A whimsical look at the return of a long deceased relative to modern day Easton.
Have you ever wondered what if your grandparents or great grandparents who once lived in Easton could come back and see what the town and the modern world looked like today? Well, I have.
My grandfather was born in Easton in 1896. Gramps was always somewhat skeptical of progress and modern science. In the early 1960’s whenever the weather would be a bit unusual, his comment was, “It’s all them darn Sputnik’s they keep shooting into space that’s making this weather so darn whacky!”
When Walt Disney passed away in 1966, there were rampant rumors about his request that his body be frozen and then thawed after science had discovered a cure for lung cancer – the disease that brought about his untimely demise at the age of only 65. Cryogenics was the talk of the day, and even though Walt’s body was never flash frozen as many claimed, people like my grandfather seemed to believe it was. What if Gramps had gone that route when he discovered his heart wasn’t going to last much longer.
May 2022. I received an email from a company named Acme Cannery & Cryogenics in Portland Maine. It stated that they would be closing their doors in June and that the remaining stainless steel pods holding people like my grandfather would need to be opened and the frozen inhabitants within thawed and brought back to life. While the medical profession had long ago begun transplanting hearts into patients whose own hearts were failing, they weren’t about consider my grandfather as a candidate now. Evidently, the profession took a dim view of the prospect of wasting a perfectly good heart on someone who had been lying frozen in state for 55 years waiting for exactly that opportunity.
Since Acme would soon be defrosting dear Gramps, he would need a place to go and someone to take care of him once he reached room temperature. The company figured that someone should be me. My wife was dead set against the idea of taking care of a 126-year-old man who had been on ice for the past 55 years. After I explained to her that Gramps might make a good segment for Steve Hartman’s Friday night piece on the CBS Evening News, just like Bud McQuade’s Redding daffodil field recently had, she acquiesced, and I was off to retrieve Gramps in Maine.
I was surprised that Gramps looked exactly the same as the last time I had seen him. But I guess I didn’t.
“Who the heck are you?” he asked as soon as I walked into the room.
“Your grandson, Bruce,”
“Bull. You’re an old man. Older than me by the looks of you. My grandson ain’t more than twenty- years-old.”
Shades of Rip Van Winkle after his nap to end all naps.
Luckily, I had brought a wheelchair with me as I had been informed that after 55 years of non-use, Gramps muscles had atrophied just a tad. As we approached the car, I hit the button that opened the power liftgate.
“What made the tailgate on your station wagon just pop open like that?” the old man asked.
“I hit a button on the remote and it opens by itself, Gramps. And we don’t call cars like this a station wagon any longer. It’s an SUV,” I explained as I opened the passenger door and helped him in.
“It stands for Sport Utility Vehicle,’ I explained.
“What’s sporty about a station wagon? Driving around with a young woman in a roadster was sporty in my day, not some box on wheels with kids and dogs.”
After stowing the wheelchair in the back, I slid behind the wheel and hit the start button on the dash. The center stack came to life and after flashing the word “Genesis”, the map appeared. Gramps seemed a bit confused.
“What’s with the television set in the middle of your dashboard? You watch the Red Sox games while you drive? Seems like it might be kind of distracting to me. And why did it read “Genesis” when you started the engine?”
“That’s the name of the car.”
“They afraid you’d forget the make of the car you bought? And since when did they start naming cars after books in the Bible? Somebody sell a Deuteronomy, too? And why the cute little picture of that map?”
“The map is part of the GPS system. It shows us where we are.”
“Even I know where we are. We’re in the middle of a stupid parking lot in Portland, Maine. And what does GPS mean?”
“Global Positioning System, Gramps. Satellites that tell you where you are.”
“Sputnik’s? Aw, geeeze! They still messing up the weather?”
No doubt, the old man would blame global warming on all those satellites we’ve launched into space while he was a human ice cube inside a pod that seemed like something from the old movie “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” from 1956.
The ride to Easton was certainly an interesting one. Gramps was upset that there were no more Oldsmobiles, Plymouths, and Mercurys driving on the highway. He still hadn’t gotten over the demise of Nash and Studebaker before he had been placed in the deep freeze in the mid-1960’s. The thought that the Koreans were building cars and that we were riding in one of them was shocking. The electronic toll recorders were beyond his comprehension. The voice that kept interrupting our Sirius radio broadcast to give us instructions about the proper lane to be in when we approached the next interstate highway confused him almost as much as it amazed him. When we stopped to order some lunch at the drive-up window at Wendy’s and I paid the $21.65 tab with a tap of my credit card, it was more than his poor old brain could process.
