THE MURDICK FAMILY HISTORY
By Linda Murdick
Note: My mother started writing our family history around her 50th birthday in 1995. It was written in the form of a letter to me, my sister Carin and brother Dean. She presented it to us for Christmas in 1995. She mentioned a couple of coincidental dates in our family history. She was unable to write about perhaps the biggest of all, her dying on my birthday in 1998, although she was well aware it was approaching. She was really doped up on morphine at the end, and the last words I heard her say were "JJ" (her cat) and "Bob's birthday."
It was also strange that early on she mentions "ten or twenty years from now." I read it the day she gave it to me and then not again until a few days ago, twenty years to the day it was first presented to me.
I thoroughly enjoyed retyping this and I have to pay my mother a posthumous compliment. She wrote this on a typewriter and it was 16+ pages long, single spaced. The manuscript was virtually grammatically perfectly and quite well written. I found maybe five typos and made maybe five minute editorial corrections, so it is purely her voice. Now I long to hang out with her again. Love you Mom....
July 23, 1995
To My Children:
If you are reading this, it does not necessarily mean anything ominous, but rather that I have managed to complete a project that my mind is insisting I undertake. And while I am making this a general epistle to all three of you, I am hoping to maintain the energy and focus to write some personal, individual notes to each of you following this.
Perhaps I’ve gotten nostalgic, or should I say even more nostalgic, approaching and finally reaching this half century point in my life, but at the least my thoughts and reflections have been many. When I was growing up I was a great questioner—I constantly asked grandma and grandpa all kinds of questions about family history and background, and in response I received many answers and a lot of cute little anecdotes here and there. And it occurs to me that while over the years I have passed some of this information on to you, there is also much that I have not—for no particular reason other than perhaps I wasn’t asked, or perhaps because our lives were so busy and chaotic the right time and opportunity didn’t occur.
Much of the past that I carry around in my head may be of interest to no one other than me. I am a creationist, and not an evolutionist, but I do believe we are all the sum total of not only our own experiences, but those of our parents and grandparents and so on. For it was the things that occurred in their lives that affected how we were raised and the people we became. So in a sense, stories about your forebears are stories about you. Maybe they will interest you now—maybe ten or twenty years from now (I hope at least sometime). But in any case, if they simply stay in my head it will obviously go no further, you will miss out on what I at least consider to be an interesting story, and you would not be able to pass it along to your children and grandchildren should they ever ask. So what I am going to attempt to do is write out as much as I know about our family, past to present. Even now I’m not sure how I’m going to lay it all out, but if you’ve gotten this far you’ll soon know. (I’ll put in whatever information I can about your father’s side, but obviously my knowledge there is a lot less.)
I’ve just decided to start where it’s easiest, which is my mother’s side, because I can’t go back all that far as you’ll see. Grandma was born sometime in 1909 and given the name of Bernice Corrigan. On July 19, 1910, she was taken to a hospital in Chicago with a bad case of measles. Her parents never returned to pick her up and upon her recovery she was turned over to an orphanage. Because she was estimated to be about a year old when she was dropped off, she was assigned a birthday of July 19th. Grandma told me this story many times and always seemed quite controlled and emotionless when describing it. It wasn’t until her final years that she ever let on to me the impact it had on her life. As you may recall, toward the end of her life she was very insistent that I find her parents or at least institute some kind of search. I had long been aware that the police had attempted to do this back in 1910—the address given to the hospital was a vacant lot and the names couldn’t be tracked down. I always tried to assure Grandma that since she was clearly Irish, her biological parents had probably come to this country as part of the wave of poor Irish immigrants at the beginning of this century. They obviously had taken good care of her for a year and they may have made a tremendous personal sacrifice leaving her at the hospital—probably they couldn’t provide for her any longer and wanted to leave her somewhere where she would be taken care of. Whatever the answer, for her sake I preferred to think of the positives of her parents (and I still do).
As an aside—I think it was toward the end of Grandma’s life that I really began to understand how little parents and children know of one another other than the specific parent/child relationship. I feel and hope that in some ways we have managed to overcome some of those barriers. I often think back now to what my parents were doing when they were my age and how they may have been feeling.
Back to Grandma. In fairly short order Grandma was adopted by Alma and Ira Stiff of Monmouth, Illinois (a town that claimed the distinction for many years, and may still, of being totally dry—no alcohol whatsoever allowed), a couple who couldn’t have any children. (Alma was originally Alma Schroeder of Appleton, Wisconsin.) Again in fairly short order Alma dumped Ira and began seeing Fred Abbey. Grandma used to tell me that it was such a scandal back then that Alma had divorced Ira (I never knew the circumstances) that she couldn’t openly be seen with Fred. She used to take Grandma and meet Fred in the local cemetery at night where Grandma would have to sit quietly on a tombstone while they were courting. Eventually, Alma married Fred and Grandma became Dorothy Helen Abbey.
