“Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.” William Cullen Bryant
The shrill light of a rising sun challenged my vision as I drove east yesterday through a frosty early morning. Pockets of clouds hung in the small valleys as I wound through the Berkshires. Many trees were bare but stubborn oaks showed their orange colors. Along the sides of the road, in places where men long ago blasted through tall hills, the scarred rock faces glistened under thin sheets of autumn ice. Grassy areas not yet hit by the sun were robed in frost.
I was on my way to share a last goodbye. In the company of others, I gathered with a group of other relatives and friends. The air was crisp, the sky a flawless blue. A modest cemetery in a small, old town in Connecticut welcomed back one of its sons to rest among his family. Three older Veterans aimed their rifles three successive times. The cold air amplified the shots. The bugler played “Taps.” John’s long life journey was complete.
I’ve never known my Connecticut relatives very well though I’ve heard about them since my youth. My grandmother was the oldest of three kids. Born in New Haven, she eventually fell in love with a man from Albany and moved there when they married. My mom and my uncle spent time, during many summers, in Connecticut visiting the relatives. My grandmother’s sister married, had one child, and settled in a small town near the rock quarry where her husband was superintendent. My grandmother’s brother married, had four children, and ran the only pharmacy in Portland, CT.
Oh, how my mother and uncle loved visiting their cousins. If the timing was right, their uncle rented a cottage at Cornfield Point and they got to enjoy being at the shore. Stories of clamming, grape arbors, picking blueberries, walking past the tobacco barns, and walking across the bridge to Middletown were told innumerous times. I could always tell my mother and uncle were transported back to those times in their memories, their eyes filled with wistful remembrance and soft smiles gracing their faces.
Cousin John was someone I began to know as an adult. But I didn’t know him very well. I was fortunate to meet him a few times and to speak with him on the phone a few times. But I relished hearing his correspondences with my mother and uncle. The greatest generation knew, and knows, how to pen an informative letter. John was jaunty. He was innately curious, a wonderful conversationalist and a man true to himself and to his family. I knew his sister, Cousin Betty, much better. She was a lovely, sweet woman much like their mother. Their brother, Cousin Roland, died tragically in the mid-70’s before I was able to meet him. My mother always speaks fondly of him and what a sweet kid he was. The youngest of the four siblings, Cousin Bill, spoke beautifully of his oldest brother yesterday. Bill acknowledged he didn’t get to know John well until he was grown because John was fifteen years older than he. But Bill’s words gave great testimony to the honorable man his brother was. It seems fitting that John passed, during his 98th year, on July 4th as he was proud of his service to his country.
Requiesce in pace, Cousin John. You’ve left a significant legacy among your family.
November 13, 1920-July 4,2019