Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Boston Marathon

Chapter 1
The Boston Marathon

Two men were running along Commonwealth Avenue in their underwear. The second runner was about 50 feet behind the leader, but he seemed to be running his own race, completely ignoring the one ahead. As I was watching, a third runner came into view quite some distance behind the two leaders.

I grabbed a jacket on my way out through the front door and ran the quarter mile distance to where I had seen the runners. The first two had disappeared up the long hill which leads to Boston, but the third man was right in front of me as I came to a stop at Commonwealth Avenue. Then I noticed that he had a bicycle and rider going beside him. As I watched, the rider took a large sponge from the pail hanging on his handlebar and squeezed it right over the runner’s head, drenching him from the top of his head down to his toes.

Before this third man disappeared over the long hill leading to Boston, several more men appeared, accompanied by their bicycles and riders, and soon they too disappeared over the hill.

As no more runners were in sight, I walked home to find my mother was just frying some eggs for brunch. She told me that it was Patriot’s Day and a holiday on this 19th of April and I had been watching the Boston Marathon which was held every year on this particular day.

I was just 3 years old at this time, and I saw two more marathons before we moved to Long Island in New York State. In all three Boston Marathons, there were less than 100 contestants., and I am amazed that there are now thousands of men and women running in this event.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

“The Jeermons are Coming!” Whales in War

On August 8th, 1918 I became 5 years old while we were visiting my grandparents in East Dennis on Cape Cod. Their house was perched high above Sesuit Harbor, allowing a good view of the beaches on both sides.

One morning, when the tide was almost completely low, I saw what seemed to be two large boats stranded just below the high water mark. I ran to find my grandfather to tell him what I’d just seen. He said he knew what they were, but he would not tell me until we got down there. All six of us, including both grandparents, my parents, my younger brother Rich, and I soon set out on the quarter mile hike down to the beach. Walking downhill, we could not see the water until we rounded the last turn and then everything came into view. 

Two black whales were just lying on the beach several hundred feet from the water at low tide. At first I was afraid to get near such huge animals, but when I saw them motionless, I walked gingerly around each of them. They were at least 30 feet long, and their heads pointing toward land were about 5 feet thick.

My grandfather touched one them and said, “He is still alive. Come over and feel him!”

The skin felt like fine sandpaper, and there was no slippery scum such as is found on all small fish which are completely covered with scales. Rich and I climbed each whale starting at the horizontal tail and ending at the blowhole on top of the head. The sandpaper texture of the skin was very secure footing, and the flesh twitched each time we took a step. 

(Many years ago I heard that every navy and all the shipbuilders in the world were trying to duplicate this sandpaper surface so that all small boats, large ships and especially submarines could go through water at greater speeds with less power. If they have solved the problem by now, they are keeping it a close secret).

A couple of days later the whales appeared to be dead, and my grandfather hacked off a few steaks from under the layer of blubber. I was standing at the head of the whale while the operation was being performed. Suddenly there was a series of explosions coming from the direction of the Cape Cod Canal. I jumped off the head oto the soft sand and ran toward my mother screaming at the top of my voice, “The Jeermons are coming! The Jeermons are coming!”

My grandmother made an awful stench in the kitchen while frying the whale steaks in what she called a spider. Although they were very tender, nobody swallowed a single mouthful because it tasted very oily and gamey. 

Friday, September 13, 2019

Ernest J. Banks

Ernest Banks (1873-1933) was the 7th and last child born to Cyrus King Banks and Abigail Works Banks. I must have seen him on an earlier trip to Goose Rocks Beach with my parents, but I will never forget meeting him during the summer of 1917, or 1918. 

It was in a dark room lit by two kerosene lamps where I was introduced to Ernest’s radio. It consisted of an open topped pince box about 10” high and wide, and it must have been almost 3 foot long sitting there in the front room of the beach cottage. Two heavier wires extended from the contraption down to the floor where they were clamped to an automobile six volt wet battery. The front panel of the set had about six large dials. Smaller dials, switches and phone jacks took up most of the remaining space. 

