Family Skeletons: A Spunky Missouri Genealogist Traces A Family's Roots...And Digs Up A Deadly Secret

BOOK: Family Skeletons: A Spunky Missouri Genealogist Traces A Family's Roots...And Digs Up A Deadly Secret
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Title Page

Copyright Notice



Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

A Veiled Antiquity

St. Martin's Paperbacks Titles by Rett MacPherson



“In 1942, my father marched off to war and never came back.” Handing me a photograph from her overly stuffed purse, she continued, “His mother was French, I think.”

“Mrs. Zumwalt, I don't really have time right now, with the festival and such, to take on any more projects. Besides, this really sounds more like a missing-persons type of thing.”

“Please. I would like my whole family tree done, but in particular I'd like to find out what happened to my father. I'll pay you as much as you like.”

Lord, why can't I just say no to people?… Whatever the reason, it left me as quickly as it came when I saw her wringing her hands, and I looked down at the photograph again. What must it be like to be fifty years old and not know your father?


This book is dedicated to my grandmothers,


Kathryn M. Butcher Justice
(1919–     )


Launieta Mary Catherine Favier Allen


For the sacrifices, the wisdom, the love.


The author wishes to acknowledge the people who helped bring this book to publication.

Thank you to my agent, Ricia Mainhardt, and my editor, Elisabeth Story, for taking the chance. Thank you to all the members of my critique group, the Alternate Historians: Tom Drennan, N. L. Drew, Debbie Millitello, Marella Sands, Mark Sumner, and dear, dear friend Laurell K. Hamilton, who allowed me at least one nervous breakdown a day. Without them this book would never have made it out of my computer.

Also, special thanks to fellow St. Louis writers Karyn Witmer-Gow, Elizabeth Stuart, and Eileen Dreyer for all of the encouragement to write the blasted thing in the first place. To my wonderful friend Donna Burgee, who read it and proclaimed it good.

A special thank you to my mother, Lena Justice Allen, for … all those things mothers do. To my daughters, Rebekah and Elizah, for suffering with me.

*   *   *

And for Robert Michael Yourko, this was too late for you. Peace.


The Lick-a-Pot Candy Shoppe is located on the corner of Jefferson Street and Hermann Avenue, in the town of New Kassel, Missouri. It was at the Lick-a-Pot that I had spent the majority of my morning stirring fudge and listening to Sylvia Pershing give me orders.

My arms were killing me. My shoulders felt as though they belonged to an Olympic athlete. One that had just competed in a decathlon and lost. Stirring fudge is not for the weak of body, or spirit. The smell of chocolate cooking, not to mention the peanut butter, played havoc with my stomach.

I heard an accordion playing in the distance. The jaunty little notes of some polka added the perfect feel to the day's events. Tobias Thorley was our resident accordion player. Even though I could not see him, I knew that he wore his cute little blue knickers that showed off his seventy-year-old legs, and a matching velvet hat with a feather sticking straight out the top of it. He wore the vest over a very blowsy white shirt. This is what he wore every time he played the accordion, and I knew it by heart.

The occasional clink that I heard was from a passerby tossing a coin into his cast-iron kettle, located two feet from him under a nice shade tree.

I am Victory O'Shea, a member of the historical society, of which Sylvia and Wilma Pershing are president and vice president, respectively. I am also the resident genealogist and historian/tour guide. My duties entail just about anything the Pershing sisters can dish out for me to do. Earlier that morning it was turning bratwurst. Now it was stirring fudge.

Dishes clanked across the street at Fräulein Krista's Speisehaus, reminding me just how good her pastries were. The aroma of kettle popcorn wafted in through the oblong windows. I was hungry and sweating profusely, and my husband Rudy and our two daughters were off having fun somewhere. I was stirring fudge.

There was something terribly unjust with this picture.

“Victory O'Shea,” Sylvia snapped at me. “I've told you a thousand times that when the shine leaves the fudge it's time to pour it.” Her voice cracked with age. It is rumored that the Pershing sisters are well into their nineties, although nobody has ever had the nerve to actually ask them. They wear their silver hair in identical braids twirled on top of their heads, and that is where the similarities end.

Sylvia's eyes are gray and sharp as glass, much like her personality. She is never subtle and doesn't give a hoot if you like her or not. She isn't on this earth for you to like. She is tall and thin, with a bad limp, and has all of her original teeth. The limp was caused by a fall from a horse when she was fifty-seven, and her teeth are healthy because she never eats the fudge that we cook, or any other sweets.

Wilma is soft-spoken and kind, and has peaceful green eyes. She is also shorter and much heavier than Sylvia, basically because she does eat the fudge that we cook, and loves every minute of it. Something Sylvia hates. I don't know if Wilma really likes the fudge all that much, but it is a wonderful way to annoy her sister.

I started to say something hateful in response to Sylvia's order and decided to be respectful, which is what I had done all day anyway.

“Yes, Sylvia,” I said instead.

