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!

My Dad

My Father was a remarkable man, and he lived a long and truly blessed life. When he died on May 20th, he was almost a hundred and one years old, and I might have entirely missed knowing and appreciating him.

I have no idea where to begin, so many stories about my Dad’s intelligence, his impeccable memory, his endless curiosity and quick whit. His golfing buddies will testify how much he loved the sport and bridge partners will swear that he remembered every card played even when he was more than 100 years old. People will tell stories about his work ethic, his writing and stamp collecting. He was devoted to his family, our mother Lee, her sister Judy, his Dad, his brothers, our Uncle Donny and Rich, Uncle Chunk, his wife Freddy, and Bill, Don’s partner, his seven grandchildren and six great grandchildren as well as his many, deep friendships.

I want to share one memory that I changed our relationship. It’s also about memories. On one of my first visits to Huntington Commons, in part to hide my trepidation about not having visited for a long time (I almost called it off and probably would not have made the trip without Ashish’s encouragement and support) plus my personal fears about not measuring up, I tried to start a fun conversation--reminiscing about growing up.

We went back to the time when he was a young dad soon to have 4 kids, a new business, and the responsibility for an extended family that included our maternal grandmother, Nana, and mother’s sister, Judy, who was suffering from TB at a time when cure was far from certain. But our family life, thanks to both Mother and Dad, extended beyond those concerns.

Our parents had a close circle of friends, other young couples in Nichols. Bif and I went up and down Huntington Turnpike, and talked about the people we grew up with and their kids. Their shared experiences included learning life’s lessons during the Great Depression and fighting a great war, raising families and building schools, bike trips on Nantucket and family summers on Cape Cod. Bob and Mary Dunning, Dick and Barbara Sargent, Les and Shirley Nothanagle, Mae West, Dave Peck, the Flemmings with their eight kids, Bif remembered everyone.

Then there was the Milford Yacht Club, our memories of the countless summer weekends when we campaigned our Lightning up and down Long Island Sound with Wayne Brockett and our sailing friends, the life guards and sailing instructors who Dad had a hand in hiring. He spearheaded the first World Championship for the Lightening class in Milford, and that opened up the opportunity for him and mother to travel to Italy and Peru. When we talked about Ned and Emily Daly, their sons Ned and Jerry, he had me pick up the phone and call Ned Junior.

From the days of Ireland Heat Treating on the Post Road, we talked of his many loyal workers, his long-term secretary, Hilda Graff, whom was almost part of our family, and the men who’d encouraged Dad to go out on his own.

We drifted in and out of this conversation over the three days we spent together. For more than 60 years I believed a story I made up: that my Dad was distant, that just because we’d had a difficult time communicating (and of course that was entirely his fault, not mine), that Dad was somehow self-absorbed and not really in touch.

Nothing could have been farther from the truth.

He remembered details that I’d entirely forgotten or never heard before. But what really astonished me was the level of feeling, the kindness and compassion in his recollections. He talked of the happy events and the sad moments, the setbacks as well as the accomplishments in a way that made them present. It was so clear that he cherished these men and women. As we talked I could see his face change. I felt his admiration for their successes, sadness for their losses, and gratitude for their friendship. I can also tell you that if there was any funny story about any of the people we talked about, he told it with his gentle laugh and bright smile. That weekend he gave me a real gift—himself.

When I talk to my friends about my father, they are amazed that he lived such a long life, and that it was such a happy and rich life right to the end. They ask, “What was his secret?” Those of us who were close to him know that he was not perfect by any means, that he had his share of disappointments and sorrows, but when I look at his life for an antidote to life’s sufferings I marvel at the wonderful way he connected with so many people, accepting and treating everyone with an even hand, balanced with good humor and love.

I can’t close without thanking all the people here in Kennebunk who became part of Dad’s family during his last years, the friends and admirers who welcomed me when I came to visit. I will mention Ruth, Annette and Nancy, the Chandlers, by name, and I have to include Dick and Peg, who are no longer with us.

Julie, thank you for everything you did to make Dad’s last years so rich and fulfilling. You are a totally extraordinary woman.

It’s best to end with a funny story, and one that inspires me, as I grow older.

When we were celebrating Dad’s 90th birthday at Elen and Charlie’s ranch up in the high Arizona desert, I told Dad that my friends who were golfers (I am not one) were really impressed that he’d cut 7 strokes off his handicap since he was 85. He looked at me with a deadly serious face and said, “Well, Ken, I’m sorry that it isn’t true. … It’s 11. “

The photo was taken at Bif's 100th birthday party which we celebrated on Goose Rocks Beach, at the Tides Inn where he worked in the kitchen during the depression. Ruth, Dad, Annette, Julie and me.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Photographs the Irelands and friends at Goose Rocks Beach Maine around 1900

Donny Ireland received a bureau from Marie Ulmer after she died. In it he found some great photographs taken at Goosenecks more than 100 years ago. I have selected a few publish here. Thanks Donny!  I can't see any women in the picture at the party above. All the men seem to be having a good time nonetheless.

Here are Ken’s comments about the pictures:

This picture of a picnic at Gooserocks shows my father, Lawrence Stone Ireland, at about the turn of the last century. It also shows 4 or five of the Ulmer family chomping on sandwiches. All the girls wore such stylish straw hats. The girl directly behind your grandfather was the eldest, Marie, about 5 years older than Grandpa, and the girl without a hat was called Babe. She was the youngest. She had a crush for your grandfather. When she came to your grandmother’s funeral at Saco, Maine, she hugged Pa at every opportunity.

The picture must have been taken in the vicinity of Shore Rocks, which is about one quarter the distance to Batson's river from Elen's right of way to the beach (in the direction of Boston, not in the direction of the North Pole). Last year Donnie and I spent a whole day trying to line up Timber Island (a small dot on extreme top of the picture which barely shows Timber Island and Curtis Point with the rock bar joining the two).

Donnie and I are going to hire a rowboat so that we can take pictures which we hope will give the exact spot of this picnic. The land on which this picture was taken is now water instead of the dry meadow of one hundred years ago. We expect to take pictures from the boat as the tide comes in. In this way we hope to match up the rocks in the foreground with Timber Island and Curtis point in the background. I will send you the picture which will do the job.

Cars played such a major role in those early years, at least as far as my father was concerned, I had to include this shot of the Ulmer’s car.


The one has lots of Ulmer’s and Ireland’s standing around the old big automobile:

Aunt Mary is not there. She was probably teaching Katharine Hepburn in grade school in Hartford at that time. Her older sister Marion Kellaway is the one with the pagoda hat and she had a motor mouth. The shorter dapper man beside Grandpa is her husband Chas Kellaway who was also a house builder, but your grandfather says he never saw him swing a hammer. You can always pick out your grandfather because you can pick out his large ears according to Elen. Pa's future wife, Gertrude Banks is about as far from grandpa as she can get in this picture, and I infer from this that the year this picture was taken was 1908 or 1909 because they were married in 1910, and I came along in 1913.

This brings us to the large power cruiser named Yvonne which my father built single handedly just a few years before I was born. This picture including Frank Fuller and my father is included on your hard disc from Donnie. Pa must have had mixed feelings when I came along, and he had to give up his membership at the South Boston Yacht club, as well as his necessity to sell Yvonne.

Notice the square-rigged tall ship on the horizon in right side of blown up portion. (I am afraid that it is barely visible. Take my word, it is there. I will ask Ken Jr. to make a larger and more distinct image).