“$21? Where’s the rest of the week’s groceries? And what’s that little blue piece of plastic?”
“That piece of plastic is how we pay for things today. It’s called a credit card. The machine reads the chip that’s imbedded in it and sends the information to my bank. I can show it to you on my phone,” I told him as I pulled the phone out and opened the app for my bank.
“You got another television that’s the size of a post card in your pocket? And you call it a phone? Where are the wires?”
The questions came way faster than I could answer them. I just showed him what was on the screen.
“See, it’s already here, and the bank has already paid Wendy’s,” I tried to explain. “And $21 buys you a couple of burgers, some fries, and these two milkshakes. A dollar doesn’t go as far as it did in 1967.”
“If twenty-one bucks only buys lunch, how much did a spaceship like this thing we’re riding in set you back?”
“About forty times what you paid for that 150-acre farm of yours back in Maine,” I told him as I recalled how mad my poor grandmother was when he shelled out $1,800 back in 1940 for the farm that would take her away from her family in Easton.
“So, what are you, a bank robber, or a counterfeiter?”
Gramps napped after eating his lunch while I had us at the Sport Hill Road exit on the Merritt a little before three that afternoon.
As we ascended the hill, Gramps remarked about how much the trees had grown. As we passed Sam Senior’s old house, he was surprised that the barns were gone and that there were a couple of new roads on either side of the property.
“Sam was mighty proud of that farm of his. I wonder what happened to the old schoolhouse he bought for Blanche. It used to set on the north side, back from the road a bit…”
“It belongs to the Historical Society now. It was moved to Westport Road across from the old Episcopal Church.”
“That old schoolhouse has moved more times than I have,” he laughed as we neared the house that his brother Fred had built in 1921. “Well, that place don’t look all that much different except you can’t hardly see it from the road no more. Don’t suppose any of Fred’s kids still own it?”
“Fred’s kids are all gone, Gramps. That house sold a couple of years ago. I think it went for about $730,000.”
“Another bank robber like you buy it?” he asked.
As we drove by the Helen Keller Middle School, Gramps saw the sign.
“Since when has Easton had a school for the blind?” he asked.
“It’s a regular school. Grades six through eight. It’s just named after Helen Keller.”
“I need some tobacco to chaw on, stop at Halzack’s, will you? George and Julia’s kids still run the place, or do the grandkids now own it?”
“Chewing tobacco isn’t good for you, Gramps. It causes cancer of the tongue and throat,” I told him as I pulled into the parking lot alongside of the Easton Village Store.
“According to you, I’m 126 years old. Are you suddenly worried I won’t make it to 130?” he asked as he looked at how much deeper the store had become. “Why so big? They turn the place into a department store?”
“After the Halzack boys retired and it was sold, it was expanded to offer more prepared food. It’s closing next month, and it is rumored that will become a ghost kitchen.”
“Is the White Lady from Union Cemetery planning on running it?” he remarked. “Can we stop by the firehouse to see if there’s anyone there I remember? Or maybe their great grandkids?” was his next query.
“The firehouse you remember is now home to the EMS. The firehouse the company built in 1989 is across the street now,” I told him as I pointed at the building.”
“Good lord!” he exclaimed as he looked at its size. “They got a hook & ladder too? We thought we were hot stuff when we took delivery of the Mack back in ’47 – we then had two trucks! When we bought the first ambulance in 1949, we thought we had everything from soup to nuts! That new firehouse is kind of big for a town like Easton, ain’t it? And what’s an EMS? Doesn’t anything in your world have a regular name? Or does everything just got a bunch of letters that you can rattle off and confuse people with?”
“Fire departments like to put out fires and save buildings these days before they become a pile of ashes, Gramps. Those two trucks in your day didn’t hold enough water to put out a garage fire, let alone save a house. Just saving a foundation for tomorrow isn’t enough,” I kidded the old man who had once served as the company’s president in the late 1940’s. “EMS stands for Emergency Medical Service. They supply paramedics to handle emergency medical calls, and before you even ask, Doctor Chick and old Doc Murdock are no longer alive either. If you think the fire department has grown, you should see the size of the police department.”
“Did Oscar finally retire? Did they make Joe Slady the chief and hire another cop to replace him?”
