The story of my family really doesn’t begin with a Pettyjohn at all, but with an immigrant from Ireland named Tom Brennan. He was a deputy sheriff in St. Cloud, Minnesota, married an immigrant from Germany named Dora Schmidt, and bought a farm in northern Minnesota. They scratched out a living on its poor soil and had four children, including my grandmother, Lottie.
She met and married a big, handsome lumberjack named Jules Achenbach after he came home from World War One. They had three daughters, Mary, Harriet and Rachel. He ran off on her at the beginning of the Depression, so she took her girls to Minneapolis, and went to secretarial school. Returning to Bemidji, she got a job at the County Court House and was able to support herself and her daughters.
When she was eighteen my mother Harriet married Phillip Pettyjohn, one of nine children of a local road contractor named F. S. Pettyjohn and his Irish immigrant wife, Mary MacNamara. They had a daughter, Antoinette Marie, in 1941, and in 1944 my father enlisted in the army. Before he was shipped to Europe my mother took a train from Richmond, California to the east coast for a conjugal visit.
I was born six weeks after the Japanese surrender, and named for my grandfather, F. S. Pettyjohn. But my mother got confused, and my birth certificate reads Frederick Phillip Pettyjohn.
When my father returned from the war he had $10,000 that he had made on the black market in Germany. He left my mother and two children and bought a new Buick convertible. He paid her $50 a month in child support.
I was raised in low income housing in Richmond by my mother, my grandmother and my Aunt Mary. My mother and Aunt Mary were retail clerks. We were devout Catholics, and my sister and I attended St. Cornelius grammar school.
So that’s where I come from.