The New Haven Railroad went bankrupt in 1935, recovered and did it again in 1961. My family and I moved to Rowayton, CT in January 1958 so I got the full benefit of the declining condition of their railcars as I commuted to and from the Chrysler Building in New York.
I developed a checklist which included checking the air conditioning, the strength and cleanliness of the seat I chose, the condition of the seat in front of me to ensure I would not have to hold up the passenger in front of me, as well as making sure the carriage was a non-smoker and that there were no noisy card players nearby. My commute took one hour except on many homecoming trips in winter, one of which set a record by getting us to Rowayton at 1.00 am with a heating system that expired at about 6.30pm.
We suffered through several other indignities including one evening when water rained down on us all from the roof. One year, there was a period when the trains were attacked regularly by stone throwing gangs in the Harlem area in the evening and it paid to not have a window seat.
Our early days in Connecticut in 1958 were filled with adding a bathroom and a large bedroom to the unfinished house we had just bought and preparing for the birth of our third child in August. We had Nigel who was born in London in 1954, Nick who was born in Montreal in 1956, and we were now adding our first girl and our first American.
To keep the cost of our first house as low as possible we agreed to purchase it before it was completed. The upstairs just had one finished bedroom and the rest of the upstairs was just walls and insulation. We had electricity but no heat. I started to learn about what “do it yourself” entailed. In those days we had no Home Depot or Lowes and my salvation turned out to be Sears and Roebuck.
With the help of Doris’ brother, Arthur who followed us from Montreal, I installed sheetrock walls and ceiling, a wood tile floor and added the upstairs onto the baseboard radiator heating system. This latter was only possible because of my experience in soldering and brazing the components of my research plant at college. I paid for professional help with the bathroom and by the time our daughter, Melanie arrived on August 24th, the two boys had a big bedroom to share and everyone else had their own room.
Our house was near the top of a steep hill and was a dead-end road for about six years. Behind the house was a lane which turned into a long and exciting toboggan run each winter. One side of our driveway was a retaining wall because of the hill we lived on and we had some impressive snow banks to shovel in order to get our car to the street.
We had brought our Canadian Ford Meteor from Montreal but I was the only driver. I gave driving lessons to Doris and still managed to have a normal family relationship but it was not until Doris secretly took professional lessons that I had her driving license proudly waved in front of my nose.
Melanie was baptized in the old Methodist Building which served as a church for the first four years of our stay in Connecticut. We were invited to join the Two-by-Two Club at the church and we quickly got to know all the couples like us buying their first house, with two kids, a dog and a station wagon. (We didn’t get our station wagon until 1963 and we only had a dog a few weeks. The dog was the stupidest dog in the pound and finally sealed his doom when he jumped up and wiped his muddy claws all down Doris’ pale yellow Easter Sunday two piece suit.)
We went to the club meetings in the church building, played volleyball some nights, and I played badminton on Sunday afternoons. We met all the same friends regularly at the private Bailey Beach which had a pebbly beach on Long Island Sound. We also played tennis at the beach and had dinner and sometimes breakfast at the beach.
One church activity was being invited to classes to learn how to solicit money for a new church building. Only later did I realize that I and about thirty others were being brainwashed ourselves into giving far more than we would have normally offered. This resulted in a family ground-breaking ceremony sometime in 1960 and the opening of an amazingly different church in 1962. It was intended to represent the specific nature of Rowayton and was basically shaped like a seashell with an intricate roof structure. The architect, Joseph Salerno won the highest archaeology award that year. The unique circular interior allowed the congregation to face each other and the morning sun made interesting light patterns during the services.
This was a friendly church with people arriving by car, foot or even by boat. Coffee and snacks were available in the basement before services. It became the center of a lot of our activities, especially later when our kids started going to Sunday school classes, one of which Doris taught. Our Two-by Two club had several interesting member couples. We had an advertising executive, the manager of the Princeton Club and lots of Wall Street financial people. At some meetings, we had a Show and Tell evening which caused a lot of fun. I remember taking one of my boomerangs to one meeting and also having a planet night with my telescope. The telescope later allowed our boys to both have good science projects at school.
One particular membership couple of our club was Bob Vesco and his wife Patricia. I commuted quite often with Bob who was a salesman for extruded aluminum. He told me a lot about his Italian-based family that was very active in the granite and marble tombstone business in New England. Apparently his father in some way, controlled the sale and pricing of all tombstone products at one time. I remember Bob telling me that at his father’s funeral several older Italians told him he could call on them any time he had a problem or needed anything. Soon after this, the Vescos left for a new job in New Jersey.
A few months later, Bob and Pat came to one of our beach parties driving a Cadillac and telling us that Bob was president of a company called I.O.S. which made products for the Government. About two years later, Bob was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal being sued for embezzling $200 million from a big financier. He never went out of the news for a while, giving illegal sums of money to Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign and hiding out in Nicaragua.
There is a book written by the pilot of Bob Vesco’s private plane (a Boeing 707) called, “The Flying Carpet-Bagger.” It is interesting reading. (Bob died about 2008 in Cuba after being imprisoned for cheating Fidel Castro’s family over a drug company which claimed to have discovered a new wonder drug.)
The rest of our club members went on to careers of all kinds and, as far as I know, no one else got in trouble, but that’s another story for another day.
5 thoughts on “Memory Seventeen”
The fireplace in my house in Fort Davis was ordered from a Sears & Roebuck catalog. It is beautiful and was installed about 1906. Badminton and tennis? Now I know why your kids are so good at ping pong. I still remember Doris and Donna cheering me on when I played Nigel!
You mean when you beat Nigel!
I’ve never heard the Bob Vesco story. Very interesting!
I remember the unique shape of that church, very modern for the times.
My first memory is watching you walk to the train station from a window in that house! I went over the retaining wall once on my bike and wound up in the neighbor’s basement window alcove! The church looked like an upside down ice cream cone, but my best memories are singing carols in the cold and then getting donuts and hot chocalte inside! The night the heater broke on your train I remmeber you telling us everyone played football outside with a briefcase to stay warm! I thought Long Island Sound was the Atlantic Ocean back then. The dog was named Timmy. You had a Pontiac before the ’63 Chevrolet Impala station wagon with the power window that kids came from miles around to see! Mel named her turtle “Pontiac” but he died when you scrubbed him down to remove some fungus or something! I guess we did best with cats.