Tell us about your father.
My father was the eldest of three brothers. He was very close to his father. He was a quiet child who loved the outdoors. He loved hunting and fishing, and loved building things, just like his father. He was an only child until he was 6, when his middle brother came along, then 2 years later came another brother. He loved to spend time up on his grandparents’ farm on the Tug Hill Plateau in central New York State. It was so very different from the city in which they lived.
He was a good student. He excellent in mathematics and art. He learned archery from his father and learned to make his own arrows. He liked to snowshoe in the winter across the fields of the farm. His ambition was to be an architect, but he graduated from high school in 1930, right in the beginning of the Great Depression so couldn’t go away to university to study as he wanted. He studied in the city instead and contented himself to learn about airplanes.
He flew gliders as a hobby with his friends. One misadventure landed him and his friends in the local newspaper when their glider landed in a farmer’s corn field and the farmer was none too pleased. My father eventually became the principal of the Utica Aviation School. Unfortunately, when World War II broke out, the government closed the school and drafted all my father and all the teachers into the Army Air Corps to teach airmen how to put planes that had been shot down back together again. My father spent the war years in South Carolina and in Cuba, where they brought the damaged planes from Europe to be repaired. When he came back to Utica, he worked as a carpenter and took courses to certify him as a teacher of building construction at the local high school and he was working there as a teacher when he was introduced to my mother, whose best friend had married the his youngest brother. They began a long-distance romance of letter-writing and several visits, since she lived in Virginia and he lived in central New York State. After about 18 months, they were married and settled in Utica, NY where my father taught. I was born a little more than a year after they were married. When I was old enough to walk, as my father would leave the second floor flat we lived in, he would walk down the stairs and I would run down the stairs after him crying for him to come back. I adored my father.
My father owned land just outside of the city and designed and built our house that we lived in the rest of our lives as we were growing up. He and his father, who was also a carpenter, built it with help from the other building construction teachers from the school. For a long time, it was a work in progress. The forst floor was finished first. It had a kitchen, bath, living room, a master bedroom, and a den which we used as a bedroom for us three children until the second story with our bedrooms were finished. So our little bedroom was pretty tight for a while. My father taught school all day and then worked at night on the house for several years. I moved upstairs to my bedroom when I was 4 years old. I was so excited to have my own room.
To my father, the house was never finished. He was always thinking up a project to do or a piece of furniture to make for the house. He made a beautiful dining room hutch which I now have in my apartment. He made an island for the kitchen for my mother. He made a cobbler’s bench coffee table for family room extension that he built on the house. Outside, he had built grape arbors and swing sets and jungle gyms and a play house and a fort. In the winter he made a skating rink for us. He also built a two-story 4-stall garage that functioned as his workshop as well as garage and storage facility.
My father was a homebody. He was not a person who went out with friends or went out to bars. He was content to work on his projects and to read. He was a very well-read person. He was very shy and introverted and as the priest said at his funeral, a very gentle man. He had a heart attack when I was pregnant with my daughter and took early retirement from school and spent his time on his projects. He loved his garden and when the land around our house was bought up for housing developments, he loved to go watch the new houses being built. He had a second fatal attack 6 years later at the age of 69, far too young. I miss him every day. I wish he could have lived to see all his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren. I hope he would have been proud of me. I’m proud to have been his daughter.