Hugh Skinner, 1807-1866, lived in Barnstaple, England where he listed his profession as glazier in the periodic census; he fitted glass into windows back before you could get one of those little glass cutting tools with tiny industrial diamonds at Home Depot, Menards or Lowes. But at age 47, with wife and eight children, he moved the family to Canada on board The Shepherd, a tall-masted sailing ship. During the crossing, a bad storm hit and the family savings was distributed to each member, children included, in case the ship sank and only a few survived. They were (legal) immigrants and, like many immigrants today, Hugh was looking for better opportunities for himself and his children. There was no government welfare but most had relatives and friends who had moved earlier and probably helped the newcomers.
George Henry Skinner, 1842-1920, was barely a teenager on board The Shepherd, the oldest son of Hugh and Catherine. Undoubtedly, he shouldered a lot of responsibility on board the ship and in helping re-start his parents, little brother and his sisters in Guelph, Ontario. Later and with a business partner, he started the Burr-Skinner Furniture Company in Guelph. In later years, George ran the retail store downtown. George and Bessie lived in Braeside, a quarried stone two-story home at the far end of Lyon Avenue. One of their sons, next in my lineage, says he was “born on the kitchen table on the coldest day of the year.”
Edward Blake Skinner, 1882-1968, survived that chilly morning unlike some of his siblings. That’s the way it was back then. Ted, as he like to be called, worked more than four decades for Stearns Drug Company and made it up to the position of Assistant Sales Manager. Asked why he never became Sales Manager, he said he always declined because the previous holders rarely lasted more than a couple of years. In 1904, Edward moved his wife and son south across the border to Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. The family would grow by one, a daughter, while there. The kids attended public schools before his work would necessitate a move to Detroit. There, his two kids finished High School and then college during the Great Depression.
Edward Folland Skinner, 1903-1997, was born in Hamilton Ontario, not far from Guelph. He was a 9 month old infant when his parents moved to Brooklyn. He would be Naturalized, the first US Citizen in my Skinner lineage. In the depression, his diary mentions driving a truck with no windshield in the Michigan winters as well as a taxi cab. He earned his medical degree at Wayne State College in Detroit in 1936, one year after marrying my mother. He began his practice at local hospitals. In the mid 1940s, his father retired from Stearns Drug and the decision was made to move to a warmer climate. My father and his family along with my grandfather and his wife, moved to Memphis TN where two homes were mortgaged and eventually paid in full. My grandparents lived modestly on their savings and retirement income from Stearns — there was no Social Security then. I have little doubt that my father also helped. That’s what families do.
Edward Draper Skinner, 1948-?, is me. I was born and educated in Memphis but moved my own family, when our time came to make our place in the world, to Phoenix Arizona. I wrote software for several companies before finding my passion, teaching which would take me many places in the world. We made our home in Phoenix, paid off its 30 year mortgage, supported churches and charities, and helped our kids earn their college degrees. When I retired at the end of 2014, we started receiving back some of the Social Security taxes we had dutifully paid into the system for forty-five years, and supplement that with the savings and investments we made on our own. My story is incomplete but the main portion of it is clear.
Edward Dean Skinner, 1971-?, is my son. His story has quite a ways to go but, even so, some things are readily obvious. He works hard as have all his Skinner ancestors. He understands that you deserve only what you earn. While gifts are nice — we’ve all enjoyed them across the generations — it’s what you make of your own life that matters. He has struggles as have we all. None of us have had a free ride. And none of us can see what is ahead. And he, like all of his ancestors, are the better for not knowing.
Uncertainty is a strong motivator.
Hugh did not know if they would survive crossing the Atlantic in a sailing ship but they took the risk to build a better life.
George made furniture, ran a factory, then a retail store and, through those struggles, defined a life and successfully launched another generation.
Edward Blake moved to New York and then to Detroit and grew a family through the Great Depression. No doubt the uncertainty of those times was a strong influence on his careful approach to life.
Edward Folland, brought up in that same mindset, shed it when times changed, raised a healthy, strong family, and in one of the strange quirks of life that are seen initially as bad but ultimately prove to be of exceptional benefit, passed nothing or his eventual wealth to his children except his strength, determination, example and love.
Edward Draper, that’s me, and Edward Dean is my son but our stories are unfinished. We will leave it to future generations to say.
But I know this.
It is the work, the struggle, the effort of making something of life that defines us. Our family of origin gets us started and then the family we create and especially our children become our raison d’être, our reason for being.
If life had not pushed back, none of us would have accomplished what we did. Hugh, George, Edward Blake, Edward Folland, Edward Draper and Edward Dean have all had to figure out how to make their lives work. None of them fell into it with ease. The meaning they each found was discovered only through struggle.
It is the struggle, therefore, that makes a life.
The America we know today didn’t happen overnight — it didn’t happen in a generation — it didn’t happen in a lifetime. It has taken more than 200 hundred years of struggle to build what you and I now often take for granted.
It is not free.
It was earned.
And to earn it, you must struggle.
Life is supposed to be a struggle. It is not intended to be easy. Purpose, meaning and joy will not be found in an easy chair, in a welfare check or in a free meal.
For those plugged into and dependent on the welfare system, I tell you honestly and with great compassion, you are being screwed.