Ernest put on a headset, and the other three were offered to my father, my brother Rich, and to me. Squealing noises came to my ears while the tubes inside were warming up. Finally we heard voices from far away fading one moment and then coming back.

I think we hear about tex stations that night--mostly talk, but two or three had music. The next morning when I looked inside the set, I saw a maze of jumbled wires, radio tubes, condensers, tuners, and capacitors all hooked up to B, C and D dry cell batteries.

Ernest had built the whole set by himself, sending away to several places for plans and parts he needed. As I look back it seems so strange that radio existed at that time in a house which had no electricity, no bathroom, a cast iron cooking stove, and a hand pump in the kitchen sink for water.

In the summer of 1925, I was put on a Pullman car in New York and sent to the beach. That was the summer when I got to know Ernest. All the previous winter he had been building a thirty foot power boat in their large barn in Biddeford. He had it hauled to the Saco River just below the Pepperell Dam. As soon as it was launched, he got onboard and sailed five miles to Biddeford Pool, and then five miles of ocean to arrive at Little River before the tide started to go out. His sisters, Nellie, Hattie and I were waiting as he came ashore on the west branch of the river right next to Ivory Emon’s Boathouse.

An hour before high tide the next day he took us all out for a spin to Timber Island, over to the Western Rocks, amd nearshore all the way back from Batson’s River.

Ernest was not one to remain sitting about for long. Three days later we again walked to Little River to see him off on a two month’s voyage to Bar Harbor about one hundred and fifty miles to the northeast. 

A year or two later he sold that boat as he had built a twenty foot open sailboat in the meanwhile. He took me out sailing and fishing many times that year. He could handle all the sails singlehanded, and he had a smaller sail near the stern which he would set up on days when the wind was lower.

By 1926 or 1927 he’d become fed up with staying at Goose Rocks. The telephone company had put a pole on the Banks property to service their next door neighbor. It could easily have been put on the other property, but the utility would not listen. Ernest broke up his old row boat for kindling wood for Nell and Hattie, got on his bike, and never came back.

He was not unprepared, building a cottage on Little Ossipee Pond near Waterboro Center. He had bought a small peninsula on the far side of the lake where he had a good sized cottage along with a boathouse containing a rowboat plus and eighteen foot speed boat with a sixteen horsepower outboard motor. The fishing was very good in that pond and he spent most of his summers there.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Remembering the Great Maine Fires of 1947

The Camp Fire in Northern California stirred up this memory. In October and November, 1947, huge swathes of land, about 19 towns, 200,000 acres of timber land burned to the ground in a series of fires that burned through Maine from inland to the ocean in what is called The Great Fires of 47. 20 or so people died, but remember Maine was sparsely populated 70 years ago. I remember it now because my grandfather, Lawrence Stone Ireland, lost everything on my brother John’s birthday. His end of Goose Rocks Beach burned to the ground as high winds pushed the fire into the Atlantic. He was the chief of the volunteer fire department and had been on the front lines of the fire fight for almost a month. When the Saco (or Kennebunk) fire turned towards the north end of beach, his house keeper, Mrs. Kate, escaped but had no time to gather any of Gramp’s things. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

My Mermaid Sighting

Dear Electra and Lyla,

I want to tell you girls of something I saw a long time ago, that I have never told anyone! You know that I am soon to be 100 years old, so I think it is finally time to tell this story! I am telling you both because you had such a fine time playing in the sand at Goose Rocks beach where I remember your daddy in the summertime when he was growing up. Besides, you both are so lively, and have good imaginations, I think you will believe me!

It all started the evening before my birthday when I was turning twelve. I was gathering razor clams at low tide.  Razor clams are different than other clams, since you don’t dig them. They stick up out of the sand, so you have to sneak up on them and grab them before they burrow down into the sand again! I was hoping to top off the heap I already had in my clam basket. (In those days, every family had a clam basket made of oak wood, just like the lobster traps. As a matter of fact, sometimes we could find old busted-up traps washed on the beach and reuse the slats.)

