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A Sweet Sorrow

A Sweet Sorrow

    I presented this photo as something of a ticket of admission.  I handed it to the daughter of the deceased with the explanation that I was her father's boyhood friend who hadn't seen him in the past fifty-six years.  I was, of course, justifying to myself, if not to the sorrowing family, just why Barbara and I had driven 75 miles early on a Saturday morning to a Roman Catholic Church (St. John's of Darien CT) for a memorial service.

    It was a day for remembering, with far more smiles than tears.

    The photo, as best I can calculate, was taken in the fall of 1948 or the spring of 1949 in the living room of the rented home of Bill and Peg Studwell, youth advisors to the Methodist Youth Fellowship of First Methodist Church, Stamford, Connecticut.  Bill was a student at Yale Divinity School.  Peg, seated on the couch wearing a checkered dress, provided the youth group with the bulk of the adult guidance.  CCRWH can be seen smiling broadly in the rear center of the photo, next to Don Nicholson, the brother-in-law of the deceased, Harold Starkey, for whom the memorial service was being conducted. Harold is the fellow with the wide-eyed look seated on the floor to the far left of the picture.

    Harold, 73 years of age, had died just a dozen weeks after the diagnosis of brain lesions.  His wife, Helena Ann (nee Benham), can be seen in the picture next to Peg Studwell, at Peg's left arm.  Harold and Helena had six children, five of them surviving into their middle years.  Helena's sister, Iva Nicholson, is also in the photo, sitting on the floor in the front to the far right.

    I first met Harold at Joey Ross' home just off West Avenue in Noroton.  Joey and I exchanged summertime sleep-overs in our pre-teen years. We were in Sunday School class and Junior Choir together at First Methodist. Harold lived down the street, with a forest behind his house where Joey and I, one sunny day, picked blackberries his grandmother transformed into a delicious pie. Harold, brought up in the Catholic faith at St. Cecelia's in nearby Springdale CT, was lured into the Methodist orbit, like several other Catholic youth in the photo, by Scouting and a vibrant youth fellowship program.  The boy-girl thing also helped... Harold, especially, who found his life's partner there.

    We went our separate ways neither of us having much reason to think of the other through our early and middle years and into retirement.  Harold served in the USAF during the Korean War; and then went to work for Southern New England Telephone, advancing to supervisory status.  His avocations included leadership in Scouting, painting, and the care and improvement of a second home in Nova Scotia, the Benham family's place of origin.

    Then Barbara resurrected this photo, for inclusion in the PowerPoint presentation prepared for our Golden Anniversary. I sent it to Carol Reynolds Hurley in California.  She can be seen in the very center of the photo, below Don Nicholson and next to Helena Starkey.  Carol it was who, after a phone call to friends back East, Emailed me the sad news of Harold's death and provided me the time and place of the memorial service.

    I detected a certain Methodist influence upon that service.  I won't include the very fact of the memorial service and the cremated ashes which took the place of a casket, though permission in Catholic churches for this common Protestant practice was an eye-opener for Methodist me.  I mean mostly the hymns played but not sung during the ritual.  While the priest consecrated the host, the organ sounded the strains of "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me."  After the benediction, another tune, sung by MYFers on parting after each meeting, "Blest Be the Tie That Binds," almost had me turning around looking to join hands with the people behind me.  "Eternal Father, Strong to Save," the Navy Hymn, and "'Til We Meet Again" also stirred the heart of this old Methodist.  Later at the reception, Helena reported that the hymns were Harold's choices, if from his days at First Methodist Church, then more surely from his summers among the Blue Nosed Protestants of Nova Scotia. 

    Following the memorial service we made our way to the Nicholson home in Norwalk CT... not very far from the scene of the Howard's 50th wedding celebration at the Silvermine Tavern.  Old MYFers reminisced.  Don asked me if I could still blow bubbles off my tongue, a practice engaged in when sermons went too long.  Yes, I can and have, for the edification of two thirteen year old boys.  I reminded Helena of how close she was to my mother, so close, in fact, that I at times felt a twinge of jealousy.  I suggested that the potato salad served for lunch looked very much like my mother's recipe, although Mom would have used more vinegar.  Two of Harold's sons, I noted, had been bequeathed his wide open smile. One of Don and Iva's grandchildren, Colleen, had recently moved near us; and, sure enough, that evening while I was treating the grandson twins to burger and fries at Friendly's, there she was, waiting on tables.

    Small world, again and again.  The farther we travel from home, it seems, the closer we are to where we started. 

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