Sunday, August 13, 2017

Best Grandmother of All-Time

Adeline, Amelia, Caroline, & Jenny
Caroline Gierko Aiken of Springfield passed away on Monday, August 7. Although she suffered from dementia the last few years of her life, she will rather be remembered for her boundless energy, the twinkle in her eyes, upbeat enthusiasm, unyielding determination, limitless generosity, above perfect attendance at St. Mary’s on Pleasant Street, unfailing honesty, hysterical laughter to the point of tears (particularly in the company of her three sisters), and unending kindness. She called herself “simple,” but for her family and all who knew her, Caroline was a model of selflessness, integrity,                                                                                                   and grace.

Born November 12, 1920, Caroline lived her entire life on Valley Street in Springfield. She hosted family gatherings every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter (usually a minimum of 30 people) until she was 85. Asked why she hosted these events for over half a century, she said, “I want the cousins to know one another.” Asked why she stopped hosting at 85, she said, “I guess I’ll let someone else do it for awhile.”

Caroline is survived by three children, David Aiken and wife Edie, Howard Aiken and wife Jill, and Judy Robinson and husband Dave. She worked at Springfield Local Telephone Company for 20 years. She is survived by seven grandchildren, all of whom graduated from universities aided in part by once-a-week hand-written letters from their grandmother. Asked why she wrote these letters so regularly for so many years, she explained that she had left home for a year to learn bookkeeping and secretarial skills at Bay Path College when she was 18 and that nobody had written. She continued to take notes in shorthand very nearly until her death. She is also survived by seven great-grandchildren.

Caroline is survived by an immense extended family and many friends. There is not a relative or friend without a story of how Caroline somehow helped them, showed some sort of kindness at a time of need, or influenced their lives in a positive way. Nieces and nephews will tell how she encouraged them to follow their interests and dreams. Relatives will recall heaping portions of food on visits (“No” was not an option) and a relentless loyalty to family. Friends and neighbors will remember her charity and giving; Caroline was a regular volunteer at polling stations in Springfield on voting day and, post-retirement, was a regular visitor at Springfield Hospital to patients – particularly the elderly – who had no visitors.

She was a fiery competitor – as friends (and opponents) at the cribbage table at the Springfield Senior Center – will attest. She never let anyone win (not even a grandchild), but somehow losing to her didn’t hurt as much. She was a devout Catholic who never missed a church service and who prayed for everyone she knew every night.

Caroline was pre-deceased by beloved husband Howard George “Bunny” Aiken, veteran of WWII, who died in a plane crash in 1959. Caroline carried her pilot’s license and loved to tell stories of flying. She never remarried; why would she when she had already found her one and only? Asked how she approached life after Bunny, she said, “Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.”

She was pre-deceased by her parents, Frank and Helen Gierko, who emigrated from Poland, sisters Adeline Benson (and husband Raymond), Jenny Kane (and husband Jimmy), and Amelia Obuchowski (and husband John).

Caroline Aiken was humble, gentle, and unassuming. Although she lived alone for much of her life, many of her siblings and relatives made a tradition of coming to her house to visit every Sunday; she was surrounded by a loving family that looked up to and admired her strength, fortitude, and downright dogged determination. She impacted the lives of many, and she will be remembered.

Special thanks to the group of in-home caregivers headed by Barbara Kolodziej for their kindness and attention over the last several years.

There will be a memorial service and mass at St. Mary’s on Wednesday, August 16 at 11AM. A reception will follow. 

In lieu of flowers please make donations to Springfield Adult Day Program, 266 River Street, Springfield, Vermont 05156.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Does the Job

This rototiller came from someplace -- I think from my dad. I have never done much to keep it going, but every year it seems to fire up.

Except that I don't need it anymore. I hope it finds a good home.

Disclaimer: The tiller was stored on top of this piece of cardboard...

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

End of an Era

This high chair has sat unused in a corner of our dining room (that is, the half of the kitchen that we refer to as "the dining room") for the last two months. Our almost-two-year-old refuses to sit in it.

With no younger sibling to whom to pass it along, the "Era of the High Chair" ends for this family.

With the end of that era, so also ends the time of the kid-staying-put-in-one-place-for-the-duration-of-an-entire-meal. These days, she'll start in a small chair at a low height kids' table. From there, she'll meander to a step-stool we have set up at the grownups' table. She'll tire of that spot and eventually climb up a bar stool (for her, this entails several 5.9 climbing moves) before ultimately landing in someone's lap for the remainder. During this process, plenty of food gets smeared, thrown, and generally discarded throughout the eating area.

So ends the time of strapping the kid to the high chair. The chair has seen lots of action -- two older cousins used it before passing it along for use by both of our kids -- but it has lots of life left. I wish it all the best; it certainly served us well.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


After 40 consecutive hours behind the wheel, I found myself on the phone with my Aunt Judy. "I'm in New York," I told her. "I'll probably go straight home and skip visiting Grammy till sometime next week."

