Letter: A generation fading away

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To the editor,

The brook is at its lowest and the rocks and gravel are showing as your travel up the road, and to the untrained eye, the unromantic heart and the “who could care less” people of this age that is the vision, as they fly on by with reckless abandon in their plastic automobiles with cacophony coming from their new CD.

It matters little, that is it matters little unless you happen to be one of the fading generation that spent their days wading up and down the brook from this plain and serene place, with helmet liners and wooden guns, and bodies, bursting with the energy that is youth, ever ready to climb that tree, swing on that vine, cannon ball buck naked into the chilly waters in any number of swimming holes, made by lugging rocks and sandbags, getting dirty, scraping knuckles and knees, and loving every minute of it.

I suppose everybody has their childhood memories, their secret places, forgotten and cast aside in the race to keep up with the Jones, revisited on some day in later years when a song comes on, or a name is dropped in conversation or an ancient commando passes away in the night without a goodbye. Alone in the darkness when the courier of crushing news delivers the message, one’s mind automatically drifts back to those days when death was not a cause for concern amongst the boys with days ahead of acne, and razors, and girls, for we would all go playing at war and living through war but we would always be there forever when the bugler began to play reveille.

The courier has come to visit many, many times over the last years, and each time I thought I would not visit the old haunts anymore, not at least without the urge to cry, but men don’t cry. Or do they?

The message came last week at 1:30 in the a.m.

The pained voice of Smokey’s wife informed me that he had passed away. There was no earthly reason why he should have gone that way, his was strong, his outlook optimistic, but he has gone never-the-less.

Smokey was a nickname tagged on him by Johnny Sickola and when he wasn’t Smokey he was Wubby Hotchkiss.

Norman Frederick Hotchkiss was his given name, but whatever he was called he was something out of the ordinary.

Throughout life everyone has that one friend that stands out as the best, bar none, friend anyone could ever hope for, but rarely is that one person the favorite friend of everyone who is fortunate to come into contact with them.

Smokey was that guy.

I have no idea how many people he taught to drive and didn’t fuss over mistakes not even when Dot hit a tree.

He had a job and he could drive so it was “who wants ice cream?” and the gang on the Cotton Hollow Bridge piled in, no talk of paying back, it was the same with the movies, Savin Rock or The State Theater up in Hartford. It was “Hey Muff, wanta go” and off we went.

He could hit a baseball a country mile and was always the first pick when choosing sides baseball, football, basketball he always excelled, and he was the first to compliment a player on the other side if they made a spectacular run, hit or shot.

But now the brook up by “Subas’” is drying up and it is only if you were one of those kids, that were made loco by eating apples sprayed with the dreaded DDT up as Fassets will you be able to see the Cotton Hollow boys in full battle regalia or buck naked, head the voices of Jim, Bullhead, and John Jesse wafting on the breeze playing that now horrible game of war. Otherwise it is just a brook like any other brook not worthy of slowing down to gaze at, wistfulness is only for the wistful.

As it happens I was always running into somebody who invariably would ask, “have you seen …? And as is my bent I went searching and finally said what the hey why not have a get together and so I rented a picnic area at Hop Brook Dam and got charcoal, spoons etc; and put a picture in the paper of the mothers and fathers and others who had such a picnic pack in the 40s to show the Boys of Cotton Hollow who went off to the real war that they were appreciated.

Well I went in search of Smokey as he was down in Seymour and not as local as the rest of us. Smokey tells me he is not much into nostalgia, but he would stop in for an hour or so.

On the morning of the big day I am sitting alone at a picnic table listening to 1940s music on my boombox and doing the crossword puzzle from the Republican. Alone of course I had gotten there real early, couldn’t eat breakfast, hardly any sleep, when I happened to look up and George Wasdo was coming down the path. He was one of the boys who went to keep us free back in WWII. As we talked about those days (I had not seen him since the war) other people filtered in and before long I had 51 people related through common history all telling tales.

Now when Smokey came over the hill everyone said “who is that guy” and when I said Smokey he was literally mobbed, tears flowed freely, hugs were rampant.

He stayed six hours and was a regular guest at each annual picnic.

We also started meeting at Dunkin Donuts on New Haven Road. Usually on Thursdays, but sometimes Smokey and I met on Wednesdays too. I got to hear all about his life since the old days, of his wife, sons and grandkids.

I will always miss that big grin and the laughing blue eyes as he showed up for coffee and sugar coated nostalgia.

Oh year as soon as he came in he wanted to buy me a coffee and donut, some things never change.

Jack Moffat Sr.

Naugatuck