Posts Tagged ‘kids’

Summer, 1960:
Moving from Havemeyer Park to the “back country” area of town dubbed Round Hill at seven years old was a traumatic experience.

Although in the same town, our new house on Sumner Road was far away when it came to playmates, school, Halloween candy collecting, familiar faces, church — home. All of those things would be new and different. Changed.

My parents had good reasons to move. I was just a kid and none of them mattered. I didn’t know or care about a bigger house with more land, having my own bedroom, or a better kitchen. All I knew was change was happening whether I liked it or not, and I did not. 

The new starts before I was able to get over the losses of my previous life would fight with each other for a time before comfort set in.

The first day at the new house, I took our one year-old collie dog, Tod, for a walk in the new location. 

The smell of freshness everywhere was overwhelming, in a good way. There was mud everywhere from a recent storm which wasn’t forgiving to the dirt road and our own 500-foot long dirt driveway filled with bulging boulders and rocks. Neighbors told us that just a couple of days before our arrival, there were hundreds of dead black snakes along the road.

At the top of the driveway, Tod and I met our next door neighbor, Mr. Hull. Our driveways met at the same spot. He had been cutting back a little section of his yard as I approached. He introduced himself, advised he lived in the yellow house we could see, and knew I was one of the new neighbors.

I had seen a woman put a dog leash around her own ankle so she could be hands free while chatting and I thought it was cool, so I did that with Tod while talking with Mr. Hull. He pointed out the fact that Tod was a dog at least twice the size of me and much stronger and if he took off running after some wild varmint, I’d be dragged down and scraped up. I’d never thought of that, so I took the leash from around my ankle and held it in my hand, properly. 

He asked me how we liked our new house and other small talk and then told me to come over and meet his wife and kids any time. I was new to socializing with “strangers” so I took the invitation with a grain of caution though I said I would do that as we parted.
Tod and I made our way up the road, observing broken branches and new green leaves already fallen. Everything was still shiny and wet on the ground while the trees had shed the heavy water already. 

Just a few hundred feet past a thickly wooded area, I came upon the first house to my left. It was a white-trimmed, red, ranch style house with a rocky garden island including a tall tree, boulders and shrubs between the driveway and the house. 

Just past the driveway was a short cliff formed from boulders and flat, gray pieces of rock, that shimmered in sunlight. I learned later that the shiny stuff was mica. I wanted to make a necklace of it.

Two little heads popped over the top of the flat rock above me and said hello, surprising me. I said hello.

They asked if I was the new girl? Is that my dog? What’s his name? He’s big! Is he friendly? Why do you have him on that leash? Do you have any brothers or sisters? Can you come over to play?

The boy had red hair, as I did, so that was a nice surprise. His sister had short brown hair in a Buster Brown style. They both had nice smiles and lots of freckles. There were four more kids at the house.

I turned around with Tod, headed for home. My head was filled with excitement about meeting the new kids and apprehension about playing with them. What if they didn’t like me? It never occurred to me to wonder if I’d like them. My two years younger brother and I had playmates right there on the street, just like at the old house! I couldn’t wait to get home to tell him. (Our sister is six years older than I and, at 13, she was not going to play outside with a bunch of little kids. This was understood.) I told my mother about the kids and she said it was okay to go play, but that their mother should call her, to make sure it was all right with her. The next day, my brother and I went up the street together. In my pocket was a small piece of paper with our phone number and my mother’s name on it.

We all became fast friends and daily playmates and made stories—for another time.
I have loved the unique, fresh smell of the woods from that first day on. It’s a mingling of water, sand, dirt, old and new leaves and weeds, wildflowers and trees, living and dead plants, skunk cabbage and honeysuckle, pond scum and snow, soothing rain and heat waves rising from rocks and road. Our driveway and the road were paved with blacktop with a coating of oil and sand on top. The distinctive odor of hot tar was evident during summer heat and became part of the bouquet of outdoor smells. 

Eventually, what I missed at the “old house” became a good, enduring memory and I lived happily in the woods, trails, roads and the “new house.”

