Redman and Mitchell family, Hull Village Reunion, 2004
This time last year, I was in Massachusetts attending the Hull Village Reunion, which was held on Memorial Day, right after the town parade. The reunion was conceived and planned by Betty Ann, the daughter of the funeral parlor limousine driver who drove for my brother’s funerals in 2001.
Two years after my brother’s back-to-back deaths, I published a book, which chronicles my brother’s last few weeks and their deaths, along with the first 6 months of our family’s devastating grief. Woven into the account are stories of growing up together as a family of 11 in Hull Village during the 50s and 60s.
Betty Ann, who also grew up in Hull Village, read the book and was so touched by it, that she contacted me and eventually suggested a book signing/reunion.
Below is the account of that momentous day, which brought together 150-200 old friends, was written about by The Boston Globe, and was aired in part on the Hull cable TV station. The account was written for my community via the pages of The Museletter, a local forum I co-edit, and for my website. The photo is of Betty Ann’s family and mine and appeared in the Hull Times.
The day started with a message from my brother Dan (who died in August 2001) from a dream that the organizer of the Village Reunion, Betty Ann (Mitchell) Doherty, had. I joked that she "channels Dan" for me because it wasn't the first time she had a dream like this: I was running up past the cemetery along the bay when I noticed a truck with REDMAN on the side of it parked in a parking lot. It was Danny sitting in the truck, talking on the phone. I said to whoever I was with, "Oh, that's Danny probably talking to Colleen about who will be at the reunion."
I sat at a table to sign books, under a tent that was decorated with flags and red-white-and-blue balloons. It was Memorial Day after all, a day for remembering the dead. Across from me was my husband, Joe, wearing his HULL sweatshirt that he got at the Wellspring Thrift Shop on our first day in town because it was cold and we hadn't packed enough warm clothes. He was setting up a camera to film the event.
I didn't sit for long. I was soon jumping up to greet old friends, running around to pose for pictures, and putting people together who didn't recognize each other. The Hull Times newspaper tells it like this: Old Home Week…Members of the Mitchell and Redman families were among the 47 families - between 150 and 200 people strong - who came to take part in the Hull Village reunion.
But I did sign a lot of books. Although I sold a handful of my poetry books, Muses Like Moonlight, I mostly sold The Jim and Dan Stories: A Journey of Grief and Faith because many of the stories took place in Hull and most at the reunion knew Jim and Dan. I actually had people waiting for their turn to get a book. My first customer of the day was Joe C, a Hull icon with developmental disabilities who roams the beach with his metal detector looking for coins. "I found a ring today!" he told me. Joe used to help out with the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) drill team that many of us at the reunion once belonged to some 40 years ago.
A couple of people bought 3 or 4 books. I remember saying, "They're $13 each. Figure out what that comes to…and tell me what I owe you for change…I can't concentrate enough to do math today!" I said to someone else about the frantic pace of events, "I feel like a chicken with my head cut off," but when I later viewed the video, some of which was shown on the Hull Cable TV Network, I didn't look that bad. I learned a lot from that video.
I learned that Mrs. Delaney, a former Hull Village mother of 9, came all the way from Florida to attend the reunion, and that Mrs. Connelly, also a former Village mom of 9, came all the way from Georgia. There was Dan's friend, Chuckie Lacentra, pointing to the tennis courts while re-telling the story of how he got hurt there and still has the scar on his hand, and Ricky Ruscansky, another friend of Dan's, relating the rules to the game "Relieve-eo," a game we were all once familiar with. On the tape you can hear Frank Currell, an old friend of my brother Jim's (Jim died in July 2001), saying, "Your brother Jimmy was fanatical about whatever sport he loved at the time. One summer we played darts everyday. Jimmy had to play everyday…"
The ice-cream truck came, ringing its bell. I looked over and saw my mom and dad sitting in lawn chairs and eating ice cream. Kids were playing in the field and Oldies music was blaring from the old brick-red fire station where we used to put on our ice skates as kids and sometimes go in to get warm. Pinball games at The Villa, church at St. Mary's of the Bay, makeshift skateboards down fort hill, hard balls and soft balls that sometimes broke windows, and getting in trouble for getting home after the streetlights went on were all bits of conversations thrown into the mix.
Hull is where your story begins…are the words on the needlepoint pillow that Betty Ann made for me, words that aptly describe the feeling of the day. The Hull Times reporter was there to document this new part of the story by taking a picture of the Redmans and Mitchells together; two big Hull Village families brought together by the book. Mr. Mitchell, who drove the funeral parlor limousine for both my brother's funerals, was "like the father of the Village," Dan had said on the ride to the cemetery to bury Jim.
The Librarian of the Hull Village Library, where The Jim and Dan Stories can be purchased or checked-out, stopped by to let us know he had opened the library for out of town visitors. Considering this one-of-a-kind library, built in the late 1800s as a home, it's no surprise that folks would want to reminisce there. The Fort Revere Tower was open for us too.
Somewhere in-between greeting Mrs. Mecurio, who ran the small village store that is gone now, and trying to eat a few bites of cheese for lunch, my high school English teacher, Mrs. Kellem surprised me with a visit. Her appearance brought squeals and hugs and a crowd of old students who gathered around her. I wasn't the only one who thought she was the best teacher in our school. (Mrs. Kellem is the "good teacher" referred to in my poem "The Zen of Winter Poetry" from Muses Like Moonlight.)
It was about this time that someone pulled out a Hull High Yearbook to see how much we had changed. Then came my childhood pink "ponytail diary," which figured in The Jim and Dan Stories and was good for a few more good hoots.
The reunion started at 10 am, after the town parade, and ended at 4 pm, with me sitting in a rocking chair on the Mitchell's front porch. The Mitchell house was a landmark in the Village when I was growing up. I knew who they were, of course, but because I didn't know them well, I don't think I actually spoke to any of them. Who would have thought when I walked by the Mitchell's house as a girl, with my schoolbooks held in front of me, that I would be sitting on their front porch now, seeing the Village from a whole new perspective? And who says you can't go home again?