Sibling Saturday – We Killed the Battery, George!

The Rev. Elliott F. Gauffreau is the man in the middle.


These photographs show a youth group outing my father led when he was curate at All Saint’s Episcopal Church in Attleboro, Massachusetts from 1959-1961. However, the story is what you don’t see in the photographs: my brother George and me waiting in the car.

Daddy had brought us along for the picnic, and when it came time to pack up the picnic gear and distribute the youth group kids among the various vehicles, he walked us to the parking lot to wait for him in the car (presumably so we wouldn’t be in the way).

Being moderately obedient children, we didn’t object and waited patiently in the car–for all of about three minutes–until boredom set in. When was Daddy coming? Why didn’t he come? What could be taking him so long?

I don’t remember which one of us dared the other to honk the horn. I won’t blame this one on George; it was probably me. Honking the horn was something that WAS NOT DONE in our family. Why? Because like everything else in the adult world, THE HORN IS NOT A TOY. I think the Boy Who Cried Wolf was brought into these discussions as well.

Of course Daddy came back to the car to tell us to stop or we’d wear down the battery. So we stopped–until we started again.

When it came time to leave–yes, you guessed it–we’d killed the battery, and the car wouldn’t start. After discussion among the male members of the group, it was decided to try and jump start it. (Luckily, the parking lot was at the top of a hill.)

Daddy put the car in neutral, the boys pushed the car to get it moving, and off we rolled down the hill. Daddy popped the clutch, the engine caught, and George and I shrieked with delight at this exciting new way of starting the family car–and why didn’t Daddy start it that way all the time? It’s a testament to the kind of father he was when he pointed out quite logically that the car would not always be parked on a hill with a group of boys at the ready to push it.

That’s Not the Way It Happened!

I’ve always been fascinated by the stories families tell about each other, particularly when the stories conflict.

The event that occasioned my weaning from the bottle has always been one of my favorites. My father told me his version throughout my childhood to demonstrate what I spirited little thing I was, and I reveled in the drama of the image that the story evoked.

I didn’t think to ask my mother for her version until I was an adult and had a child of my own.

Weaning Baby Liz from the Bottle

According to my father, I was weaned from the bottle on the day that my mother came into my room to get me up from my nap and I was so happy to see her that I tossed my bottle out of the crib with such gay abandon that it smashed on the floor like a wineglass, spraying milk and broken glass all over the room. And my mother vowed, that as God was her witness, Liz would never drink from a bottle again!

My mother’s version of the story is that I woke up from my nap and unscrewed the top from the bottle, dumped the milk on myself, then waited miserably in my wet nightie in my wet crib for someone to come in and clean up the mess.

Clearing Out 27 Edgewood Road

Back in the 1980s, when it came time to clear out my mother’s childhood home at 27 Edgewood Road in Lexington, Massachusetts, I learned that the house had been designed by well-known local architect Willard Brown, my grandfather’s uncle. (A little about Uncle Willard in my next post.)

Even more surprising, the house I’d known throughout my childhood was not in fact as Uncle Willard had designed it. An entire section had been an addition put on by my grandfather when the older generation began dying off with no place for their household effects to go.

My Aunt Margie was dismissive of her father’s need to hold onto other people’s stuff as pack-ratting, but I’m not so sure. When I was helping my mother downsize for the second time recently, I found myself taking home household effects I had no room for because it felt as if my childhood were being dismantled, and I just couldn’t bear it.

The other odd thing about that addition at 27 Edgewood Road was that neither my brother nor I had stepped foot inside it until well after both of our grandparents were dead. I don’t recall either of us ever questioning why it was off-limits.

27 Edgewood Road Before the Older Generations Started Dying Off

27pre-addition

27 Edgewood Road After the Older Generations Started Dying Off

27addition

27 Edgewood Road Under Construction

27construction

27 Edgewood Road No Longer in the Family

Image: Century 21 Real Estate