I didn’t know it then, but moving from one place to another does not change many important things that need improvement for a happier, calmer life.

Another significant relationship awaited me and its impact has stayed with me for over fifty years. 

* * *

I had told my mother about meeting Mr. Hull in the driveway and his invitation to come over. A couple of days later, I asked permission to go over there and meet the family. My mother said, “Yes, but don’t be a pest. And behave.” 

A couple of hundred feet of lawn and woods separated our properties from my front yard to their back yard, so I cut through the woods, finding myself at their semi-enclosed garage. 

Walking through the garage to the kitchen door, barn swallows, which I’d never seen before, swooped and peeped at me in a frenzy. There was a nest up in the rafters of the garage and underneath, there was no wall; it was open and the birds could come and go at will. 

They swooped low, near my head until I went up the couple of steps to the door and they didn’t have room to fly at me anymore. Each generation of birds protecting the babies did this every time I went for all the time we lived there.

I knocked and Mrs. Hull answered the door, smiling as if she already knew me, introducing herself and her two girls, Lisa and Vicki. They were younger than me and very cute, with dark curly hair. 

Inside the door to the left was a tiny alcove area, like a mudroom; to the right was a den across from which was the kitchen. When I was there, most time was spent in the two rooms. 

I played with the girls in their bedroom, which they shared. Our playtime didn’t last long, but there were dolls and other toys to occupy us. I remember many visits there but not always playing with them. 

I wanted to be with their mother and she seemed glad to be with me. 

Every afternoon at 4:30, the girls went off to play in their room and Mrs. Hull entered the den, sat down on the couch and turned on the TV to watch “The Edge of Night,” a popular soap opera. I didn’t understand one thing about it, but as long as I sat quietly, I could be with her. She made comments to the characters and we talked during commercials. Sometimes she’d describe a little of what happened in the show and I’d ask, “How do you know he will do that?” or “That’s not very nice of her,” I’d reply. The stories were definitely for adults and I could not grasp the gist of them very well.

Sometimes she could get very dramatic with the comments and a little loud and excited. But, unlike my mother, it was a happy excitement, something I would come to know as enthusiasm or an outgoing personality. 

Sometimes she marched into a room as if on a serious emergency mission, legs making big strides and arms pumping. I had to guess what prompted this. Maybe a phone call, or a rush for a paper towel to catch a spill, or an idea struck her that needed writing down? 

The den was a cozy room cabin-like room with comfortable wood frame furniture, curtains and a big coffee table in front of the couch that faced the TV. The rest of the house was more formal. 

On the end table near the door to the kitchen was a strange looking telephone that had the rotary dial on the bottom and a neck that curved upward where one would listen and the speaking area was below. The dial was on the bottom with a big, red button in the center. After dialing and talking, you just set the phone back down on the table and the big red button depressed on the bottom to disconnect the call. *

Any day I could spend with Mrs. Hull was significantly better than almost any time at home. We didn’t do anything special. I was just there for part of the day and then I went home – refreshed. 

Sometimes she’d tell me to call home and ask if I could stay there for lunch. I got to use the funny phone. After I hung up and told her, “My mom says I can stay,” she asked if I wanted bologna or a hot dog. I said bologna. 

Then she did the strangest thing. She put a small pot of water on the stove and when it boiled, she added three hot dogs. After a minute, she took one out and sliced it in thin circles and laid it on the bread that she’d spread with butter. This was now bologna. The other two hot dogs cooked for a few minutes longer, were placed on slice of bread. These were hot dogs. 

Another day she was making a fancy dessert with lady finger cakes and pudding in a big glass bowl. Her girls and I got each got a lady finger and pudding to dip it in for a treat. 

Mrs. Hull was just a nice person. She never yelled at us kids, especially not at me. She answered my questions, no shushing or sharp eyed looks. 

One day she told me to call home and ask if I could go to the supermarket with her and the two girls, if I wanted to go. I wanted to go! She WANTED me to go with them? I never went to the supermarket with my mother. The food was just there, in the kitchen, Mom cooked it (she was an excellent cook) and we ate it. 