I would love to tell you that my Grandma Abbey was a sweet old thing but that would not be very accurate. She was actually a pretty selfish, domineering, crabby old thing who succeeded in making Grandma very unhappy whenever they had to have contact over the years. She moved to New York and lived with us for a year or two when I was about 9. When she decided to go back to where her friends were, Grandpa said that the only time he would ever speak to the old witch again was if she said she was going to move back, and then he would have a lot to say! In fairness to her, there may have been a lot of things about her I didn’t know that would have made her so miserable, but if there were it would be news to me. When Grandma Abbey lived with us I was about 9 or 10, which would have made my Mom about 45 or 46. Grandma Abbey wouldn’t let Mom wear shorts in the summer time and raised all kinds of noise if she went outdoors without her lipstick on, white gloves and a hat. I remember them hanging clothes on the clothesline with white gloves on. And we girls weren’t exempt, although I think I only had to wear white gloves and a hat to Church on Sunday. Somehow my folks got me out of wearing them to school. Times sure have changed!
But whatever her faults, Grandma Abbey did adopt Grandma and give her a home and in some ways I suppose that was better than growing up in an orphanage. However, a few years after she was adopted Alma and Fred had their own child, Ruth, and Grandma quickly became a Cinderella type. Since they were good enough to provide her a home, she had to do all the housework, cooking and cleaning. Ruth became the princess and received the new clothes, dance lessons, etc., while Grandma got the hand-me-downs and the opportunity to be grateful. Fred was a reasonably successful businessman and Alma spent her days being a social butterfly. She loved to play canasta and her afternoons were spent at card parties and ladies socials (as they were called back then).
When your grandmother graduated high school she was able to obtain a teaching certificate and moved to a nearby farm town where she taught in a one room schoolhouse. She taught seven or eight grades—a total of about 12 or 15 students as I recall. I have pictures of her with her class (as well as adoption papers, etc.) but pictures and documents will be my next project! Anyway, I remember her telling me how she wasn’t paid much as a schoolteacher. She got room and board with a local family but had to do housework in return. It didn’t go all that well and was an incentive for her to leave after a year. I remember one problem she told me about was the couple she boarded with used re-usable condoms (whatever that might mean!) and they rinsed them and put them to dry on the corner posts of their beds. Grandma had to sweep and dust the room and she just couldn’t bear the embarrassment of looking at those condoms! Can you imagine?
The following year (1928) when she was 19, Grandma married her boyfriend, William Baird, and moved to Chicago. She worked a theatre ticket booth that just happened to be near where the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre took place. (That was in 1929 when one of Chicago’s mobs machine-gunned down numerous members of a rival gang and really started the Chicago gang wars.) I always found it curious that Grandma and Baird were married quite a while before they had children—Barbara was born January 14, 1936 and Bruce was born November 28, 1937—but once they did it didn’t take a long time for the marriage to start to fall apart. William Baird was an ambitious insurance executive who eventually became president of his company—perhaps Wasau or one of those home-based in Wisconsin. Sometime around 1940 he was transferred to New York for a few years. Grandma and the kids moved out and got settled in Jackson Heights in Queens and he thereafter left her for his secretary. He ultimately married her, and a few others over the years, and had a couple more children. It was my understanding they were never told they had a half brother and sister in Bruce and Barbara. For many years Barbara and Bruce blamed Grandpa for their father leaving and it wasn’t until they were in their twenties that they accepted the truth and started to get along with Grandpa.
When Baird left her, Grandma got a housekeeper in to watch the children and take care of the apartment, and she went to work for Western Union at the St. Regis hotel in Manhattan. Her best friend there was dating Grandpa’s best friend who was a doorman at the hotel. The two of them set Grandma and Grandpa up on a blind date on St. Patrick’s Day 1942. From what they told me they fell instantly in love and Grandpa took to sending a lot of Western Union messages. To save money he would write his messages using the first letter of each word. For instance they always started TTMBGITW—To the most beautiful girl in the world—and then she would have to figure out the rest. Also, it turned out that the bus stop where Grandma waited for her bus to go home was right near Grandpa’s apartment window. If he was out working or whatever, he would leave big signs in the window with notes for her. Hard to realize how romantic they were, isn’t it?
