusta Josephine Byrne Simonds) and a Roumanian cook, in a large house in Freeport, Long Island. David then went off to gamble on trans-Atlantic ocean liners, have affairs with clients, bribe witnesses, and complain about the income tax. We’ll get to the bigamy part later. And he claimed he’d be reincarnated as a cat – stay tuned for more on that topic as well. Daddy did not speak of his father with love or respect but there was certainly longing there as well. His mother he adored – and he took care of for her whole life.
Daddy finished high school in Freeport when he was 14 so they sent him to boarding school: Cheshire Academy (since he was too young for college). There he took up smoking (3 packs a day for the next 46 years) and practical joking. He told me a story about putting water in the chapel organ pipes: disaster ensued at the first chord of the processional the next morning. The headmaster put the whole school on detention until the culprits confessed (Daddy and his friends). Daddy was sentenced to spend the rest of the school year reading the entire Waverly Novels in the library during all his free time. I must say, I learned much later to take all of Daddy’s stories with pounds of salt. I wonder what really happened.
During the summers Daddy was sent to Maine to hunt and fish. He had a French Canadian guide named Neal Rancourt. Trout fishing was a love that stayed with Daddy for his whole life, even after he lost a whole day’s catch to a bear who helped himself to all the fish strung up outside the cabin one night!
After Cheshire he went to Yale, where he fenced, drank, and read old English. Beowolf. In the original. Which he loved, and wanted to become a professor teaching old English. But it was the depression and he was told he needed to make more money than professors do and so he went to law school, one year at Columbia and the remaining two back at Yale (where his father and both his uncles had gone, lawyers all). While at Yale Law he won money at a card game and took a road trip to Smith, where he met Patricia. They both played piano, maybe that’s how they got together. He got a law clerk job on Wall Street and married Pat. The marriage went sour immediately – but they had a son, John. And at the same time David, my grandfather, was being treated or a melanoma that started in his eye and spread – and his reaction was to get a Mexican mail-order divorce from Agnes and elope with Mary Montalban, whom he had been “keeping” in a love-nest on East 54th Street. David died, leaving a mess of unpaid bills and a will allegedly leaving everything to the bigamous second Mrs Slade, who promptly sued. But there was no estate since David’s two brothers, who were his law partners, swallowed whatever assets there were as part of their partnership. This left Daddy with nothing. His uncle Ben promised to maintain the mortgage on the house Agnes and Sophie lived in while Daddy moved to Washington, DC to take a government job. Ben defaulted and the house was auctioned from under Agnes’s feet. Pat left, taking John and starting a protracted divorce drama. And Agnes and Sophie moved to DC where they lived with daddy for the rest of their lives. My poor father – his late 20s were a nightmare!
He lived in Virginia and got a cat – George the Siamese. After George was “fixed” Agnes would sit in her chair and gloat, “Oh, David, what we did to you!”
Throughout the 1940s and ’50s Daddy worked for the government, first at Admiralty, then Price Administration (where he knew and detested Richard Nixon!), and finally at Justice, where he became Chief of the Appellate Division. Mastering the fine points of appellate law was as close as he could come to the Old English he loved. He became famed for arguing cases from memory and for dictating whole briefs that he had fully composed in his head, ready for the printer with no need of editing or revision.
His family continued to plague him – when his Uncle Ben died Daddy found that Ben’s estate was being taken by his cousin Helen, who had made him sign a will when he was completely senile. Daddy sued for half the estate – the battle raged for a decade. The court ruled in Daddy’s favor but by then most of the estate had been eaten by court costs.
Daddy was responsible for hiring new lawyers for his department. He interviewed a young Yale Law grad named Sondra Kaplan. And married her a year later! She moved in with Daddy and his elderly female relatives. A year later she lost her eyesight (Multiple Sclerosis, undiagnosed: she made a partial recovery) and went into the hospital. Agnes developed congestive heart failure and went into the hospital as well. Sophie, who was in her late ’90s and still sharp as a tack, knew that the hospital was where you went to die so she offered Daddy her sympathy: “You poor dear, losing them both at once!” She was astonished when Mother came home. Agnes did not. Daddy locked himself alone in his room and cried all night. That is the only time I have ever known of him crying – I certainly never saw such a thing.
Sophie lived one more year, still cooking and doing dishes until her last 6 months. And after she died my parents started a family. First me. And finally Daddy had life all figured out – he loved living in DC, he was happy at his job, and most of his dramas were quiet. Then my sister Anne was born, and it all came apart. Anne is profoundly autistic. Daddy knew, immediately, that Anne would require financial support far beyond his modest salary, so he accepted a partnership in a Philadelphia law firm and we moved to Villanova, PA.
I remember remarkably little about my first decade. I know that my sister was feral for about 7 years until the stelazine and thorazine began to modify her behavior. We had family therapy. Anne rocked back and forth, my parents fought, I was ignored. Daddy spent long hours at work, joined the Racquet Club, and played the piano. Mother joined the league of Women Voters and suffered various attacks and long-term effects of her MS, while doctors told her at was all psychosomatic. I went to the Episcopal Academy, where I discovered choir singing but was otherwise an outcast.
Mother used to spend most of her weekends in bed, suffering from MS-induced exhaustion and depression. Daddy and I were on our own, and we had our routines. The Saturday trip to the cheese shop for French bread, Gouda, and Tiptree Little Scarlet. Trout fishing, in season – he fished, I sat on a rock and read. I was no outdoorsman, which I think was a great disappointment to him. But singing – that we shared. We would sit at night in the kitchen, him with Bourbon and me with milk, and he would teach me folk songs and how to improvise harmony. The first two Peter, Paul & Mary albums were our textbook. And he told me stories about his youth, too many of which I have muddled or forgotten. And one night in October of 1973 he told me it was time for me to make friends my own age because he wouldn’t be around forever. And I cried and asked him not to say such a thing. But three days later he died in his sleep. What did he die of? All the cigarettes? All the disappointments? All the unlived passions he suppressed to be the most dutiful son and then the burdened husband and father? I was 15 and we had no yet fought the battle of my becoming my own person. So much I want to ask, to know. So much I miss you. Happy 100th birthday my honored Father. Your memory is for a blessing.