A sixty-year mystery solved ...

Discussion in 'The Watercooler' started by donna723, Jul 9, 2011.

  1. donna723

    donna723 Well-Known Member

    ... and I have finally heard "the rest of the story"! No particular reason for sharing this little tidbit other than that it's such a weird thing to have happen and it just blew me away! I don't know why it has affected me so much but it really did! This goes all the way back to when I was in kindergarten, folks! Did anything significant ever happen to you back when you were very, very young ... but you just got the sanitized minimal "kids version" and it was never spoken of again? And after a while you begin to wonder whether it really did happen or maybe you just dreamed it or something?

    This is going waaaay back! When I was a kid we lived in a suburb of St. Louis, an area where my grandfather's family had lived since before the Civil War and who had run many of the first businesses in the area. I started kindergarten when I was five at a school a few blocks from our house. I was really shy but I finally made friends with an equally shy, sweet little blonde girl named Barbara. She was the first real "friend" I ever had who wasn't one of my whole herd of cousins. I remember my mother feeling so sorry for Barbara's mother because Barbara's older brother had gotten polio and couldn't walk. They didn't have a wheelchair for him and this poor woman had to carry this boy everywhere they went and he was at least seven or eight at the time! There was also a teenage sister that I had never seen. And then one day Barbara wasn't in school, and she wasn't in school the next day either. And on the third day, I still remember the teachers exact words when she told us... she said, "There was a fire at Barbara's house and she died. But if we talk about it we'll all be very sad so we just won't talk about it"! And that was it! She was never spoken of again, just like she had never existed. About a week later a teenage girl that we assumed was her older sister came to the kindergarten room and asked the teacher if she still had any of Barbara's school papers that she could have as a keepsake but they had all been sent home with her right before the fire. We kids never talked about it among ourselves because we thought we weren't supposed to. We were too young to read the papers and our parents never spoke of it. I'm sure the teacher was heartbroken herself, and if this happened now it would be handled much differently, but this was sixty years ago. So we never knew what really happened other than "there was a fire and she died". She was my first friend and the first person I had ever known that died. I remember being terrified that our house would catch on fire and we'd all die too. And I have always remembered that sweet little blonde girl who was my very first real friend.

    OK, so fast-forward sixty years! My cousin Judy is a member of the historical society for that area and together with another member, they wrote a book on the history of the town, the early settlers, businesses, etc. Judy did all the editing and supplied a lot of the pictures. I pre-ordered a copy of the book and it arrived about two weeks ago, a beautiful hardback book full of pictures of all the places we knew as kids, a real treasure to anyone who was raised there. It has sections on the schools, businesses, churches, civic organizations and the police and fire departments. And in the chapter about the fire department... there was a whole section about the fire at Barbara's house, complete with newspaper clippings! And after sixty years I finally got "the rest of the story" that I was never told as a child! I was just flabergasted - after all these years! I hadn't just dreamed it! According to the newspaper article, it was in January of that year and apparently the father had done a do-it-yourself job on the wiring in the second story of their house where the bedrooms were to put in heating up there. The fire started in the second floor ceiling. Both parents died trying to save the two girls - I had never known that the parents died too! The older sister managed to jump out a window and was injured but alive and neighbors were able to rescue the paralyzed brother who slept downstairs. Barbara was severely burned and died two days later in the hospital. It was very significant to the area because after this fire, they completely changed the way they handled ambulance services and which fire stations responded to which areas. They re-did all their procedures because of this fire.

    When my cousin Judy had sent me the book, she enclosed a note asking that if I spotted any errors to let her know so they could change it in future editions. The section on the fire stated that it had happened in '53 and if I was in kindergarten then, it had to be '52, right before my sixth birthday. So I emailed Judy and told her, and also told her how I had known this little girl, that she had been in my class, how she had been my first friend, how we played together, etc. Judy forwarded my email to her co-author, and this lady actually knows the man who was Barbara's older brother, the one who had polio as a child! The older sister died years ago but the brother is still around! This lady forwarded parts of my email to him and he responded and Judy forwarded his response on to me! He thanked her profusely for forwarding my email to him and said that he was moved to tears to find out that someone still had fond memories of his little sister and still remembered her well after she had been gone for all these years! He said that he had adored his baby sister and he still misses her, even sixty years after she died! This all just blows me away, like coming full circle and solving a sixty year old mystery! I have his email address, Judy thinks I should email him, but I'll have to think about it. Anyway, this is all pretty much about nothing but I just wanted to share ...it's just such a weird thing to have happen, almost like going back in time!
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2011
  2. klmno

