Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Wedding Anniversary

After writing my last blog about cousins who have died relatively young (at least younger than I am now), I thought I’d write one on a much happier subject – long-lived marriages among my relatives. This July will mark my 45th anniversary. While traditionally that is not one of the “significant” anniversaries such as 40th (Ruby) or 50th (Gold), I’m told that the jeweler’s association calls it the Sapphire anniversary (in order to sell more jewelry I suppose). But here is a look at my immediate relatives who have long marriages. (Note that some of the years below may be off by one since I don’t always have the exact date of the marriage, etc.)

My father’s relatives

While my father’s parents divorced and re-married, thus not ever celebrating the length of marriage that qualifies as “long” in this blog, there were other of his relatives that did so. (I’m going to name them as I knew them, so the “great” that belongs in front of some of these is missing.)

49 years – Aunt Loretta and Uncle George Macnaught
63 years – Aunt Pauline and Uncle Harold Scott
51 years – Aunt Dot and Uncle Bob Hill
60 years – my parents (actually just a couple of days less than 60)

My mother’s relatives

My mother’s family was marked by many long marriages, including all of my mother’s siblings.

50 years – Grammy and Grampy Pierpont (cut short by his premature death due to an accident)
58 years – Uncle Zeke and Aunt Babs
38 years – Aunt Alie and Uncle Joe (she married later in life)
65 years – Uncle Dick and Aunt Trudy
54 years – Aunt Vi and Uncle Tony

My wife’s family

My wife’s relatives included numerous divorces and re-marriages, so among her close relatives, only her parents had the long marriage that you can see was common in my family as listed above. This trend of divorces (and in one case death due to cancer) has continued among my wife’s siblings, so none of her siblings will ever be on this list.

60 years – Charles and Mary VanDeCar

The current generation

The tradition of long marriages among my mother’s relatives will be continuing, as I have several siblings and cousins who have already passed the 30 year mark and may eventually pass me depending on how long each of us lives. I wish all of them many more years together so that we may each celebrate our Ruby/Sapphire/Gold/Emerald/Diamond/etc. anniversaries. (The years are how many years I believe each of us will be celebrating in 2016, hope I got these right and haven’t forgotten anyone).

45 years – my wife and I (July 17th)
35 years – my brother Chuck and his wife Joanne
33 years – my brother Edd and his wife Ingrid
45 years – my cousin Dave and his wife Bev (in June – he’s got a four week head-start on me!)
35 years – my cousin Rob and his wife Judi
43 years – my cousin Cindy and her husband Chris
34 years – my cousin Ron and his wife Nadine

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Cousin Memoriam

In the past month two of my cousins have passed away. This makes a total of five of the cousins that I grew up with who have now passed away at a younger age than I am now. I’d like to dedicate this blog post to them as I recount how my life has been affected by theirs.

Bruce Hill (1/14/1948-1/27/1992)

I was close to Bruce during most of my growing up years. Since we were both born in 1948 we were in the same grade in school. However, since his family lived at the other end of town, we only attended the same school during our high school years. There were a lot of other reasons why we were close. My father and his father were also the same age and were best friends during the last few years of high school as well when they lived just around the corner from each other. My father’s older sister married his father’s older brother. So while Bruce and I were technically not cousins (i.e. we did not share a grandparent), we had cousins in common (i.e. he was my cousin’s cousin) and we always acted like cousins.

Bruce’s parents married just a short time after my parents. Since my parents had purchased a house and his parent’s home was not yet ready for them to move into, his parents stayed for a few months in one of the semi-finished bedrooms on the second floor of my parents’ home. There was a dark brown metal-framed double bed (and not much else) up there that they used. But his parents had a somewhat rocky relationship and when things weren’t going well Bruce would often come to stay with us. I have a number of pictures of the two of us playing together as toddlers and then young children. Even though he lived about 5-6 miles away, it was not unusual to find him walking up the street to our house until things “blew over”.

When his parents finally divorced, his father was given full custody. That was a pretty unusual thing back in those days, but gives some indication of what the relationship was like. Although I didn't see him much after we graduated from high school, he remained in contact with my mother, who had a very loving and accepting attitude. He stayed in contact with her periodically for the rest of his life.

