Posted by: kevinfortruth | October 10, 2012

Ashes to Ashes – Spam to Spam – and my 50th High School reunion.


Just to clarify, I am talking about the canned pork luncheon meat that has been around for 75 years.  Younger individuals think that Spam just refers to unwanted email.

Last weekend I drove up from Mt. Joy, PA to Springfield, MA for my 50th High School Reunion.

Being away from Massachusetts for most of my adult life, I had mixed feelings about returning to my birthplace.   The biggest reason for not wanting to go is that most of my aunts and uncles have passed away over the last decade and I only have a small handful of cousins in the greater Springfield area that I have not seen or talked to in decades.

The other reason I was leaning toward not going is that I attended only one previous reunion and even though I enjoyed myself while there, I did not recognize the majority of those attending the reunion.

I entered the Air Force in 1962 right after graduating and after retiring from the military in 1983, I decided to remain in Texas for the next 25 years – except for a 4-year “visit” to Colorado.

While attending my previous reunion I reconnected with a handful of students that I remembered quite well and I had a great time – much better than I anticipated.

I guess everyone has fantasies of reconnecting with someone you dated in high school and maybe have a rekindling of sorts.

Let’s fast-forward 25 years to this past weekend.  I was sure I would not recognize anyone this time – except for maybe one or two people.  I knew the names of a handful of people that planned on attending but I was sure I would not be able to single them out in the crowd.

Another reason that I wanted to return to Springfield for the reunion was to visit my brother Danny’s grave.  Danny died in 1998.  I did not attend his funeral or burial back then but I promised myself that I would visit his gravesite the next time I was in New England.

Before traveling up to the reunion I called about a half dozen cemeteries in the Springfield / Chicopee area to try to find out exactly where my brother was buried and eventually I found out he was buried in a small Catholic cemetery in Chicopee.

I got into Springfield late in the afternoon on Saturday – just in time to check into the Marriott in downtown Springfield and change into something more presentable for the reunion.

My plan was to hit the reunion – say a few hellos – enjoy the meal, and head back to the hotel early enough to get a good night’s sleep in anticipation of visiting my brother’s gravesite on Sunday morning.  How plans change.

Surprise, Surprise!  The reunion turned out almost the last one – but even better than I anticipated. I ended up at a table with Grand L., an old friend of mine I went into the Air Force with back in 1962.  He was there with Marion V., his lovely wife of 49 years.  Also at the table were a couple of individuals, Henry J. and Ellen S., who I really enjoyed knowing in high school and it was great catching up with them again after all these years.

The next morning, after having breakfast, I was off to find my brother.  I had no idea of how to get to Chicopee but I had my trusty GPS and after keying in the intersection near the cemetery, I was off and running.

The cemetery office gave me pretty clear directions of how to get to Danny’s gravesite and the caretaker even said he would put out a big orange traffic cone next to the gravesite so I would have a visual point of reference.  As instructed, I drove down the 3rd road going into the cemetery and after driving in about 100 feet, I was relieved to see the orange cone.  Looking around, I noticed that it was the only cone in my field of vision so I was comfortable that I was at least walking in the right direction.

My excitement of getting to my brother’s gravesite soon turned to concern and confusion because my brother’s name was nowhere to be found on the headstone.

Danny was buried in his wife’s family plot and the stone was full from top to bottom with various names – all ending in Shea.  There were names of those buried earlier than my brother and one name of someone who was buried after the date of my brother’s death – but again, no Danny.

I felt empty and embarrassed that my brother has been in the ground for almost 14 years without any reference of any kind that he was in the ground at that specific location.  It just doesn’t seem right to me.

I looked around at a few other headstones and I noticed that there were some that had a name of one person, followed by, “and wife” or “and husband” – but at least they were recognized in some capacity – if nothing else but a reference to relationship status.

Originally, my family was to be buried together at St. Michael’s Cemetery in Springfield in a family plot currently occupied by our father.  There are three other plots adjacent to my father and they were purchased for our mom, my brother, and me.  Our mom died in 2002 and she insisted on being cremated.  Her ashes are in my apartment and soon I hope to have her urn buried adjacent to my father, her husband.  My mom wanted me to sprinkle her ashes out of an airplane over Springfield but I cannot get myself to go up in an airplane or helicopter to sprinkle her over the city.  Call me chicken, but I would rather bury her with my father.

I can truly understand why my sister-in-law decided to bury her husband, my brother, with her family – my only issue is that he has been slighted in the manner he has.

This morning I contacted someone at the cemetery about how I could pursue putting down some marker acknowledging where my brother is buried.  I plan on contacting my brother’s widow to see how I might be able to have a marker placed that would show where my brother is buried, while at the same time not detracting from others who are buried in the family plot.  More to come on this subject.

