CAROLYN'S COMPOSITIONS

June 21, 2009

A Father-Daughter reunion after 30 years


CAROLYN’S COMPOSITIONS

A FATHER-DAUGHTER REUNION AFTER 30 YEARS

    On this Father’s Day, 2009, I decided to review some letters I received from my father and to journal the first of our two reunions.

     I wear my Cornell University jacket and cap very proudly and very humbly.

     And not, in the least bit, deceitfully.

     No, I did not attend or graduate from Cornell University, I tell people who want to know. However, I did attend “Cornell University”—the “Cornell University of Hard Knocks.” You see, I am the xxx generation bearing the surname (my maiden name) of Cornell, descended from Thomas and Rebecca Briggs Cornell. They emigrated to the United States in the early 1600s, and were living in Portsmouth (Acquidneck Island), Rhode Island, after 1650. This family included that day’s high profile case in which their son, Thomas Jr., was hung for the alleged murder of his mother in 1673. The guilty verdict was sealed by the testimony of a ghost (to read the story, click on LIZZIE BORDEN—A REENACTMENT )

     Of all their children, Thomas Jr. was my ancestor. He was also the ancestor of Lizzie Borden (to read that story click on  KILLED STRANGELY: A NEW ENGLAND MURDER STORY  ) Ezra Cornell, founder of Cornell University, descended from one of their other children.

     But I digress.

     Robert William Cornell, was born in Brocton, Massachusetts May 28, 1923. He died April 19, 1987, in Somers Point, New Jersey. In between those two dates he accrued 64 years of experiences.

     He married Nancy Isabelle Briskay on July 5, 1942, in Newport, Rhode Island. Together they created a typically dysfunctional family. Perhaps that evolved from their heritage. Again, I digress.

     I was their second child, born December 10, 1943. Their second daughter. On February 7, 1947, my mother was granted a divorce. During their years of marriage, she was essentially a single mother, the fate of having a Navy career husband whom she, and his daughters, rarely saw. He left the United States for Europe and North Africa in 1944 when I was barely a year old, and he didn’t see us again until mid-1946, when he visited on a short leave. The last time we saw each other was in early 1947, when he was on a short leave from the military. By then, we were living in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, at my grandmother’s home.    

     In seventh grade, I accessed my father’s address and wrote to him. His second wife answered the letter, which I carried in my purse. The purse was stolen, as was the information, so I lost touch again.

     In the fall of 1975 I contacted the Navy in an attempt to locate my father again. I received a note from them saying that due to privacy issues they had forwarded my letter to him. My father responded with a letter written on December 21. Through the next six months he wrote numerous letters, always with made and broken plans to visit my home, which by then was in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, with my husband Monte and our two children, Sandra, 7, and Nolan, 5. I finally determined that if we were to ever meet, I would have to travel to New Jersey. Furthermore, I had to do it without his knowledge, lest he evade our meeting. Perhaps he had hidden fears of the outcome.

     I made plans with four of his five children from his second marriage. His daughter was especially elated, since she had “always wanted a big sister.” The plans worked, and we had our first meeting. He wrote a letter to my older sister expressing his feelings about this reunion, which was “great news—for me that is—Carolyn scared the holy hell out of me Saturday by visiting me while I was working on a private carpet job. My son…told me she was out in the car—I thought he was joking but damned if she wasn’t there.”

     Father and son came out of the house, father wearing the work clothes appropriate for a man laying carpet. “Neither of us knew what to say…” he stated. He was correct about me. What do you say to a father you haven’t seen in thirty years? Especially when he was totally unaware of the reunion plans.

     “…but the mutual shock soon wore off and we were rattling on as if we were old friends for the last or lost 30 years…It didn’t take long to break the ice and when we did it was if we were always family…” I don’t recall that happening—perhaps because I tend to sit back and evaluate new circumstances, rather than responding immediately. And the morning had all been new—meeting three of my “new” brothers, a sister and my father. I felt overwhelmed.

     “For some unknown reason the lapse of time didn’t seem to exist—to me anyhow—I am somewhat used to frequent separations and re-acquaintancing (quote the word I coined) because I am service and have been thru it many times but hardly like this.” At the time, I couldn’t relate to this. Since then, having become a pastor’s wife, I understand what he means. Making, breaking, and renewing friendships is part of a nomad’s live.

     My father noted that his four children I met took to me “greatly,” and he hoped that I realized that his children’s approach to a reunion meeting “was better than my going to see her—it worked better with all the family there—believe it or not, it was the best family reunion I’ve ever seen—everyone reveled in it in their own way—and really enthralled in it…the only thing missing was you (my older sister).”

     Then he wrote that he hoped that I “felt the same way…”

     I did. However, there was a lot more work to be done to establish the father-daughter and sister-siblings relationships. And that work could never make up for the lost years, the shared childhoods. It would also be very difficult considering the geographic distance between our hometowns—Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Atlantic City region of New Jersey. My father affirmed this by writng that We all,—all three, (meaning my older sister, myself and him) have lots of bridges to recross and cross some new ones.” But it leaves us something “really positive to look forward to and we will all be better and feel better because of it…”

       My recently widowed sister had told our father that she was hunting for a steady job, and he advised her “Don’t try to take on too much too soon—Relax and if I can be of any help let me know—You’ve got the whole Cornell tribe behind you whether you know it, or like it, or not, so don’t fret too much…” This proved, of course, to be wishful thinking…all the Cornell clan had their own lives, and reaching out to strangers in Southwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York State would be overwhelming. But that he expressed the wish demonstrated the positiveness of our reunion.

     The letter had a postscript: This proves Carolyn believes the old adage to the point she does something about it. The mountain won’t come to Mohammed, so Mohammed came to the mountain! (my own mis-quote). I love her for it and it worked out for the best.

NOTE: This story will be continued at a future date, with a description of “the surprise plan” for a father-daughter reunion.   

 

     ADDITIONAL READING:

BLACK FLIES AND OTHER INSECTS: Then and Now

BLANCHARD: THE FIRST PROFESSIONAL AERONAUT

CHILDISH CHARACTERISTICS

IN NEW ENGLAND, HISTORY CONFLICTS WITH PROGRESS

IN SEARCH OF THE ARABELLA: A Story of Two Boats

IS THIS “CHEERS?”

IT WAS MEANT TO BE: A Meeting with Travelers from the Netherlands

KILLED STRANGELY: A NEW ENGLAND MURDER STORY

LEAF-PEEPING: Autumn Leaves

LIZZIE BORDEN—A REENACTMENT

LOBSTER-TALES

LOGGING IN MAINE AND ON THE PERU-BRAZILLIAN BORDER

NORTHERN BAYBERRY YIELDS READY-MADE CANDLES

Moose, Goose, Deer

PENNSYLVANIA WEDDING, (LAMOINE) MAINE ROOTS

THE PENOBSCOT NARROWS BRIDGE AND OBSERVATORY

THE SPECTACULAR PENOBSCOT RIVER A Natural Wonder in Maine: Part 1

THE SPECTACULAR PENOBSCOT RIVER A Natural Wonder in Maine: Part 2

SNAPSHOT ENCOUNTERS: Brief Meetings with People #4

VOICES OF WILDERNESS: PEACE MEETING

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1 Comment »

  1. HI,
    I’m not sure HOW I found you and not sure where to write this, but PLEASE CONTACT ME. My mother is adopted, and I recently helped her get her REAL birth certificate (she was denied in earlier years) and we JUST got her REAL birth certificate. She was born in…(comment edited due to private information…Carolyn)

    Comment by Sara Gayle Aslam — January 19, 2011 @ 7:24 pm | Reply


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