Wednesday, November 02, 2011

That's me and my big brother, Rick, and my sister Fran, and Mom holding our little brother, Tony, and Pop, patting their dog, Puddles. I'm not sure exactly when this picture was taken, but, if it wasn't the last time we were together, it was close.

Mom and Pop were our mother's parents, but we called them "Mom" and "Pop" because that's what our uncle Teddy called them, and he certainly should know. And "Grandma" and "Grandpa" lived in Pennsylvania, not Connecticut.

Some few months after this picture was taken, a major storm hit Connecticut. Teddy was 13 and old enough to stay home alone while his parents had dinner with some friends, but, when the power went out, he called to let them know and they told him they'd come right home.

When Teddy called some time later to ask if they were coming, it caused some alarm, because they had left after his first call, and it wasn't that far.

Meanwhile, the librarian at the Mark Twain Library in Redding had seen odd lights on the ceiling of the apartment over the library and called for help -- they were from the headlights of a car that had been swept off an undermined bridge on the road just under her windows.

Pop was gone almost immediately, but Mom clung to a tree in the middle of the river for three hours while they tried to get out to help.

And thus it was that I suddenly found myself with a second older brother, my uncle Ted. My mother was 31 at the time, and I cannot imagine how it rocked her world. When the news came, she was told not to come to Connecticut yet, as the roads were impassable and the bodies had not yet been recovered.

There was a memorial service in Connecticut, and then a train trip to Chicago and a huge funeral, swelled by the family's connections in the Catholic community, with two nuns and a priest as siblings of the deceased. And then a second train trip back to the East Coast.

I cannot imagine.

But I went to visit my mother last week, and we drove up to Redding to have a look at the old homestead, seen in the picture.

And since I couldn't imagine, I didn't know what we were going to encounter.

For example, the bridge was a place I remembered because we used to play Pooh Sticks there, each dropping a stick off one side and then racing across to see whose stick would emerge first.

I'm sure this is not her first association with that bridge.

But there were many other memories around the place, starting with the many stone walls I saw in the woods well before we got to Mom and Pop's house. I remembered playing in the woods and climbing over many of those old barriers, including the time we were ambushed by a horde of yellow jackets and came screaming down to the screened in porch where Mom and Pop and our parents were sitting drinking from the colored, milled metal glasses that ended up at our house later.

Bad yellow jackets. Great glasses. Someone had glassed in the porch in the half-century since.

Someone had done a fair amount in that half-century, but, then again, not so much in recent years.

There was a swimming pool that was new to us, but looked like it hadn't been used in a couple of years, though the cover was in place and it only needed a good cleaning. And there was much construction material piled up. The garage and guest house, badly deteriorated, were being torn down.

There was nobody around, but there was a car in the driveway and it seemed logical that perhaps they'd gone to lunch. We walked around a bit, sharing memories, and then were rewarded when a front-end loader came up the drive, one man driving and another clinging on the side.

We explained ourselves, and they explained themselves. One was a son of the owner of the property, the other an employee, and they were in the process of fixing the old place up. The owner not only had purchased Mom and Pop's house, but the property across the way as well, so that he could preserve the quiet, forested atmosphere.

And he had done much of the restoration on the house without making many changes. The winding wooden staircase my mother remembered was still there, and the gabled ceiling on the second floor would likely still thump the crown of anyone who jumped on the beds up there.

We both left satisfied that our memories were in good hands.

ADDENDUM: Here's a link to a piece about the history of the storm as well as the accident itself. Note in the comments here that the NYTimes and my mother have a disagreement over the phone call. Having known both the Times and my mother for many decades, I'm going with her version of events.


Anonymous said...

Really glad that you got to make that trip, Mike. Different experience for me - never having met my grandparents - but important nevertheless. Thanks for writing this.

Sis in Sleepy Hollow

Ronnie said...

The times I've taken any of you up there have been very moving. Each of you has reacted as I hoped, nice experiences.

Since this is a kind of record, minor revision: Pop called Teddy to get the correct citation for some quotation being discussed, and after he checked our Bartlett's, he told them the power was out. There was no problem a mile away where they were but Pop said they'd be right home even though Teddy and his dog were all settled in with the oil lamp and not complaining. Just a quibble, but this is history after all and I'm glad you wrote it.

Mike said...

Ah, I was relying on the NYTimes article, not your memories or Ted's. Sounds like everything else I've heard about Pop -- or know about you.

The Times article is in a box somewhere, but I've added a link to the end of the story that will bring up a local history summary of the storm and the accident and references it.

Ronnie said...

That article had their ages wrong too. Correct ones: 56 and 53. The NYT is not quite infallible.

I love the picture - my father is clearly chuckling at something you have said - you'd have had a great time together over the years.

And Aunt Rose's account of Teddy "doing his homework" is also inaccurate. He was reading Mutiny on the Bounty and continued to do so during the next few days.

Ronnie said...

I think Bernice would have hated having her name changed.

Barbara V Mlambo said...

Well done, Mike. I had often heard the stories of your grandparents from your sisters L & M. We always felt a part of your family.
Barbara VG

Jean said...

Don't know why Mike, the story, the picture, the NYT article and your Mother's comments brought tears to my eyes...

Brian Fies said...

Thanks for this piece. Well done. Ronnie, I feel for you all these decades later.

WVFran said...

Thank you, Mike. I remember Ted discovering the addition of the pool some years ago and thinking that that was really, really wrong, somehow. I think of the guest house as the 'Guest House' where Father Joe stayed, and outside which I would see him quietly walking, saying his Office. Probably happened once - but made a huge impression. Sorry to see it go. Thanks for the details on the staircase and dormers. I remember them AND the yellow jacket experience well - although I thought it was wasps. You were the only one stung, which I remember thinking was very unfair - you were so little.

WV Sis

ronnie said...

A remarkable story, moving and well-written. Thanks for sharing.