The sun was just setting, about ready to drop below the horizon. It was bright orange against dark streaks of purple clouds. It looked like a scoop of orange sherbert on top of an ice cream cone!

I was on the other side of Shore Rocks, which you can only see when the tide is low.  They are almost completely covered at high tide. I was a little distracted since my stomach was rumbling for supper, and I knew that my mother would have clam chowder, Goose Rocks style, waiting for me. But even though I was hungry and my bare feet were cold, a splashing sound made me turn toward Seal Rock. It was hard to see in the dusk, so I squinted and stared out to sea.  I saw a pearly white shape on the rocks that seemed very different than the seals that usually basked there during the day.

That is when I saw her, so beautiful and mysterious! She was neither young nor old--not a woman and not a fish! Her flapping tail had caused the splashing sound that I heard. The movement made it shimmer, reflecting the low light off the water onto her silver scales. It was all so magical, I could hardly believe my eyes. I thought I was dreaming! I remember that I just dropped my heavy clam basket onto the wet sand, and sat rather uncomfortably on the handle.  I had forgotten all about dinner; I just wanted to keep watching. I couldn’t get any closer because the water was too deep, and the tide was turning.

I thought maybe it was an albino seal, or at least that is what my logical mind wanted to think. I couldn’t see too well, because Seal Rock was almost 100 yards from where I was on the beach. I was kind of hiding behind one of the taller boulders. I didn’t want to disturb her for fear she would disappear. I was peeking out, peering at the lovely apparition, when I suddenly saw her turn my way, almost as if I had called her name! I got a good look at her human-like face, and her flashing red hair that swirled just above her shoulder top.

I didn’t think she was scared--she had her head up too much to be scared.  But she was very serious, looking around and looking around as if to watch against an enemy sneaking up on her.  In the waning light of evening, her eyes sparkled. I seemed caught up in a magical moment, and I didn’t want it to end 

I was still as a little chipmunk. The truth is, I could hardly breathe!  She finally flip-flopped her way from stone to stone, to the very edge of the water. I knew the water was about 15 feet deep right there. I could show you on the map, or the aerial photograph that hangs in my room, because Seal Rock is just about at the center of all the Goose Rocks.

She dove into the cold night water and silently slipped away,

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Memories of Roosevelt Field

as told to Nancy Frazier 85 years later                                                               
March 2014

Growing up in Garden City, New York, in the 1920’s was great for boys! We were growing and learning and making model airplanes, boats and radios.   The nation was growing and learning too. Automobiles had advanced from two cylinder cars to 8 cylinder, the $25,000 prize money for the first transatlantic flight from New york to Paris had brought us into world headlines, and everybody we knew had a radio. We didn’t know what it would do for history. We only knew it was exciting to be a part of it all.   

When I was fourteen years old, and my brother Rich was thirteen, we often pedaled our bikes to Roosevelt Field after school. The bikes gave us freedom, adventure, and got us outdoors of course! Since the press was buzzing with talk about aviation history, it was a natural that we wanted to go there as often as we could. We thought nothing of biking the four miles from Hempstead High School to the airfield; we bicycled everywhere in those days. Once there, it was a quicker, more direct route home to the new part of Garden City where we lived.   

I remember taking Trigonometry that year, and it was the last class of the day. I anxiously waited for the first tones of the three o’clock dismissal bell, and then sprinted out of the building, down the granite steps between the front pillars. Rich was already there, leaning against his bike on the sidewalk. He had gotten out before me and brought my bike around from the back. I tied my books onto the rear fender, swung on with a shout to Rich, and we headed down Middle Street. The early spring air had a chill in it, but we were warmed by riding fast.

On the way over, we passed through the ruins of Camp Devens (I think that Dad was referring to Camp Mills), a training camp for WWI. Water hydrants painted a battleship gray stood like iron sentries posted every 500 feet. Piles of wrecked automobiles left abandoned to rust beside the wide roads made interesting landmarks of a bygone era. No trees grew there, only weeds, some of which sprouted between cracks like Jack’s beanstalk, reaching to over six feet high!The whole expanse covered about eight business blocks!

