The Early Years: 1914 – 1942 Dad was born September 9th, 1914 in Lubec, Maine, the second child and first son of Frank and Elizabeth Keegan Rier. He had an elder sister Marion. As the years went by, Dad had four brothers: Francis (“Babe”), Julian (“Barney”), Paul, Raymond and three more sisters: Evelyn, Patrica and […]
Dad is on page 32 at the bottom of the page. Eugene Rier. Nickname: “Dan.” Favorite saying: “Jumping gracious.” A.A. 1,2,3,4; Latin Club 2,3,4; Freshman Reception Committee 2; Senior Supper Committee 4; Vice President 2,3; Dramatic Club 1,2; Junior Exhibition 3; Athletic Play 3; Class Will 4.
“Here is the prize fighter of the class and that’s not all: He is the life of the class, as well as a certain dark haired Dixie Bell. How about it Dan? May lady luck be with you in the future.
Another graduation photo of Dad in 1934.
As far as my grandmother was concerned Dad’s name was Eugene James Rier. When his birth certificate was registered, the names were written backwards, James Eugene, corrected with an arrow. When Dad entered the military, he was told the arrow didn’t count. He became James Eugene, but was called Gene throughout his life.
My paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Keegan Rier was born in Trescott, Maine, September 15th, 1892. I never knew the names of her father and mother except to know that her maiden name was Keegan. Grammy told me that her mother died when she was about four years old and she had no memory of her. I could not imagine what it would be like to lose your mother as a little girl, and wondered how her father had raised her. I never knew the name of all of Grammy’s siblings. She talked about two sisters, Mary who lived in Leominster, Massachusetts, and Theresa, who lived in Boston.
According to the 1910 census, one Keegan family lived in Trescott. James Keegan was the head of household, had four daughters and one son who lived with him, but had no wife. Two daughters matched the names of Grammy’s sisters, Theresa (spelled Tresa in the census) and Mary. The son was named James E which may be James Eugene, my father’s name.
Where is Grammy? She would have been 17 or 18 years of age at the time. Grammy told me that she had only completed school through the third grade as she criticized her own penmanship writing letters. Her writing was meticulous, but I sensed that Grammy was self conscious about her lack of education. My Uncle Barney said that Grammy went to work in the Lubec sardine industry as a young girl to help support the family. I searched the 1910 Lubec census and found Lizzie Keegan (her nickname) age 17. She is listed as a domestic servant in the household of Henry and Ella Godfrey at 18 Summer Street, Lubec. There are two boarders and another domestic servant in this home. In 1910, Grammy was working for a family and lived in Lubec. She probably worked in the sardine industry too, work she enjoyed into her 80s.
I note that the eldest daughter of James Keegan, Winnefred, age 23, is listed in both the Trescott and Lubec census. Winnefred was a domestic servant in another Lubec household, the Trecartin family.
I don’t know why Grammy never talked about her brother and sisters, except Theresa and Mary. Perhaps they moved away and she was disconnected from them or they died before I was born and didn’t hear their stories. My father is likely named for her one brother. Her sister Katherine is listed as the same age as Grammy but I doubt they were twins or I would have heard about it, perhaps they were only a year apart, and Grammy turned 18 in September of 1910 after the census.
I searched for the burial site of James Keegan and found his grave at the Chapel Hill Cemetery in Trescott. He was born in 1847 and died in 1927 at the age of 80. He is the son of James Keegan, my great great grandfather who first came to Trescott from Ireland.
From his gravestone, I learned the name of his wife, my great grandmother, Margaret Murray Keegan, date of death 1897. Their eldest daughter, Winnefred died in 1918 at the age of 31, was buried with her parents. It was the year of the great flu pandemic that killed millions of people worldwide, but I do not know if flu was the cause of her death.
Now I must document my Keegan ancestors using vital records. I found Grammy Rier’s birth certificate although she was not yet named. This verifies that she is indeed the 5th child of James and Maggie Keegan, born September 15th, 1892 in Trescott, Maine. James Keegan’s occupation was farmer. I’ll bet he had a fine Irish root cellar in his home.
I found the death certificate for Maggie (Margaret) Keegan. She died May 21, 1896 at age 38. Cause of death: Pneumonia/Bronchitis. Place of birth: St John, New Brunswick. Gravestones and websites are not always correct.
Grammy Rier lived with us in Machias at the home of my maternal great grandparents every winter when I was growing up. She taught me how to knit mittens when I was barely 10 years old. I can still smell her bread, hot from the oven. Her bedroom was at the end of the hall, close to mine. As I drifted off to sleep, Grammy whispered the rosary, kneeling beside her bed. “If you don’t finish the rosary and drift off to sleep, the angels will finish for you,” she told me.
