I’ve always been a firm believer in the “It takes a village” approach to raising children. When I was much younger at least I remember we had quite a village at home. Two grandfathers, two grandmothers, aunts,uncles and cousins and friends everywhere.

Then there was that dark period where it seemed everybody died. Grandpa Hartman (pops) was first, my father followed a year later, then his mother died while visiting aunt Gerry a short time after that. Then I remember my mother handing me the phone and it was my cousin Dennis crying and lost that his father, my beloved uncle Jay died of a sudden heart attack. Grandpa Gill died in 1972. All this happened within two years. I was only allowed to view Pops funeral from a distance, my fathers too. I never actually went up to the body and knelt down in front of it I guess because everyone was scared I was going to flip out.
I wasn’t close to flipping out. I was contused at all this death. Who understands death at nine years old?
Actually my most memorable event at the Dooley Funeral Home in Westfield was this huge Grandfather clock that chimed every fifteen minutes. And the chime was something I remember from a movie. Very eerie and lonely.

Both Grandfathers scared the hell out of me. They were both huge men, demanding, stern and their presence in a room was sometimes overwhelming. Both were extremely respected in their community Westfield. Pops of course, owned the Westfield Sewing Center and was a huge presence downtown on East Broad street. Grandpa Gill was a highly respected police officer. He started when cops used bikes, not cars to chase criminals and was even considered a folk hero by the entire town that knew him. Both were smokers, drinkers and fierce womanizers, loved cars and lived a full life.

Pops would sit on the front porch of Whitman street all the time. He always had and was offering me a pocket full of hard candies. I never accepted them. I don’t know why. Once he asked me to “go to the trains in Westfield” I dint know what that meant. Was it the railroad track we crossed over in Clark when we drove to Westfield? He asked me three times one day. Just me and him. Butch come to “trains in Westfield” No thanks. My mother even begged me to go with him. I just refused. I regret that today. Turns out it was an annual model train show they held at the Westfield Armory. We never bonded, I think as kids should with their granfathers. He was very grumpy and surrounded on the porch by stamped out Pall Mall cigarettes which he chain smoked. He drove an old station wagen and the back of it was just filled with unorganized shit. The Westfield Sewing Center when he owned it was also an unorganized nightmare of frick frack. Yet, when a customer came in looking for something specific, he knew exactly where it was. The basement of the store was also another childhood nightmare. Dark, mysterious and one time I saw a mouse trap and I said “that it, I aint going down in the basement again.”

Grandpa Gill was also known to be a bit grumpy. One time when he was very sick with shingles, he had a bed in our rec room and lived there for quite awhile. While I now know shingles could be very painful I never understood then why he was so angry and grouchy. One time I called him a “crab” and he got up out of bed and chased me in his pajamas outside and into the street, In my early childhood, the 1960’s he retired from the police force, a Sargent and purchased a house on the lagoon in Lavallette NJ. These were, without a doubt some of the best memories I ever had. There was fishing, a boat, the beach, and all the kids slept up min the refurbished addict. Carol and Rebel always seemed to be there too.

It takes a village so if you have that chance, be there whenever you can.

Leave a Reply