by Peter Freyne
*End of the Day Update added below*
I’m still hoping to make the Barre Opera House Debates that certain interesting business associations are putting on this evening, but I just got off the phone with someone I haven’t talked to in a while. In fact, I haven't seen him face-to-face since Ronald Reagan was sleeping in the White House.
That someone is Francis my older brother (by 10 years).
He and his wife of 40 years are in Lake George looking for fall color. We’re meeting in Middlebury for lunch. They’re out East from California visiting oldest son Seamus in the Big Apple. I haven’t seen Seamus since he was an infant and we were playing on my parents bed, bouncing around, and all of a sudden he bounced off. There was silence. I thought I’d killed him. I still remember the frightening feeling rushing though my teenage body. But then he started crying and his mom came in and I was able to breathe again.
Seamus did OK. Got his Ph.D. Another sibling did too, And two more became doctors. Hey, a good old-fashioned Irish-Catholic upbringing, eh?
“Bub” is what I called my brother when I was a wee lad growing up on Maple Street in Hartsdale, New York. He and sister Maureen were products of my dad’s (the old IRA squad leader from 1920-21) first marriage to his sweetheart from back home in Co. Kilkenny, Ireland. Dad had come to America in 1928. Then he went back in 1935 to collect his bride. They settled in the Bronx. She died around 1944. Son Francis went to a nun-run boarding school. Daughter Maureen went to live on Clinton Place in the Bronx with my future mom and her mom (from Co. Mayo). My mom’s dad, a butcher shop owner from Co. Tipperary, had died of a heart attack in the 1930s.
I didn’t arrive on scene until late in 1949. My mom and dad had married the year before, and bought the house in suburban Hartsdale. The former IRA man, captured, sentenced to death and then set free by the 1921 peace treaty had become a CPA. Also taught night school two nights a week at Iona Collage - Irish Christian Brothers were frequent Sunday dinner guests on Maple Street. You can bet the memories are flooding in this morning.
“Bub” was considered a genius by many and an oddity by some. Quiet and studious was he with a voracious appetite for reading. He graduated Iona Prep in New Rochelle in 1956 - first in his class and captain of the track team. Then four years at Manhattan College studying electrical engineering and more track. Then Berkeley on a fellowship for his M.A. followed by UCLA for a Ph.D in physics and a life working on secret things for Uncle Sam.
Incidentally, I remember in the late 1950s he would run daily. In the cold weather he'd wear waffle long johns. At the time, he was the only one in town jogging along the roadside. Most folks thought he had a screw loose. How times change, eh?
I remember about 1959 when he was in college and I was in grade school, Bub took me to a Sunday doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. It was the Age of Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. The second game went 15 innings and when we got home (via Woodlawn subway and the bus up Central Avenue) my mom was hysterical with worry. Bub hadn’t thought to call home - the game was on WPIX after all. And besides he was busy. Not watching the game or keeping a box score, but busy studying his physics and engineering textbooks and playing with his slide-rule as we sat in the upper deck behind home plate.
Hey, I had a blast.
One other thing - his nickname in the caddy yard at Scarsdale Golf Club - “Swish.” You see, he brought his text books to the caddy yard, too. I had no idea what “Swish” meant back then. At 10, I didn’t even know what straight-sex was. And when I hit the caddy yard in the early 1960s after Bub’s caddying career ended, Caddy Master Jimmy Rocco started calling me “Little Swish.” He’d giggle and others would join him, but I hadn’t a clue as to the sexual innuendo. I was just happy to get the loop and the cash it produced.
While at UCLA working on the physics doctorate in the early Sixties, Bub joined a Single-Catholics club in Los Angeles. Met Pat, a Santa Monica native, and married in 1965. I was 15 and his best man and it was a great trip. Visited again for Christmas in 1967. I remember I had a drivers license by then and got to explore L.A. before the smog rolled in. We also visited San Fransico where I spent every free hour walking around Haight-Ashbury, absolutely wild-eyed at what I was seeing, but too scared to participate. Hey, I was in a seminary at the time studying for the priesthood, fergawdsakes.
I graduated college in 1971 - Loyola University of Chicago. By then the Vietnam War had divided the country and divided my family. Needless to say Ol’ Bub, working on secret stuff for Uncle Sam, was not fond of long-haired antiwar protesters who did not go to Mass on Sunday, of which I was one. I recall an exchange of rather snotty letters that year and then a very long silence. Life goes on, eh?
Never saw the California Freynes again until 1986 when they surprised me by popping up in Burlington for my wedding reception. Then two years after that, I saw Bub and sister Maureen at my mom’s funeral in Florida. Since then it’s been Christmas cards. And Maureen, in Santa Fe these days painting, tells me Bub hasn’t kept in touch with her.
Irish Catholic family. The 1950s. Black and white TV. Priests who spend more time praying than molesting. Looking back, it feels like another age - so much has changed.
I guess that over lunch in Middlebury today, I’ll see how much hasn’t.
*Update 9:30 P.M.*
There they are - three of the California Freynes: Brother Francis, his daughter Brigid the doctor and wife Pat. We met at Tully's & Marie's. It was sunny as you see and we sat on the deck for almost two hours. A little catching up to do.
A special moment on a special day. Forgive me if I don't have a lot of words right now. There was just so much going on feeling-wise.
And I did make it to the Barre Opera House tonight. Missed the Peter Welch v. Martha Rainville debate, but caught Rich Tarrant's act. He debated solo since Bernie Sanders stayed in Washington where Congress is in session. Nonetheless, given his glibness and lack of depth, it's tough to call Richie Rich the winner.
And the finale, the Jim Douglas v. Scudder Parker debate, showed quite the contrast between the two. It didn't come up in tonight's 30-minute event, but the breaking story of the night is about how Jimmy D. contacted Republican House Committee chairs to kill the bipartisan New England Wilderness Act that the Senate approved Tuesday without objection. This could be the opening Ol' Scudder has been dreaming of.
A Vermont governor opposing the state's congressional delegation on wilderness protection?
If only Vermont's Republican governor was also against tapping wind energy to fill a potion of the state's energy portfolio, Scudder might have a real upset chance, eh?
Gov. Scissorhands is already against wind energy?
This is getting interesting.