Gramma Grew Up

Sarah Maud Pomeroy was born in 1884 in a small village in Ontario, Canada. Her parents were Henry Pomeroy and his wife Sarah Ann Webb.

When Maud was in her teens, her mother contracted Tuberculosis and died, leaving 14 year-old Maud to raise her younger siblings, 10 year-old Jessie and 3 year-old Grace. Her two brothers were “farmed out” to another family.

Maud contracted the TB and overheard the doctor tell her father that she, too, would probably die. Determined NOT to die, Maud moved her bed out onto the porch and spent as much time outdoors as she could, breathing the fresh air in deep breaths. She arrested the disease. (Lucky for me, eh?)

The brothers were unhappy in the family they had gone to live with, so one Sunday morning when the rest of that family had gone to church, Maud “kidnapped” her brother Harry and one other brother [although I can’t verify which brother that would have been, because the other boys were older than Maud] and brought them home.

Their father did not remarry, and Maud’s childhood came to an end before her 15th birthday. She raised her younger siblings and took over the household chores, but it certainly never dampened her sense of humor or love of a prank!

The Train

My grandmother, Sarah Maud Andrus, was widowed in 1945, two months after I was born. My parents and I were living in an apartment that had been created in the 2nd floor of my grandparents’ house. We continued to live there until our purchase of a house and 2 acres of land in a small town just east of Rochester, and when we moved there in 1950, Gramma came with us.

It wasn’t long before she was the most sought-after babysitter in the area. Kids loved her, parents loved her,and she drove herself to and from each job.  

On New Year’s Eve in 1958, on her way to a sitting job, Gramma’s car was struck by a freight train and dragged some distance down the tracks. The policeman who arrived on the scene took one look and concluded that there could be no survivors in the car – but when he ran a check of the license plate number, he realized that he knew Maud, and he made the extra effort it took to pry open one door of the car. There, crushed down under the passenger-side dashboard, was my grandmother.    

She was rushed to the nearest hospital, and despite breaking many bones – including many bones in her hands and fingers – and suffering a severe concussion, Maud lived to walk and laugh again.    A few years later, I would practice my driving skills in preparation for the licensing test by driving Maud and a couple of her friends around the countryside east of Rochester. She never drove a car again, but she maintained her sense of humor and was mentally keen until her death in 1966.

Tuberculosis

Recently I told the story of my great grandmother dying of tuberculosis, my grandmother catching it but “curing” herself by moving her bed out onto the porch and taking frequent deep breaths of the fresh air. Grandma survived TB, but if you survived it in those days, you would always be a carrier of the disease.
 
In 1974, my mother became ill. She was exhausted and became weak, yet she showed no other symptoms of anything until she began to run a fever.
 
Eventually she was admitted to Genesee Hospital in Rochester, her illness “TUO” – Temperature of Unknown Origin. Tests of all kinds were administered over the next three weeks, yet none showed any cause for her illness, and as she continued to get weaker and run a higher temperature, a specialist in infectious diseases was called in from Strong Memorial Hospital.
 
Her suspicion was that my mother had tuberculosis that was not in her lungs. Liver, bone, lymph – you name the organ, and they tested it for TB, yet all results were negative. Finally, without any obvious disease to cure, the specialist said, essentially, “If it walks like a duck and if it quacks like a duck, it has to be a duck,” and they decided to treat for TB. The test was to last a week.
 
After six days and no change in my mother’s temperature or overall state, her doc confided in me that if it were up to him, they would stop the TB drugs that night because they weren’t helping, but he couldn’t do that – he would have to wait until the specialist came in the next morning, because only she could order it stopped.
 
That night – and never again for nearly six weeks thereafter – my mother’s temperature dropped to NORMAL for several hours. The specialist concluded that perhaps they were on the right track and ordered the treatment continued.
 
A month after her admission to the hospital, my mother was discharged to go home and continue the treatment for TB, twelve months of taking a combination of powerful drugs. She was finally given a definite diagnosis of TB when, months later, her eyes showed the telltale markings of the disease. She lived another 23 years.
 
Grandma had lived with us until I was in my late teens, so I, like my mother, have been well exposed. So far, so good, with me, but at least I know what could happen.

TV

My father didn’t earn a very big salary, and although we were comfortable and never felt we lacked anything, there were some things we just didn’t own. A TV set was one of them.

In my early childhood, TV wasn’t a common household item, and my father had loudly vowed it would not become one in ours. Back in those days, his aversion to the snowy black and white screen was reasonable: we could listen to a number of radio dramas (and did), and we could read. The radio sat beside our round kitchen table in the small apartment upstairs in my grandmother’s house, and our tiny family huddled close as Straight Arrow yelled “Kenneewah, Fury!” and galloped from his secret cave to capture the rustlers. It just could never get any more exciting or better than that – really and truly.