In 1942 (and up until the late 60s) in New York, the only grounds for divorce was desertion (of 7 years) or adultery. There was no such thing as irreconcilable differences or divorce by any mutual agreement. Baird was living with his girlfriend but he didn’t want to get a divorce until he transferred out of New York because he was worried about what he would be ordered to pay and how it would look to his career. Ultimately, the only solution was for Grandpa to hire a private a detective to follow him and get enough information for the courts to grant him a divorce, all of which took some time and I’m sure an emotional toll. Eventually Grandma got her divorce—I have the divorce decree and one of the amazing stipulations in it was that Baird had to get Grandma’s permission to remarry. Makes you wonder what they were thinking about doesn’t it? Anyway, Grandma and Grandpa eventually were able to get married on June 3, 1944. They went to Boston for a honeymoon and quickly discovered the hotel they had booked was right next to the train station!
I guess I should put some closure on the story of Grandma’s family. Her father, Fred Abbey, died of a heart attack in 1946, shortly after our family had taken a trip out there so they could meet me. Alma passed away in 1957, I believe at the age 75. Grandma’s sister Ruth (Grandpa called her other things, like a whore for one) went on to have two children and half a dozen husbands. One of her husbands sexually molested her daughter but it evidently didn’t bother her too much because she stayed with him. Grandma tried to keep in touch with her and with her children but the more years went by the more impossible it became. When Alma was dying, Grandma went out to Chicago for a couple of weeks to stay near her at the hospital and to put her affairs in order. She contacted Ruth, who was out in California at the time, to let her know her mother’s condition. Ruth asked to be told when her mother died and sent a list of belongings she wanted as well as any available cash. Your grandfather went a little ballistic as I recall and when the estate was all settled that was pretty much the end of any contact between them.
When I was growing up I recall that Grandma was still keeping in touch with several cousins in Wisconsin named Schroeder. My Grandma Abbey was buried in Appleton and they helped with the arrangements. Also, I corresponded for quite a while with a cousin in Monmouth, Illinois, by the name of Karen Abbey. I know they didn’t have much money and Grandma would send them clothes and things whenever she could. But as the years passed most of that contact stopped as often happens where there’s a lot of distance involved.
I think I’m going to stop the story about Grandma here and pick it up again after I bring Grandpa up to the point where they get married.
Because he was not an orphan, I obviously know a lot more about Grandpa’s background than I did Grandma’s. And for some reason I know more about his father’s side of the family than I do about his mother’s. (Maybe before I’m done with this I’ll try to draw out some kind of family tree so that you have a better idea of what people I’m talking about!) Grandpa was born Harley Wesley Murdick on November 22, 1900, in Holland, Michigan, to Everett Church Murdick and Mamie Hall Murdick. He was their second child, their first being your Uncle Walter who was born in 1897.
At some point in time Uncle Walter did some serious genealogical searching and discovered that the Murdicks (Murdoch) had been in this country since before the American Revolution. He told me he stopped looking when he found the ancestor who had been hung for being a thief, but I was never sure if he was serious or joking! Anyway, as far back as my information goes is to the Civil War, when your great-great grandfather Church Murdick, was an aide to General Phil Sheridan. He survived the war and on his discharge was when the spelling of the family name changed from Murdoch to Murdick. It was misspelled on his discharge papers and he was told it would take several months to fix the error; he opted to leave with a new spelling. As soon as Church got home to Michigan he got married (I’m trying to remember her name) on November 4, 1865, exactly one hundred years to the day before Carin was born. Uncle Walter had a copy of his grandparents’ obituaries which he showed me; he thought it was fascinating the coincidence in dates. Everett evidently had a brother, Burr Murdick, but I have no idea what happened to him. There’s probably some cousins floating around in Michigan somewhere.
Grandpa’s mother, Mamie, was also from Michigan and her family name was Hall. (Murdoch was obviously of Scottish lineage and the Halls were Dutch.) Possibly because she died so young, and her family remained in Michigan, I don’t know quite as much about them. Mamie had a sister Stella, and at least one brother, Burt. One of Grandpa’s favorite stories was about Mamie and Stella. Stell was evidently a pretty sour disposition and not nearly as attractive as Mamie, who was quieter and of even temperament—and also much more popular. One day Mamie had a date to go to a picnic with Henry Johnson, and Everett came by (who she had a crush on) and asked her to go with him. She did, leaving Stell to explain to Henry why he had been stood up. Henry got so upset he took Aunt Stell to the picnic and ended up proposing to her. Grandpa said it was the closest she was ever going to get to a beau so she accepted. Uncle Henry was a dear, sweet man who visited us several times when I was young. He was a fireman by trade who had fought the great Chicago theater fire. Later he and Stell moved to California where she died sometime in the thirties. They had one child, Donald Johnson, who was a scientist who worked on the atomic bomb during WW II. He developed leukemia during the work and died before the war was over.
