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Remembrances of Things Past

Just days ago the author was thrown back almost 60 years by a sound we hear everyday. The moment reminded him of the fragility of the toddler psyche and the consequences of childhood experience.

It was quiet in my home office this past Sunday as I worked through my 2010 tax preparation. I was picking files and receipts out of a storage basket like someone separating the light from dark colors in the laundry room. 

Subtly, at first, the sound of the piston engine airplane grew louder as it approached, then passed overhead. The sound changed—the Doppler effect, it is called—as the plane moved on into the distance. 

As it left, so too did my concentration. The lonely departing drone seemed to inhabit my stomach which was now also filling with deep sadness and loneliness, along with feelings of abandonment and helplessness. It was a precipitous drop in mood for a reasonably successful man of 61 who was in the middle of one of the more mature tasks of adulthood.     

The house on 17th Street, in Brooklyn, where I spent the first six years of my life, still sits under the glide path to LaGuardia Airport. People who live there today hear the relatively quiet sound of jet engines throttled back and engineered to make as little noise as possible. Older, once noisy, jet aircraft have been retrofitted with a device both poetically and effectively called a hush kit.  

Back in the early '50s, though, all you heard was the drone of propeller airliners.  They were loud but beautiful. The most common was the DC-4, made famous during the Berlin Airlift. The jumbos of the day were the largest piston transports ever to fly, the DC-7 and the Lockheed Constellation, which you would recognize from its triple tail.  

In those days, airline traffic peeked during rush hour and thinned out by mid-morning. At that time of day, the planes arrived at widely spaced, if consistent, intervals creating the solo sound of the airplane I described above. 

When you are 4 or 5 years old and your heart aches everyday, no one really explains to you why your mother cannot be with you or why you have no father. And so when I was not playing with my foster sister, Joanne, I would spend the balance of the week in my foster home waiting to see my mother on Friday afternoons.

But the mid-mornings were a problem. Joanne was older and, thus, in school during and I was virtually alone. My foster mom was busy with house chores, and I was expected to amuse myself or play in the backyard, in both instances to the neverending background music of propeller airliners. It was during those moments when I would feel the saddest and long the most for my mother. 

One by one they would pass overhead, and one by one I would ask myself when my mother would take me to live with her. I would stare at each plane and ponder why she didn’t want me, or where it was she had to go.

One by one and little by little over the years, the sound of the plane and the pain became one. For reasons having more to do with society at that time than any insight, my two mothers felt the best thing to tell me was that my mom had to fly away every week, and that I should look up at the planes and know she was probably on one of them.

And so I did. 

This is not a sad tale. My mothers did the best they knew how to do, and I have had a great life. I even developed a love and knowledge of airplanes that is above that of the average person.  

But I do want to make this point: I am often asked why I am so passionate about foster homes, child abuse and parents who don’t do their jobs. Now you know. 

And one more thing: Sometimes a sound you hear on a Sunday afternoon is more than just a sound.

Aunt Sandy March 30, 2011 at 01:02 PM
This is a beautiful and poignant article. Thank you for sharing this difficult history. There are foster children in New Rochelle, and I often think about them. I know people who have taken foster children, and say that it did them more benefit even than for the children. I know people who have taken in foster babies, knowing that they may lose them at any time. This is true heartache.
Bill March 30, 2011 at 01:53 PM
When I saw the red & white Constellation tail, at the head of Bob's article, it brought me back to a day in my boyhood I remember so clearly. I have always theough the Constellation in TWA colors the most graceful of all prop planes. I was in grade school at Blessed Sacrament, having my lunch at Ollie's Luncheonette in Division St. The TV (black & white) was on, and bulletin after bulletin came across about the terrible air colision between two airliners. A camera crew went to Brooklyn, and the TV was broadcasting a picture of Park Slope burning from the DC8; and a TWA Constellation full of dead passengers crashed in Staten Island. Ollie, the cook, and Helen and Stella, the waitressses stopped dead, as did all the people eating. It crossed all our minds, I'm sure; that could have been us, here. One little boy somehow survived, but died the next day. That was December, 1960.
Joseph McNelis,M.D. March 30, 2011 at 05:05 PM
Dear Bob, Thank you for the tremendous, poignant and very relevant article.Please continue to share such reflections with us. -Joseph McNelis,M.D.
Bob Marrone March 31, 2011 at 04:29 PM
Thank you. If the editors approve it, I will write a follow up item next week. The '"repatriation" if you will, was not what folks might expect, especially 1957. I wil share the working title with you Forever Never Home.
Bob Marrone March 31, 2011 at 04:35 PM
Thank you for the feedback. Funny that, the first TV news feature I evver produced was on that crash. I grew up in Park Slope and was home form school and saw the plane go over my house. the news item is still on utube. you can catch it under Parisonproductions, I think. I am also in the footage. BTW: The little boy that died was headed home to Westchester, Yonkers to precise, to visit family. BTW2: I loved the Connie and was a charter member of the Save a Connie museum. We salvaged and restored the one you see in pics today.
Bob Marrone March 31, 2011 at 04:38 PM
Aunt Sandy. Thank you. You are on the money. When it comes time to leave hearts are broken...sometimes seriously. If the editors permit, I will write a follow up next week about that very topic. the working title: Forever Never Home. Let me know if you would like to see that.
Bill March 31, 2011 at 06:49 PM
Dear Bob, Not Forever Never. You are home now. You found us. I looked at the Parisonproductions, and there were 5 separate reports. They brought me back. But I didn't see you. Bill
Bob Marrone March 31, 2011 at 08:04 PM
Hi Bill, Try You Tube Bob Marrone crash over staten Island Bob..sorry about the bum title.
Michael Woyton (Editor) March 31, 2011 at 11:07 PM
If the editors approve? Who are these editors of which you speak, Robert?
Bob Marrone April 01, 2011 at 01:11 PM
Yuk Yuk...that, sir, was a reference to your good offices. I was not sure that you would want two non New Rochelle, human interest, stories in a row. I shall take this good natured abuse as your concurrance with my plan. Thanks.
Aunt Sandy January 25, 2012 at 04:28 PM
I came across this article today -- http://news.yahoo.com/depression-could-linked-mother-says-study-023310880--abc-news.html It shows the link between depression and maternal attachment. I thought you would appreciate it.
Bob Marrone January 25, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Aunt Sandy....thank you. I will read it with great interest. On the face of it, yes, there are connections for sure. Just today, I am writing a chapter in a book I am writing about this very thing. Your note comes at a good time. BTW: I have been publishing excerpts of the book. If you email me at Bob@wvox.com I will share with you how to access it. Again, tx bob

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