Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Wolcott Memories – Trip to New York City

I grew up in Wolcott, CT, where my parents spent their entire married life. They had moved into the house that they had purchased in 1946 and both died in that same house in 2006 and 2012 respectively. With five children – born in 1948, 1949, 1954, 1956, and 1958 – there was never a lot of money for somewhat frivolous things like vacations in the earlier years. And with 23 acres of woods and a pond behind the house, we already lived in a place that others would have liked to vacation. It was not until I was older that we began having a regular summer vacation and went camping – first with a tent, then a pop-up camper. Our vacation for many years was to Cape Cod, but that was a “working vacation” (more on that in a later blog).

In the early summer of 1956, we took a short vacation to New York City. My brother Chuck was only a year-and-a-half old, and my mother would have been 5 months pregnant with my sister Dawn. So Chuck was left, probably with my grandmother, for a few days while my parents, I and my sister Beth, took a short vacation to New York City. This was in the days before the interstate highways had been built, so we traveled down Route 8 from Waterbury to Bridgeport, then took the Merritt Parkway along the coast to New York. It’s a two-hour drive these days, but back then would have been three hours or more depending on traffic.

This was not a long vacation, as we only stayed over two nights. So that would have given us the afternoon of the first day (probably a Friday), all day Saturday, and a partial day on Sunday before we returned. Since we wanted to put several activities into a relatively short amount of time, my father had arranged a hotel stay right in the heart of things – Times Square. From there we could walk to anywhere else we wanted. I don’t remember all the places we visited – after all, since we were “country folk”, just being in the “Big Apple” was exciting enough, but I still have a few vivid memories of that weekend.

The first was the hotel that we stayed at. I don’t remember the name of it, and it has long since been torn down and a larger, taller building is now there, but I know where it was. As you looked out the window, we were on the back side of a New York City landmark of the day – the neon Little Lulu sign. You can see it here in this old picture of Times Square (http://michelesworld.net/dmm/lulu/pc2.jpg). The picture is of Broadway between 43rd and 44th streets looking north. We were in one of the rooms just behind the red neon lights in Lulu’s dress. I remember that after we went to bed that the neon lights were still visible even with the shades drawn in the room. It wasn’t easy to sleep with the flashing lights, especially that first night when everything was so exciting.

The second memory was from the following afternoon. We walked over to the docks on the Hudson River, about five blocks west of the hotel. We hadn’t planned on anything but looking at the dock area, but discovered that the Queen Elizabeth was docked there that day. These were the days before transatlantic jet travel, so the premier way of crossing the Atlantic was on the sister ships the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth – both owned then by the Cunard Line (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cunard_Line).

The ship had docked the previous day and would be leaving the next day, so this day it was being cleaned and prepared for its next voyage. We were not passengers and the ship was not open to the public, so we just walked along the dock, looking up at this massive ship which took the entire length of the dock (the ship is over 1000’ long)! As the four of us stood there looking, we noticed an older gentleman, very dapper in a three-piece suit and hat, on the dock. He approached and in a voice with a distinct British accent asked if we were planning on touring the ship. My father responded that we were not passengers so we couldn’t, but the man said, “I’m one of the owners, I’ll arrange a tour.” It appeared that he was someone of high rank in the Cunard Line, as he was true to his word. Our lone picture of that day, taken by my father on his black-and-white camera, is of my mother, my sister and I, the older gentleman and another man – standing at the railing of the ship with one of the iconic Queen Elizabeth life preservers between us.



At any rate, we had one of the crew assigned to give our family a personally guided tour of the ship for the next couple of hours. We toured the outside, walked through one of the dining halls, down the interior corridors, peering into the engine room, etc. One thing I particularly remember was seeing a swimming pool somewhere in the interior of the ship (this was before cruises were to the Caribbean and the ship was retrofitted with an outdoor pool in the 1960s). Our chance encounter that afternoon turned into something quite memorable.

My next memory is of the Empire State Building. Not only did we go up to the 86th floor observation deck, but also to the 102nd floor observatory. While it’s not outside like the 86th floor, the chance to be in that small area with a 360-degree view is quite something. Not only could we see New York and New Jersey just across the river, but looking back to the northeast you could see some of the hills of Connecticut where we had come from. We also took the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and walked up to the crown where you could look out. That is also historic, but to my 8-year-old eyes, being up over 100 stories was much more exciting.


