Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Uncle Bus

Today's post is a little off the usual topic (Radar being the usual topic), but not totally. Today's topic is related to Radar, or rather Radar is related to today's topic in a rather distant way. Since my grandmother passed away in March, my mom has been up to her house several times to organize things and decide what to keep and what to throw out. Anyone who has ever had to do this knows that going through someone's lifetime of collectibles is no easy task... particularly when that someone was a 94 year old pack rat!

I remember when I would go up to visit Grammy in the last 10 years, one of my favorite things to do was to go through the old photo albums and scrap books while Grammy told me the histories behind all the people in the pictures and the doo dads in the scrap books. She kept everything and most of it really only had meaning for her... she used to say that she knew that most of the things were junk and that they'd be thrown out when she died, but for now they kept her company. It's sort of sad to think that we all have stuff like that and that one day it will be someone else's job to sort through it and throw most of it away.

But there was also plenty of stuff worth keeping... the stuff, mostly pictures, about our ancestors. Pictures dating back to the 19th century... old tin types. My mom is organizing and putting together little histories to go with the pictures so that all of us now living, including Radar, as well as future generations can preserve these little scraps of our family history that might otherwise have been lost. But before she gets to that, I thought I'd preempt her by telling one little piece of the story... the story of Radar's great-great Uncle 'Bus'.

Four years ago during one of my visits, as I was looking through the albums and looking at pictures of Uncle Bus, I thought I'd pick Grammy's brain a little and write it down. And this is what I wrote (I've had to change a couple of things to bring it up to date, but it is otherwise unchanged from what I wrote as Grammy talked about her older brother.)

"My great uncle Bus would have been 96 years old this year – if he’d lived. Instead, he drowned in the Penobscot River on the eastern coast of Maine 86 years ago when he was a 10 year old boy. He was born in April of 1913, one year after Titanic sank. He lived through the Great War. He died in May of 1923, three month before President Warren G. Harding died while still in office.

Since I was a little girl and came to Maine in the summers, I was intrigued by my long lost great uncle’s fate. When I was eight I tried to imagine how I would save my 10 year old brother Javier, if he were to fall into the freezing waters. When I was ten, I was imagining how I’d save myself. When I was twelve, I summarized all the things I’d done in the previous two years and thought about how poor Bus had missed out on those experiences. As I sat listening to my grandmother's vivid memories of Bus from so long ago, and of her lifetime of experiences after his death, I wondered how all those stories might be different if he’d had a chance to be a part of them. But he wasn't, and I'd like to at least preserve his memory for all of us who never knew him before the last person who did know him is no longer alive to tell his story.

Paper was a big industry back then and paper mills churned all up and down the coast of Maine. The Eastern Manufacturer paper mill was situated in South Brewer off of Route 1 and employed many people in and around the town, including my great-grandfather. The mill was the lifeline of the town. It opened in the 19th century and filed for bankruptcy just five years ago (in 2004). They were famous for their Atlantic Linen paper. There was a big wooden box called the broke box where they kept the paper with imperfections. Every now and then they’d let the kids take paper from the box, or employees would take paper home to their families.

Ships brought the lumber logs to the shore and unloaded hundreds at a time, creating booms, like long floating boardwalks running along the shore – and creating a fun past-time for boys.

Charles was nicknamed "Bus" by his older sister, my great Aunt Elise, who was trying to say 'brother.' Bus went to a different school than my grandmother and he had the day off. At lunch, he went to the school playground to play marbles with his younger sister Mildred, my grandmother, who was two years his minor and his buddy. They had shared a lot together, including the measles - while they were sick they shared the same room until they were deemed to no longer be contagious. When the school bell rang and Grammy headed back into school, she looked back to the schoolyard fence where she saw Bus sporting his famous freckled smile and waving a big wave goodbye. That was the last time anyone in the Pooler family ever saw him.

Nobody knows why Bus went out onto the boom with his two friends from school, George Coleman and Lewis Keyer. Only George and Lewis might have known and they’re both dead now. They were two years older than Bus, since my great uncle was a really smart kid who had already skipped two years in school. But he didn’t know how to swim. It was May 1st and the waters were still bitterly cold, hovering only a few degrees above freezing. It might have been a teasing dare; or more likely just a 10 year old not wanting to loose face in front of his older friends. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter because he was out on the logs and when one log rolled too quickly, all three boys fell in. Decades later, George recounted to my grandmother that he had been a very strong swimmer and had yelled for Bus to hold on to him. Bus held on for a while then simply said, “I can’t hold on,” and disappeared.

A rumor swept across the town quickly that a boy had drowned, but a name didn’t accompany the rumor. Mothers who got wind of the news, panicked until they had their own boys back in their embraces. My grandmother was walking home from school when a boy ran to her and said, “If you want to hear some news, follow me because I’m off to tell your mother.” But by the time they got to the house, my great-grandfather had already brought the news home. My great-grandmother, who was three months pregnant (with my great uncle Bobby), was in bed under doctor's orders for fear that the trauma might impact her pregnancy. My grandmother doesn’t remember much else about that day except that she wondered why her mother was in bed if Bus was missing.

My great-grandfather, with dozens of local men and authorities searched for days. The river was swept and divers were sent down where Bus had disappeared. Signs were posted up and down the river and surrounding coastal town, offering a reward for information or for Bus’s body. For months, relatives would hike to the mouth of the river, hoping that some tiny speck might hint of where he had gone. But nothing ever did. Not even a shoelace."

And that's all I wrote... I had intended to pick her brain some more about the things she remembered about Bus's life, but I guess I've lost that chance. But at the very least, we have something and we know that Charles Edmund Pooler, my mom's uncle, my great uncle and Radar's great great uncle lived and isn't forgotten.

Bus's last school card

Bus, my great-aunt Elise holding great-uncle Leo, and Grammy

Grammy, Elise holding Leo, and Bus
(standing in the same river that would soon swallow him)

Charles Edmund Pooler (Uncle Bus)

Lots of love,
Titi and Radar

PS - In case you just need a small Radar fix from this century...


The Science Pundit said...

The B & W Radar pictures were a nice touch.

Cousin Laurie said...

I heard that story for the first time when we went to Maine to visit in 1992. Your Mom and Grammy took us to both headstones where he was memorialized. Your Grammy was very specific in mentioning that there was no body since one was not found but they wanted a remembrance of him. Since Cynthia and Waldo didn't have much money at the time they had it engraved on the Pooler stone (Peter & Eliza's) and then later on the stone where everyone is buried at the family plot.

I remember Mom telling me that my dad had another brother but he drowned and my Grammy Blodgett was never the same after that. In conversations with your Grammy she alluded to the fact that she pretty much raised my Dad because Grammy didn't have it in her. At some point I guess Grammy took over, but as far an enfant care and discipline it was your Grammy. She used to call my Dad her Bobby.

Thanks for sharing the whole story. I would like to add it to the genealogy (and will give you credit) since what I have on Bus is very sketchy.

And Radar is a handsome boy!