Pretty soon, approaching the airstrip from the western side, we would arrive at the larger Curtiss Field, once an old riverbed. In fact, a ten-foot deep gully separated Curtiss from the neighboring airstrip. It was rather L-shaped allowing planes to takeoff and land simultaneously. Curtiss had a downward take-off slope, allowing a plane loaded with gasoline to get a better start.   Ground crews and air traffic control towers didn’t exist, but a camaraderie and respect among the pilots kept things amazingly safe. Every kind of plane that existed came in and out of there, except warplanes. The Curtis OX5 was designed right there! This busy hub of wheels and motors and flight fascinated Rich and me, and most of our friends too.

But that year of 1927 Rich and I were drawn to the smaller, adjoining field. Roosevelt Field did not have as much activity, but it did harbor the now famous single engine, air-cooled monoplane called “The Spirit of St. Louis.”   We would ride all around it where it was tied to steel posts in the grassy field. We would stop, touch its smooth silvery sides, and wonder why this man named Lindberg would want to fly the smallest plane the farthest distance.   We never saw him up close, only from far away when his plane was coming in.   But I once saw a technician standing on top of the plane with a transit, making sure the compass was correctly calibrated before his fight.

We didn't see the take-off. It was a rainy, overcast day, as I remember, and we didn't think he would be able to fly and clear the trees. But he did! He did it all the way to Le Bourget Field in France, and made our little runway famous all over the world!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Gertrude Louise Banks Ireland

My Mother, Gertrude Louise Banks Ireland
March 25th 1883 - 28 April 28th 1940

My mother was quite a small woman, barely 5 feet tall and always just about 100 lbs. in weight. She was almost an introvert, but she would come out of her shell whenever any one of her 3 boys needed help. None of us had to take piano lessons, but we went to dancing school when we were four until six years old. She made sure that all of us got a college education, a huge accomplishment at the height of the Great Depression.

Her mother was Helen M. Bond whose family owned a brass foundry in Saco, Maine. Her father was Fred Banks who was the bookkeeper for the family owned Banks Brothers Lumber Company in Biddeford, which abutted the city of Saco. The two cities seemed to be one metropolis, separated only by the width of the Saco River.

My grandmother was said to be 16 years old when she got married as she was only 17 when her only child, Gertrude, was born. Fred Banks was 33. Within a year or two my grandmother got a divorce, as Fred seemed to be quite a drinker of alcoholic beverages.

The question of who would bring up my mother must have been a difficult one as my grandmother had to go to work as a seamstress in Boston. She did marry again to my step-grandfather, Charles M. Hart, on January 1st 1902. My mother began living with them at the age of 19. Until that time she had lived in the Banks' homestead, being raised by her two maiden sisters-in-law, Nellie and Hattie Banks.

The Banks family owned a cottage right on the water at Goose Rocks Beach exactly 9 miles from Biddeford. My mother used to spend some time there every summer even after she began living in a Back Bay apartment in Boston with her mother and stepfather. Lawrence Stone Ireland, her future husband, also spent some time each summer with the Ulmer family who owned the “White Owl Cottage” about one fourth of a mile from the Banks cottage. Somehow they got to know each other, and were married on September 7th 1910 in the first congregational church in Newton Centre, Massachusetts. 

My Dad was busy running his deceased father’s contracting and building business in Newton Center. His father had died suddenly of a heart attack in 1907 at the early age of 57. For a year or two we lived in the old Ireland homestead on Ward street with his mother, Eliza Jane Ireland and his unmarried sister Mary who was a school teacher. My father had to sell his forty-foot yacht, Yvonne, which he had built all by himself. He then built a house for us on nearby Avondale road where my brother Richard Maxwell Ireland was born. 

