I was fortunate enough to record the early childhood memories of five of Grandpa’s six children before it was too late. My uncle Dan passed away and that was the catalyst to get me started on these recordings.
BISS – A train went through town. There were freight trains that would stop the deliver stuff to Kurtz’s store. Then there was the Toonerville Trolley, which was a passenger train that went once in the morning to Bridgeport (Connecticut) and came back once the evening. Dad used to take that train to work and then come back on it.
When we’d play we’d have water fights. We would also climb up on the roof and then we’d jump off the edge to get down, which I did. I’d go to bed and then I’d climb out the window and jumped down.
One day, Lad had a pump and he put it over a soda bottle, to pump air into the soda bottle to see what would happen. Naturally, the thing exploded and it cut his artery. Of course Biss had been playing Doctor or nurse or something and had taken all the gauze and stuff so there was nothing around for the emergency, so I was in trouble again. I can remember the blood spurting out, you know through the thing and they wanted to bandage to keep the blood in a little bit, but there wasn’t any left.
LAD – We didn’t have much in the way of toys, as I recall. Earlier, when we had the animals, we had to go scare the chickens off their nests and get the eggs. Bill Parks got the milk for us, although I did try milking once, to see what it was like. He also slaughtered the pigs. I don’t remember what we did with them – we probably had some of the meat. Whether Dad sold it or gave it away or whatever happened, I don’t remember. We didn’t have the animals for long. Dad and Mom were not farmers; they were both city people, although we did have a garden in Larchmont and in Trumbull. Dad took care of it and then the kids did it, but that didn’t last very long, I guess.
CED – As you go across the bridge from Stratford to Milford on the Post Road, on the left are some buildings at the end of the bridge. There is a dock down below on the Housatonic River. Just below the bridge on the Stratford side there were some fishermen’s homes. One of the fishermen had a boat for sale. Dad never liked to buy new stuff. He bought this boat. It was about 21 feet long with a round cowling. It had an old motor, a one lunger that went putt, putt, putt. It was in nice shape, nice looking, a nice bow, but it was pretty old. That’s why they sold it, but Dad knew that. We named it the Helen.
LAD – I think I was about nine when we got the Helen. We got her in the mid-20s. The thing I remember most about the Helen was having to caulk it, every seam. It was a wood boat and a lot of caulking had come out. It had been up on land for quite a while. So, we had to caulk it and then seal it with something, I don’t remember now. We kept her on the Housatonic River at a place called French’s Marine or something like that. It was right near the Boston Post Road bridge. We kept her there all the time we had her. Every year we haul her out after the thaw each spring, and I’d caulk the thing from underneath. I got pretty good at it. If you put too much in, it would push the boards apart but it had to be enough to keep the boat from sinking. I don’t remember how many years, but I think we had her for about five or six years.
A year or two after we got the Helen, Dad had the engine taken out of it and he put in a Ford engine model TN. That was a lot heavier than the one cylinder that we had in the boat, it rode down closer to the water at the stern of the boat. It is still referred to as a fan tail. So the back sloped up and the faster we went the lower in the water it got. With that Ford engine, we could run the boat fast enough so that the stern would be below water. You had to be careful not to open the throttle too much. The back of the boat was decked over, the front was decked over with just an open cockpit in the middle. But it was big enough so we could sleep four in there.
The first major trip Dad wanted to take in the Helen was up the Connecticut River. We started out someplace off of New Haven and one of the ropes fell off the bow and wound around the propeller. We were not feeling too well anyway, it was rough weather. We found out afterwards that there had been warnings and we weren’t even supposed to be out there. I think Dan and I were feeling pretty seasick, but we had to do something. We couldn’t do anything with a rope wrapped around the propeller, it wouldn’t go. So I dove down in the water and my seasickness disappeared almost immediately. So that’s what happened anytime I got sick after that, I’d always dive into the water and get rid of it. It worked, it worked for me anyway. We finally got up to Essex, up to the River, and it was getting late, so we pulled into a bay, had supper and we went to bed. I don’t remember who it was, maybe me or Dan or someone got out of the bunk and stepped into water. So we started investigating and there was a lot of water in the boat and the boat was way down in the water. So we bailed them pumped and got the water out. We found out the leak was in the packing gland on the propeller shaft. I don’t know if we could do anything about it at the time or not, but I do know Dad had to go to work. He left us and he was going to get some part of the boat, I don’t remember what part it was, but it took a week to get the part before we solved the problem. I don’t think we went any further up the river, we just came home again.
It’s fascinating how children can remember the same incident in different ways. Why not share a childhood memory with a family member or with a child or grandchild?
Tomorrow we begin a series of letters written in 1942. Both Lad and Dan are serving the the Army of Uncle Sam, being trained in the fields that interest them, Lad, as a mechanic and Dan as a surveyor.