The Mysterious Death of Francis Degen: Part 3

If you haven’t read the previous posts, you might want to go back now and read them. Otherwise, you might be a bit lost here.

When our story ended last time, Francis Degen was dead. His blind wife Helene was given charge over his estate. And his body was exhumed but nothing found.

“Fifty dollars and other valuable considerations. ..”

But what of the faithful servant Hugh McNeil?

Well, shortly after Helene was made administrix of the Degen estate, McNeil had her power of attorney signed over to him. Within twelve days of Francis’ death, Helene sold him the Belmore property for “the sum of fifty-dollars and other considerations.” Between March, 1890 and February 28th, 1891, Helene and Hugh dutifully took care of settling Francis’ estate.

By the time of his burial, the stock Francis held was worth $1,000.00. His land shares and mining shares were worthless. His deposits in Marble Bank amounted to $1,900.00 and he had a note owed him by W. L. Raht for $700.00. Without considering his furniture the estate amounted to $3,600.00. For the time, this was a comfortable sum of money (though not the $22,000.00 quoted by one newspaper of the day). Helene was declared sole heir of the entire amount.

Helene died March 6, 1891 at 91 Guernsey Street in Brooklyn, exactly one week after settling her husband’s estate. Her body was supposed to have been taken back to Florida for burial, but no records exist to indicate such a burial happened.

“Final discharge from said administration…”

According to newspaper reports written after her death, Helene and Hugh had come to New York hoping to get treatment for her lost eyesight. They apparently made several trips between Florida and New York in the months after Francis died. During one November trip Helene had a will drawn up.

This will of course left everything to McNeil. However, Helene never actually signed the will. The will was marked with an “X”. Her nephews, Eric and Frederick Rothgart contested the will in September of 1891. In early 1892, after several delays, witnesses came all the way from Florida to appear in the case.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 4 o’clock Edition, May 25, 1891

The first witness called to the stand was Bernard J. Douras, the attorney for the will. He testified that he drawn up the will for Helene at 195 Guernsey Street. Witnessing the will were George Wilson and Morris Barnett.

Mr. Douras was a friend of Hugh McNeil and met Helene through him. According to his testimony Helene wanted “Mac” to have all her property when she died. The will was signed on November 29, 1890. There is dispute about whether the witnesses actually saw her make her mark or if they were in a separate room at the time.

Mr. Douras further testified that Helene “had told him twenty-five times at least that “Mac” was entitled to her estate.” She also told him that Francis had reletives who accused her of having poisoned Francis. She had no relatives of her own, according to Mr. Douras, and she wanted everything to go to McNeil.

The case was decided in McNeil’s favor and the nephews filed an appeal in Clay County. The attorneys weren’t too interested in fighting hard for Bavarians who were on the other side of the world and the case didn’t make it much further. McNeil was the sole heir of the Degen estate.

Not only do we not know what happened to Helene’s body, we don’t know much about Hugh McNeil after this whole ordeal. The last record I have been able to find is an 1892 census record indicating the he lived in New York with a wife named Anne. No previous records indicate that he was married.

Was Anne a trophy wife for the 54 year old heir to a small fortune? Was Hugh a secret lover to Helene during the year they spent together in Rutland before traveling out to meet Francis in Utah? Did they plot Francis’ death together? Did he betray her and poison her into blindness? Did they poison Francis as is relatives suspected? Did McNeil trick the blind widow into signing her fortune to him, or did she still love him and the mark on the will was truly hers?

There are many unanswered questions. Perhaps some of Joseph Degen’s descendents can answer them. Anyone know a Degen? Maybe they know where Helene is. Maybe they know what happened to McNeil. Maybe they would want to restore the grave of Francis Marion Degen to its former glory.

We can only wonder…

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Adventures in Fathering

Four out of five, because it’s impossible to get them all together…

When you take over as a full time parent, people always seem to have expectations for your success or failure. Dads are particularly singled out with these expectations, but not in the way one might think. From what I have experienced, the male of the species is expected to do a lot less.

I get compliments all the time about my kids. I suppose I could just chalk it up to how good they really are, and beautiful, and smart. But most of the compliments seem to be aimed at me. But I am only half of the reason they are how they are, if that. Would people compliment my wife like that? Would they compliment her if she had to wrestle all five of them through a church service? They tell me I’m doing so well bringing them week after week, would they do the same to her?

