In the park where we had breakfast one Sunday morning

It’s dark and rainy here and will be for the foreseeable future.  Jesus and Guillermo are in the basement removing asbestos (our furnace was condemned) and the cost of removing all of those sixty year old ducts and hopefully getting warm again has dulled the excitement of Santa Claus’ arrival. And so instead of filling the airwaves with uplifting stories and holiday cheer I’ve been on a grim mission to track down and label dead ancestors. 

 

On the back of this picture is written: In the park where we had breakfast one Sunday morning.

I’m guessing the woman wearing a head scarf and the man pouring the coffee are my great aunt Millie and her husband Ben.  I met them at least a couple of times when I was quite young and vividly recall thinking Ben was too handsome to be sentenced to life in a wheelchair. Shallow, I know but I was in the Disney princess stage.  As to how Ben came to be in a wheelchair, time has dulled my mother’s memory.  Was it WWI or polio?  Who knows.

This picture, and several others of a similar ilk, have nothing written on the back.  Nothing.  The bespectacled young woman in the front row, with the “you gotta be kidding me” look on her face, is my grandmother.  She was probably only sixteen but that look never changed.  I believe one of the two elderly women is my great-grandmother but mother can’t tell which one. 

Mother:  “I was dead before my grandmother was born.”

Me: “No mother.  I think you meant to say she was dead before you were born.  You’re still alive.”

“One of them could be Mrs. Pease,” she suggests, a neighbor lady who looked after her grandfather after his wife’s death.

“Which lady is Mrs. Pease? You must remember her.”

“I only remember their cow.  We used to bring it down to the barn so that Mr. Pease could milk him.”

Her, could milk her.”

“I remember the cow.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever played “identify the ancestor” with someone who can’t remember what day it is … but five minutes is my limit.  Of course, to a five year old all old ladies look alike but a cow – who could possibly forget their first crush, even if it was on a cow?

Unlike his daughter, my great grandfather seemed only too happy to have his picture taken.  In this gathering he’s the fella sitting on the right with a little girl on his lap.  The couple behind him are my grandparents and thus the little girl must be my mother. So who is the elderly lady sitting next to great gramps?  She can’t be his wife because we’ve already established that she died before my mother was born.  She must be that friendly neighbor lady, Mrs. Pease.

After comparing the two photographs  I believe Mrs. Pease is the lady on the right (below) which means the lady standing behind my grandmother could be my great grandmother. 

What do you think?

This assumption gained new legs when I compared photos of my great aunt Millie (from the Sunday picnic breakfast scene) through the years.

Here she is with my mother and uncle, aged 2 1/2 and 18 months respectively.

 

And years later at my mother’s wedding (on the left).  

Yup, I’m reasonably sure I’m right although I’ll never really know.  All I know for sure is that one Sunday morning long ago three people had breakfast in a park somewhere and apparently that’s how they wanted to be remembered.  

Bowpea

WugandDad

Dad and Wug – pilots, drinking buddies and champion story swappers.

Today it seems appropriate to wax on about one’s dad, however my father was far too complicated for tearful remembrances thrown together with favorite photos and sage advice and so I will save him for another day (truth be told, he hated sentimentality and, truth be told, I may never be able to write about him).  

IMG_4336Instead let me say a few words about my Bowpea.  This gentleman was the father of three children: my party-loving mother, rowdy Oncle Boob, and Poor Charlie, whose wife, Auntie Dottie, lived with such unrelenting gusto that no one in the small town of Monson Mass could figure out how he put up with her! 

Bowpea was a man of high moral standards who probably didn’t deserve his wacky family but he endured their shenanigans with a sly smile and occasional word aside to “The Enforcer,” my depression-hardened grandmother who could have stared down the Gestapo.  He was given his peculiar nickname by his oldest grandchild (yours truly).  Don’t ask me why. 

IMG_4344

The Preacher’s Family – Bowpea is between his father’s legs.

My grandfather had, from all reports, a strict childhood, the result of generations of puritan ancestors dating back to the 1600s, most notably Deacon Samuel Chapin founder of Springfield Mass and yes, there were some witch-burners hanging about in the family tree.  

He had five sisters, none of whom had particularly happy lives and one older brother.  The older brother moved to the west coast early on and from all reports, escaped the wrath of the burning witches.  He died too young for me to have any memory of him; his childless widow sent us checks every Christmas until she died and once famously turned down the chance to invest in Disneyland.

IMG_4340Bowpea shipped off to Europe at the start of WWI a skinny, hopeful lad, and returned with lifetime health problems, allegedly the result of mustard gas.  If he spoke about his war experiences to any of his children or wife, I would be surprised.  Certainly they don’t remember.  He never returned to Europe.

A few years later a steam-engine explosion at the factory where he worked brought my grandparents together.  He wasn’t hurt but a fellow worker wasn’t so lucky. As Bowpea waited anxiously in the hospital corridor, a young student nurse appeared from nowhere IMG_4338and took control.  She sat beside the scalded man all night long, holding his hand and applying cold presses and  my grandfather fell in love.  Of course, the downside of this lovely story is that Gram never accepted the fact that a man like him could fall in love with her.  To her dying day she claimed it was gratitude.  She was just too plain (according to her father) for any man to really fall in love with her.  Sixty some odd years of faithful devotion and she still felt that way.

In all honestly, I only saw my grandfather during the summer so my impression of him is formed by lazy summer days spent playing croquet on their back yard,  scouring the hills for blackberries, going downtown for a soda, or settling in for the evening listening to the crickets as a summer thunderstorm moved over head. Sometimes he would smoke a pipe as he read about his beloved Red Socks or have the one Scotch he allowed himself nightly. He had  accomplishments which he never dwelt upon: a membership in the Hole-in-One Club (for non-golfers that means you’ve scored at least one hole in one – he had three) and a state ice-skating championship in his youth. Probably more, but they were never touted.

Alas, the last pic I have of me and BeauPea together.

Alas, the last pic I have of me and Bowpea together.

 

 I’m sure he had his faults, certainly allowing Gram to become the Enforcer was one of them.  But to me he’ll always be the modest, quiet man who smelt of Old Spice.