My parents met when they were working in New York City and married in January, 1928. This photo shows them on their honeymoon in Lake Placid, NY.
My father was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1895. My mother's grandparents immigrated from Ireland.
A textile dyes expert, my dad's father worked in Zurich. Around 1890, he came by himself to America. His expertise won him employment at a textile mill in Paterson, NJ. His success there enabled him to buy a nice home. My father remembered HIS father keeping a shotgun handy for protection there during the six-month 1913 silk strike in Paterson. (I wonder what he would have thought of his grandson and wife becoming union activists. But at least with Diana and me it was the Newspaper Guild, not the Wobblies.)
|John Gustav Schappi |
The woman I knew as "grandma" was my father's stepmother, She had also immigrated from Switzerland. I think they had at least one son of their own. I have a vague recollection that dad said his stepbrother(s) got help with college expenses, while he was expected to make it on his own.
Dad went to Cooper Union in NYC, which then granted full scholarships to all students. I think he graduated from a two-year program in draftsmanship.
I've often said I'd like to die the way my dad did. After yet another day on the golf course, he died of a heart attack while sitting in a lounge chair in his backyard with an open book. He was 83.
I inherited my father's competitiveness and his addiction to trying new things. When I was a kid, I made fun of his obsession with that ham radio in the cellar. Now, here I sit in my upstairs den blogging away on my computer.
Like many Swiss-Germans, dad was private, reserved, and conservative. He had difficulty dealing with authority. He was quick to anger when crossed and didn't like losing whether at work or golf or our kitchen table fights over FDR. He was not a warm, loving father in a demonstrable way but the love was buried within and I knew he would always "have my back.".
Most of all, he was adept at ignoring the elephant in the room.
Mom grew up in New York City. Her grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland; that's all I know.
|Jean Gleeson Schappi|
My dad never spoke about mom's depression. When I was in college, it got worse. Almost every afternoon when I came home, she'd be waiting at the kitchen table to tell me the same story: her explanation of what caused her depression.
Here's what I heard so often: When I was an infant, she was taking care of me and a cousin about the same age. Mom looked away for a moment, and the cousin had a bad fall that required medical attention. A year later, that cousin died from spinal meningitis. Mom was convinced that the fall had caused the meningitis, and that God was punishing her for being negligent.
Since I'd just been born, I wonder now if post-partum depression played a role in this sad story.
When I left Ithaca in 1955 to start a new life in Washington, I escaped from living under this cloud. To his great credit, my dad tried the best he could. For several years, my parents vacationed at Lake George each summer. But mom's depression worsened and dad's awareness of treatment possibilities increased. She spent much of her time during her last years in the Willard Psychiatric Center, a state institution. I Googled it and wish I hadn't; the place sounds like something straight out of Dickens. But my brother visited mom there, and thought she seemed more at ease there than at home.
Mom died of a heart attack in 1972 at age 67.
|Carol, John (then Jack), Roger|
I called my brother Roger last Sunday on the occasion of his 80th birthday. He had just finished shoveling the 16-inch snowfall from his long driveway.
Yesterday when I spoke with him, he was dealing with a cold and considered skipping his regular Tuesday night bowling game. He decided to go, since one of the bowlers was celebrating her 80th birthday. Roger bowled three games -- in the 270s and 280s. If he'd been feeling up to par, he might have matched or exceeded his all-time high score of 299.
In warm weather, which Ithaca enjoys a few months each year, Roger performs equally well in his golf leagues.
I'm a big city boy, but sometimes when the urban rat race got to be a bit much, I'd envy (briefly) the idyllic, smaller-town life that Roger and Gail led. They were both born in Ithaca, spent most of their lives there, and kept friends from childhood. Cornell and Ithaca College bring many special cultural attractions to the town of 30,000 residents.
Ithaca -- with its setting on Cayuga Lake, surrounded by hills -- is both gorges and gorgeous.
But for me, Ithaca's biggest attraction was Roger and Gail. When they got the repartee going, it was better than a TV sitcom. The put-downs might sound a bit rough, but you knew they came with good-humored love and warmth. With Gail and Rog, I found all the happy, family closeness that was missing in our early life with our parents.
Gail's death -- and her painful last months --were very rough on Roger. But when I saw all of their friends at Gail's memorial service, I knew Roger was going to be OK. And he is.
We talked during our several calls this past week about the isolated, lonely life our parents led, and recognized how fortunate we both are to be surrounded by family and friends. And, I'll add, to have each other.
But there's one more family story. The saddest of all.
The youngest child, Carol had the most trouble finding her place in the family. As the first-born, I always thought I was mom's favorite. My academic achievements won approval from both parents, as did my determination from age 14 to never ask for financial help. Roger's athletic achievements pleased dad. Roger also didn't carry the alcoholic and neurotic baggage that made Carol and me more difficult.
Money was always in short supply, but dad managed to put Carol through the University of Michigan. When she was just one credit short of getting her degree, she left school and moved to the New York City area. She found a job, but suffered a breakdown within a year and Dad brought her home.
I've talked with Roger several times in the past few days, but neither of us can remember more than this bare outline. Communication was not a family hallmark.
When she returned to Ithaca, Carol began the life she would lead until the end -- staying in her room at the family house, drinking heavily, writing gibberish, and surfacing periodically to berate my dad for causing mom's depression.