Uncle Henry was a pretty colorful character who deserves a few lines here. As I said, his wife died in the thirties and his son in the forties. After a few years he was pretty lonely and got hooked up with a lonely hearts club (he was in his early eighties at the time and this was back in the early 1950s). Anyway, he met a woman, had a whirlwind romance, and married her. She moved into his house, stayed for six weeks, never unpacked, then moved out. Because it was California and they have community property laws, when she filed for divorce she got half of all he had which was a fairly tidy sum. He said he should have figured something was up when she never unpacked her suitcases or trunks. We laughed about the story at the time, but I now realize how hurt and humiliated he must have been. Right after that he came out to visit us and during his visit I became extremely ill with walking pneumonia. It was around the holidays, cold and snowy, and he would walk to the fruit store every day to buy fresh melons and fruit for me. He was convinced it was the only way I would get better. He had money, but while he stayed with us he managed to make a little more. Everyone in my family had this habit of putting change or money down on the sideboard in the dining room. Everyday Uncle Henry would say “Oh, did I leave that there” and pick up the change. It didn’t take us long to learn. He passed away a couple of years later. I know he left money to Grandpa and Grandma in his will, but his daughter-in-law contested that and many charitable bequests he had made (using his ill—fated marriage as an example of his incompetency) and I never was sure how it was resolved. My recollection is that they agreed to some kind of settlement. I know Grandpa really didn’t care but he figured Uncle Henry was as sound as a dollar mentally and his wishes should have been respected.
Another story from a hundred years ago that Grandpa and Uncle Walter used to like to laugh about was about their Grandpa Hawkenberry (I think from their mother’s side of the family). It seems Grandpa Hawkenberry went out early one morning to go rabbit hunting and ended up shooting the man he thought was fooling around with Grandma Hawkenberry! Fortunately, the man wasn’t killed and he somehow convinced the authorities it was an accident—the guy was wearing something white that looked like a rabbit’s tail.
Anyway, back to the story. From all I know, Everett and Mamie were happy enough. Everett was an inventor who designed all of the early carpet sweeper and vacuum improvements and modifications for Bissell (I think it was Bissell or whichever manufacturer was in Grand Rapids). Unfortunately he signed a contract with the company which automatically gave them the rights to anything he invented during the time he worked for them. He was paid excellent money, but not to the potential he might have earned on his own. Evidently, he was an inventor not a businessman. Grandpa said he designed the ball bearing units which made the first carpet sweepers work among other things.
The family lived in Grand Rapids until sometime around 1905-1907 when Everett was transferred to Newark, New Jersey. Obviously Newark back then was not what it is today and Grandpa described a real nice neighborhood and house that they lived in. In 1908 Mamie had another baby, Helen, and evidently never regained her health. When Aunt Helen was nine months old Mamie died of heart failure. It was not only a tragic loss for all of them, but a major turning point in their lives. Grandpa blamed his father for his mother’s death and never really forgave him. Sometimes he said she died because she had another child and that was because Everett was adamant he had to have a daughter so it was his fault. Sometimes he said it was because of her hair, that Everett wanted so long, so it was still his fault. You’ve seen the picture of Mamie and Stell with their hair that trailed on the floor. Grandpa said it was too much of a strain on her heart! But that didn’t change the fact that he never wanted my hair cut either and it was past my waist until I was an adult. Whatever destroyed his relationship with his father, I know I always felt great sadness about it. Following his mother’s death, as far as grandpa was concerned his father could do nothing right. I hope they’ve made peace now.
(I often think of Grandpa’s mother. In a mere two generations her life has almost been forgotten. Yet she was young and vibrant and had dreams and hopes just like we do. Sometimes when I’m washing my hair and bemoaning what a chore it is to wash and dry, I think about my grandmother and her hair down to the floor and what she went through to maintain that—no jumping in the shower, no conditioner, no hair dryer, just patience. She was only a couple years older than Bob when she passed away, but she was a real person just like us. My mother felt strongly (and who knows) that I was the reincarnation of Mamie and that I came back to take care of Grandpa in the best way I could. I have learned that anything is possible in life and one thing I would note is that my three children are very, very much like her three children were, in individual personalities that is.)
Grandpa’s mother was buried in Newark in a small cemetery. When I was about 12 or 13 Grandpa took me to visit the grave (this would have been almost 50 years after she died). We went to the office to check the location and what we discovered only served to revive a lot of bad feelings in Grandpa. His mother’s headstone simply said “MOM” on it—no names or dates or anything. At some point his father had sold the adjoining plot and whoever used it (totally unrelated to us) had put up a headstone that said simply “DAD” on it. Grandpa was outraged, and blamed his father for selling the plot to begin with. At first, he wanted to move the grave or change the stone, ,but I think Grandma convinced him there wasn’t much that could be done about it.