    klmno Active Member

    Wow- it is very sad but a very touching story at the same time. I lost my father at a very young age (5yo) so I'm comfortable venturing to say that the bro probably is genuinely grateful to hear that his sis had such a strong impression on another little girl in kindergarten and he's probably harmless (as you decide whether or not to email him). I think most of us start trying to come full circle with our lives after we reach a certain age. As happy as you were to get "the rest of the story", my guess is that you really touched his heart.

    Isn't it funny (strange, not humurous) how people in the 50's and 60's dealt with things by "not talking about them so they won't hurt"???? Sad....I wonder who raised the son and older sis, or did I miss that part?
     
  3. mstang67chic

    mstang67chic Going Green

    Such a sad story about your friend Barbara but how wonderful that you were able to contact, albiet indirectly, her brother.
     
  4. DaisyFace

    DaisyFace Love me...Love me not

    Donna--

    What a sweet but terribly tragic story...!

    Thank you so much for sharing.

    I am so sorry for the loss of your friend.
     
  5. donna723

    donna723 Well-Known Member

    I never did know who raised the brother and the older sister. We were told so little about it back then, I had no idea that the parents had died in the fire too. He also said that the one who came to the kindergarten classroom looking for the school papers must have been some other relative, not the teenaged sister. He said that the older sister had been severely burned and was hospitalized for more than six months after the fire so it couldn't have been her. I'm not worried about it and I'm sure the brother is "harmless", I just wouldn't want to stir up a lot of sad feelings for him. I'm just glad to know that it made him feel good to find out that someone still remembers his little sister after all this time.

    We sure have come far in the way they handle things like that with young children, thank goodness! I remember not really understanding what had happened and being so afraid that our house would catch on fire. And a few years later, we were having air raid drills and being told that crawling under our little wooden school desks and putting our hands over our heads would save us when (not "if" but "when") the atomic bombs started falling on us! We were little but we weren't stupid enough to believe that! It's a wonder that any of us in my generation ever managed to grow up and become halfway functional adults!
     
  6. klmno

    klmno Active Member

    We aren't exactly the same age but are close enough that I can remember that, too. Along with us kids laughing about the fact that we were under a desk in case the ceiling fell in or the windows blew out- but the school building would keep us safe from nuclear material because that type of stuff couldn't enter the building. Yeah right. If the window blew out and the ceiling fell in, it could enter the building. And did they think we'd stay in that building for years after an attack?
     
  7. donna723

    donna723 Well-Known Member

    Yeah, and if you're under the desk and the ceiling falls in, you'd be squished between the desk and the floor! I was so scared by all of it that I pretty much had accepted it that none of us would ever grow up! I worried that the bombs would drop while we were at school and I wouldn't be able to get home to my family. And the reason that my generation wore beads and flowers and put feathers in our hair and danced nekkid at Woodstock was that we were all celebrating that we were STILL ALIVE and nobody had dropped bombs on us!!! And I'm only half-way kidding ...
     
  8. donna723

    donna723 Well-Known Member

    :rofl:

    ... and we were all thoroughly convinced that in the event of a nuclear attack, their prime targets would be all those elementary schools in suburban St. Louis!
     
  9. klmno

    klmno Active Member

    :rofl:

    My friends and I concluded that no matter what those adults were telling us, the going under the desk was really just giving us time to say a short prayer and making it more convenient to then kiss our **** goodbye.

    I was in the military toward the end of the cold war. I won't say the latter communist leaders were anywehere like the earlier ones, but I can tell you that when I was on active duty, NO ONE from either side wanted to go to war. One of my happiest political mioments was when our leaders declared it over.