The double standard seems to assume men aren’t as capable of parenting as women. Fathers are inept creatures, barely able to juggle one child, let alone five.

Frankly the assertion makes me laugh. Yeah, my kids are a handful. They are constantly moving, vibrating really, and sometimes they make noise at inopportune times. They treat me like a jungle gym. They stand firm in “no” and make me drag them by the leg into certain places. But it isn’t hard. It’s exhausting sometimes to be sure, but not “hard”.

I love them. I love the challenges they bring. I love watching them make connections and grow and learn. I love that they force me to be strong and active. I love that they ask complex questions and make me think. If I was not actively involved in their lives I dare say I would atrophy.

I pity the men out there who don’t have kids, or at least act like they don’t. I pity the men who don’t know their kids well enough to know what discipline works for what kid (hint: they are individuals, every one is different). I pity the men who never engage with their kids, physically or mentally, for they will grow olds quickly without the exercise.

Most of all I feel a bit grumpy towards the men who fit the stereotype of inept and aloof. They are the reason for so many misplaced compliments towards men like me. They are the reason I will get five compliments to every one my wife gets. They are the reason my kids never get told how awesome they are, everyone is too busy being surprised by me.

Next time you see a lone father (or mother) with well behaved (mostly) kids, compliment all of them.

They’ll appreciate it.

The Beautiful Life

“Expedition Happiness” Watch on Netflix. Or don’t.

Sometimes when I read blogs or watch documentaries all I can think is “How do these hipsters make it look so easy?”

I don’t know what kind of world these people live in, they are always young, always attractive, frequently childless, and always seem to have an endless stream of money. They seem more like fictional characters than real people. You have to wonder what they do for a living, are they ever stressed? Do they get bored? Do they fight? Where is the ugly in their life?

Sure, sometimes the bus breaks down, the visa gets denied, or the cake in the oven falls. But these people always seem to handle it with a smile. Or at the very least they look gorgeous while crying.

Well, that ain’t my life.

I get sick. Nothing productive happens for days at a stretch. My kids make giant messes, animals get into my trash, my trailer sometimes smells like something died in it.

People thrive on positive. We love comedy and run from tragedy. We live vicariously through these adventurers and beautiful hipsters. We don’t like our conventional lives, so we read about theirs and forget our problems for a bit.

But who’s to say your conventional life is ugly? Who’s to say you aren’t living a beautiful life, even if it isn’t quite the adventure these people seem to have? Life is a gift, even with its warts and wrinkles. Life is beautiful even with the sickness and the smells.

You don’t have to read blogs or watch fru-fru documentaries (both of which I do. Too much.) to enjoy a beautiful life. All you have to do is start enjoying yours.

Seasons

This is my third season.

In fire, we describe a firefighter’s experience level in terms of “seasons”. A typical season is six months long and can be quite arduous. Sometimes the season is busy and physically demanding, sometimes it is slow and mentally exhausting. Sometimes it is a bit of both.

This is my third season as a stay at home dad. So far I find that parenting is a lot like that as well.

My first season began in Truth Or Consequences, NM. My wife handed me the keys to our truck and trailer and said “don’t destroy our house.” She went off to fire boot camp and left me to find a camping spot for five kids, two cats, a dog, and me. I never felt so free and optimistic. I was newly unemployed, and she had no job prospects, but I felt like we were finally headed in a good direction.

That first season we stayed with family in Virginia. She worked 60 hour weeks and I battled family disagreements, juggled school and play, and tried to keep seven people fed well. It had its problems, but for the most part it was easy. I felt like I accomplished something. I felt that I had it under at least some control.

Then came the second season. After a fire season in New Mexico, we returned to our home in Florida. I now had to worry about more than just a couple rooms and a trailer. I had an entire house to care for. I stumbled. I failed. I succeeded in some, I completely missed the mark in others.

It wasn’t completely the role reversal we were going for, and I almost wonder if that is part of where the struggles came from. I still worked. I still tried to take on more than I could. I let some things slide and over focused on others.

I didn’t even realize my failures.

Now I am in my third season, the beginning clearly marked by a new living space and a stable schedule. I have only 200 square feet to care for, not nearly the same distraction as 1800. I have been given an opportunity to make a good season.

