Background - Parents 002


My mother’s maiden name was Gertrude Birmingham.  She was a somewhat formal person who did not like nicknames.  While some people named Gertrude are called Gerty or some similar short name (I think my grandmother was called by that nickname), mother really hated any such name.  I am not sure who started it, but she did accept and seemed to like the name Trudy and that is the name I always heard my father use with her.  His name was Angelo Henry Cuneo, but he did not like the name Angelo that means Angel in Italian.  So he always used the name A. Henry Cuneo in business and throughout his life as far as I knew.  Mother and other adults in the family called him Harry.  But that all gets us a little ahead of this particular article.


Gertrude and Henry were on a boat to Alaska.  Henry was in plain clothes.  This means he was not wearing the traditional clothing of a priest.  As one may recall from an earlier article, he was a priest in the Franciscan order a group of Catholics who followed the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi.

"St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology, was a Roman Catholic saint who took the gospel literally by following all Jesus said and did.”

'Francis of Assisi was a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a mite of self-importance.

Serious illness brought the young Francis to see the emptiness of his frolicking life as leader of Assisi's youth. Prayer—lengthy and difficult—led him to a self-emptying like that of Christ, climaxed by embracing a leper he met on the road. It symbolized his complete obedience to what he had heard in prayer: "Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy.’”


My dad - Harry - was in the throes of at least an ethical crisis if not something even more profound.  Gertrude had recently had a close friend die on a mountain top, and had never recovered from her quarrel with the Catholic Church over her father’s burial.  Dad must have decided to resign as a priest at that time.  This was a momentous decision for him to make.  This meant he was excommunicated from the church.  The church condemned him to eternal damnation.  It was taken much more seriously then than it is in this day and age.  They met on the boat, apparently fell in love rather quickly. and got married.  I say apparently quite quickly because the boat would have gone from California to Alaska and back to California.  Mother lived in Colorado, but they were married in California.  At least I have always presumed thusly because mother did tell me that she and dad took a trip through the Redwoods in California.

The Redwoods are huge trees that are in what is now a national park.  I remember some photographs mother had of the Redwood forests.  They were on some sort of tour bus, and the tour bus drove through the tree in a space nature had made at the separation of two major roots of the tree.  That is how big the trees are in that area! 

Anyway, dad must have gone back to California, and let the church know his decision. The Church did not allow then, and still does not allow priests to be married.  So he would have had to sever his relationship with the church just after his return from Alaska (I think).  I am guessing, but I believe that they were married in 1927, 81 years ago.  Economic times were very hard during those years.  There was a depression.  Dad had been a teacher of ethics in a Catholic University.  He now had no job, he had no training for another job.  He had been excommunicated from the church.  Mother’s law firm would have been defunct I am guessing following the death of her friend.  They had some serious problems to face together.  They were not spring chickens either.  Mother was born in 1894 and Dad was born in 1895.  So mother was about 33 and dad about 32.  People that age usually have built up some assets by that time.  Mother may have had a small amount put aside, but certainly Dad would not have had much cash or other assets.


He went to family members – particularly my Uncle Len for help – for some financial assistance.  Uncle Len is what I always called him, but he was my father’s Uncle.  His name was Leonard Bossana, and I think he must have been my Grandmother’s brother, but I never got a clear picture of the relationships.  Anyway, Uncle Len who was a rather wealthy man married to a rather wealthy woman refused to help him at all.  In fact, the whole family was cold to him because he had left the church.  The tentacles of the church are strong.  As a matter of fact, Dad never broke loose from what he felt was the disdain others would feel if they learned he had left the church.  I think that is why he never talked to me about being a priest, or about what he had learned about the bible, or any of that kind of stuff.  He was afraid, I think, that because I was young, I would talk about his background, and the word would get out, and people would shun him or would take their business elsewhere if they were clients.  Society changed in their attitude toward priests who change jobs, but Dad never changed because the emotional scars were so deep.


Dad somehow was able to take some courses in accounting at Leland Stanford University, a prestigious university in California, but did not have the money to continue there for more course work as he would have liked to have done.  Mother who had actively done work in accounting was a dominant force in his accounting education.  Between Stanford and mother he became well versed in accounting procedures and practice.


Mother’s youngest sister (Muriel) lived with her husband (named Harry – so both dad and my uncle were called Harry by those in the family) in Kansas City, Missouri where he grew up.  She had met him and had married him while a student at the University of Michigan, the same school that mother had attended.  Both mother and dad were friendly with Aunt Muriel and Uncle Harry.  While Uncle Harry was just starting a law practice and could not materially contribute large amounts to their financial well being, I think they provided an emotional support which I am sure was greatly needed at this point in their lives.

So, mother and father migrated to Kansas City, Missouri where they settled and lived out their lives.  Mother had had some accounting courses and in fact had had accounting experience, and was able to do accounting work in Kansas City.  I do not know all the places she worked, but there was one business that hired her.  That was the Business and Professional Woman’s Club, a group of women who struggled against the vicissitudes of the times which women faced.  It was not a full time job, but she remained as their bookkeeper for many years.  Dad had a very difficult time finding work.  Partly, he had problems because it was depression times, and partly it was because he felt he could tell no one of his educational and work background.  He looked like a 32-year-old who had no work or educational experience.  Perhaps, it was once said by my mother, he looked like a man just getting out of jail who could not document his background.


In 1928, my sister, Lorna, was born.  Her birthday is March 4th.  I was born about 3 ½ years later in August of 1931.  My folks had very hard economic times during those years.  At some point, dad got a job with the WPA (Work Projects Administration) which was a group set up by the government to give people work and to help them and the country through the depression.  He was a timekeeper for the WPA.  Gradually he built a work history, and got jobs with accounting firms.  One such job took him to Mexico, which was a perfect fit for him since he spoke Spanish very well.  Remember he had been a priest in California in the missions there, missions which served the Spanish speaking population.  My parents told me that at one time they raised mushrooms in the basement of their residence, and then sold them around the neighborhood to raise some money on which to live.  Dad also made some wine at times, but I don’t believe he sold that to others.  I think that was purely for the consumption of Mother and Dad and company.