We moved to our own home in 1950, bringing Grandma with us, and my mother set about making repairs (she was the handyman of the family) as my father began turning the two acre yard into his own small version of Central Park. In the excitement of nesting, the first year or two must have flown by for them. I loved this new home too. There were neighborhood kids to play with, including some with TV sets, and I would regularly go to their homes to watch The Lone Ranger, Sky King and The Cisco Kid.

Fall came in the third year of our residency, and – perhaps sensing that he was losing his daughter to the neighbors – my father suddenly embraced the modern age: he announced we were going to get a television set. He purchased a small, used Philco, and we impatiently awaited its arrival. (In those days, apparently it was assumed that the average homeowner was not technically savvy enough to carry one home, place the “rabbit ears” on top, and plug it in). The delivery man/technician arrived in the knick of time: the Yankees were just taking the field, and we were all seated in a straight row of wooden chairs in front of the space prepared for the electronic marvel. It took the Bronx Bombers six games to beat the Bums from Brooklyn, and we saw every minute of it, animistically letting the TV “rest” between games.

With the exception of “The Two Ronnies,” “The Dukes of Hazard,” the 1980 US vs. USSR Olympic hockey game and an enjoyable run of “Northern Exposure” in the 1990s, I guess you could say the experience went downhill from there. These days, the TV “rests” between Netflix offerings, replaced by NPR, good music or just plain sweet silence. Whenever I drive through the Tug Hill region, I can pick up a station that plays the old radio dramas, and you know what? They are still great!

Chum

Several weeks ago I spent an interesting and enjoyable few days pooting around the Upper Hudson with a Toronto chum. Here, at the site of the Revolutionary War Battle of Saratoga, she gets a better understanding of the lay of the land.

We followed the routes of ancestors, pored over old land records, visited museums and historic sites, stomped through old cemeteries and visited locks along the waterway connecting Lake Champlain and New York City. She taught me the value of “trying on” a locale to better understand one’s ancestors; I taught her that ice cream cones are sold in Stewart’s shops and can be found in nearly every village.

Here’s to fun with a purpose, and here’s to friendship!

The Pamily Wedding

Last Saturday, my daughter married. Her husband is a wonderful man who has been “Papa” to her four-year-old son, fixer of household things, confidante, occasional chauffeur, and all-around good guy – her “best friend” for many years. Everyone in the family is glad for them, for it is clear they love each other and will share happiness.

He is a widower somewhat older than she and has a grown daughter; otherwise, there are few relatives on his side of the family. The horde of her relations made the trip north from New York, Washington and Arizona – the usual jolly, hard-to-miss army.

The wedding was beautiful and personal. The best man, matron of honor and I each read poems written by other family members; her next-door neighbor sang beautifully as my next-door neighbor played the piano. The array of guests included many members of the local Bike Club (the couple met peddling) who feel a sense of surrogacy, the parents of one of my daughter’s patients, and many loyal and long-time friends and co-workers.

There was a simple but lovely reception held in the church, followed by a dinner for family and the wedding party, and on Sunday evening I hosted the final event of the weekend, a dinner for family at my house. As the bride and groom and their entourage were leaving, I hugged the groom’s grown daughter and warmly exclaimed, “Like it or not, you’re a fart of our pamily now.”

Yep. We’re now one big happy pamily, and each one of us is a special fart of it. And this fart needs some sleep!

My Father

I write this on the eve of the 16th anniversary of my father’s death. Sometimes I remember him so clearly that I can hear his voice; other times his presence seems so very long ago that when I try to picture the details of his face, what forms in my mind’s eye is really the recollection of some photograph or other, the image of one particular instant fixed in time by light striking film – not the real man at all.

The youngest of ten children born to Austro-Hungarian immigrants, raised in a tenement on New York City’s upper east side and orphaned at the age of 20, he took to the Adirondack woods. His days were often spent climbing the high peaks; his nights reading Keats, Shelley, Shakespeare, William Joseph Long or Thoreau by oil lamp light.

And so, on this anniversary of the last night we spent together, I offer you a photograph of my father at the summit of Mt. Marcy, January 30, 1931. The temperature was 5 degrees below zero.

I stop writing and walk to the mudroom door, peer in, and see the same snowshoes, now sporting new leather bindings and – God forgive me – a bit of duct-tape here and there – and I am thankful for that piece of me that is him.

I miss you, Packy.