Bruce adopted the homosexual life style at a time when those types of relationships were more often kept “in the closet”. He died from a complications of AIDS just a few days after his 44th birthday.

Bob Hill (10/5/1944-9/7/2010)

Bob (“Bobby”) was four years older than I and he was the cousin in between Bruce and I. While the age difference meant that we not as close growing up, there were still a lot of connections. As the oldest in my family, one would think that I would get all the new clothes and would pass them down to my younger brothers. But until I got to be taller than Bobby in my high school years, he was the one who got the new clothes and then passed them down to me first. So I grew up wearing his hand-me-downs.

When it came time to choose a college I was conflicted between a smaller school and a larger one. Although the larger one would offer more opportunities, I came from a small high school and a graduating class of about 160 and the thought of a large university was pretty scary. But Bobby had gone to Michigan State (enrollment back then was 44,000 on their single campus) and he convinced me to at least visit it and try it out. I did so, ended up liking it, and then attended there for the next five years (three years as an undergraduate and two years of graduate school).

He had graduated by the time I started my freshman year, but had also married and was living just a few towns away. Thus, my relationship became closer during those years. This continued even through my early married years when my wife and I would stop to visit on our annual visit to Michigan to see her family.

Bob and his wife also had a pretty acrimonious relationship and they later divorced with her getting custody of their two children. Bob had his degree in education and he then moved to Florida where he taught for many years, where he married and divorced a few more times. I did not see him but once or twice during the remainder of his life, but his primary contact, like Bruce’s, was through my mother. He would often come back to Connecticut during the summer and stay with her. He passed away at the age of 65.

Gary Pierpont (8/26/1952-1/20/2014)

Just as Bobby was four years older than I, Gary was four years younger. He lived only a couple of houses away, but as he had an older brother, Dave, just a few months younger than I, as well as an older sister, there were few reasons for us to get close, so he was the “pesky little brother” and Dave and I usually did not want him around.

Gary got his degree in Bible from Baptist Bible College. He did not lead a church, but he had a lot of other positive characteristics that enabled him to work with and help others in his quiet way. I didn't see him much in his later years. He passed away at the age of only 61 from a heart attack.

Craig Hill (2/18/1951-1/7/2016)

Craig was the younger brother of Bruce. Thus, just like my relationship with Gary was not close as I was much closer in age to Dave, so I had a close relationship with Bruce and not Craig. He had the same type of relationship with my mother though and she was the primary contact with him for many years.

Craig served with the Army during the Vietnam War and became one of the many individuals who were exposed to Agent Orange. By the time he returned I had moved to Pennsylvania and so I lost personal touch with him. It was not until my mother’s memorial service in 2012 that I saw him again when he came up and re-introduced himself to me. Our relationship then became closer and he hosted an extended Hill-Russell family gathering at his home the following summer.

But by then it was apparent that his exposure to Agent Orange was going to be the eventual cause of his death. He had survived one serious bout of cancer, but when the second one happened he decided that the chemo and other treatments for it were not worth it. So, although the official cause of his death will be attributed to cancer, it was really his exposure to Agent Orange that was the start of it. He was only 64.

Pat (Pierpont) Burns Gatewood (10/28/1957-2/6/2016)

Pat (“Patty”) was the only one of these cousins who did not grow up in the same town. Her family lived in Prospect, the next town to the south. But 10 miles is not much. Since she was more than nine years younger than I and the opposite gender, I had little in common with her growing up. When I went away to college she was an eight-year-old. So she and my youngest brother had more in common – and their paths crossed many times over the years.

Our paths did cross during one significant time in her life. When she got married, the service was in a church only ten miles from where my wife and I were living, so we had the opportunity to attend. The ceremony was quite unique so I have always remembered it.

Following the wedding ceremony, she and her new husband had a joint baptism ceremony. Their being immersed and thus giving a public profession of their faith together was a very moving experience. What a great way to start your married life together!

She and her husband moved to California where for several years they lived not that far from my brother and sister-in-law. Later all of them became involved in missions. Pat was the Chief Administrative Officer for Global Teams ( Her daughter Steph (Burns) Villafranca also works for the same missions agency.