My mother said I could go and I should behave. She didn’t have to say that, but my public behavior was important to her. I was on my best behavior, sitting quietly in the car, not bouncing around (there were no seat belts then; kids were free to bounce around like pin balls if the parents didn’t stop it). 

After getting out of the car and watching traffic in the parking lot, we made our way into the market. Mrs. Hull put Lisa and Vicki in the cart and let me push it, with her hands on either side of mine. I turned to look up at her, and she smiled at me. I thought I would burst with pride at being the big girl. 

We got the groceries without crushing other shopper’s ankles with the cart, checked out and piled back into the car. There had been no yelling or whining. It was something to remember. 

I went over to the Hull’s house any chance I could, which was frequently. I don’t know if she loved me, but I felt like she did. She liked me at least and whenever I didn’t know what to do with myself, up the hill, through the woods I went. I said hello to the crazy birds, knocked on the door and was welcomed with a smile and, “Come on in!” 

Mrs. Hull made me feel attached, not like an umbilical cord; more like holding invisible hands but letting go sometimes as well. She was dependable in mood and availability. She seemed to enjoy my company. I knew I enjoyed my time with her.

My mother’s moods were unpredictable and her temperament could be unexpectedly harsh or withdrawn. I loved her but didn’t understand her and my place in her world felt precarious.

When we moved away four short years later, all the way across town again, I missed the playmates and the life we’d made there. Most of all, I missed Mrs. Hull’s smiling face and kind words and demeanor; her excitement over the littlest happy things and her patience with what I’d thought were more annoying events. 

I hoped to be that kind of adult friend to a little girl when I grew up and had children of my own. 

On July 7, 1964, the moving van pulled up, big guys loaded all or our stuff, we walked through the empty house, said goodbye to the kids up the road, and were on our way to a different but similar life in Old Greenwich.

* * *

Greenwich Hospital, December 1989-February 1990

We bought a small house in Stratford in 1978. Greenwich was the dream but the money tree wasn’t producing enough and it was time to make babies. We had two daughters and life progressed somewhat normally. 

I was a stay-at-home-mom and enjoyed it. There was no regret about being home to keep house and traipsing around town for after school activities and errands common to running any household.

My mother lived at Nathaniel Witherell Nursing Home starting in March 1976. It became apparent to me that Mom was an alcoholic, but she also had MS that reared it’s circuit breaking sparks after a 26-year remission in 1968 and her condition needed full-time care. She was 58 years old. I visited her every two weeks for a couple of hours. 

My brother-in-law, Randy, wasn’t feeling well. Just after Thanksgiving 1989, his stomach was acting up. Blood work was requested, cultures were grown. He was admitted to the hospital and everyone waited. He was 30 years old and lived with his parents and brother in Cos Cob.

A couple of weeks after Thanksgiving 1989, the family learned that Mom developed a low fever everyday, late in the afternoon. I’d read a magazine article that said people with cancer often had daily fevers. I didn’t like it. The fever had been recurring for many weeks and the facility’s doctor advised a colonoscopy, to be done at the hospital. By this time, my mother didn’t recognize her children or grandchildren, likely from the MS or alcoholism messing with her brain cells, we were told.

On the same day, we learned that Randy and my mother both had different forms of colon cancer that had already spread and neither could be cured with surgery or chemo.


It was an unusually busy time at the hospital that day. There was one chair in the patient’s room and Randy’s parents and brother were there for long hours, taking turns pacing and sitting. 

Randy stayed at the hospital because there were other complications and the doctor wanted it that way. My mother slept so I went back and forth to her room until after dinner time. My husband stayed in Randy’s room until it was time to go home to pick up our girls, who had been taken for the day by a friend.

My mother was scheduled for return to Witherell by ambulance the next day, to live out her final days in their care. Nobody could say how long that would be but they guessed three-six months. 

