Family History and Early Childhood


Professor Christopher N. Geary and motherEach person has a story, and some of the chapters are written many years before we are born. Years ago I became interested in learning more about my ancestors. I’ve talked with my relatives and done some library research to find out as much as possible. As a sign of respect for those who came before me, I will begin this book by summarizing what I’ve learned about both sides of my family. Then I’ll describe some events from my early childhood in Des Moines.

My great, great, great, great-grandfather on my father’s side was named Isaac Geary. According to Indiana’s 1830 Census Index (the earliest census recorded in Indiana), Isaac Geary (misspelled “Gary” in the census records) was born around 1812 or 1813. His son, James L. Geary, was born in 1831 and was also listed in the 1830 Indiana Census. My great, great-grandfather (son of James L. Geary) was William R. Geary, and he was born in 1859. (I found out about William from a book called An Index to Indiana Naturalization Records Found in Various Order Books of the Ninety-Two Local Courts Prior to 1907.)

My great-grandfather, Wallie E. Geary, was born in 1895 in Sac City, Iowa. Wallie was employed as a farm laborer. He died on January 2, 1970, and was buried at the Nemaha Cemetery in Nemaha, Iowa. In 1920 Wallie was married to Clara Jacobson (of Lake View) at Newell, Iowa. Their son Gerald D. Geary, my grandfather, was born in Newell, Iowa, on February 11, 1924, about 60 miles east of Fort Dodge, Iowa. Gerald moved to Fort Dodge in 1947, and he died there on September 22, 2000. His wife’s maiden name was Mary M. Tuft, and she was born in 1929 in Cherokee, Iowa, about eight miles northeast of Fort Dodge. Mary died in 1987 in Fort Dodge. Both Gerald and Mary are buried at the North Lawn Cemetery in Fort Dodge. Gerald and Mary had a son, Dennis E. Geary, who would become my father. Dennis was born on June 27, 1950, and he had two younger sisters, Debra and Diane, both of whom have passed away.

Lord familyOn my mother’s side of the family, my great, great grandfather was Clayborne Coleman Teater. My great-grandfather, John French Teater (Clayborne’s son) was born on May 9, 1903, and died in 1949 in an automobile accident. John was married to Anna Margaret Lord (the little girl standing at the left in the photo). Pictured with Anna in this 1908 photo are her brothers Earl and Robert, standing; brother Stanley, seated on their Grandmother Brown's lap; and sister Ruth, standing at right. Anna Margaret Lord was born on April 22, 1905, so she was about 3 years old in this photo. She died in 1982. John and Anna's son (my mom’s father) was named Harold Lord Teater. Harold was born on September 8, 1928, and raised on a farm in Wayne County, near Chariton, Iowa. As a child, Harold attended school at a one-room country schoolhouse. His family moved into Chariton when he was about 15 years old, and he attended high school there. Upon graduation he went into the Navy, where he served for two years.

My grandmother on my mother’s side, Patricia Maye Miller, was born on May 31, 1931, and raised in Dalhart, Texas. Patricia’s grandfather was named George Muller, but his last name was changed from Muller to Miller when he came over to the U.S. from Germany. George was married to Mary Anne Bussanmus, and their son, John Henry Miller, was born in Howells, Nebraska, on January 5, 1897, and died on April 6, 1979, in Dalhart, Texas. John was married to Esther Mary O’Mara, who was born on September 2, 1899 in Eddyville, Nebraska. She died in an automobile accident on March 16, 1968 during a trip to New Mexico. John and Esther’s daughter Patricia (my grandmother) graduated from high school at age 16 and attended college in Chillicothe, Missouri. While Patricia was in college she met my grandfather, Harold L. Teater. She moved to Des Moines, Iowa, in 1948, and she and my grandfather were married on September 3, 1949, at St. John’s Basilica in Des Moines. My mother, Belinda Sue Teater, was born on May 2, 1951, in Des Moines, Iowa.

7705 Roseland Drive, Des Moines IowaMy mother told me that she was introduced to my father by her lifelong friend Dave Larson. When I asked her what my father was like, she said, “He let on to make people believe that he had a whole lot of money. He would always talk about his father who was a doctor in Denver.” But as it turned out, he wasn’t from a wealthy family, and his father wasn’t a doctor. Dennis had grown up in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and his father still lived there, most likely working as a linotype operator at The Messenger in Fort Dodge. My father told my mother the truth just before the Christmas that they were to be married. When I asked my mother why she was still willing to marry him after finding out that he had lied to her, she simply said, “I wanted to be a bride.” They were married on June 27, 1970, on my father’s twentieth birthday. As a wedding gift, my mother’s parents bought them a houseful of furniture and allowed them to move into a duplex that they owned at 7705 Roseland Drive in Des Moines. This duplex was supposed to provide a home for us while the other part of the duplex would be rented out as a source of income. By the time I was born, my father had already moved out of the duplex. My mother told me that he tried to move back in after I was born, but she had told him to “get out of here.”

