In December of 1954, just a few days after Christmas, in a little town called Warren, two 12-year-old cousins headed out behind the house of one of them looking for some rabbits to shoot.
As they made their way across the field, one tripped, his shotgun went off and struck his cousin in the abdomen. In what can only be imagined as absolute panic, he ran back to the house and got the boy's father. The father went to his son, brought him back and laid him on the sofa to wait for the ambulance. On route to the hospital, the boy died.
That boy was my husband's brother, Frankie, the oldest of five sons. Along with Paul, who was 9 years old at the time, there were three younger brothers; 8, 7 and 16 months. I have seen many photos of Frankie, but I think there is only one with Paul's father and all five of his sons. Sadly, I've never seen any of all five with their mother. She was probably the one behind the camera and with five boys, I doubt she had much time to sit down with all of them at any one time.
How this tragedy affected Paul's family doesn't need to be explained. As with any mother who loses a child, Frankie's death ripped a hole in his mother's heart that never healed. During the eulogy for his mother, Paul referred to the time right after Frankie's death when they wondered whether their mother would ever return to them from the place her grief had taken her.
I met the lady who would become my mother-in-law more than 30 years later. The woman I knew had an inquisitive mind, a warm smile and quick laugh. There were photos of Frankie and all her boys around her house. Even all those years later, she spoke about him occasionally; usually relating a funny story. Raising five sons on a farm made for lots of funny stories.
But what happened to the cousin whose shotgun misfired? Nothing legally, it was obviously an accident, but I can only imagine that he and his family were profoundly affected, too. Part of a family of Portuguese immigrants who settled in Warren in the late 1800's, soon after the accident, his parents moved their four children to another state.
Yesterday after the funeral of another elderly family member, I met Paul's cousin Joe, the other 12-year-old boy from that day long ago. A nice man, a retired college professor, he impressed me as being a quiet, gentle man. Over the years, Paul has seen him a few times when they were in the area for family gatherings like the funeral, but the accident was never discussed. At times it must have been something like the elephant in the room.
Later, when we talked about Joe, Paul said he wishes he could have a conversation with him to find out exactly what happened that day. I was just lost in thought imagining how two innocent boys and their families were forever changed that awful day in 1954.