Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Tale of Two Families

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.


Laoch of Chicago said...


Just Breathe said...

What a story, how very sad.

mama-face said...

Needless to say, what a tragedy. So touching though that you are or have thought of the boy who caused that accident. I can only imagine, (of course), but I wonder if it was even harder for him. Gosh, I doubt anything could beat the devastation of your mother in law though.


SparkleFarkle said...

I don't think a word has yet been invented to describe the anguish the "other" victim is sentenced to. Every morning, when your husband's cousin wakes up, he is twelve again. Such beyond tragedy. God help him to heal a little more each day, even now.

Pam said...

I think Dad should talk to Joe. I bet Joe would be relieved and thankful to tell his story and to know that there are no hard feelings there. It would be very cathartic on both sides. Difficult. But cathartic.

Anonymous said...

Such a sad story.

It's such a shame that these things happen.

Joanne said...

Just imagine if this had happened today all the "experts" that would have been brought in to "talk" to everyone even remotely involved.

I am not saying that our ability many years ago to sweep things under the carpet was a good thing but maybe in other ways it helped people get on with their lives.

That said that elephant in the room needs to be taken out and watered every once in a while. I am sure your husband would love to really sit down and talk about his older brother with Joe - just might never happen.

BONNIE K said...

What a very sad story. I know someone whose son had a few beers and got in his car and hit another car with a father and son in it. They both died instantly. The driver spent about 7 years in jail. He was a good kid too. It was sad for everyone.

Michele said...

What a tragic accident. I'm sure it affected both families greatly.

Anita said...

What a story, makes me sad for Joe, hard to imagine what he went through as a 12 year old.
You weave a wonderful story Sandy.

Bethany said...

Wow, what a sad story! I cannot even imagine the life of the other little boy after the accident happened :(

Noel Giger said...

stopping by from SITS

I am a mother who is emerging from that dark place - I lost my 3rd child, an infant son, in 2006.

I have often been thankful that there was "no one to blame" for his death (although I often blamed myself) - it would have been very different for all of us. HUGS


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