I was born at Mercy Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, at 5:44 a.m. on June 8, 1971. I don’t remember much about my early childhood in Des Moines. Years ago, my mother showed me a couple of places where we had lived during the early to mid-1970s, but my memories from that time are very hazy.

My father, Dennis, told me that he joined the Air Force when he was 19 and almost graduated from boot camp but was released on a medical discharge for having a bad asthma attack. He said that he went into the Air Force for schooling (as most people do) but always respected the infantry (referring to people in the Marine Corps). He remembers changing my diapers and feeding me just after I was born. When I was about 8 or 9 months old, my father remembers going to my grandparents’ house to pick me up for a day when his parents were visiting me in Des Moines. My father told me that he and my mother were married for almost two years and divorced in May of 1972 after 23 months of marriage. He said that the marriage started off okay but after the first year it started falling apart. He said that he thought things might change after I was born, but they never did. He thought the divorce came from a lot of immaturity on both sides, saying that he and my mother were very young when they were married. He told me that he stayed in Des Moines for about six months after my parents divorced because he wanted to be around me. He said he worked, but he couldn’t remember what he did for a living. He told me that he remembers babysitting for me at an apartment complex a couple of times, but he remembers most of the time picking me up at the house of my mother’s parents.

Years later, he told me that he had moved from Des Moines back to Fort Dodge after he and my mother divorced, and he worked as a bartender in Fort Dodge for about a year and visited me a couple of times in Des Moines. Then he moved to Phoenix, Arizona, and worked at a lumberyard until 1975. After that, he moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, married his second wife, and they got divorced in 1981. He moved back to Phoenix after his second marriage ended. He lived there until 1988 when the lumberyard closed, then moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, and lived there until 1990. (While my father was living in Salt Lake City, I went out to visit him for a week in the summer. That visit was my first contact with him that occurred when I was old enough to remember it.) Next, he moved back to Phoenix and lived there until 2000. Then he moved back to Las Vegas and lived there until January of 2005, when he moved back to Phoenix. He mentioned that he has worked in the building material industry ever since his move from Fort Dodge, Iowa, over thirty years ago. When he told me about these events in his life, he forgot to mention that throughout the years he had been in and out of prison. (For example, he served time in a prison in Great Falls, Montana.)

My mother remembers being in serious pain when she was pregnant with me. She said she threw up every day for about the last six months of her pregnancy. One day she opened a can of tuna and the smell made her feel sick to her stomach. She said she couldn’t eat tuna for about ten years after giving birth to me because the smell reminded her of the morning sickness, and it was a long time before she could eat or cook any type of meat.

By the end of her pregnancy, my mother was feeling very lonely. She told me that my father was out of town and couldn’t be reached when she went into labor. She said, “My parents were visiting me in the hospital for a while, but they felt that it wasn’t their place to be there” for the birth. My mother believes that her parents probably spent most of their time trying to get in touch with my father to notify him that I was about to be born. My mom was 20 years old when she gave birth to me. She told me, “All that I remember is them saying, ‘It’s a boy,’ and then you urinated all over the nurse.” She thought that it was pretty funny and a good payback for all of her labor pains.

My mother had four sisters and no brothers. As it turned out later, she would be the only one in her family to have a boy. Some of her sisters had babies, but they had girls. (In my generation, my sister Holly is the first one to have a baby, and her child is also a girl.) When my mother found out that I was a boy, she remembers thinking, “What am I going to do?” She was worried that she wouldn’t know how to take care of a boy. Also, she remembers counting parts (making sure that I had all of my fingers and toes, etc.). She felt relieved that I was healthy, and she was glad that the labor was over.

I was healthy most of the time when I was growing up, but one time when I was about a year old I got very sick. My mother thinks I had some kind of viral infection, and my grandmother believes it was spinal meningitis. My mother knew a lady whose child was the same age and who got sick at the same time. The other child had the same symptoms that I was having, but she died. My grandmother remembers my stepfather Galen sitting with me in the hospital. She said, “I remember that there was another child that had the same thing at the same time and we were all very nervous because people die from it.”

My mother remembers her marriage to Dennis as having been rocky from the beginning. She told me that my father lied to her all of the time, spent money that he didn’t have, and was always in debt. She said, “He would get post office boxes to cover his bills so they wouldn’t go to the house.” He pawned her jewelry, and he would go out of town, telling her he was on business trips. She said, “It never dawned on me that he was also fooling around until I learned that a friend of my parents mentioned seeing him with someone else. My parents never told me about it until years later.”