I’ve never been a city person and I avoid places like New York City if I can – preferring the rolling hills of Connecticut and Pennsylvania where I’ve lived for the past 40+ years. I’m still only a few hours from NYC, but I’d much rather stay away. However, that short trip back in 1956 was quite memorable and 60 years later is still that way.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Wolcott Memories – My Personal Melting Pot

It was September of 1954. I had just turned 6 a few weeks before and I was beginning first grade. There were no public kindergartens in town and so this was my first experience with taking the yellow school bus (Bus 3). The school was less than a mile away, but I had never been in Alcott School before. I would soon learn that it had been named from a famous man who had been born in Wolcott, Amos Bronson Alcott, but it would be many decades later that I would discover that I was actually related to him. For now, it was just the local elementary school where I would be challenged to learn many new things. My world, which up until then had been confined to the small group of houses around us, was about to expand. In just a few years, I would buy my first bicycle and would be able to bike all around the northern part of town.

I was also meeting my fellow first-graders for the first time as well. Some of them were from families who had been residents of Wolcott for several generations. Others, including myself, were from families who had been in the US for a long time, but who had only recently moved to Wolcott. And others were from families who had been in this country for only a short time and whose parents or grandparents still spoke the language of their native country at home.

I don’t recall any of my classmates as being from rich families, or any whose parents had been to college or who were “professionals” like doctors or lawyers. Wolcott was a “bedroom community” where most of the men commuted to work at the various factories or businesses in Waterbury, Bristol, or other places around us. Most of the families had stay-at-home mothers as well. Wolcott had begun growing right after the war (World War II) was over and many of the fathers were veterans. I and my fellow students were some of the early baby boomers – a term used for those born in the period 1946-1964 and who had been conceived following the end of the war in 1945. But I don’t think that term had been invented yet either (see http://www.history.com/topics/baby-boomers for an interesting review of this term).

But all these facts were not ones that I knew of or cared about at the time. I only recall looking around at all the other members of my class and seeing a bunch of kids whom I didn’t yet know – all of us slightly apprehensive, and perhaps even a bit scared (although we wouldn’t admit it). Some of the kids knew a few of their classmates because they were from the same street or neighborhood, or because they were related (like the Clement twins, Louise and Marie, and their cousin, also named Louise). And while we were all wearing “new” clothes (the ones we had worn for playing outside the previous week were not suitable for school wear), it wasn’t the clothes that we paid attention to – it was all the faces of our classmates that interested us.

Over the next several weeks we would all get to know each other in a variety of ways. Sometimes it was because that person sat next to us. Sometimes it was because we were assigned to the same group – either because we were in the same reading/math level, or because we had to work on teams in an art project. And because we had daily recess time outside (where there were sandboxes, a paved area, and a field for running around), the interactions in the various games were great for learning about each other as well (although many of the games were gender-divided because the boys had interests in more physical play and the girls’ dresses were not suitable for some of those games).

It’s now been over six decades since that day in early September of 1954. Some of my friends from that day stayed with me in school for the next 12 years and we graduated together from Wolcott High School in 1966. Some of them moved away during that period and were no longer heard from again – but they were replaced by others as the town continued to grow and new families moved in. Some of them have passed away, but many of us still lead active lives. I left to attend college and did not live in Wolcott afterwards, but some of my classmates still live there. I was able to reconnect with some of them at our 40th high school reunion and still others at our 50th high school reunion last fall. And with all the changes in the intervening years, it is perhaps amazing that I am still in touch with some of my classmates via social media (Facebook).

With the perspective that comes with age and maturity (not the same thing), I look back and consider the melting pot that our small group of first-graders represented. That was not something that any of us cared about at the time, but we were all part of that vast experience that is not something that you can always find in other countries where things like class, income, or family background are sometimes used to separate people.

New England in the early 1600s was primary settled by people from England. And when the first settlers came to Wolcott in the 1730s, they were still primarily of English ancestry. That remained true for the next 100 or so years. Immigration from other countries increased significantly beginning in the mid-1800s, driven by things like the Irish potato famine in 1845-1849, German immigration in 1840-1890, famine in southern Italy in the early 1900s, etc.

Thus, by the mid-1900s, the primarily blue-collar workers from Waterbury and Bristol who contributed to the growth in Wolcott (see http://ramblinrussells.blogspot.com/2015/04/wolcott-history-chronology-of-wolcott.html) were a mix of all these people groups. And my first-grade class had that same sort of mix:
·       Some, like myself, were from families who had been in American for over 300 years and who had primarily English roots.
·       Some, like Bobby Schrager, were from German families.
·       Some, like Jay Pikiell, were of Polish extraction (see http://ramblinrussells.blogspot.com/2017/02/wolcott-history-polish-connection.html)
·       Some, like the Clement girls, were of French origin, but whose family had been in French-speaking Canada for several generations.