Anyway, after his wife died my grandfather, Everett, asked his parents, Church Murdick and his wife, to move out from Michigan to help him with the children. Grandpa later said this was totally unnecessary (since he didn’t much like his grandmother and sure didn’t want her around all the time), but if you think about the situation I don’t see there was much choice. Everett was alone with three children, aged 12, 9 and 9 months—what else could he do in the year 1909 but ask his parents to come help. So his parents came and they all lived in Newark another couple of years, then his job transferred to Torrington, Connecticut. During this time he started seeing a woman named Lottie, whom Grandpa seemed to adore. The problem was that when they moved to Torrington, instead of marrying her and moving her with them, Grandpa Everett just wrote her letters for a few years. Grandpa said this just showed how selfish and rotten he was; Everett and Lottie didn’t get married until 1915 or 1916 and by that time Grandpa was getting in trouble so much and was home so little that he didn’t really benefit from having her as a stepmother. But he was always fond of her and remained so until she died.
My impressions were that while growing up Grandpa and Uncle Walter weren’t especially close, but that they were both very protective of their little sister. Many years later, when Grandpa finally calmed down and settled down, they were all very close and loving. Uncle Walter was the traditional one and just the opposite of Grandpa. He was a good student, very active in school activities, the school paper, etc. When he went to join up for World War I, he got caught up in the swine flu epidemic that went around back then. He barely recovered and when he did recover had severe lung damage. The doctors told him he had to take an outdoor job. I guess there wasn’t a lot available so that wasn’t an easy task. He wasn’t strong enough for construction work, so he eventually became a mailman. He married his high school sweetheart (Aunt Lulu) and eventually had two children, Virginia and James. Grandpa always said that Virginia was the most beautiful and sweetest little girl in the world, until she was five. Then she contracted scarlet fever and in 1930, before antibiotics, that was truly life threatening. After she recovered, again according to Grandpa, she was nasty and ugly. Actually, not just according to Grandpa—most people who know her would agree. Virginia is precisely twenty years older than me. The last time I saw her was at Uncle Walter’s funeral and she was living in Florida at that time—still is I assume. She got married when I was a month old and never had any children until about a year before I did. I believe your cousin Michele is either one or two years older than Bob. Then her son Michael was born around the same time Carin was. By then she’d been married about twenty years. It was weird, though, for as soon as I’d filed for divorce from your father, she filed for divorce from her husband, Elmer Norton. Elmer was a real nice, kind of a quiet Archie Bunker kind of guy. Well, Virginia probably did him a favor but he was just totally baffled at the time and for a long time to follow—so were the kids for that matter. Elmer paid pretty good child support and she got the house for alimony, but Uncle Walter had to keep working to keep her in extras. After he retired from the post office Uncle Walter got a job as a bailiff in the Litchfield Courthouse and worked at that until he was 75 or 77—and Virginia still had her hand out.
My cousin Jimmy was a really nice guy, a lot like Uncle Walter and very little like his sister. He was married to Lorraine Bertram in 1952 and she was just as nice as him. They had three children you may remember—Kristine, Jay and Kerry. I haven’t seen them in a while but as far as I know they still live in Harwinton, or at least I’m sure Lorraine still does. Jimmy was the editor of the Torrington newspaper and active in just about everything. He was in his early forties when he had a heart attack on the ski slopes in 1974. He lived for several more months, did everything the doctors told him to, but he had another heart attack that was fatal. I remember it was in July and you kids had been staying at the beach for a few days with Grandma and Grandpa. It was about six months after Grandma’s first, but minor, stroke. After getting the call about Jimmy’s death Grandma had a massive stroke and Grandpa just kind of spaced out—the poor man didn’t know what to do. Aunt Barbara and I raced to the cottage, got Grandma into an ambulance and headed to Middlesex, got you kinds and Grandpa packed up and back to Durham. Then we had to alter between Grandma at the hospital and Jimmy’s funeral. It was not a fun time.
Where was I—back to Grandpa Everett Murdick. He married Lottie and moved her in with his kids and parents, and that’s kind of the way it stayed until his parents passed on—which really means it was permanent. Everett evidently developed a serious drinking problem as the years went on and ended up drinking most of what he made and what he should have had. As I said before, he made very good money, about four times what the average annual middle income would be for the time. When he died he had nothing and left and if I recall correctly Uncle Walter and Grandpa had to help out Lottie who was pretty much left destitute (this was in the thirties before social security). The family was generally known for longevity—Great grandfather Church Murdick lived to be almost 90; his wife (I’ll remember her name at some point before I finish this) caught pneumonia and died when she was 93—it was January, about 10 below zero, and she caught a chill hanging out the laundry because it was Monday morning and everyone knows on Monday morning you do the laundry!). Everett probably would have lived just as long but he fell off a second story porch and landed on his head when he was about 67. Grandpa said he was drunk at the time. Again, this was in the mid-1930s—Grandpa wasn’t there so I don’t know if it’s true or if he just assumed it.