“I think they have nearly twenty officers on the force today.”
“Twenty? Did Bonnie & Clyde decide to get frozen like I did and are now thawed out and back to robbing banks like you are?”
I drove up Sport Hill Road a little way so that Gramps could see that Silverman’s and Snow’s were still there. As we passed by Silverman’s he looked at the menagerie of small buildings on the right side of the road.
“Looks like a zoo. They got any elephants & tigers?”
“Just farm animals so that kids can see what they look like.”
“People in Easton don’t keep goats and chickens anymore?”
“Not everyone, Gramps.”
As we drove by Snow’s, I explained that it was no longer a working dairy farm, that they now sold soil, mulch, manure, and stone for landscaping.
“Manure, huh?” he remarked. “It’s comforting to know that there’s still a demand good cow poop.”
We turned left onto Adams. When we reached the intersection with Center, Gramps looked over at the old Grange Hall on the right.
“The members of the Grange didn’t like white anymore?” he remarked as he saw the new color on the building.
“It’s the Masonic Lodge now. The Grange disbanded about 50 years ago.”
As I turned left onto Morehouse, Gramps noticed the library on the right with all the police cruisers parked out front. “The cops all drive station wagons these days too? Oh, excuse me, SUV’s?”
“Ford and Chevrolet no longer make 4-door passenger cars…”
“No wonder the Koreans got into the business. What’s the big building behind where the cops are parked?”
“That’s the library.”
“Did they outgrow the front half of the basement they used to take up in the town hall, or did the librarian just get scared when Oscar left a prisoner in one of those two holding cells next door while he had to drive someone to Bridgeport in the town ambulance?”
“The original library couldn’t have had room for more than two or three hundred books, Gramps. When they expanded the town hall the first time, they added a wing for the library, but they outgrew that space as well. They built the building you are looking at in the early 1990’s. They want to put an addition on the back of it as soon as they can find the funding.”
As we drove up Morehouse, we passed the original Samuel Staples school that my grandmother had been instrumental in convincing the town fathers – including the old guy sitting in the passenger seat alongside me who was then one of the selectmen – that the community needed to consolidate their four remaining schoolhouses into one large building. Nana was one of the first women to serve on the board of education after the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.
“That huge building just houses grades one through five now?” he asked.
“After several additions to the original building, it still wasn’t large enough, so they built a new school further up the road a few years ago. The old one now houses the board of education, the senior center, the Easton Country Day School, and a few of the town departments that the Town Hall can no longer accommodate.”
As we crossed over Banks, I pointed to the right, “That’s now the Samuel Staples Elementary School.”
“Where? All I see is a giant barn. That must hold a lot hay and lord knows how many milk cows…”
“That’s the new school,” I told him.
“They teach kids in a barn? You call that progress?”
“It’s a very modern school made to look like a barn. It pays homage to Easton’s history of agriculture,” I told him.
“Folks today drink a lot, don’t they?” he sarcastically inquired.
I made the loop on Beers and onto Wilson. As we passed the old barn that once housed the MP studio and factory, Gramps remarked, “Mirko Paneyko finally hit the big time with his fancy televisions and hi-fi sets? That old factory looks like it isn’t being used anymore.”
“Televisions and audio equipment are made mostly in China these days.”
“And we now trade with the Chinese?”
“Yep, we’re their biggest customers.”
The old man just shook his head as I drove on.
I stopped at Greiser’s to pick up a cup of coffee for the rest of the ride home. I asked Gramps if he wanted anything, and he again requested some chewing tobacco that he wasn’t about to get. He waited in the car as six or seven other vehicles pulled in and out and their occupants either went into the coffee shop or the post office next door.
When I returned, he remarked, “Well at least this is one place in town hasn’t changed much. What’s that you’re drinking?”
“A dirty chai latte.”
“I stand corrected,” he replied.
Gramps has been enjoying our gardens for the past few weeks while he sits comfortably on one of our decks looking out at the rose bushes that are currently in full bloom. He’s watched television a few times, but after viewing the news, he keeps asking if we can refreeze him.
We’ve been trying to find a nice nursing facility to take Gramps, as his mobility issues are more than we can comfortably handle, but so far, no luck. When we honestly answer the question about his age, they usually hang up on us as soon as we tell them he’s a 126. I guess none of them have ever encountered a real, live, thawed-out grandfather before.