In 1919, just before I turned 6, we moved to Floral Park on Long Island. Four of us, Rich and I, my mother and grandmother, went to New York via the Fall River Line steamboat. I slept in the upper berth in my grandmother’s stateroom, and Rich took the upper berth in my mother’s. The water was so rough that the boat could not use the Cape Cod Canal. We were hours behind schedule by the time we had sailed completely around Cape Cod and had entered Long Island Sound. The boat had heaved and yawed so much all night long with the creaking and moaning of all its timbers that I expected the boat to go bottom-up anytime now. This huge old vessel finally docked somewhere in the Bronx where my father had been waiting hours for us to show up. At a nearby dock still in the Bronx we got aboard a smaller ferry which was primarily designed to carry about 100 automobiles back and forth between Clasons Point on Long Island and the Bronx. This ferry was put out of business when the Triborough Bridge was erected in almost the same spot many years later.

About an hour later we arrived at Mrs. Hatfield’s boarding house where we all spent the next few weeks. Railroad tracks ran very close to the back door making sleep almost impossible until after midnight as trains came by every twenty minutes or so. And they all tooted their whistles because of the crossroad. About 12 of the paying guests sat down at one large round table for all our meals. I sat down beside an unmarried policeman named McCafferty who seemed to wear his uniform during all his waking hours. I happened to say to him that I did not like school and did not plan to start the first grade in September. This seemed to make him mad, and he said he would take me to jail if I did not go. I did start school, and I really enjoyed the company of so many boys and girls for the first time in my life.

In a few weeks we rented a house near the spot where my father was already building a permanent residence for us. I do not remember much about it l except that it was the only rented house I ever lived in except the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity house in Orono, Maine.

In less than one year we moved into our new house that had a backyard more than a mile in width and two miles in length. I could tell that it had once been a cornfield by the saw-tooth plow ridges every two feet across the entire property. This made it difficult for us to build a baseball field, but we succeeded and all the kids in the neighborhood used it for many years.

My mother was probably the only one who kept chickens in all of Floral Park. We had plenty of eggs, and the ones who were poor layers had their heads cut off for our Sunday dinner. I recall one time my father was not available for the decapitation, when our next door neighbor, Mrs. Donald Meek volunteered to do the job. Twice she hit the head instead of the neck. I was standing close by with another one of my father’s hatchets, and I could not resist the impulse to take a shot at it and off came the head.

Donald Meek at that time was doing both Broadway plays and acting in the newfangled movies that were shot on Long Island because Hollywood did not yet exist. His career made it necessary to get up at noon and take a walk in his bathrobe around the neighborhood. Everybody considered him eccentric, but he sure acted in many movies when he moved to Hollywood just a few years later.

By the time I had finished the fourth grade my father moved his family to 55 Brompton Road in Garden City about 4 miles farther out on Long Island. This time our backyard consisted of the only inbuilt lot in our whole area, about 60 feet wide by 100 feet deep. Instead of building a baseball field, I built a high jump and pole vaulting area complete with adjustable standards, crossbar, and landing pit consisting of a 3 feet deep hole in the ground lined with dead weeds.

When I was in the fifth grade I came in second to Johnny Miller in the high jump and he was in the 8th grade. The Australian roll, a layout style of jumping, was just becoming popular just as the Australian crawl was becoming the rage in swimming. I practiced high jumping and pole-vaulting so that I made the track team all the way through high school and college.

My mother did not have many friends in our new neighborhood. Her mother and her second husband always spent a few days with us on their drive to and from Tampa while driving from their summer home in East Dennis on Cape Cod. My father’s Mother, Eliza Jane Ireland spent one winter with us before going to live in New Orleans with my father’s younger sister, Pearl and her husband Willis Ansell.

I recall that my father’s younger brother Wallace made a visit one evening, and he startled my youngest brother Donny by waking him up in his crib.