Grammy died in April 21st of 1985 in Lubec at the home of her son Barney and his wife Rebecca, just months from her 94th birthday. I still miss her.
I celebrate her life.
This photo was in Grammy Rier’s box of photos. I assume it is one of school children in Trescott or Lubec, perhaps early 1900s from the clothing. Can anyone identify the school, the time period, or any of the children?
The girl sitting in the front row in a dark colored dress, 4th from the left, looks a bit like my niece when she was young.
Photo below circa 1927. Grammy Rier (Elizabeth Keegan Rier) is in the middle with her eldest children, Marion on the left, and Dad (James “Gene” Rier) on the right. Aunt Marion would be about 14 years old here. Could the young school girl be Marion four years or so earlier? It’s a mystery as yet…
Update: I now know that my grandparents Frank and Elizabeth Rier married in 1911 in Leominster, MA and lived there until about 1925. If the photo date is around 1902, then it’s possible the little girl who looks familiar is my grandmother (born 1892), or a sister.
The Early Years: 1914 – 1942
Dad was born September 9th, 1914 in Lubec, Maine, the second child and first son of Frank and Elizabeth Keegan Rier. He had an elder sister Marion. As the years went by, Dad had four brothers: Francis (“Babe”), Julian (“Barney”), Paul, Raymond and three more sisters: Evelyn, Patrica and Carolee. In all, Grammy had 10 children. A younger brother, Louis, was born premature and did not survive long. Dad remembered burying the baby in a shoebox in a cemetery in Leominster, MA where they lived when he was young.
Grammy Rier told me that she never intended to have children and was surprised when she was pregnant with Marion soon after her marriage to Frank. “The doctor told me to nurse the baby so I wouldn’t get pregnant right away. It didn’t work. Your father was born little more than a year later.” Grammy had her babies at home in her bed. Sometimes the doctor arrived. Sometimes Frank delivered the baby.
Grammy was a staunch Irish Catholic. I have no idea why she thought she wouldn’t have any children. I could not imagine life without all my uncles, aunts and nearly 40 cousins, most lived in Lubec.
When Dad was little, there was no pretense to dress boys and girls differently, or to cut boy’s hair short. As a toddler, Dad wore dresses and had long, flowing, black hair. “Mother said my hair was too thick and beautiful to cut,” Dad explained.
Dad (R) with his sister Marion (L). Isn’t that a necklace on Dad?
L to R. Frank and Elizabeth Rier in front of the Rier garage in Lubec. Grammy is holding the newest baby boy (Paul) beside Marion and Dad who sported pants and a hair cut by now. Frank looks so much like my Uncle Raymond, the youngest son in the family, it is stunning.
Dad’s education was intermittently interrupted. When he was about eight years old, he became very ill with scarlet fever and spent a year at home recovering. Later, he was often kept home to help his father in his garage and care for his many younger brothers and sisters. As the eldest child, Dad had a lot of responsibility from early in his life. His father was an auto mechanic and talented artist painting and detailing cars. “He could run a line down the side of a car free handed. It was always perfect. I’ve never seen anyone paint like that ever again in my life,” Dad told me.
High School Years
Dad graduated from Lubec High School when he was 19 years old. He had missed a lot of school growing up so he was older than most students. That didn’t stop him from attaining a perfect score in math (100%) he told me. Dad liked to build (and fix) anything. When he was 20 years old, he and his best friend Bud McCaslin built a futuristic car in his father’s garage. From Dad’s stories, he and Bud enjoyed playing pranks now and again. They hooked up a train whistle to a car, hung out by the railroad tracks, blew the loud whistle just as a car crossed the tracks, scaring the bejeepers out of the driver of said car.
Dad’s first serious girlfriend was Rose. Mom used to tease Dad about Rose. Evidently, Rose ditched Dad and he was bereft until he met my mother, Louise Johnson, one day in downtown Machias. He said he knew then and there she would be his wife. But, that goal took some time. Mom’s mother Harriet at first objected to Dad. He was from Lubec and a family of little means, and not likely to succeed in life. Harriet went to visit the Rier family for the purpose of investigation and fell in love with the Riers herself. In the years ahead, Harriet would visit my grandmother to sit for a day, taste the bread hot from the oven, and enjoy the hubbub of all the children.
In 1940, Dad accompanied Mom and Harriet to the World’s Fair in NYC. Dad was their escort. Most of one family scrapbook is dedicated to the sights they saw and the memories they made there.
Dad took a photo of the two of them in front of a warped mirror…
One of the highlights was the precision formation flying exhibitions. Dad was entranced. Then and there he decided to become a pilot. That dream would be fulfilled. In 1942, he joined the US Army Air Corp, went to boot camp in Texas, was assigned to Stewart Field in Newburgh, NY, and trained as a flight instructor. Mom was still living and working in Portland. They decided to marry.