Edward Blake Skinner

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Edward Blake Skinner with his mother Elizabeth “Bessie” (Watson) Skinner

This is my grandfather — my father’s father — Edward Blake Skinner. He was the first of four consecutive Edward Skinners, each with a different middle name.

Born in 1882 “on the kitchen table on the coldest day of the year” along with his fraternal twin, he grew up in Guelph, Ontario about 45 miles west of Toronto, Canada. Married in 1906, they lived in Hamilton, Ontario before moving to Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, New York and, later, Detroit, Michigan where he finished his working career for Sterling Drugs. On retirement and with his life-long wife Addie, they moved to Memphis Tennessee where they lived out their lives enjoying the warmer climate with his son, Edward Folland Skinner, and his family. EFS is my father and I was born in Memphis as was my son, the fourth Edward.

The names of male English royalty show up frequently in my family tree although to the best of my knowledge there is no direct connection. The given names George, Henry, Arthur and Edward are common among my Skinners.

Edward Blake Skinner, Ted to his friends, was said to be a “very proper gentleman” and, to the best of my memory, he always wore a tie. His honesty and integrity were impeccable in business as well as in personal relationships.

I distantly remember sitting in his lap as he read from a book. The scent of his pipe and, in particular, the tweed, wool jacket he must’ve been wearing come instantly to mind even today when I catch the scent of wool or the smoke of a pipe.

He wasn’t particularly demonstrative but, nonetheless, I knew I was loved. There was always something in his demeanor that communicated as much, and never anything to the contrary.

The middle names of each of the four Edwards seem to be most often drawn from the Mother’s family. In my case, Draper is my mother’s maiden name so I am Edward Draper Skinner. With my son, we followed the exact same pattern so his middle name is Dean. Folland, my father’s middle name, goes back to his fraternal grandmother, Catherine Folland.

But the source of my grandfather’s Blake is not the same. It is not a family name insofar as my researches have been able to find. Instead, the only clue we have is from a visit to Devon England my wife and I made a few years ago. I had taken a week of vacation after some business there and, on our holiday, traveled to the area near Barnstaple and Instow to visit graveyards, collect information that was still legible from headstones, and to explore the countryside from which my Skinners emigrated to Canada around 1855. Driving more or less at random one day near the tiny hamlet of Marwood whose church contains the remains of my direct ancestors, we came across some very old road markers directing us toward the Blake farm. We didn’t have time to follow up but, odds are, that Blake is probably my grandfather’s Blake.

Were the Blakes good friends as well as neighbors? Or perhaps there is a marriage between the families I have yet to discover?

Time passes. People pass. And memories fade and stories and reasons for things are almost always lost as well. Rare are those events that are remembered for centuries.

The best most of us can hope for is to make things a little better than they were before, and hopefully not much worse.

When I pass, I hope I’ll be able to sit down with my granddad and look over my life together. For the most part, I think he will nod his approval or, at least, his acceptance. And if reincarnation exists and we are to get a second chance, I think he will look at some events and say only, “I think you can do better,” and then leave it at that.

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