Knowing the hospital well, I knew there were waiting areas across from each floor’s elevator bank. So my husband and I wandered off for snack food for dinner and to find a place to sit at one of these areas. We ended up one floor above our sick loved ones, but it was a quiet spot—only the whoosh of elevator doors opening and closing, visitors emerging talking in church whispers and the occasional clank of a gurney broke the silence. There were several empty comfy chairs and a few magazines. We ate our snacks, drank our coffee, and retreated into individual silence. 

Getting off the elevator, one could go left or right into a certain wing of the hospital. On this floor, turning left brought you to Pediatrics.

I sat, processing as well as I could the day’s diagnoses and events. I ran through the girl’s schedules in my head, figuring out how I’d be able to visit Mom and Randy while keeping their lives in relative order. Then I just sat on the couch, staring into space.

The big double doors to Pediatrics flew open and a distraught woman came through them at full speed in long strides, arms pumping, mouth tight, quietly speaking her frustration in unintelligible bits and pieces. Her fear and agitation were apparent as was her mama bear demeanor about something happening back in that wing.

Immediately I knew. The woman spinning her woe and needing to get away from something bad, if only for a minute, was Mrs. Hull. I was so shocked, so pleasantly surprised, but I didn’t say anything to her. Someone came to the double doors and she went back to the rooms.

I couldn’t imagine why she was there. Her children were grown up and she came from Pediatrics. 

I turned to my husband and hurriedly said, “Do you KNOW who that is? That’s Mrs. Hull, the really nice neighbor I told you about from when I was little. Should I go in there? I have to say hello. Will they let me in?

“Go ask,” he replied. “All they can say is, no.” 

Will I be intruding on something serious, I thought? Oh, forget it. Will she remember me? Go ahead, it’s important to see her, be with her even if only for a minute.

I got up the courage to walk through those ominous double doors and asked the nurse if I could see a visitor whom I could see in the hall. She said it was okay and I slowly made my way towards Mr. and Mrs. Hull, who were standing in the hall, talking. She looked the same; he had silver hair.

I approached shyly and asked, “Aren’t you Mr. and Mrs. Hull, my old neighbors? I’m Ellen McCourt.”

Recognition glowed and Mr. Hull said, “Of course you are!” and they both said, “How nice to see you.” 

Awkwardly I asked why they were there and Mrs. Hull said their grandchild was there for something likely minor but he’d been travelling from overseas, so better safe than sorry. She’d marched out to the sitting area in frustration because a blood test or something had been messed up and the waiting was bothering her. I wished her well for him. We had a disjointed and brief conversation about her girls–where were they now, which one was the mother of the sick baby? Then silence. 

Mrs. Hull gently asked me why I was there, and I blurted, “My mother is on one floor and my brother-in-law is on another, both diagnosed with cancer today and there’s no treatment, and there’s nowhere to sit near either room, so we came up here for a seat.” They both offered their regrets for such a predicament.

Mrs. Hull said, “I got your note about coming for a visit a couple of years ago, but we were out of the country for a while and it just slipped my mind about a visiting time.” I assured it was all right and we both said we’ll get together sometime in the future; that I’d love to visit her at their house, the same place I remembered so fondly. 

She agreed it would be nice to visit in person. I gave her a little hug and said I’d better leave so they could get back to the baby.

The atmosphere wasn’t ideal for such a meeting. My emotions were in a spin as were hers. Twenty-five years had passed since we’d seen each other. It was a brief but so uplifting and encouraging meeting, I’ll remember it always. 

On the way home that night, I knew peace. Most significantly, I knew this meeting was God’s work; to see Mrs. Hull again at probably the lowest point in my life and she was an angel to my spirit. 

What comes to mind today is that Mrs. Hull held my heart just by being herself. Her true, honest, generous, caring self. One may never know the impact your life has on someone else.

Did she know about my deteriorating and crazy home life when I was little? Did she know I admired her and enjoyed her? Did she know about my adult life’s challenges? Probably not. But every time I was with her, even all those years between seeing her, were examples of how love never dies. Whether she loved me or not, I knew I thought of her with love. 

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor. 13:13


Read Full Post »