    My mother, however, spent years afterwards with a stash of canned goods and water in her basement that she planned to grab quickly and stick in the car and drive to Ky from Tn in order to save her life, should Wash., Difficult Child ever get hit with nuclear weapons. LOL! Well, she also kept the bullets to her pistol (which was on a shelf in her closet) in a sock stuck in the back of a drawer, just to keep us all safe. Need I say more?
     
  10. donna723

    donna723 Well-Known Member

    Up until the day she died in 1978, my grandmother was still hanging on to her old left over ration books from World War II! She figured that if we ever went to war again, she might need them and her little stash in the dresser drawer would put her just that far ahead of everybody else!
     
  11. klmno

    klmno Active Member

    LOL!! Oh, the good ole days!!!
     
  12. HaoZi

    HaoZi Guest

    He may want to talk to someone that remembers his little sister, someone that his memories of her would matter to. Such a tragic and touching story, such a shame that they would just erase her like that.
     
  13. KTMom91

    KTMom91 Well-Known Member

    Interesting story, Donna. I love local history.
     
  14. DDD

    DDD Well-Known Member

    First let me say that I am touched by the story of your friend and amazed that your relative inadvertently was able to provide the "hidden" story. Yes, the 40's, and 50's were unique. God bless us all!

    Personally I never was psyched out by the drills, going into school hallways or scrunched under the desk. What did scare me was when people began to build underground shelters. OMG! I said then and I reiterate in 2011 I will not go into an underground shelter no matter what the circumstances. I don't care about water, food or air supply. I would stand out in the free air and watch the bombs drop before my claustrophobic self would ever go underground.
    No exaggeration!

    When we moved to central Fl in 1976 some misguided Realtor showed us a beautiful home on the lake that "featured" an underground shelter. Just the sight of the doorway made me say "this is not the house for my family". LOL DDD
     
  15. Star*

    Star* call 911........call 911

    Donna,

    Your story gave me hope. I have several unsolved mysteries in my life and I hope that there are a few that I could have solved. First as one of our family historians? I think your work on the book is important in correcting the details. The fact that it happened to be your first best friend? Just the oddest thing, wonderful, odd, curious and I think a little spooky too in a good way. As far as the brother? I'm not sure what more could be said as for me I'd leave it alone, but it's nice to finally have closure for yourself.

    Mystery solved - lovely words.
     
  16. donna723

    donna723 Well-Known Member

    DDD, I remember those too. We lived in Orlando from about '58 to '83 and a lot of people had them. We always figured that Orlando really WAS a prime target with two military bases and another one right down the road in Sanford, and the Martin Marietta plant was there too! Must not have been easy to dig fallout shelters in that area because if you dig down a few feet, you hit water!

    And I remember sitting in a high school classroom, right in the most intense part of the Cuban Missle crisis. Everybody was pretty nervous anyway, we're sitting there in psychology class, and all of a sudden the loud sirens started going off, the ones the town used as a tornado warning system! Scared us all half to death! Even the teacher was shook up, even though he tried to stay calm, and we kids were all ready go crawl under the desk like they taught us to do back in elementary school! We just sat there and sat there and nothing ever happened so when the bell rang we changed classes and just went on about our business. I think a lot of people in our generation ended up getting a lot of therapy!
     
  17. Star*

    Star* call 911........call 911

    OHhhhhhhh I remember Nixon! (ducks snarky stare) No I do - he patted me on the head outside the Football Hall of Fame.
     
  18. DDD

    DDD Well-Known Member

    We never had sirens in Miami. Duh, like Cuba wasn't just a skip and jump away, lol. But I was in college then and the U didn't have sirens either. I remember distinctly, however, that a new friend at the U was from Cuba and told a bunch of us about Fidel and his "band of soldiers". Little did we know what changes would come to Cuba and Miami as a result of his revolution. DDD
     
  19. Star*

    Star* call 911........call 911

    And you still can't get a good cigar! My friend in trucking school told us that Miami is now mostly Russian and Brazillians. Never been couldn't tell you.
     
  20. HaoZi

    HaoZi Guest

    Lived in Florida almost three decades. Refused to go, considered it a foreign country.
     
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