This is going to require focus and determination, two things which don’t come to me easily. I intend to learn in a small space what I couldn’t in the impersonal space of extended family’s houses or the “large” overwhelming space of an entire house. This tiny space doesn’t require too much work, unlike the tiny people in it. They are going to be a main focus this time in a way they weren’t in previous seasons.

If I can’t handle this, I definitely can’t handle a “normal” living quarters.

Fatherhood Perils

This is an old post I wrote years ago, I’m not sure I ever posted it anywhere, so here it is now, many years late but better than never!

Pulling a five year old off of my leg was a great start to my day. The tears, the whimpers, the “but I miss you”s. All are too much to handle. While I don’t agree to coddle every whim of my children, this is one anxiety that I will comfort. So what if I’m a little late? Work will wait, the growth of my children will not.

There are times when her professed love for me is nothing more than an attempt to stay awake a little longer, or to flatter me into giving her this, that, or the other. Children can be incredibly flattering when they want something. There is a genuine inborn unconditional love that children have for parents, and I don’t think it healthy to crush this love by constantly pushing them away. But there is also a natural inborn selfishness in every person that should be crushed with every opportunity. Distinguishing between these two is an art form every parent needs to practice.

Some days I feel incredibly guilty over my absence in the house. I wonder how good parenting (or at least good fathering) can be done in four hours a day. Somehow I doubt this was God’s intention for family life. One cannot adequately bring up a child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord in so few hours. But alas, God has put me where I am, and I am to do what I can with the little bit of time I have.

Absent fatherhood is an epidemic in this country. The most obvious type of father-absenteeism is single motherhood; the child simply does not know his father because the father is not there. Other well documented cases are the work-a-holic father or the father who spends his non-working hours at the bar, clubs, or golf course.

A less obvious occurrence is the working father who comes home to roost in his recliner and watch football, play on his computer, or involve himself in myriad hobbies. This father is not absent in the traditional sense, but being male he is focused on other things. Women may be “present” with their children while reading something on a screen, but in my experience men are not this adept with multiple stimuli.

Physical and mental absenteeism plague me with guilt. My long term goal is to work from home so that I can minimize physical absence from both spouse and children. However, this kind of work can easily lead to mental absence. If I over-focus my work around the house, shooing the kids away and losing my temper over the slightest disturbance, it may be better for them if I were working in an office somewhere.

I used to think that “being there” for my children meant playing with them. If I was not playing with them, or at least focusing on them and nothing else, I was “not there.” I quickly realized that this simply isn’t true. There is a time for play, but the bulk of life should be spent in diligent labor. To play with them all day would leave my house and garden in shambles. It would also give them the false impression that fun and playing are all there is to life, and work is something that should be boxed into as few hours as possible (think 40 hour work weeks).

They need to see me joyfully working. They need to see me careful to plan and prepare my labor, work steadily, with temper, and not worry when the work is not accomplished in the time I’m given. God gives us enough time in the day to accomplish exactly what He wants us to accomplish. If they see me wasting time in laziness or in hasty sloppy work it will not benefit them.

It is not absenteeism to be an example to one’s children. In fact, I would say it’s the opposite of absenteeism. The entire point of spending time with and around your children is to be an example to them. They will grow up being imitators of you, whether they are drinking beer and watching the game every night, or overworking themselves in the garden, cursing the cold, the darkness, and the lack of rain, or whether they are being good stewards of their time. You are the example they will follow.

Lately our eldest (the above mentioned five-year-old) has taken to “helping” at every instance. This is the perfect opportunity to be an example to her, even if it is just an example of patience at her mistakes. I am thankful for this opportunity to teach her in the short time I have.

She has also toned down on the early morning tear session. Now she is content to pray with me and tell me to “be careful. Take care of your friends, don’t get burned up” and other such words of wisdom.

Please be… Part 2

So many homemaker blogs tell wives that their job is to make their husbands feel respected, loved, and like he is the master of the home. They urge wives not to make him uncomfortable or expect much out of him since his life at work is so hard and stressful. They push a wife to stroke her husband’s ego. They care more about his feelings than his soul or his performance as a husband or father. This is the stuff that bugs me.

