Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Long Short Weekend

Church Street, Woods Hole, overlooking the Atlantic. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, April 11, 2017. Almost summertime temperatures came with the morning Sun, reaching the low 70s by mid-afternoon. The week in New York is expected to be quieter because of the religious holidays running through Easter Sunday. In many cases schools are out also, and many who can, leave town.

The Long Short Weekend, Part II. If you followed us yesterday, you read that this past Friday JH and I drove up to Woods Hole, Massachusetts to attend a memorial for my eldest sister Helen, who died at age 89 this past December 8th. I was not looking forward to the trek simply because it was a long drive and even by plane was as long as the drive because there are few direct flights to the Cape at this time of year. However, JH very kindly volunteered to go with me, and as it happened, he did all the driving. I think he did it gladly, having ridden around with me in the Mini-Cooper.

The service was scheduled for 11 on Saturday morning at the Church of the Messiah. In Wood’s Hole. A five to six hour drive from New York without traffic snags, we decided to leave Friday afternoon and go to Essex, Connecticut, have dinner with friends up there, and finish the trip very early Saturday morning.
The Griswold Inn in Essex, Connecticut. The Inn opened in 1776, is completely modernized with that tip to the original architecture.
My friend Colette Harron booked us a couple of rooms in the Griswold Inn right in the center of Essex, a beautiful little New England (former) fishing village that is so perfectly pristine it’s camera-ready for a Hollywood film. The Griswold also has a restaurant and a bar where there is music in the evenings. It was first opened in 1776 and is in perfect condition, beautifully maintained. As you can see, the rooms are small but big enough, and cozy. The bathrooms are top of the line and the beds are unbelievably comfortable. Furthermore the staff are local people who are relaxed in their jobs, and very helpful.
JH's bedroom on the second floor.
The local paper is about Arts and Antiques. You can get the WSJ and the NY Times and some other dailys in the office.
After checking in, we went over to Colette and Peter Harron's for dinner. Colette is an excellent cook. There was another guest, Sosse Baker, who with her late husband Jack created an oasis for art lovers at their gallery in Chester where they helped to launch and promote the careers of many local artists. Peter had a show or two of his photographs there. Sol Le Witt even had his art framed there. We all hadn’t seen in each other in months and we are all very verbal as well.
Here we are with our host and hostess at their house in Essex: JH, Peter and Colette Harron, DPC, and Sosse Baker.
Sosse signing the guest book. The photo above her is of Colette and Keith Richards back in the '60s. The photo to the right of the mirror is of her great friend Dominick Dunne, who was a neighbor (in the area) until he died.
I hit the hay, as they used to say in New England, about midnight and set the alarm for 6:30. The Inn provides a breakfast free of charge – cereals, fruit, muffins, toast and eggs, coffee, tea and juices.

We were on the road by 7:30 AM. It was a bright, sunny day. Chilly but not cold. There was little to no traffic all the way to the Cape and the rotary in Bourne.
A view of Main St. from the office of the Griswold Inn.
A variety of cold cereals, English muffins and milk waiting for us.
The breakfast room at 7 AM.
When they're full up, good for breakfast and dinner.
JH took this picture as witness to the vagaries of age (aside from our own), out behind the Inn.
A view of a cove and harbor that all lets out onto the Connecticut River. 7:30 AM.
The ducks came ashore when they saw JH (taking their picture) presumably thinking there might be something (to eat) in it for them.
No description required.
The road leading out of the center of Essex passes the harbor. You can see that it is a boating community, as it was three centuries ago. A different kind of boating of course.
Woods Hole is a beautiful area right at the heel of the Cape. I’d been to the Cape many times since childhood but had never seen this particular area. We arrived 30 minutes before the actual service and did a little sight-seeing.
Arriving in Woods Hole a little after 10 AM, we found the church and then continued down the road to get a glimpse of the neighborhood. That's Martha's Vineyard in the distant shoreline.
A house and a pond behind the same spot.
Looking across Church Street.
In the distance is Nobska Point Light lighthouse on the southwestern tip of the Cape.
By ten-thirty guests were gathering in Fisher House, a church-owned building across the road from the church.