My Grandmother Teater told me that she thought my father was a con artist. She said, “He and your mother went to Grand View College (in Des Moines) at the same time, and he was very attentive to her and was sending her flowers all of the time. She had never had a boyfriend send her flowers all of the time. They were going to quit school to get married, and they did. He quit his job, and he did some bad things like selling Belinda’s car and taking the money and selling her jewelry. He went to Harold’s office one day and said, ‘Where’s my office?’ And Harold said, ‘What do you mean?’ He replied, ‘Well, I’m your son-in-law and I want to work with you.’ And Harold said, ‘What do you know about construction?’ He replied, ‘Well, nothing, but you’re going to teach me.’ Harold said, ‘No, I don’t have time for this. I will see if I can get you a job through a friend, but you’ll have to start at the bottom and work your way up.’ He said okay, but he didn’t really want the job because he wanted to work in the office. But Harold got him a job with a friend in the construction business, and his job was just to clean up but he didn’t like cleaning up after everybody. He faked an asthma attack and went to the hospital and was able to quit his job because it wasn’t safe for him to be outside.” I asked her why she thought that he was faking the asthma attack, and she told me, “They did tests at the hospital, and the doctor said that he didn’t have an asthma attack. So we kind of figured he did that because he didn’t want to do that kind of work.”

She went on to say, “Harold got him another job, but every job that he had, he quit or something was wrong. He did quite a number of bad things, like one time Harold said that he could charge his gas on our account (this was before credit cards) and not only was he buying gas but tires, car washes, and tune-ups and doing all kind of things that he didn’t have permission to do. Then Harold got him another job at an overhead door company learning how to work on garage doors. So they gave him a truck because he was an assistant or something. Well, one of the things that he did was, he was in cahoots with one of the gas station attendants. For example, they would say that they put in 20 dollars’ worth of gas but would only put in 10 and then split the rest of the money. I also remember him getting a loan at the bank and using Harold’s name as a co-signer; well, the bank called after a while and said, ‘Harold, you are delinquent on your loan.’ He said, ‘What loan?’ He went down and paid it off and told them, ‘Please call me if someone gets a loan using my name as a co-signer.’ Then your father got caught doing that; he was determined not to work for money.” Then she remembers he just disappeared a couple of months later (when I was about two or three months old) and no one knew where he was. He was heading downhill because he wanted everyone to give him something for nothing.”

1842 Crest Manor Apartments, Des Moines IowaThe duplex on Roseland Drive would be the first home that I would live in after coming home from the hospital. After my parents had been married for about eighteen months, my mother and I moved into an apartment building (1842 Crest Manor Apartments) in Des Moines. It was in this apartment that my mother gave me a nickname that would last throughout the years. She called me “Boom” or “Boomie” because when I was learning to walk I kept falling down. My mother would say “Boom!” each time I fell (usually on my face).

During that time, my mother met a man named Galen C. Slye. He was working at the Armstrong Tire Company while my mother was going to cosmetology school to become a hairdresser. My mother met Galen through one of the girls in her class, who happened to be Galen’s sister-in-law. After they got married, we moved to Indianola, Iowa, the small town where he lived. We lived in Indianola for about a year. My half-sister Holly was born when I was about eighteen months old.

As a child I always thought of Galen’s parents as my grandparents, and some of my fondest memories are of visits to their farm. Galen’s father, Virgil L. Slye, was born in 1913 in Syracuse, Nebraska. Galen’s mother, whose maiden name was Mildred M. Irons, was born in Palmyra, Nebraska, in 1919. They were married in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1941 near the beginning of World War II. Virgil did not have to serve in the war because he was a farmer. Virgil and Mildred milked cows, and in 1943 they moved to a farm in New Virginia, Iowa, where some of their friends had moved earlier because the pastures in that area were better for dairy cows. Virgil worked for Firestone for about thirty years before his retirement. He died in 1989 of lung cancer.

Virgil already had a daughter when he married Mildred, and he and Mildred had four children together. Galen was born in 1945, the same year that World War II ended. When he was 18 he enlisted in the Navy, and he served in the Navy from 1963 to 1966. Galen had a daughter before he married my mother, so Holly was his second child.

My mother and Galen were married for about five years before getting divorced. My mother told me that she thinks Galen went into the marriage with the idea that she should stay at home cooking and cleaning, but she wanted more out of life. Galen always treated me well. In fact, sometimes I got the feeling that he wished I could have been his real son instead of his stepson. Galen remembers that I always wanted to go camping, and I liked my Big Wheel. He said I always liked animals, and I liked to visit the cows whenever we went out to his parents’ farm. I loved going out to the farm. Galen said that one time my sister and I were so excited about going out to the farm the next day that we decided to get a head start and walk there by ourselves. The distance to the farm was much too far for us to walk, but we were too young to realize it. We waited until the middle of the night and then packed our bags and went out and started walking down the street together. A police officer found us and brought us home.