(I am not a fan of the crassness of the original post, and the use in my first post was just to make a point,  so I will refrain from it in this post since the point has been made. For part one click here: 

https://driptorchpress.wordpress.com/2017/01/10/please-be-a-butthole-wife/

Before I get a bunch of husbands mad at me, I do not advocate anyone be a jerk to anyone. I do not advise wives to rudely nag their husbands or husbands to nitpick their wives about burning dinner or not taking care of the dishes. 

The point I was trying to make is this: submission does not equal silence for either the wife of the believer or the wife of the non-believer. 

The believers wife is primarily a tool of sanctification in her husband’s life. She is iron on iron for him. She is a sister in Christ and as such she is a loving voice of correction to her brother. She is to be a gracious lover and a patient partner. If her husband is sinning it is her task to help him see it and kill it. 

I am a finite creature. I am unable to see all the sins that play in my life, I need my wife to show me my blind spots. It would be tremendously unloving for her to let me continue in my sin. 

Yes, it will be painful for a wife to confront her husband in his sin. It might hurt his feelings. I don’t think it’s painless when the elders of the church come to someone and call them out either, but it is their duty as brothers in Christ to do so.  

A lot of articles talk about being Christ to our spouse. But these articles typically only focus on “Jesus meek and mild”. Jesus is not a one dimensional character. He knew when to be gentle and He knew when to flip a table or two. He used gentle rebukes and He called people vipers. Christ exhibited incredible wisdom and discernment for us. We should learn to be like Him. For the sake of our spouse’s soul we should learn how to properly and lovingly rebuke sin. 

The role of the non-believers wife is one of a quiet sign pointing to the Gospel. Notice I said “quiet”, not “silent”. The Gospel is not sweet unless the Law is bitter, the husband of a silent woman is not going to taste the sweetness of the Gospel unless he knows there are boundaries that he has crossed. 

If she never sets up boundaries or expectations (which is what a lot of Christian marriage sites imply) he will never know he has sinned against her. Picture this: the non-believer husband goes to work and all of his coworkers are talking about their nagging wives (yes. This does happen . Shocking,  I know. ) Will he think to himself “Wow, my wife is great. She graciously takes care of everything, there must be something to  that Jesus she follows” or will he think “wow, my wife is a pushover, I have it made. I am awesome, these guys are losers.”?  Knowing the men I do it’s typically the second. 

Now, assume she doesn’t silently pick up after him and let him get away with being a slob day in and day out. Assume she sets up boundaries and asks him graciously to help her manage the household by doing little things like putting his laundry in the hamper. He knows “the law” so to speak. 

When he violates this “law” , she graciously forgives him and picks up after him. Now, his response to his coworkers is going to be “Wow, my wife is great, she is not a nag. I fail all the time to meet her needs and do the right thing, but she graciously forgives me and never speaks to me in anger about my failures. I wonder if it has something to do with that gospel she is always talking about.”

I hate to say it but the seeker-sensitive church culture has infiltrated marriage. The seeker-sensitive church doesn’t bring up sin. It doesn’t call anyone to repentance. It never challenges a soul with the Law of God before presenting the Grace of the Gospel. The seeker-sensitive church says “God loves you and has a plan for your life” and leaves it at that. Now that may fill up cushioned chairs (seeker-sensitive churches are also buttock sensitive, no pews there) and it may fill up the church coffers, but it is not winning souls or making converts. No one repents when they feel good about themselves. 

So many homemaker blogs tell wives that their job is to make their husbands feel respected, loved, and like he is the master of the home. They urge wives not to make him uncomfortable or expect much out of him since his life at work is so hard and stressful. They push a wife to stroke her husband’s ego. They care more about his feelings than his soul or his performance as a husband or father. This is the stuff that bugs me. 

I’m not saying “be a b hole and nag your husband about every wrong thing he does.” I’m saying establish boundaries and expectations and then graciously love him when he fails. 

Wives of believers: Don’t be a silent wife, speak up when your husband sins. Approach him with respect but boldness, be discerning with your words. 

Wives of non-believers: Win your unbelieving husband with your gracious forgiveness and unconditional love. Speak the Gospel with your actions and manners. 

Don’t be a *jerk. 