Back to 1915. Grandpa was not like Uncle Walter, and Aunt Helen was still just a little girl (although she always remained somewhat quiet and timid). Grandpa was the hell raiser and bad boy and whatever else you can imagine (or maybe you can’t imagine it!) In retrospect, what he obviously was was angry but I’m not sure he ever really understood that. He played hooky, ran crap games in the school yard, went out drinking and raising hell at night and generally got in whatever trouble he could. Uncle Walter said he never really did anything bad, like stealing or hurting anyone other than himself. But he snuck out every night and did whatever he could to upset his father and thumb his nose at those in charge. He left school by mutual agreement when he was about 15 and went to work at various odd jobs—whatever he could get at the time. After a couple of years he could see he wasn’t getting anywhere and decided it was time to start moving—a habit he continued for the next twenty years.
Grandpa tried to enlist for World War I but he was too young at the time and by the time he was old enough the war was over. In the early 20s he moved to Springfield and started working there. He met a woman, Patricia Williams (?) and decided to try and settle down. They were married sometime around 1926 or 1927. He told me later he never really loved her but it seemed like the thing to do at the time. I think he was fascinated by her because she was evidently a marvelous figure skater. He said she would go down to the pond every morning at 5 a.m. to practice skating and people would come just to sit and watch her. He also said that as beautiful and graceful she was on ice, was as nasty and spiteful as she was at home. He said as soon as they were married she started throwing pots and pans and yelling about everything and anything. Within a month of being married he decided this woman should not bring children into the world and he adjusted their sex life accordingly (whatever that means!). Then she decided they needed to talk to a priest (she was Catholic) about their sex problems. He never could understand (even forty years later a baffled look came across his face) why anyone would talk to a priest about sex problems! After a year or so of this Grandpa decided to take a trip to Michigan to visit his cousins and other relatives out there. His grandmother was still alive then and she wanted to go as did his sister Helen. So he drove to Michigan and said that Pat complained and fought and made everyone miserable the whole trip. When they got there she decided she wanted to go on to California. Grandpa made arrangements for his mother and sister to get back to Connecticut and he drove Pat to California. When they got there he stopped in Sacramento, gave her the car and told her to have a nice life. He went and joined the merchant marines and became a ship hand on a freighter. He sailed out and never came back to the U.S. for three years. It was more than a year before his family even got a letter and had any idea where he was or what had happened to him!
So Grandpa set out to see the world and find a road to happiness. He didn’t find that but he certainly had some interesting times. He worked his way around the orient—I have the silk kimono and ivory chopsticks he brought back from Hong Kong and there’s a whole album of photos he took—a lot in the Philippines and some of the Pacific Islands in that area. When he got to the Philippines he broke his leg and was in a hospital there several weeks. By the time he got out his ship had sailed and he was stuck there for a while. He didn’t talk a whole lot about those times but I gathered it was a lot of wild times and partying like he’d always done. He did talk about how when it was really hot the ship would anchor and the guys would dive in and swim in the Pacific while a couple of men kept watch out for sharks!
Grandpa came back to the States after three years and discovered there had been a major depression he hadn’t even known about. He settled in San Diego and opened a restaurant called Felix’s Café (I think he just kept the previous owner’s name). He did okay and kind of liked it in a way but he said he finally gave it up because it was 18 hours a day 7 days a week and he just didn’t want to live his life that way. After a few years he came back east, finally visited his family and re-established those ties, and settled in New York. There’s like ten years there that I don’t know too much about what he did, but I have a feeling there was a lot of wild life still going on. I know he worked in retail sales for a while in a couple of department stores in the city before he bought the medallion for his taxi cab. He got a mid-town apartment with a guy he’d been good friends with in Torrington years before, Bill McNeil. They were roommates for several years up until the time Grandma and Grandpa got married. (Whenever I start worrying too much about Bob I remember Grandpa’s lifestyle—I’m not sure if it helps but the parallels are obvious. Maybe more things than we realize are hereditary.)
Grandma and Grandpa met on a blind date on March 17, 1942 (forty eight years to the day before their great grandson Patrick would be born!). As I said before, they evidently fell in love at first sight. Because of divorce problems they weren’t able to get married until June 3, 1944. (It not only took a while for Grandma’s divorce, but Grandpa had to start tracing in California to see if his first wife, Pat, had divorced him. Remember he had just walked away from the whole thing.) It took Grandpa until age 44 to really settle down, but when he did it was with a bang. In little more than a year I was born and by 1950 there were six children in the house—quite an adjustment from a lifelong bachelor used to wandering the world.