My niece Susan Mellen, Helen’s only daughter, had set out a lot of photographs from Helen’s long life, including those of her teenage years when she graduated from high school, and when she married her husband Raymond Mellen in 1946, right after the war (WWII).
The Church of the Messiah as seen from the Village Cemetery.
At 11 a.m, the service began in the beautiful little stone Church of the Messiah.  The Reverend Deborah Warner opened the service with a reading of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

For everything thing there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted ...

Followed by the 23rd Psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want ...
This is a family gravesite. My mother is buried here along with her granddaughters, and their step-mother and her parents. My sister and her husband and their first born, James, are in a cemetery near the Bourne Bridge.
My mother's gravesite.
Then Susan introduced Helen’s oldest friend, Shirley Alger Glaze, who is now in her 93rd  year. I’ve known Shirley all my life because of that friendship. As a young woman, she was raven-haired with beautiful bright eyes and and an outgoing personality. She recalled first meeting my sister, when they were both young mothers and walked together pushing their babies’ carriages. She mentioned Helen's ability as a seamstress, often making clothes for herself including long dresses as well as coats and jackets.
The two old friends — seventy years of friendship. Shirley Alger Dorrington Kaminski Glaze and Helen Mellen. Shirley is three years older.
I was nervous, of course, about speaking. Helen and I had a very close relationship and yet we saw very little of each other from the time I went away to college to the very end of our lives. 

She married when I was only four years old, and was out of the house. Because my mother “had to work” to keep the roof over our heads and the food on the table, I often spent time at Helen’s house. When I was five years old, she had her first child, James, and I suddenly had a baby brother. James was followed four years later by Susan, and four years after that by Brian. So I had three small siblings who called little David “Uncle” David.
The reception room of Fisher House, across the road from the church where the service would take place. People were gathering here before the service.
Bob Flanagan, Susan Mellen, (Helen's daughter) and me. Bob and Helen and I had the same birth mother, and different fathers. Susan planned the memorial. She often traveled with her mother at the end of Helen's life. It was interesting, having known Susan all her life, from birth, to see that as an adult she shared the same wit and humor as her mother. So as travel companions, they were ideal, and always had much to notice and much to evoke their laughter.
I naturally loved my niece and nephews and the first baby, James, was soon old enough to be playmate for this young boy. I see in retrospect that the presence of the little ones in my young life, along with that of their mother, my sister, was a natural comfort for me from the difficult household of two parents who were often at loggerheads.

I never thought much about the mechanism of my relationship to Helen until this time in our lives because although we saw each other infrequently for the past fifty years, she was always there. We corresponded regularly at least once a month and often more frequently. In childhood, she was a second mother looking after me sharing her new married/family life, often sheltering me from the storm of my parents’ house, as well as sharing her largesse/living comforts. As a teenager she picked me up every Sunday morning to attend church together. At Christmas time, she was the Santa Claus who always left an abundance of gaily wrapped packages under the tree in my mother and father’s house.
As was the habit of her generation — the first to grow up with cameras from the beginning, Helen took lots of photos on certain occasions, made albums, and saved them all.
Helen's engagement photo. This must have been inscribed to her then fiance, Raymond. On it she wrote: "Je vous aime beaucoup ..." no doubt after a popular song that was first made famous by a cabaret chanteuse named Hildegarde. The song had been written by Anna Sosenko, Hildegarde's manager who, it was said, was madly in love with her client for whom she wrote this song.
The bride and groom on their wedding day. Raymond had returned from the war where he was last stationed in Germany. They married in the First Congregational Church in Southwick, Massachusetts. She was 19 and he was 23.
The local paper write up.
Somehow I felt impelled to write to her when I went away to college and always thereafter. She naturally responded so that I could confide, or let off steam about my own life. A couple of years ago, she sent me a large cardboard carton which contained the hundreds of letters I’d written her over the years right up to the time she sent the box.

She was a woman who was quick to laugh off many of the harsher ironies of life. She was also a person who had a natural inclination to help others in need. I realize, looking back, that I was one of those “others” — although I always felt at home around her and paid her the respect you pay a loving parent.