Oh, I almost forgot.  I left a small bouquet of flowers up against the Shea headstone, along with a can of Spam.  I left the Spam with the greatest amount of love and respect for my brother.

A little history is appropriate here.  Our father died when I was one and my brother was three – so it was our mother raising the two of us until each of us flew the coop.

We were poor but we were happy.  We had little or nothing, in material things, but we had each other.  What we had was love between the three of us.  Did we butt heads?  Sure, we did, but we were as close as any family could be.

We grew up on Welfare and Aid for Dependent Children, known as AFDC back then, I believe.

Every week we would walk to the government office and get various food items packaged in white bags with big black letters, i.e. Sugar, Flour, powdered eggs, powdered milk, and yes, even a white generic can of what is commercially known today as Spam.  I apologize – I cannot remember exactly what was printed in black letters on the white can.  If anyone knows, I would love to hear from you.  Please leave a comment.

God love my brother, he hated Spam – probably more than I did, but the generic version kept us nourished.  I remember my mom opening each can – cans that appeared to contain a yellowish gel along with some kind of chunk of pork that looked like a pig knuckle, minus the bones, that one would slice and fry in a saucepan.  You never needed to add any kind of oil because the gel was sufficient to use in its place.

All those generic government foods were incentive enough to make my brother work hard all his life to prevent ever returning to poverty again.  He worked diligently and accomplished a lot.  Even without a degree, he worked his way into management at Mass Mutual and eventually worked for a successful business in Springfield that he considered buying from the owners but he unfortunately died before he could fulfill his dream.

So, why the Spam, one might ask.  I put it there, along with the flowers, to let Dan know that it is okay to return to one’s roots.

Dan is in the ground now without all the material things he worked so hard to earn – he is in the ground without any visual sign that he is even there.  I left the Spam there to remind him of the love the three of us had for each other when we were growing up.

A visual here is appropriate.  Here is the picture I took of the grave with the flowers and the Spam.

My brother’s gravesite with my flowers and a can of Spam

Again, we had nothing growing up, but we had each other – so in the grand scheme of things I left my brother an upgraded version – a can of Lite Spam that I am sure someone has already removed and taken home to fry in their own frying pan.

Rest in peace Dan.

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Responses

  1. Kevin, this is a heart touching story.

    Didn’t know Danny, but if he was anything like his brother, he was a good man. Your mother must have been a very strong woman, and for sure she had to be a good woman to have raised a man like you.

    May they both rest in peace.

    Patricia

    • Hi Patricia; Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. To put it mildly, we kept her busy. Wouldn’t trade growing up like we did for anything. We had little but we had each other. Danny always had a lot more drive than me to accomplish more. He started his family earlier than I did and that is probably why he did not finish his degree – but he didn’t need a piece of paper to accomplish all he did.

      I just finished watching a HBO special about an investigative reporter who was killed in Libya and at the end when they were honoring the fallen journalist, there were bagpipes and a vocal rendition of Danny Boy and it was as if the world stopped and it threw me back to when I was growing up. My mom used to sing that song to him and she had a raspy voice due to her chain smoking. It was as if my mom was singing a duet with the Irish singer at the funeral. Wow, I never expected that today, but I welcome it.

  2. Kevin,
    Very poignant reading. I was really sad to hear the way Danny was buried, and hope that you can get some marker put there for him. Maybe it was the way he died that his wife cannot live with who knows. About Danny forgetting the pass, he really never did.
    We would talk often when he came to see Kay, and many times said he was happy when he had the band and played “his” music, and things were calmer even though tough at times hard. You know your mother loved him because she always was harder on the ones she loved. You, well you were far away, so Kay would always say nice things about you and hope we would meet, which was a pleasure to do.
    Now for the 50th, I haven’t been to any, and we also had ours in Conn. Never really hung around or close to any body, so no reason to see what has become of them.
    Good luck
    Maddie

  3. Kevin, and Danny,
    I am glad that you were able to go to your 50th class reunion. So is it going to be another 50 years before you go back or try again in 25 years?

    It’s all ways nice to catch up with some old friends from high school. Thank god for emails and cell phones and any other means of communicating with others.

    Come next year I have been out of high school for 30 years and I have yet to go back to my high school reunion. I think about it and I look back how much I was bullied in school.

    It sounds like you, mom, and brother were happy back then. I can relate I did grow up on welfare but I am on it now. Today they give you food stamps on a debate card.

    It’s too bad that your brother’s wife didn’t care enough to put his name on the tomb stone. I wish you luck in getting in touch with her and asking her about it.
    Too bad Danny tried to forget his past sometimes the past are the best times in life.
    I remember some of my past and at times I wish I was that little kid growing up.

    I hope Danny likes the can of Lite Spam, REST IN PEACE DANNY.

    Amiee


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