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!

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