Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, June 14, 2019


Today is Flag Day.  And that means it's also my father-in-law's birthday.  He would have been 98 or 99.  (I'm not good with numbers larger than the total of my fingers and Kitty's taking a nap so I can't ask her.)

Harold was always proud to share his birthday with Flag Day.  He would have been far less proud had he known he shared his birthday with Donald Trump.  Harold held no truck with liars, bullies, or bigots.

Harold was one of eight children in a first generation Irish-American Catholic family.  His father was  factory worker; his mother was a saint.  (Harold's father was one of three brothers who suspiciously left Ireland in a hurry -- one to America, one to Canada, and one to Australia.  Hmm.)  Harold's older brother Bob came down with polio at age twelve.  When she was told that Bob would never get out of an iron long, their mother said no.  Bob got out of the iron lung.  When told that Bob would never get out of  wheelchair, their mother said no.  Bob got out of the wheelchair.  When told that Bob would never walk, their mother said no.  Bob walked, albeit with crutches and leg braces.  And Bob began a long career with Raytheon as a draftsman.  And Bob drove a specially modified car.  And Bob built a garage and workshop by himself and shingled his home, moving slowly up and down a ladder.  Bob never let his disability get the better of him because his mother said no.  That's the type of family Harold grew up in.  (Harold's younger sister Clare had Down Syndrome.  In those days it was an early death sentence.  Well-meaning folks suggested that Clare be placed in a group home.  Her mother said no.  Clare stayed at home.  She held a job and lived to the ripe old age of 43 when pancreatic cancer got her, far outlasting the medical opinion of the time.  Clare was a real sweetheart and I am lucky I got to know her and love her during the last years of her life.)

Harold was a hero to his younger brother Don because Harold saved money from doing odd chores and bought Don a bicycle as a surprise.  Don is in his nineties now and still recalls Harold's generosity.

Harold was in high school when World War II broke out.  He and his cousin Eddie dropped out of school to join the Navy.  They got in by switching their records during certain parts of their physicals.  Harold said he was Eddie for a part of the physical they knew Eddie would fail and Eddie pretended to be Harold during another part of the physical.

Harold served on the destroyer Leutze in the Pacific theater.  In April 1945, the Leutze was hit by a kamikaze plane which almost severed its fantail and left a gaping hole in its port quarter.  Casualties included seven missing crewmen, one dead, and thirty wounded.  Harold was dispatched to the ship's hull to try to restore its electrical system, working in dark quarters while waist-deep in water.  The ship miraculous did not sink and managed  to limp to port.  Harold received the bronze star.

While in the service, Harold had proposed to Eileen, who really did not want to get married so soon.  Thus, Eileen told Harold she would marry him when the war ended.and darned if the war didn't end a few months later.  We have an old and very dark video of their wedding reception, held in a nice restaurant; the restaurant happened to be near a used car lot and the most visible part of the footage had the wedding party exiting near the car lot.  We would use that video to claim that they got married in a used car lot.  Eileen did not think that was funny but Harold would just laugh. 

After the service and newly married, Harold enrolled at Georgia Tech.  He and Eileen (and soon, two young children -- Kitty and her older brother Michael) settled down in a trailer.  Harold would earn money selling Sunday newspapers outside a large church after services.  He had an opportunity to make real money running moonshine but Eileen put a kibosh on that idea.  Sometime before graduation, officials at Georgia Tech discovered that Harold had never finished high school and threatened to expel him for lying on his application.  Harold had them produce the application and showed that he never claimed to be a high school graduate on the application, only that he had attended Rockland High School on the dates he had listed.   Harold stayed and graduated with an engineering degree.

Harold began a long career working on projects through companies contracting with the Air Force, often on hush-hush stuff dealing with rockets.  Many times, his family did not know where he worked and could only contact him during emergencies and through an intermediary.  This allowed Kitty and her three brothers to make up all sorts of stories about what he did, the more outrageous the stories the better.  Once, when Harold was working at Cape Canaveral,  he woke up all the kids at three in the morning, telling them it was a great time to take a walk.  While on this "walk" they just 'happened" to watch the launch of the original Gemini rocket.

Harold was a gentle, easy-going, and methodical man with a great sense of humor.  Until someone tried to take advantage of him, that is.  That's when you would see what the phrase "getting one's Irish up" meant.

Harold died of pancreatic cancer at age 80, after having seemingly beating that evil beast twice.  The saddest part of that is that he had one grandson and two great-grandkids born after his death, three people deprived of ever knowing him.  He would have gotten a kick from all three -- Mark, Erin, and Connor -- and they, I'm sure would have loved him.

Harold loved to take the family to Kimball's Ice Cream Stand  in Westford, Massachusetts, where the servings are so large they make a full meal by themselves.  Every year on Flag Day we go out and splurge on ice cream for dinner in honor of a wonderful man.  Ice cream has never tasted better

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