Please, Be A Butthole Wife

so-close
So close, yet so far away. And wow does that camera capture all the dirty spots…

I was going to write a second post about gender this week, but my wife sent this to me and it was just too much to not comment on: http://herviewfromhome.com/stop-being-a-butthole-wife/

While I understand her grief, and I even understand the sentiment about not being a nag, I just want to say: “Please, be a butthole wife.”

I say this as a husband who makes mistakes all the time, even ones he is completely unaware of. I say this as one very sinful man, living with an incredibly sanctifying and gracious woman. I say this as a man who often neglects to love his wife as he should: please, don’t let your husbands be big children. Be a butthole wife.

We are given spouses to sanctify us and shape us into the likeness of Christ, and we do that by being the iron to sharpen the iron of our spouse. Iron on iron. Not soft lead against cold steel. Not soft clay against a hard hand. We are to be one hard substance equal in strength and force to another.

Yes, there is grace, there are little battles and big battles. There are things we should just let slide for the sake of everyone’s sanity. But there are also times when we need to stand up and say “Hey, knock it off.”

If your husband is a slob, who after continually being asked (with politeness, not nagging) to please put his laundry in the hamper, continues to scrap it on the floor, he is not being Christ to you.

If he continuously ignores or downplays your needs in the bedroom and insists on getting sex whenever he wants, however he wants, he is not being Christ to you.

If your husband sits around after work and does nothing but drink beer and watch tv (or lock himself in his study to read theological tomes), he is not being Christ to you.

Your husband is a man, not a child, not a tender lump of flesh unable to withstand a little heat without charring. While he is not a child in age, he is still a sinner and a child of God. You are here to help him grow and become a better, more mature man. This means that he needs your reminders to love you in the ways you need love. If this means he needs to stop leaving his clothes all over the floor, by all means speak up.

Now, I’m not saying you take out a rolling pin and beat him about the head with it. I just get tired of reading books and blogs that insist that “submission” means rolling over and taking it. I get tired of reading so many blogs written for women (by women) telling them to let their husbands be lazy, narcissistic jerks, because “submission”.

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is Himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Ephesians 22-24 ESV)

Yes, wives are to submit. Yes, your husband is the head of the home. But he is not the center of the home. He is not the supreme king of the home. He is a delegated authority. He is given his own instructions:

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Ephesians 25-33 ESV)

In Ephesians, God dedicates three (and a half) verses to telling wives to submit, yet He takes eight and a half to explain to husbands how they must treat their wives. The proportion of blogs written to wives on this subject is grossly disproportionate to the posts written to husbands.

1 Peter 3 has a bit more to the wives, instructing them again to be submissive and respectful:

1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (1 Peter 3:1-6 ESV)

The husband only gets this verse, but it is packed with depth:

7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)

Your husband is called to love you as he loves himself, he’s called to love you as Christ loves the church, he’s called to live in an understanding way with you and honor you. If he does not follow these commands he is sinning.

Laundry is a small thing, dishes left out are a small thing, occasional acts of irresponsibility or forgetfulness are normal and should be given grace. But if a husband is asked multiple times to please be an adult and stop making a mess, I would argue these become big things. If a man cannot respect his wife in these little things, what big things is he missing?

Husbands, it is a small thing, you can do this, please, put your dirty underwear in the hamper. Put your dishes in the sink or wherever your wife asks. Better yet, learn how to do laundry and dishes. Honor and love and cherish your wife by not creating more work for her. Die to yourself and do hard things like putting the toilet seat down. Turn off the TV or put down the book and have a beer with your wife. Talk to her, listen to her, seek to understand every minute detail of her. Know her mind and heart intimately so that you can encourage and sanctify her with the Word and with your words and actions.

Wives, please, be butthole wives. Remind your husband with love and grace that he needs to love you in these small ways. Don’t let him get away with the sin of not loving you as Christ loves the church. Do your duty and be the iron of God in his life. Win him with your conduct, quiet, gentle, respectful, but still reminding him that he is under authority as well. Hide the remote occasionally. Hang a basketball net over the laundry basket (hey it worked for my mom and me). Take his hand during love making and help him explore you intimately. Remind him to do the little things as politely and sweetly as possible and let him be responsible for his ungracious eye-rolling.

Wives: don’t settle for a crap husband, be a butthole wife.

For part 2: https://driptorchpress.wordpress.com/2017/01/10/please-be-part-2/