I Met Mr. C
My husband's grandfather died many years before my husband and I ever met . . . and yet, he is one of the most memorable folks in my life. How did that happen? Well, before he died, Mr. C. wrote his memoirs.
My husband could remember seeing his grandfather pen those words. He told me that Mr. C. used green ink as he recorded the years of his life. He dedicated the book to his family. Little did he know how much those words would one day be cherished by a woman who married his grandson.
Mr. C. was born in England and made the ocean journey to the States in 1906. One of the first things he relates is a faint recollection of swinging on a rail on the 3rd deck of the Cunard Liner. He was unaware of the danger of falling into the ocean below until after his dad snatched him to safety.
The adventures of Mr.C.'s life began right away. Half-way across the Atlantic, there was a bad storm, the ship lost a propeller and was adrift for several days! Still, after a fortnight, they made it from Liverpool to Ellis Island. As I read the hand-written pages, history becomes alive for me.
Memoirs written by someone with a phenomenal memory are amazing. Mr. C. recalled his first Christmas in America. He was but two and a half years old but could remember his stocking with candy, nuts and a small orange and a little farm set complete with tiny animals.
Exciting things punctuated his childhood. There was a hot, humid day when the sky darkened and they lit the kerosene lamps as an electrical storm started. The windows were still open . . . and a ball of lightening, "bluish, green fire" flashed THROUGH their home!
Haley's Comet flashed through the sky a few years later. This little boy knew that folks around him were frightened by this event. There were even folks that killed themselves because they thought that it was the end of the world. He described it as "an enormous phenomenon with a large head and a long swooping tail that seemed to reach almost across the sky".
It is one thing today to experience something like that but in those days with limited knowledge and no high tech means of communication . . . can you imagine? I can . . . because Mr.C. shared his recollections with his family and ultimately with me.
Some of Mr.C.'s memories probably need some interpretation. He remembers that his sister's hair was very straight and that his dad shaved her head to try and make her hair curly. Might there have been another reason to shave a little girl's head back then?
I was introduced to Billy Sunday, a fiery preacher who sometimes broke chairs or even the pulpit "in his enthusiasm when preaching." Mr. C. first heard him preach in Springfield, Illinois. It was the same town where he might "Indians" decked out in all their native attire.
Mr. C.'s dad was a coal miner and when the mine in Springfield closed, they moved to Farmington, Illinois. As Mr.C. is writing his memoirs as a 62 year old grandfather, he confesses to playing hooky with his cousin back in first grade . . . and recalls that his folks had never learned of this indiscretion.
What other kind of adventures touched the life of this young man in the early 1900's? Well, his second brother was born at home. This was the fourth child born into this family (Mr. C. being the eldest). Ernest was delivered by a midwife who held him near the coal stove to warm him up . . . a little too close . . . and burned his hand . . . burning off the ends of his fingers!
"Commercial" fishing one time with his dad and his uncle brought them about $3.00 for several bushels of cat fish, carp and bass. Bushels of fish? How did they get them? A stick of dynamite tossed into the creek yielded that haul!
Mr. C.'s neighbor bought a newspaper from some boys calling, "Extra! Extra!" on April 15, 1912. This is how Mr.C. begins his recollection of the sinking of the Titanic. He goes on to write: "this surely had been the greatest tragedy of the century."
At around 11 years of age, Mr.C. rode a bicycle and a train. The bicycle had to have been an interesting sight to see. It consisted of a frame given to Mr. C. by a cousin, a rear wheel he found at the dump and, for the front wheel, an old iron fly wheel from an old wringer washer! He was delighted with his bike and had a blast riding it. Oh, to have children today that could enjoy such a bike.
And what about the train? Well, hanging around the depot and getting to know the engineers afforded our young man the opportunity to scare the daylights out of his mom. He "drove" the train along the track behind their home one day and "tooted the whistle" at her. Later that day, she gave him a talking to and dad took him to the woodshed . . . but for the eleven year old "engineer", it was well worth it.
Times certainly were different then : ice boxes, cars with kerosene lamps for headlights, cars that ran on steam. A simpler life at times . . . but sad at times, too: quarantines for scarlet fever, the flu epidemic of 1916 when Mr.C. brother Ernest was one of the many, many town folks who died, quitting school at 15 to go to work to support the family because his dad was not able to work due to an injury.
Mr. C. grew up, met a girl, got married. It would be wonderful to add, "lived happily ever after" but that was not to be. There were happy years but one of the most profound memories Mr. C. shared from years gone by was about Bobby, their first child.
Bobby was born June 3, 1925 and was a delight to both his mom and dad until tragedy struck on November 12, 1927. Bobby got sick that night. The next day croupy and coughing with a fever, the family doctor suspected diphtheria. Another doctor, a "baby doctor" came to the house to confirm the diagnosis and gave the little boy some "anti-toxin" in a desperate but futile attempt to save his life.
Mr. C. wrote: "I carried him around the house day and night until Tuesday morning . . . when I handed him over to the doctor who stayed close by our side during this ordeal. The doctor laid him on the dining room table and worked with him for about 15 minutes and then pronounced him dead . . ." As I write those words, a lump rises in my throat and tears come to my eyes. The first time I read them, I just flat out bawled!
As Mr.C. wrote these words almost 40 years later, he adds, "as I write this portion of my story, my eyes are blurred and filled with tears . . . No one will ever know the heartache and loneliness that this can bring < unless > they have gone through it." Because he shared his story, I shared his grief if only for a moment. I have never forgotten this "portion" of his story.
In December 1941, the radio program Mr. C. was listening to was interrupted by a special new bulletin, "Pearl Harbor had been bombed" March 1943, a pastor from a local church came and visited with Mr. C and his wife in their home. That visit led to them surrendering their lives to the Lord and becoming active in that church. In September 1943, Mr. C. was promoted to 3rd shift foreman at Caterpillar's machine shop. Because of the war, the company had begun to hire women and a night shift foreman had to deal with "problems" that arose because of it. Mr.C. recalls the first and second atomic bombs and the surrender of the Japanese.
The years were filled with history and family. Mr. C. and his wife raised three kids. His mother had a stroke in 1950. He held her hand as she lay in her hospital bed before she died. He realized how much he loved her after she was gone. In 1954, grandchildren began to arrive. Time passed. In 1964, Mr. C. and his wife took a trip to Dallas. Three weeks later on the same street that they had walked on, President Kennedy was assassinated.
Mr. C.'s memoirs close with the U.S hoping to put a man on the moon. He tells us, "There have actually been so many thousands of incidents that have taken place during my life that I could not possibly write them all in this story." He said that he tried to share things that he "could remember" and "things that would be of interest".
Carl Sagan said, "One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time." I read Mr. C.'s memoirs and I heard his voice and traveled to an earlier time. I experienced history from the perspective of the common man. A simple man who chose to record his memories dedicated to his family and special, very special, to me.
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