Joining the Navy and Coming Back Home
In 1958 I graduated High School and joined the Navy, signing up before I was 18. I had enlisted in a program where I would be sent to a trade school for training and then be given an honorable discharge the day before I became 21. It seemed like a good opportunity at the time.
While in the Navy it became apparent to me that a college degree in business would give me a great balance with my trade skills. I completed my service in the Navy in September of 1961. Three days after my discharge I began my studies at Wagner collages and moved back with my parents in The Biddle house. It was a great feeling to be HOME and my parents were very supportive of my decision to earn a college degree, most of which was paid for because of my military service.
The house looked the same but a bit older. But no longer was there basketball playing at the garage, no more football and golf in the yard and no more fishing and swimming down at the beach. Both the homestead and my life had made a transition.
Losing the Cupola
While in college I found it a great advantage to be living at home rather than in a dorm. Being older than all other freshmen I was more serious about my studies and saw great benefits from doing most of my studies at home rather than in a dorm or in the Wagner library. On one such day, while home studying, I began to smell burning brush. The smell was coming from the woods alongside the house. Both my dad and mom were out of the house at that time. I went outside to see where the smoke was coming from. I could see some flames in the dry woods behind the garage. They were being fanned by the brisk wind blowing in the direction of our home. The fire department had already arrived and were fighting the fire within the wooded area beyond our garage. They had hooked up their hoses to hydrants down the road and were working hard to contain the fire before it continued in our direction. I got our garden hose and was using it to wet down the wooded area and leaves on the other side of the fence of our property. It was a big concern that the wind was blowing sparks and smoldering leaves over the fence and onto our property. I looked up at the cupola on top of our house and saw a small smoldering corner. A spark had landed on the roof of the cupola and had started to smolder. I alerted the firemen and began thinking of ways to extinguish the smoldering section of the cupola. Unfortunately the firemen could not reach the house with their hoses because they were already completely extended from the far away hydrants. They had to pull back their hoses, move their trucks to the closest hydrant and reattach before they could address the cupola which was now in flames. Not wanting to wait for their assistance I brought my garden hose through the front door and pulled it up each flight of stairs until I reached the attic and the stairs that lead to the copula. It was very smoky but I could see my way clearly at first. I kept going up spraying with the hose as I went. Unfortunately I was 50 feet above the normal hose level and the pressure diminished with each step. I kept spraying but the smoke became intense. Breathing became difficult and my eyes were stinging and unable to see effectively. As I started to get a bit disoriented I was grabbed by a fireman and brought back down stairs. I remember them laying me out on the lawn and thinking “I am not going to the hospital today”. My father arrived at the house as the flames were engulfing the cupola. Against the direction of the fireman he entered the house saying he had to get something out before the fire took it. He was there a short time and emerged with my mother’s accordion which she had just begun taking lessons for. To him it was the most important thing he could save. The love he showed that day still gives me a lump in my throat.
Once they had their hoses in place the firemen put out the fire but the copula was lost. The local roofers (I believe their name was Kroger) were there before days end and put larger tarps over the open section of the roof. There was extensive water damage and we spent the first night with The Beckets. By the next night we were back living at home. The roof was quickly replaced but the cupola was never rebuilt. I often missed going up there and viewing the islands’ southern tip and bay from the windows on all four sides. At times I had also sat on top of the cupola which was a bit scary. It was like being on top of the world. I also miss the old maps and sketches Dad had on display up there. They depicted the actual scenes a viewer might have seen through each window in the late 1800s.
Shortly after that my mother played her accordion at the local recital. It sounded wonderful. I often wonder what I would have brought from the house that day.