Dried Flowers

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
A retired man, hoping to learn more about his family history, travels to Vermont searching for information about his grandfather.

Submitted: November 03, 2016

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Submitted: November 03, 2016

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Dried Flowers

By Philip G. Hubbard

My nights are filled with vivid dreams.  Not nightmares.Work dreams mostly.  The setting is always familiar but indistinct.  Not a place where I actually worked, but somehow related.  Most often, it’s a college campus, mirroring my own career.  I awaken feeling stressed, overloaded from too many challenges, too many wrongs to right, too many problems to fix.  Over morning coffee, I endlessly review my successes and failures, wondering daily, had I grown Teflon skin like so many of my colleagues, would the path have been smoother?

Later at the “Y”, I walk round and round on the indoor track.  The other old guys there barely nod, lost in their own world.  Are they like me, reliving the past too?  Some walk faster, most walk slower, some drag their bloated or injured bodies along.  What are their regrets?  I say a prayer of thanks for my relative health and fitness, that my aches and pains melt away like mist in the morning sun, that my heart is intact though somewhat scarred by love and loss.  I realize, like I do most days, that I have years left to live.  What will I do with the time?

In my youth, while I was interested in history, I never thought to inquire about my roots.  My Mom was one of the last riders on the Orphan Trains, but that’s a story for another time.  My Dad always seemed at a loss for words.  He misspent his life working as a grocery clerk.  As a student he had excelled in his Engineering studies at Rutgers, but he quit on a whim and joined the National Guard.  The war came and he, like every man, was in for the duration.  Life has a way of piling on, events, obligations, fear of the unknown.  My Dad was too timid, or perhaps he simply couldn’t articulate the thoughts that coursed through his brilliant mind.  He lived a life of quiet frustration, unable to share his ideas and unwilling to speak about his boyhood and the promising life he had abandoned.

I grew up knowing little about my grandparents.  My grandfather, a successful doctor, died before I was born.  My grandmother, an educated woman from a notable family, died when I was only seven.  Her birthplace was Brooklyn on Flatbush Avenue when that street was populated by stately brownstone mansions.  As a Stillwell, she counted famous Army Generals among her family.  A rebel of sorts, she trained at the Katherine Gibbs School, an institution that prepared young women for careers in the business world.  In a rare picture, she is wearing the long white gloves that were the appropriate office attire for proper ladies of means.

My Dad told me very little about his father.  I knew that he was from Springfield, VT and that he had two brothers, George and Calvin.  My grandfather was Fayette Elmore Hubbard.  I never learned why he was named Fayette.  Perhaps, being the third and youngest son, his parents wanted a more creative name after the obligatory George and Calvin were taken.  All I know about Calvin is that he headed South then West to make his fortune.  Oldest brother George bought a farm in Red Hook, NY with plans to become a gentleman farmer.  Turns out he became a working farmer, raised five daughters and lived well past 90.  The few happy stories my Dad told me about his boyhood were about the Summers he spent on his Uncle’s farm.  My grandfather studied medicine at the University of Vermont.  He dated a girl named Grace who later married Calvin Coolidge.  He might have ended up as a rural country doctor but instead he moved to New Jersey.  I decided to find out why.

While I have very little anecdotal information about my family, I do have the recorded history.  My Aunt, a taciturn lady with a missing funny bone spent years researching our family tree to officially preserve a place for Hubbard ladies and the future daughters of Hubbard sons in the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Seems we hark back to Captain George Hubbard who served honorably in a Connecticut regiment.  That’s all very interesting but it doesn’t answer the question of why my grandfather moved to New Jersey.

I’ve had some good luck with Airbnb, so I went online to scout out locations in Springfield, VT.  Airbnb is a network of people who are willing to rent a room in their home to travelers.  As you can imagine, before letting a stranger stay in your home, you want some information.  That’s the way Airbnb works.  In order to secure a room, you have to tell the owner about yourself in some detail. 