We lived in Jackson Heights in an apartment complex called Hayes Court. It was pretty nice because it was like six buildings built around a nice courtyard. There was space to play and all the neighbors were friendly and sociable, which was unusual for New York even back then. We lived on the third floor of a five story walk-up (no elevator) and Grandma’s best friend, Dolly Ross, and her family lived on the fifth floor. Many years later Uncle Bruce and Aunt Ruby moved into Dolly Ross’ apartment and there were still many of the same tenants there from years before. When I was small there were several children around my age to play with. One friend of my mother’s was pregnant at the same time she was and had a little boy shortly after I was born (her only child). His name was Robby Craft and we played together almost every day until I was five and we moved. After that we only saw each other in church and at youth group meetings. When we were seventeen Robby committed suicide and I think it was my first really overwhelming blow from reality.
Anyway, we lived in the apartment at Hayes Court until 1950 when we moved to a single family home. I have very vague recollections of life there, but like most childhood memories they’re of traumatic events. When I was a year and a half old I was playing with Uncle Bruce on Grandma and Grandpa’s bed (a big high old fashioned one) and I fell off and hit a radiator and broke my collarbone. Grandpa said even after the sling came off I wouldn’t use the arm for months and walked around with my arm safely stuck my side! (obviously before physical therapy). I do remember Grandpa picking me up off the floor and being in the doctor’s office. Uncle Bruce later redeemed himself by saving me from a hi-riser. Because it was a two-bedroom apartment, after I grew out of a crib they put me in a hi-riser (one bed is stored under the other; you pull it out and lock it with a metal bar) next to Aunt Barbara. Evidently one night it wasn’t locked correctly and Uncle Bruce woke up in the middle of the night to see my bed going under Aunt Barbara’s and he grabbed me out of it. Grandma was always convinced I would have died if he hadn’t saved me, but I tend to kind of doubt that!
I remember a lot of parties at Hayes Court. Grandma and Grandpa always entertained a lot, up until the time when they retired and moved to Connecticut. They had a close circle of friends who they saw every Saturday night—either they went to one another’s houses or out to a nightclub. Usually, they’d play penny poker or parlor games like charades. Then once a month one of the crowd would have a Saturday night dinner party with a poker game afterward. During the spring and fall the men would play golf Saturday during the day (sometimes the women too) and then meet their wives at whoever’s house they were going to that night. There were several other couples who joined in once a month or so, but every Saturday night without fail was Grandma and Grandpa, Frank and Nettie Colosanti, and Al and Bertha Coderre. We kids grew up with the Saturday night thing and it kind of surprised me when I learned that my friends’ parents didn’t have the same kind of routine. Oddly enough, of all the couples they were friends with, Grandma and Grandpa were the only ones with children. Every December, about two weeks before Christmas, there was always a huge Christmas party at our house instead of the usual Saturday night party. Grandma would do the party because she had all the kids. All of their friends would come as well as Santa Claus to pass out gifts. In the summertime, these friends would all come up to the cottage every 4th of July weekend and Labor Day weekend. Sometimes there were twenty or thirty people sleeping in the cottage, but it always worked out and everyone always had a good time.
When I was five years old we moved to our new house which was about seven blocks from the apartment at Hayes Court. While it didn’t mean a change of schools for Barbara and Bruce, it did mean a change of friends for me. There was literally no one my age in the new neighborhood—a few babies, and several about two years older than me and in school full time, but no one my age for me to play with. It was this fact that eventually led to the coming of foster children. I know that I drove them crazy saying how I wanted a baby brother. But by this time Grandma was in her early forties and the doctor had told her she couldn’t have any more children. I think they finally ended up discussing adoption (I’m sure because of Grandma’s feelings about her own background) but Grandpa refused because there was no return policy! That may sound horrible but actually it makes sense. He was very concerned about his age (at that point he was 50) and his ability to live long enough to raise the children he was responsible for. He was also concerned about taking a child blindly without knowing any more about its background than the authorities cared to share with you. Grandpa felt very strongly about genetics long before they were even studying it. He was certain that if a person was a drug addict, or a thief, or a prostitute etc., they would pass at least a tendency in that direction along to their children (and he has obviously since proven to be correct). He was adamant about not taking in a child who had been born in New York, and also if they had a child who was simply more than they could handle he wanted to be able to say no. So they went into foster care. I think they got something like $50 a month for each child and the State provided medical care. Of course that meant going to State clinics wherever one happened to be located and sitting and waiting for hours to be seen. For instance, when Pat came to live with us she was severely cross-eyed. She had to have four or five operations to fix her eyes. I remember riding with Grandma on the subway from Queens into downtown Manhattan to the clinic at Bellevue. And there we would sit, and sit, and sit, until the eye doctor was ready to examine her. Grandma had the patience of two saints, but it took me many years to appreciate it.