But none of that mattered to our small group of first-graders at Alcott School. We were just a bunch of six-year-olds, all slightly apprehensive, and ready to begin participation in the melting pot of our class.




Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Places I’ve Been

Part 1 - Domestic

I have traveled in 44 of the 50 states. Besides Alaska and Hawaii, I have also not been in Arkansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, or Oklahoma. And since I have little need these days to go to any of these states, I’ll likely never get to these few remaining. Many of them I visited on our 30-day, 30-state marathon driving vacation in 1965, but I’ve also done a fair amount of flying around the country either with work assignments, training, or for AFS meetings.

My very first trip was in 1960, flying from Idlewild (the former name of what is now JFK) to Phoenix on an American Airlines DC-7 to visit relatives. We returned on a triple-tailed TWA Constellation. Both of these were prop planes. My latest trip was also on American Airlines on an Airbus 321 flying to Florida to visit family.

Here are all the airports I’ve been in, alphabetically by state, with the reason I was there:

Code: AFS (exchange student organization), AP (Air Products), TF (only transferring planes on the way somewhere else), H (home, starting/ending point of a journey), OT (other, see explanation)

Alabama
·       Mobile (OT-2, accreditation visits to Southern Mississippi, University of South Alabama)
Arizona
·       Phoenix (TF; OT, my first flight in 1960, see above)
California
·       John Wayne/Orange County (AP, training)
·       LAX (AP, training)
·       San Diego (AP, visit to a subsidiary for Y2K)
·       San Francisco (OT, my sister Dawn’s wedding)
·       San Jose (AP, training)
Colorado
·       Denver (TF; AFS)
Connecticut
·       Bradley Field (H-several, trips to college)
·       Plainville (OT, when in high school the father of a friend got his pilot’s license and took his son and myself on an air tour of the state, flying as far as Block Island before returning)
District of Columbia
·       Dulles (AFS)
·       Washington National (TF)
Florida
·       Jacksonville (AP, visit to customer)
·       Miami (AFS)
·       Orlando (OT-2, visit with family)
·       Pensacola (AP-many, visit to plant)
·       West Palm Beach (OT, wedding)
·       Ft. Lauderdale (TF)
Georgia
·       Atlanta (TF-many)
·       Macon (AP, visit to customer)
·       Savannah (AP, visit to customer)
Illinois
·       Chicago (TF-many; AFS; OT, accreditation visit)
Indiana
·       Indianapolis (AP, visit to plant)
Kentucky
·       Louisville (TF; AP)
·       Paducah (AP-many, visit to plant)
Louisiana
·       Baton Rouge (AP, visit to plant)
·       Monroe (OT, accreditation visit to NE LA University)
·       New Orleans (AP)
Massachusetts
·       Boston (TF, AP-13, I was in charge of a project where the software was being written by an outside firm and made weekly trips there for project status meetings and to answer vendor questions)
Maryland
·       BWI (TF)
Michigan
·       Detroit (TF-many; OT, travel to college at MSU)
·       Lansing (OT-many, travel to college at MSU)
·       Port Huron (AP, visit to Sarnia plant via APCI jet)
Minnesota
·       Minneapolis (AFS)
Missouri
·       Kansas City (TF; AP, recruiting new employees at a conference; AFS)
·       St. Louis (AFS)
Mississippi
·       Columbus (OT, accreditation visit to Mississippi State)
North Carolina
·       Charlotte (AFS; TF-several; OT-13, while working at Olin I was in charge of a project to shut down an IBM 360-20 at a subsidiary and converting everything to run on our corporate mainframe, I flew here every week on Monday afternoon and back home again on Friday for 3 months)
·       Raleigh (AP, plant visit)
Nevada
·       Las Vegas (OT, accreditation training)
New Jersey
·       Newark (H-many)
New York
·       Albany (AP-2, plant/customer visits)
·       Buffalo (TF-many, while on the way to college in MI)
·       JFK (H-many, one of them was my first trip in 1960 – see above)
·       La Guardia (H-13, start of my trip to Charlotte, see NC above)
·       Rochester (OT, job interview for a position I declined)
Ohio
·       Cincinnati (AP, customer visit)
·       Cleveland (TF-several; AP, customer visit)
·       Toledo (TF-several)
Oregon
·       Portland (AFS-3)
Pennsylvania
·       Allentown (H-many)
·       Harrisburg (TF)
·       Philadelphia (H-many)
·       Pittsburgh (TF-many; AP, customer visit)
South Carolina
·       Columbia (AP, customer visit)
·       Greenville (AP, customer visit)
Tennessee
·       Memphis (TF)
·       Nashville (AP-many, plant visits; AFS)
·       Tri-cities (AP, customer visit)
Texas
·       Dallas (AP, training)
·       Houston (AP, plant visit)
Utah
·       Salt Lake City (TF)
Virginia
·       Norfolk (OT, accreditation visit to Norfolk State)
Washington
·       Seattle (AFS)
Wisconsin
·       Milwaukee (AP, plant visit; AFS)


