Thursday, June 17, 2010

Father's Day...

The letter, dated January 10, 1928, sent from Chateaugay, NY, reads, To: Mr. Thomas Abbott, Detroit Mich.
Dear Sir, I am just writing this letter to inform you I am alone in the garage business now. Ross Mellon has been put out of the firm and Jordan also has left me. Do you think you would ever feel like coming to Chateaugay? If so I wonder if we couldn't make some arrangements. Will you please let me know just what you think?
Very truly yours, Jerome Casier
Eighty one words of almost no significance to anyone, except me. And my entire family.
With Father’s Day upon us, I recently was feeling a little nostalgic. I decided to dig through a box of old photos and papers that was left in my possession after my dad died about ten years ago. I had occasionally looked at the pictures, a lot of which were of his father---my grandfather, a man my sister and I called Papa, but whom I barely knew. I had never really looked at the old newspaper clippings and letters. This week I stumbled upon the above missive and it blew my mind when I realized what it was.
I was born and grew up in upstate New York, near a small town called Chateaugay, a village the size of Mayberry, RFD, 7 miles from the Canadian border. Things could have been a lot different…
My grandfather, Thomas Charles Davies Abbott, was born in Liverpool , England. When he was a young man he came to the United States, carrying a cheap suitcase full of clothes and a head full of dreams. While it would be romantic to claim he came in through Ellis Island, in truth he first went to Canada, where he actually served in the Canadian Army during World War I. At some point he met and befriended a mechanic from Chateaugay, NY, but after the war ended he settled in Detroit, where he worked as a mechanic on automobiles. Then one day in early 1928 he received a letter from his buddy in Chateaugay, inviting him to come to NY to work together in a gas and service station. That letter, and his decision to cast his lot in NY, would change the lives of more people than he could have ever imagined. Because when Thomas Abbott made that move, he set off a chain of events that went something like this: he eventually met my grandmother, Elsie Ives, and married her. Together they had my dad, Clement and his brother Charles. My dad and mom had me and my sister Carmen, and my uncle Charlie and his wife Dorothy had five kids of their own . I have a daughter, my sister and her husband have two children, my five cousins have many children between them and now grandchildren are popping up, and it goes on and on. A seed delivered in an envelope 82 years ago took root and has become a tall and strong family tree that is showing no signs of getting weaker.
I knew my grandfather only as a strange little man who fixed televisions in his old age. Though we lived only 5 miles away, I was only inside his house one time, in 1969, when he invited us in to watch the first moonwalk. He was distant and smelled like pipe tobacco. I don’t remember ever saying much to him because he was so uninviting to the attentions of children. If he was here now, though, I would say this to him: Thank you, Papa. Thank you for picking up your mail that day in 1928, and thank you for coming here and for deciding that this was a good place to settle down and raise a family.
As a Guy Clark song called Emigrant Eyes goes, “My grandfather’s days are numbered but I won’t let his memory die. He gave me the gift of this country and the hope in his emigrant eyes.”

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