"You can't do that!" she shrieked. She went on that I had mentioned some time ago that I might stop in on my way moving home from Arizona to Vermont. "She's expecting you!"

A stop at my grandmother's would add about five hours. I had driven nonstop in a Volkswagen Fox (that eventually died one mile from my dad's at the end of the journey and never ran again) that was so packed with my belongings that I only had one butt cheek on the driver's seat. With my aunt's guilt-trip ringing in my ears, I stopped at Grammy's.

She fed me, and we visited. I did keep it brief since I hadn't slept in two days. I only misspoke once: I mentioned that I fit all my belongings in my car except my mini-Crock Pot which I bequeathed to my old housemate. I just couldn't fit it in my car. And my then-75-year-old grandmother sprang into action. She hurried into her garage and leaned a ladder against the loft. Despite my protests, she climbed the ladder and, out of my sight, started moving stuff. Heavy stuff, from the sounds of it.

She finally found what she was looking for: the Crock Pot pictured above. I could have this one, she said.

She didn't understand; the reason I had left mine out west was because there was literally not a square inch of space inside the car for it. I couldn't fit a Crock Pot in my car. She insisted that I take hers. She said she never used it anymore because it was too big for just one person (the argument that I too was unattached at the time carried no weight), and she wouldn't take no for an answer. I finally tied it to my (already full) roof rack with a bungy cord. It clanged every inch of the final 150 miles home.

I have lived in Vermont for the last 17 years. I still have my grandmother's Crock Pot. Tonight we had a hearty vegetable stew. We have made countless chilis and soups. We love this cooking tool. Thank you Grammy... your Crock Pot has been put to very good use.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Found: Long Lost Friend

In 1976 my dad and Uncle John drove us down to Burlington's Battery Park where we picked up our one and only Fresh Air kid. The Fresh Air Fund is a nonprofit that places inner city kids (ours came from Queens) with families in rural settings for a couple of weeks in the summer.

Chad spent 15 summers with us. He was a great friend. When my mom passed away, however, we lost touch with Chad. He never came up again. I always hoped that he was well and wished he knew that we never meant it to end that way.

Twenty-nine years later, he found us on Facebook. I just got off the phone with him. He lives in rural Wisconsin and sounds happy. He was worried maybe we wouldn't remember him.

I never stopped thinking about you Chad. So glad that we're back in touch. Can't wait to catch some fish with you sometime in the future!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Three-Year-Old Violin Lesson?

Violin lessons for a three-year-old? You've got to be kidding me. That, at least, is what I told Gunnar's violin teacher, who is set to start teaching him in two weeks. She describes a lesson with a three-year-old as "busy." And, she says, "we are a teacher, parent, student triangle." Which means I attend all lessons and supposedly learn alongside him.

At which point, I recalled my one and only experience with a violin -- an experience I did not share with her, but I'm about to share with you:

I have always been intrigued with the instrument, so I visited the violin shop off of Church Street several years ago. I taught myself how to play guitar with a beginner book and a cheap guitar; how hard could violin be? I explained this to the violin shop people, and they agreed; and they said I could rent a violin for 30 days to "try it on." Interesting!

I asked if I could see the instrument, and they handed me one of the rentals. I opened a "Violin 1" book, which I'm sorry to say didn't really make much sense. Still, here I was: in a violin shop holding a violin and a bow. Now or never, right? I positioned the instrument on my shoulder and held the bow in place. I placed fingers on strings and paused, holding the bow inches about the strings ready to slide.

There were probably six other people in the shop (employees included) that were exposed to the... the sound... ("screech" would probably better describe it) that came off that instrument at the moment when bow hit string. There was no second try: I put the beginner book down and returned the instrument to the counter without making eye contact or communicating in any way. I immediately left the shop.

Hopefully Gunnar's first violin experience is better!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Mother's Day Activities

As someone who lost his mother at age sixteen, you'll understand that it's been many years since I participated too enthusiastically in Mother's Day festivities. This changed three years ago; Gunnar was born, and when the second Sunday in May came around, I suddenly had a holiday on my hands requiring observance!

I asked Alison what she wanted to do on "her" day. Her answer: she wanted breakfast, she wanted to do a long run, and she wanted to bring Gunnar down to my mom's grave site to plant flowers. This has become a sort of family tradition (I hope the kids don't mind as they get older -- don't worry, I'm not making them stand while I read prayerbooks or any weird grave site stuff). This year, the kids' role was minimal; it was a rainy Mother's Day, and they were sound asleep in the car anyway. Ali did bring the sleeping Ingrid over for about 30 seconds (at 10-months-old, it was her first visit); Gunnar remained snoring in his seat.

Exactly who did what (or who was even awake) wasn't really the important thing to me. To have my wife and kids at the site where my mother is buried on the date on the calendar that celebrates maternity and motherhood was a special experience. Mothers -- even ones that only make it to the age of forty -- are important people who deserve to be celebrated.

Photo: My mother and me (who is sporting a hairstyle similar to Ingrid's current 'do).