I was born in New England about one year before the Japanese invaded the United States by bombing Pearl Harbor. My earliest memory was the Great Circus Fire which occurred in 1944 within blocks of my home. On the day that happened I recall people scurrying about in the streets screaming that the Big-top had burned to the ground. They said that all the animals had escaped and were running loose and wild through the neighborhood. I’m not sure if the animal part actually happened; maybe that was all part of the panic. In any case, the story about that horrible fire is true.
Historically the Great Circus Fire was intriguing as well as it was tragic; six victims were never identified, including a girl about eight years old. The inscription at the cemetery reads: "This plot of Ground consecrated by the City of Hartford as a Resting Place for three adults and three children who lost their lives in the Circus Fire. July 6, 1944. Their identity known but to God."
On a warm August day in 1945 the country celebrated V-J Day, the surrender of Japan. Cars drove by with blaring horns and people cheering wildly. I was out in the front yard banging a large metal spoon into one of my mother’s cooking pots. I didn’t realize the significance at the time but I was more than willing to join in on the fun.
The timing of the end of the war could not been more fortuitous for my father. A carpenter by trade, he had started his own construction business. With all the servicemen returning home, there became an immense demand for housing. The business grew from a small three man operation to one of more than twenty.
The men would meet every morning in our back yard to get their work assignments.
My father stood before them and barked out things like: “You two take the pick-up and go to Manchester and you three take the flat bed to the south end, the rest of you get this backhoe out to East Hartford”. As soon as his orders were given, they were executed without hesitation. The men moved out quickly as though in a military operation and my father was the general. I was proud to witness that, proud to be his son!
In the summer when I wasn’t in school he would take me out to the job sites. He was just starting construction of a middle school in Rocky Hill, and as the name of the town might suggest (Rocky Hill), they had to use dynamite in order to set the foundations. Just before the blasting began, a loud horn sounded and my dad told me to crawl under one of the trucks until it was safe. Meanwhile he stood there, fearlessly out in the open, with rocks and debris raining down onto the area so dangerously close to him and never flinched or blinked an eye. When all the explosions were over he pulled me out, hoisted me up on to his broad shoulders and together we went to investigate the results.