Back to foster care. Another down side to it was that we got regular—once or twice a month—visits from social workers who decided if they liked how Grandma was running the household. This wasn’t all that bad until you got a nasty social worker, and I remember we had a few. One of the workers assigned to our house didn’t like the idea of Grandpa taking us all to the cottage for the whole summer and thought it would be better if we stayed in New York City for the summer like other foster kids had to. Grandpa had to take her to Court to get permission for that year. There was one real nice woman that used to come to the house—her name was Betty Wong. Unfortunately, she was murdered on the Orient Express (no kidding!) and Grandma was really upset about it. A movie was made about it once upon a time.
December 13, 1995
My goal had been to finish this before Christmas, and believe it or not I have spent most of my spare (smile!) time working on it. However, it has become obvious that I’m ending up writing a book and not just a few pages. Since I know how much more I want to put down for you, I can see that I’m probably not even half done. I sat and pondered this and whether or not if I drove myself crazy I could possibly finish it in time for Christmas. The answer was no, I could not, and in any case it wouldn’t be the wise way to do it. So I decided to give each of you what I had managed to write thus far and now my goal will be to finish it by spring (or maybe next Christmas with pictures). But I thought you might be interested in reading it to this point. I also thought that if in reading you had questions or comments, they might be helpful to me as I continue to work on this. It’s kind of fun for me, I enjoy the memories, and I hope it’s making some sense and is of some interest to you.
Since I can’t possibly finish it in time for Christmas, I wanted to take the rest of the time I have to just include a couple of things you should know about me—because part of me is part of you and so it goes on and on. A thought has stayed in my mind for a couple of years now that I wanted to explain, and to give you all food for thought in case you need it. Dean asked me a while back if I was pro abortion and seemed astonished when I said absolutely not. This is an important issue to me for two reasons: (1) I don’t believe I have the right to destroy anything I can’t give back, and I know without God there is absolutely nothing I am capable of making or giving. We all go through a certain amount of suffering and inconvenience in life and if an unplanned or undesired pregnancy is part of that suffering, that’s life. Not one of us has the right to judge the value of or the quality of the life of another. Every life is valuable and serves a purpose—it makes no difference if we don’t see the purpose, just put it on a list of a million and one things in life we will never understand. (2) After Bob and Carin were born, it was obvious that my marriage was eventually doomed, but I became pregnant again. Grandma talked about how difficult it was going to be for me to raise two children, much less three, and the wisest thing to do would be to get an abortion. I never thought about it for a moment, and I kept telling her she was talking about my child, as much my child as Bobby and Carin. Grandma looked at it differently and it resulted in several arguments. After Dean was born, and nearly died in the process, I held on to him all the time and would regularly tell Grandma—“Can you imagine life without Dean?” Maybe I was a little hard on her, but I think the reality of it eventually changed her mind. Now it’s almost thirty years later, but whenever I hear people talk about abortion, the first thing I think is “Can you imagine life without Dean?” No I cannot.
A few months ago in conversation Bob mentioned that we were all descended from apes, indicating that he is an evolutionist. I won’t get into long arguments asking that he reconsider. Again I would make two points: (1) If we are evolved from apes, where are all the interim evolutionary products? There are still apes; there are people—if we are evolving one from the other there should be a multitude of interim evolutionary stages in existence—where are they? (2) I know you believe in God, so please believe in his Word and remember that He doesn’t stutter. He tells us He created us and He tells us how. Don’t let Satan and his world put lies in your mind and your thinking. Keep your eye and ear on the Lord and it will be all you need.
When my children were born, the three of you, I was young, inexperienced, over-confident, and for sure I made a lot of mistakes. But I had one main goal for the three of you and I delight in your constant demonstration to me that I achieved that goal. Because the thing I felt that was most important in raising you was to have you understand that you were all capable of doing and achieving anything you set out to do, and that you should march to the beat of your own drummer, be your own person, live the life you chose to live and not what society would like to determine for you. And you all do that every day.
You are good people and you have come from good people. If there is any case for evolution, it is in that, and God told us the simple truth many years ago: good begets good, evil begets evil. You are good people and I am proud of you all. I will continue to try and write this story and hope one day it will be as important to you all as it is to me.
I love you all. Merry Christmas!