Part 2 - International

In addition to all my US travels, I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to travel internationally quite a bit, although I did not have a passport until I was nearly 40. Except for a trip into Tiajuana, Mexico during our family vacation in 1960, a few trips across Canada between NY and MI during various trips to Michigan, and a trip through the Chunnel from England to France, all my international travel has been via plane. Thus, the following list of international airports will document the countries I have been to.

My first foreign travel was to China on a People-to-people tour to three cities. This was with a group of computer science educators meeting with our counterparts at high schools and universities there for sharing and presentations. Thus, about half our time was in these meetings and the other half in tourism. My last foreign travel was to Ghana where I escorted a dozen exchange students home after their year in the US and then stayed for over a week to visit with our exchange student daughter.

Belgium
·       Brussels (AP, assess potential acquisition, was stranded here on 9/11)
Brazil
·       Sao Paulo (AP-2, visit to subsidiary)
Canada
·       Calgary (AP-2, visit to subsidiary)
·       Edmonton (TF)
·       Ft. McMurray (AP, visit to remote site for Y2K)
·       Sarnia (AP, visit to subsidiary for Y2K)
·       Toronto (TF; OT, meeting of a user group)
·       Vancouver (TF)
China
·       Beijing (OT, People-to-people trip)
·       Hangzhou (OT, People to people trip; AP, assess potential acquisition; OT, recruiting foreign students)
·       Shanghai (OT, People-to-people trip; OT, recruiting foreign students)
Costa Rica
·       San Jose (AFS)
England
·       Gatwick (AP)
·       Heathrow (AP-several, visit to European HQ)
France
·       Chateau Tilques - Auto/train trip via Chunnel (AP, business meeting)
Germany
·       Frankfort (AFS)
Ghana
·       Accra (AFS, staying with exchange student daughter)
Hong Kong
·       Hong Kong (AP, visit to subsidiary for Y2K; OT-2 visit with exchange student daughter and others; TF)
Indonesia
·       Jakarta (AP, visit to subsidiary for Y2K)
Israel
·       Tel Aviv (AP, visit to subsidiary for Y2K)
Italy
·       Rome (AP, TF point because of visiting UAE and Israel on the same trip)
Japan
·       Tokyo (TF-2; AP-3, visit to subsidiary)
Korea
·       Seoul (OT, recruiting foreign students)
Mexico
·       Mexico City (AP-3, visit to subsidiary)
Netherlands
·       Amsterdam (TF-2)
Norway
·       Christiansen (AP, visit to subsidiary)
·       Oslo (OT, visit with daughter during her exchange year)
·       Stavanger (TF)
Puerto Rico
·       San Juan (AP, customer/subsidiary visit)
Singapore
·       Singapore (AP-2, visit to subsidiary)
Thailand
·       Bangkok (OT, visit with exchange student daughter; AFS-2)
UAE
·       Dubai (AP, visit to subsidiary for Y2K)
Venezuela
·       Caracas (TF)
·       San Antonio (OT, missions trip)





Monday, November 13, 2017

Wolcott History – A Poem

In January 1967, the students of Wolcott High School decided to publish a literary “magazine” containing poems written by students. They solicited entries from all the current students as well as alumni. I was a freshman in college at the time and was in the midst of my “poetic phase” of life where I was writing poetry on a regular basis. Thus, I decided to write a poem to submit for publication in this “magazine”. It was accepted and published shortly thereafter.

The title of this poem is simply “Here is Wolcott” and it is a saga about the town. There is a phrase that is repeated three times in the saga about “A granite statue marks the center of the town” which of course refers to the one on the town green. I was not aware at the time that the statue had been erected in 1916 – just over 50 years earlier, nor that it was paid for by Leverett Kenea who was my 3rd cousin (4 times removed). I wrote about that statue in my blog earlier here (http://ramblinrussells.blogspot.com/2015/05/memorial-day.html).

It is now 2017, near 51 years after I wrote this poem mentioning that statue, which had been dedicated 51 years prior to that, which was of a Civil War soldier from a war which ended 51 years prior to that. There is a certain amount of mathematical symmetry to that which I like.