Aside from those visits my mother saw almost no one. But she really liked our summer vacations from school because in 1925 we finally bought our own cottage at Goose Rocks, and we spent every summer there until I graduated from the University of Maine in 1936 when I went to work in a steel mill in Syracuse, New York. Our cottage was just two houses away from the Banks cottage, now owned by only Hattie, Nellie, and their youngest brother, Ernest. We visited back and forth every day, and they let us use their rowboat for a month or so until my brother, Rich and I got our own. We constantly rowed to Timber Island, the Goose Rocks, up and down Little River, and sometimes we visited far away Batson’s at the other end of the beach. We went fishing for cunners and flounders as well as trolling for Pollack. We dug clams that at that time completely filled bottoms of both tidal rivers. We went swimming most at low tide near Elephant rock a mile or so up little river where there was swimming hole over six feet deep. There was an old movie shown once a week at the casino, which had a bowling alley where we set up pins in our younger years.

When I was about to graduate from Hempstead High School. M.I.T. and Rensselaer engineering colleges had accepted me, but the recent great depression made it impossible for me to go. My mother asked me if I wanted to go to the University of Maine where the tuition for a Maine resident was only $150.00 per year as compared with $400.00 per year at the other colleges. I quickly agreed, and my parents left me off in Orono with only my trunk one afternoon in early September 1932. The only person I knew previously was Roger Hutchins from Cape Porpoise just about two miles from Goose Rocks, but by supper time I had met almost all the residents of the 4th fourth floor of old Oak Hall. I was so busy that I did not write home as much as I should even though my mother wrote almost every week for four years at Orono. My Younger brother Rich joined me two years later and joined the same fraternity. He took electrical engineering as he was already a haw radio operator. I took general engineering as I was not sure which branch I wanted for a career.

During my senior year my grandfather said he could get me a training job at the steel mill where he had been a salesman years ago. I agreed quite eagerly as the depression was at its height in 1936, and most college graduates did not have a job to go to until after graduation. Four days after graduation my parents left me off at the YMCA in Syracuse, New York where I worked in the metallurgical Lab plus the mill itself for the next year and a half. One Friday afternoon Lesley Hawkridge, the president of Hawkridge Brothers steel company of Boston stopped in to see me, and he offered me a chance to become a steel salesman in Connecticut, and I was to start next Monday morning.

I had been in Connecticut about a year and a half, when my mother told me she was going to have a minor operation in Haverhill. I visited her and my grandmother who would be having some bunions removed at the same time. All had seemed fine after the operation, but a few days later I got a telegram saying that my mother had suffered an embolism and was in serious condition. When I got there I met my father as well as Rich who was working in Boston, and my younger brother, Donny, who was only 15 years old at the time. For about 5 days none of us were allowed to see my mother as she could hardly breathe because her lungs were partly obstructed by a large blood clot. Heparin and no other blood thinner were not developed until a few years later. Finally, we were allowed to go in one at a time to see her. As soon as I saw her lying there I thought of Dr. Cheever, an old friend of my grandmother’s who had operated on me for 2 hernias. I remember saying, “I will be seeing you again very soon, Ma,” as I left. 

I asked my grandmother, who was sitting with slippers on, “how about getting Dr. Cheever to look at mother?” She thought it was a good idea and looked up his telephone number in Boston. The person who answered told my grandmother that he was attending a church service in Boston. I got in my car immediately, taking Donald along with me. 

About 40 miles later we found the church, and about 15 minutes later an attendant found Dr. Cheever for us. He told us that he did very little surgery do to his advancing years, but he knew of just the young surgeon who might do the job. We followed him to his office that happened to be nearby. He soon found the number, but it was busy the first time he rang. In the meantime he told me that 4 or 5 people in Sweden had survived an operation to remove such a blood clot, and this doctor was looking for such a case as my mother’s. When the second attempt got a busy signal, Dr. Cheever said he had an important meeting. But I could stay in his office until I made the call. The next time I got the doctor and he told me that he was ready to go to Haverhill immediately. I was delighted to find the surgeon so enthusiastic, but as soon as I hung up I got a phone call from my father telling me that my mother had just received another blood clot, and it killed her immediately. I called the surgeon’s home and asked if he had left. When I was told that he was still in the driveway loading his car, I asked them to stop him as the patient had just died.

If only I had thought of Dr. Cheever sooner!