The shop was full of patrons, as it was “Old German Days” in New Kassel. Old German Days is a weeklong celebration that our town has every May. The Lick-a-Pot is owned by Helen Wickland. Every year she donates the proceeds from Old German Days to the historical society, as do a few other shops. Helen's granddaughter works the counter. She smiles at everybody that comes in, showing off the braces that cost her parents more money than their last car.

“Don't forget,” Sylvia said to me. “You've got to give the tour of the Gaheimer House at three-fifteen.” It was the fourth time in two hours that she had reminded me, but I said nothing.

I poured the fudge onto the platter that Wilma had buttered for me and smoothed it out with my overly large wooden spoon, wondering what Rudy and the girls were doing in the spring sunshine without me. This was my fifth batch of fudge, and my shoulders swelled from the abuse. A trickle of sweat ran down my temple. Sylvia was on her eighth batch and not complaining in the least. I could not figure out why.

I'm sure it was due to the fact that Sylvia does without caffeine and sweets. Not to mention sex. I suppose I don't want to live to be a healthy ninety-year-old badly enough.

Wilma perked up suddenly and blushed. I knew Rudy must have come in the door behind me. Wilma always blushes whenever Rudy is around. I'm not sure why she reacts that way to him. I suppose a ninety-year-old woman could have a crush on my husband.

I turned to look into chocolate brown eyes that smiled with mischief. Rudy is only five foot ten, but he towers over my five foot two easily. Most people do. He kissed the top of my head and stuck his finger in the fudge for a free taste.

“Hello, Wilma,” he said as he winked at her.

“Afternoon Rudy,” she said. Her blush deepened. If she blushed any more she'd turn purple.

“What do you want?” Sylvia asked. “Have you come to finally put yourself to good use? Pick up a spoon and spread that fudge before it hardens,” she directed.

“Now Sylvia, there's no use in getting all fired up about a bunch of fudge,” he said to her, but he picked up a spoon and spread the fudge nonetheless. I felt a sudden surge of pride. Most men wouldn't be caught dead in a candy shop spreading fudge. But my husband bravely faces all of the dangers in life for me.

“Actually,” he continued, “I've come to steal Torie from you,” he said.

Did I mention he comes to my rescue, too?

“Can't have her,” Sylvia snapped. “And her name is Victory. Do you want me to spell it for you?”

Nobody calls me Victory except my mother and Sylvia Pershing. Everybody else calls me Torie.

“Elmer Kolbe said the Gaheimer tour is going to start early. He needs her there.”

I studied Rudy's face. He was definitely lying, I could tell. Every time he lies the corners of his mouth twitch. He tried to keep his long face serious. But Wilma stared at him adoringly and Sylvia scowled at him while at the same time, I tried not to laugh. It was a difficult task.

“Well, just who does Elmer Kolbe think he is? I'm the president of the New Kassel Historical Society, not him.” She sputtered a few unidentifiable words and added, “Fine, fine. Take her. But you tell Elmer I want a replacement. The historical society depends on the money from this fudge to keep us running all year.”

That was a slight exaggeration, and Rudy knew it. But he just smiled and said, “Yes, Sylvia.”

“That is Ms. Pershing to you, young man. Don't think because my sister is still ruled by her hormones that you can charm me.”

“Sylvia!” Wilma protested.

“It's true. You've never been able to control yourself around men.”

Wilma looked truly embarrassed and glanced around the shop to see if anybody had overheard. There were a few customers smiling in our direction as if we were a sideshow. Wilma started to say something, but Sylvia held her hand up and added, “No use in denying it. I remember the fool you made of yourself over John Wakefield.”

“That was in 1922!” Wilma defended herself.

“Yes, and that was just the beginning,” Sylvia countered.

I pulled off the fudge-covered apron, washed my hands quickly in the back sink, and went out the door. I left the Pershing sisters to debate over something they had debated a thousand times, and Sylvia would win as always.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, Rudy,” I said to him once outside.

“The girls and I thought you might like to eat before your tour.”

“Would I ever,” I said, and meant it.

“What's it going to be?” he asked.

“How about the Smells Good. A sub sandwich really sounds delicious.”

My two daughters, Rachel and Mary, came running across the street. Rudy had dropped them at the Gaheimer House, which is catty-corner to the Lick-a-Pot, with his kid sister Amy.

Rachel is six going on twenty-six, with brown hair and black eyes, and looks extraordinarily like Rudy. Mary is three, and has no desire to be any older. She's having too much fun. She has blondish hair with green eyes and a round face, and looks just like me.

We walked down Jefferson Street, made a right onto New Bavaria Boulevard, and ate a late lunch at the Smells Good.

*   *   *

“The Gaheimer House is one of the oldest houses in New Kassel, dating back to the mid-1860s,” I said to my flock of tourists. “It is on the register of historical sites in Missouri, along with three of our other buildings. It is now owned by Sylvia and Wilma Pershing, and it houses the historical society's headquarters, and my office.”

BOOK: Family Skeletons: A Spunky Missouri Genealogist Traces A Family's Roots...And Digs Up A Deadly Secret
2.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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