Here is Wolcott                                    1/11-12/1967

“The Past”

The typical New England town
            that sets atop a hill,
            where farmers used to plow their fields
            and water turned the mill;

Where ladies wore their homespun skirts
            and shawls and bonnets bright,
            and rode a wagon into town,
            (oh, what a classic sight!);

Where wildlife freely roamed the woods
            and trees were straight and tall,
            and “injuns” prowled in the shades
            and seemed not there at all.

Its past is full of daring men,
            of deeds that they have done,
            of facts on how they lived their lives,
            of battles they have won;

A granite statue marks the center
            of this peaceful town.
            It’s dedicated to the past
            and it will ne’er fall down.


“The Present”

In spring the flowers start to grow
            and apple orchards bloom,
            the bees among that fragrant stuff
            do buzz their merry tune.

The flowers lessen year by year
            as streets do stretch their limbs –
            the lesson that we learn from this
            is found in many hymns.

The countryside, in days gone by,
            was all a verdant green;
            of all the sights around the town
            this was the nicest scene.

Where once were green fields in the sun,
            a row of houses grows,
            and where the cows did roam before
            the people hang their clothes.

Two years ago, at Lyman’s pond,
            where trees had been before,
            a man did speculate of what
            this place did hold in store.

He tore apart the wooded hills,
            he beached the water’s edge,
            then drove into the living earth
            a steel and concrete wedge.

The living green upon the hill
            was killed with axe and saw,
            now green his wallet does enfold
            and is there not a law?

The wearing of the green is gone,
            the earth has lost her wrap,
            but people ev’rywhere move in
            to spend their lives entrapped.

The people in the town who work
            can’t find employment there,
            they seek their jobs just down the road
            in larger cities near.

Because of that, we have a name,
            we are a “bedroom town,”
            the people here but lay their heads
            upon the pillows down.

The people want still better things –
            the color green’s the best –
            so for their wages battles start
            and never do they rest.

The farmers here are all but gone,
            the wars have all been won,
            but deep within the hearts of men
            the battle wages on.

If you were there on any day
            there isn’t much to see,
            just houses filling all the streets
            and not a single tree.

Out school is all there is to see
            there’s nothing else around,
            and word of it is far and wide,
            (it’s reputation’s crowned.)

Our teachers are a younger group,
            the pupils like that plan;
            ‘cause boys do like the female ones
            and girls do like the men.

They strive for things that they can learn
            and things that they can do,
            and always they achieve their goals
            and find a wisdom true.

They learn to add, subtract and square,
            they learn what language means,
            but they do not learn how to save
            the beauty of the green.

The house where Bronson Alcott lived
            did have a plaque of stone,
            but newer houses wanted land –
            the plaque now stands alone.

The mill upon the river’s bank
            where farmer’s ground their meal
            has passed into oblivion –
            and time that wound can’t heal.

There used to be a big fairground
            where people had their fun,
            a school does now that place take root –
            condolence comes from none.

The black lace pattern of the roads
            does cover all the ground,
            and buildings fill the space between
            and all the earth around.

There’s no more room for them to spread,
            there’re no more trees to cut,
            now houses reach up for the sky,
            and no one dares say, “but!”

Where running streams and babbling brooks
            had been ten years ago,
            a muddy torrent, full of suds,
            does now so ugly flow;

Where animals and creatures tame
            did roam the earth before,
            a super-highway, full of cars,
            does run past one’s front door.

The town right now is growing still,
            it’s bigger every day.
            I hope its growth does stop real soon,
            I don’t like it this way.

The whizzing cars disturb one’s soul,
            the houses block his view,
            and no one knows his neighbors well,
            and they don’t know him, too.

The quiet places all are gone
            and noise does hold the throne,
            e’en when the people leave for work
            you still are not alone.

The housewives do the morning wash,
            the younger children play,
            the screaming of a toddler’s voice
            does echo through the day.

The older children finish school
            and shout the whole way home,
            then “Dad” get finished for the day
            and I begin to moan.

I cannot hear a word I think,
            the sounds are much too loud,
            and I would like to leave this place,
            desert the noisy crowd.

These giant strides cannot go on
            and o’er them we can’t gloss,
            for if we do, in times to come,
            we will have won the loss.

A granite statue marks the center
            of this noisy town,
            it’s dedicated to the past,
            but will it e’er fall down?


“The Future?”

This maddening race cannot go on
            it surely cannot last;
            I hope we see in times to come
            the future is the past;

They’ll start to wreck the buildings tall
            because they hide the trees,   
            and houses they will tear apart
            and give to earth the breeze.

The green again will start to grow
            and please a mortal’s eyes,
            and make the verdant earth alive
            with praises to the skies.

A granite statue makes the center
            of this peaceful town.
            It’s dedicated to the past
            and it will ne’er fall down.