She was not demonstrative physically. We weren’t “huggers” or with verbal exclamations of love and affection. It wasn’t missed because it was never there. But the respect was in her presence and her emotional stability. Those were expressions of affection to this boy and this man.
The bride and groom were settled in a new home they bought a couple of years after they married. It had two bedrooms, a living room, dining room and kitchen and a one car garage. In time Raymond, who was a carpenter and LOVED his work to the point where to others it seemed obsessive, eventually turned it into a four bedroom with a two-car garage.
Raymond, unlike his wife, did not have a very social personality and would have been happy to go to work, come home, work some more at home, go to bed and get up the next day to repeat. Helen, being a very sociable person found this exercise something she could interest her husband in and from that they had a social life outside of their family. She is wearing a skirt she made for the occasion, and he is wearing a shirt she made for him to match her skirt.
Helen and Ray and James and his second wife on their wedding day. Jim had two small daughters with his first wife, from a teenage marriage that began with what they used to call a shotgun wedding. They divorced and he remarried this lovely girl whom he adored. He shared custody of his two daughter from his first wife. They lived on the Cape in town near Helen and Ray. One night in October 1977, driving home with his wife and two daughters, after visiting his mother and father, their car was hit head on by a young driver on the wrong side of the road, drunk, without license or registration, killing James, his wife and his daughters instantly, while the drunk driver walked away from the collision. This was without question, the saddest experience of my sister's life. Not being one to talk about her thoughts and feelings but inclined instead to tough it out, she suffered gravely. For a year afterwards she had phantom pains and illnesses that eventually led to exploratory surgery (this was before MRIs and CT scans). They found nothing. Helen soldiered on. She described her loss as they're being "safe and in heaven ..." I can't say she never got over it because she never discussed it. I wrote to her on her son's birthday, however; reminding her of what he had given me.
I don't know where this photo was taken although it looks like the Cape and the coastline where they had a house that Ray built.
Her outward personality was what we’d call  “easy-going” and yet her life, her history, her early childhood were marked by disappointment and near abandonment.  Although I am and was aware of those matters about her life, she never even referred to them.

Instead she gave.  I discovered that simple secret of hers much later in life, used to her natural generosity and affection: she gave. There were many a neighbor, elderly or disabled, or ill, for whom she would run errands or surprise with a visit along with something needed or groceries delivered. She did it so quietly and matter-of-factly that one could almost take it for granted. I’m sure she got her thanks although she never looked for it or asked for it or made any reference to the contrary.
This photo was taken at the wedding of our favorite aunt, our mother's sister Jennette. After the wedding, in discussing the "new" groom (they were both in their 60s, then considered "very" old), Helen said it looked like "lambs to the slaughter" to her, referring to our beloved aunt vis-a-vis the groom. Her intuition proved to be brutally correct. Here, left to right, Raymond, Jane's daughter Beth, Helen, Jane, and DPC.
That's Helen, standing in the middle in white, and her lifelong friend Shirley Glaze in the red on the left. A group of old friends keeping up ...
Here's one of the last photos of Helen. She was in very ill health the last few years of her life. She had a heart issue that doctors told her she was too old to undergo surgery. However, characteristically, she continued to live her life as she always had. Never extreme hours or overtaxing days, she lived in moderation all her life. So when ill-health came upon her, she went to the doc, took it in stride and kept moving. Her daughter told me that in the last years she often had to remind her mother to take her meds. However, one of her great pleasures in the latter years was traveling, all over the world. In November of last year, they'd made plans to travel to Scotland where one of Helen's great-nieces was in university. In the weeks preceding the trip, she was in very delicate condition.

Convinced she'd recover before departure, Susan, knowing her mother didn't like wasting money, told her that they could get their deposit back if they canceled, taking into consideration Helen's very bad state. Helen's response was: "if I'm going to die, does it matter where I am?" And so they went to Scotland where only two or three days later, she came down with serious cardio-bronchial problems and was hospitalized for two weeks. We were concerned that she would never leave the hospital. But on the third week, she did and they quickly made it back to the States and to Naples, Florida where they lived. She called me when she got home. Happy to be there, unconcerned. Three days later she went into the hospital and departed forever.

Contact DPC here.