I always thought of that farm as a magical place, like another world, and it’s like a blur in my mind. I remember going out to a pond that seemed to be far away from the house. When I was a few years older I remember going out to the farm and shooting tin cans off the fence with my BB gun. My mother would never allow me to take the BB gun home with me, and I had to leave it at the farm.

My family moved back to Des Moines when I was about three or four years old. We lived in what I have called throughout the years “the white house” simply because of its color. The house was on the south side of Des Moines near the airport. I remember that the house was a ranch style. We lived there for about three or four years, but it seemed to be a lot longer because that’s the time when my earliest memories were formed.

One of my earliest memories from that time is about something that happened when I was maybe four or five years old. I woke up early one morning and sat up in bed wanting to get up to watch cartoons or something. I thought I saw something sitting in a chair. As I remember, it was the outline of something sitting. I remember lying there for a very long time being very still and thinking that the boogey man would get me if I got out of my bed and my feet touched the floor. I finally solved the problem by jumping off my bed and letting my feet touch the floor for just a second before jumping onto the carpet in the hallway and running to safety. I knew that whatever it was could only get me if I was in my room. I had a good imagination as a child, and my mother remembers that every year at Halloween I wanted to dress up as Superman. I also loved watching the original Batman show on TV. I vaguely remember that one time the power went out right before the show started, and I was upset to miss the show.

I’m sure I had plenty of good times during my childhood, but my most vivid memories seem to involve traumatic events. For example, when I was very young I remember riding my Big Wheel across a busy street to play at the schoolyard. A motorcyclist hit the side of my Big Wheel and I went spinning across the street. I don’t even think that I knew what hit me. The driver just kept going, not stopping to see if I was okay. I remember being pretty shaken up from that event. I don’t think I told anyone about it because I knew I would get into trouble for driving around in the street.

My mother remembers that I was a quiet child who was shy around adults. My sister always seemed to be running away from home and running out in the yard naked because she could never have her way and needed constant attention. I remember my mom having both of our stomachs pumped because one of us had eaten a bottle of baby aspirin and she didn’t know who had done it. Years later, I asked my mother who had eaten the pills and she replied, “You tell me!”

A couple of years later, I remember an incident when my friend and I were playing with matches in the basement of that house. I believe we were taking lint from the dryer, putting it on a table and setting it on fire. I was getting bored with that, so I decided to make it more interesting by putting the dryer lint into an empty box of laundry detergent and then lighting the whole thing. All of a sudden things got a lot more exciting as the fire got out of control and almost burned the house down. The smoke from the fire was so bad that it went up into the vents and stained the walls that had just been painted in the rest of the house.

One morning my sister and I washed Mom’s brand new black Camaro with steel wool pads as a surprise for her. She had just been divorced from Galen, I believe, and she had bought this car as a treat to herself for getting out of another bad marriage. Needless to say, she was very surprised to see her new car with scratches all over it and no money left to get it fixed. The car was so new that it still had the “in transit” papers taped inside the windows.

My mother Belinda, December 1977When I was about five years old I remember breaking a glass mirror and cutting my left knee pretty badly but being afraid to tell my mom because I didn’t want to get into trouble. I remember getting into the back seat of the car and riding to school in a lot of pain. I think my plan was to go to school and say that I had done it there so that I wouldn’t get into trouble for breaking that mirror at home. Well, I got to school and the school nurse called my mother and told her, “You need to come and pick Christopher up and take him to the hospital, because his knee is cut up pretty bad.” My mom was at work, and she probably thought I had fallen on the playground and scraped my knee. She said something like, “Can’t you just put a Band-Aid on it?” The nurse told her to come and get me because the cut was really bad. When I say “bad,” I mean I had about two or three inches of skin hanging off the rest of my knee. When my mother saw it, she just about freaked. I ended up going to the hospital and getting stitches while she was throwing up in the next room. I remember talking to the doctor and watching him as he stitched me up. To me, it was no big deal.

My mother was dealing with these types of things from two kids, working to support us with no child support coming in from two ex-husbands. She was exhausted from working all the time. She told me, “I worked my butt off because we had to have a paycheck. And then I would come home and it was ‘I need money for this and that’ from you kids, and there was never enough money. Life is very hard for a single mom.”

One of the last things that I remember from the time when we were living in Des Moines was meeting my future stepdad, Eric G. Barntsen. He had met my mother when they were working at IMT Insurance Company. I remember Eric standing in our driveway and telling me, “Just give me a call sometime if you don’t have anyone to play with or just need someone to talk to.”

In 1978 my mother sold the house in Des Moines and the two of us moved to Omaha, Nebraska, because Eric had found a job there. By that time, my sister was living with her dad, Galen, so she didn’t move to Omaha with us.

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