I found an attractive turn-of-the-century home in the center of Springfield and wrote to the owner, a lady named Martha who said she is a Librarian and member of the local historical society.  Even though it meant missing my Thursday Writer’s Group, I planned a long weekend and headed for Springfield on Thursday morning.

It was a beautiful sunny Fall morning and the leaves were at their peak.  Springfield is at the midpoint in Vermont and close to the New Hampshire border.  I was looking forward to the long pleasant drive and the solitary time to think about the trajectory of my working career.  It’s a tale of a city kid from New Jersey who escapes to a rural college in the Midwest.  In a lucky break, he snags a Summer internship at a top ten advertising agency in New York City.  A promising career is truncated almost immediately by an offer from Uncle Sam that can’t be refused.  The young man, now married, his enlistment completed and expecting a child, returns to his wife’s hometown in upstate New York and finds work in sales.  After a few years of dead end jobs, he takes a huge leap of faith and a pay cut to sell training for a local community college.  In the early 1980’s, it was a new field called Workforce Development and his success propelled him to greater and greater opportunities across several states.  In the end, the moving and the ceaseless hours affected his marriage and his children and him in many ways that he regrets.  As I drove, I thought about choices and their consequences.

My Dad had choices too.  What if he had stayed in Engineering school?  What if he had stayed in Oregon where he was released from the Army after the war and had a good job, instead of returning to New Jersey under the thumb of his dominant widowed Mother?  What if he had returned to finish college and prepared for a job where he could use his head as well as his hands?  How did his choices affect my choices?  Where does the line of connecting events begin?  These were my thoughts as I drove to Vermont.

Martha, a pleasant, attractive woman my age, welcomed me into her home.  She told me Hubbard was a common name in Springfield and asked if I had relatives in the area.  I told her no, but that my Grandfather, Fayette Elmore Hubbard was from Springfield.  She looked at me, at first slightly confused, but then she smiled. 

“Was your Grandfather a doctor?” I told her yes and she asked me to follow her upstairs.  In a room that was half study and half storeroom, she opened an old trunk that appeared to be full of letters and other mementoes. She reached for a bouquet of dried flowers and a letter in an envelope addressed with strong, precise handwriting.  The return address read, “F.E. Hubbard, Montclair, NJ”.  Inside, the letter, written with the same precise penmanship read:

“My dearest Clara, it is with great reluctance that I write to tell you that I have accepted a post at the new Mountainside Hospital in Montclair, NJ.  Now that I have secured a position, I sincerely hope that you will reconsider your decision and agree to become my wife and join me in Montclair.  The hospital has helped me purchase a beautiful home in the center of town next to the Congregationalist Church and the new Carnegie Library.
Darling Clara, I will await your reply on bended knee!
With sincerest affection, I remain yours,
Fay”

Martha told me that her Grandmother remained in Springfield and continued teaching at the local school.  Some years later, she married the new Superintendent, a young widower who had come to Springfield to help form the first Springfield School District.  Martha’s Mother Emily studied Library Science at the university and returned home to Springfield to help establish the first public library.  Today, Martha sits at the same desk in the library where her Mother served patrons for over forty years!

My Grandfather developed an early interest in Anesthesiology, rising to prominence in his field and serving as President of the National Association of Anesthesiologists in 1944.  I learned this fact only recently when the Association contacted me to return his official portrait.  They were downsizing their headquarters and no longer had room to display the portraits of their past Presidents. Ironically, although my Grandfather spent a lifetime in medicine, he discouraged his daughter from attending medical school and instead only supported her studies to become a Professor of Biology.

I returned home after my long weekend with some questions answered, but others remained.  If my Grandfather had stayed in Springfield and married Clara, I wouldn’t exist!  That was an easy conclusion.  But what about the choices I’ve made and the choices my kids are making and the choices their kids will make?  What have I learned from the past that I can share with my children to help them prepare for the future?  Should I advise them to make their best decision at the time and be prepared to live with it, or should I tell them to be calm in the face of a crisis or opportunity and choose carefully for all those whose lives depend upon it?


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