Pat passed away suddenly last weekend at the age of 58 as a result of a genetic brain condition and seizures. Although I have not physically crossed paths with Pat in several decades, it is nice to know that we will see each other again someday.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Bristol Radio/TV – WBIS and ESPN

These days the city of Bristol is associated with ESPN. They have a 100+ acre campus, over a million square feet of office and broadcast space, and nearly 4,000 employees in Bristol. But ESPN was a new startup company that only began operation in 1979, which is after the time when I lived in Wolcott.

In the decades before then, the only “media” company in Bristol was WBIS, a local AM radio station. Their 500 watt transmitter was only enough to reach residents of Bristol, but for those of us who lived in the extreme north end of Wolcott, because we were on a hill overlooking Bristol we could pick it up. They only operated during the day and with a very small staff who were on the third floor of a building in downtown Bristol. The transmitter was up on the hill on the south side of Bristol and was only two crow-fly miles from my house.

In the early 1960’s one of my friends from the neighborhood was Dana Powell. He and his family had moved to Wolcott when he started high school and they lived in the last house on Idlewood Rd, which at the time was a dead-end road. Dana was a year older than I was. One of his “claims to fame” was that in the fall of 1960 Bob Carroll did his student teaching in the elementary school in Plainville where Dana had come from. When Bob graduated from Fairfield University his first job in the Wolcott school system was as a 7th grade teacher at Alcott School and I was in his class. Bob then moved to Wolcott High School and I had him again in 9th grade for Civics and yet again my senior year for Contemporary Issues. So while I had him three times, Dana had him first.

In the summer of 1964, one of the DJs/operators at WBIS was someone whom Dana had known from when he lived in Plainville. Dana was able to get him to invite us to come to the WBIS studio at a time when he was on duty and spend some time in the broadcast studio. We rode our bicycles down the long hill into Bristol one summer morning (I didn’t ride into Bristol very often, because while the ride down the hill was one long downhill of a couple of miles, that also meant that it was a long uphill climb on the way home and all we had were single-speed bicycles).

Since this was a small-town radio station with a very low power transmitter and a limited audience, the equipment in the studio was fairly sparse as well. As I recall there was a swivel chair with a work surface that had a small mixer and a microphone/earphones, two turntables, a rack with a couple of reel-to-reel tape decks, and a teletype machine. The turntables were each about 2’x2’ that were mounted on springs so that vibrations from passing trucks would not make the records skip (yes, the primary media of the day were vinyl records!). The room next to the studio was filled with racks of vinyl records from which the operator/DJ would choose the records to be played during his shift.

What was being played was a combination of pre-recorded shows (which were on tape), music (on vinyl records), and “live” news and weather each hour. But it was this latter “live” portion that was the most intriguing to me.

Shortly before the time for the news, the operator would get up from his chair and go over to the teletype machine (I believe it was connected to the AP (Associate Press) wire service. He would rip off anything that had been printed during the prior hour, scan it and circle any items that looked they would be interesting to the audience. For the news/weather time, he would first put on a record that consisted of solely the sound of a teletype machine (both as a signal to the audience and to give the impression that you were in a newsroom?). The record was pretty beat up since it got used multiple times each day. He would start it off loud, then use the mixer to back the volume off as he began speaking. He would just read, sometimes with a little commentary, what he had circled from the wire service report.

For the “weather” it was even less formal. He would wheel his office chair over near the window that faced west (the studio was a corner office on the third floor with windows facing both west and south, and thus he had a pretty good view of the sky to the west of the city). There was a thermometer fastened to the window frame outside the window. He would glance at it and then look at the sky to the west (the direction from which most weather comes). His words on the air would then be something like, “It’s 75 degrees in downtown Bristol with mostly sunny skies. Looks like a good chance of rain this evening…”. A totally on-the-spot report based on nothing more than a thermometer and a west-facing-third-floor window! I was a little shocked. Compared to today’s professional meteorologists and sophisticated computer models, this was rudimentary indeed.

But such was the technology in small-town USA back in 1964. Little could one suspect that Bristol was going to become the hub of the largest sports media network in the world in the decades that followed.

If you want some additional information, you can read about the history of WBIS here -