For Christmas this year my sisters made me a booklet of photos and memories of my parents, Russell Ethan Wells and Polly Eldridge Curtis. This has prompted me to finally write my mother’s obituary. She died last April 15, just 10 days short of 94. My father died in 1964, over half a century ago. My mom had my dad to have and to hold for less than a fifth of her life. Yet I know that he was the most important person in her life. They met by the very thinnest of coincidences. I have always appreciated the near misses that have determined the course of a person’s life.

My mom was born in Newark, N.J. on April 25, 1922. Her parents were Helen Doane Perry Curtis from Crete, Neb. and John Morrison Curtis from Jersey City, N.J. My mom had a sister, Jeanne who was a year older. Jeanne’s only daughter, Susie Fauteux, lives on the Vineyard. Of nine cousins, Susie and I have made homes on the islands where we all spent summers for decades when we were kids.

My mom grew up in Summit, N.J. Her parents ran an interior decorating and antiques business. She attended Buxton Country Day School, which is now Far Brook School, in Millburn and Kent Place School. When she was 10 she spent a year in France with her mother and sister, where she learned to speak French fluently. Most summers they visited the Rosé family on Chappaquiddick. One of the photos in the booklet is of my mom on the beach near the boat house just north of the entrance to Caleb Pond. She attended Isadora Duncan’s dance school on Nantucket. In September 1941, she entered Vassar College. There she met her dearest friend for life, Blanche Ulsamer (Pavlis). She loved being at Vassar and remained in touch with many of her classmates for the remainder of her life.

During the summer of 1942 she worked for the Volunteer Land Corps on a farm at the foot of Mount Equinox in New Hampshire. Her class graduated a semester early so that they could join the work force to help with the war effort. She taught pre-school in Orange, N.J. One day her college pal Elizabeth Uptegrove called to say that she was headed for Hawaii with a friend to teach, but at the last minute, the friend had taken sick. Elizabeth invited my mom to go with her instead. Fortunately for me and my siblings she said yes. They sailed from San Francisco in September 1946 aboard the S.S. Lurline to Honolulu. My dad was one of the airmen operating an Army Air Force radar station. It only makes sense that the military guys would date the teachers. My mom and dad met, quickly fell for each other, and married in Kealakekua in April 1947.

They had a dog named Mustang (after the fighter planes my dad flew) that would leap from a speeding Jeep when he spied a mongoose. They would go to the movies, which were predominantly French productions. My mom would sit between my dad and his best friend to serve as interpreter of the dialog. She would laugh telling me of a particular scene in which the leading male was imbibing wine by pouring it onto the leading lady’s front rather than drinking from a glass. When she offered to interpret for the guys they shushed her without taking their eyes off the screen.

My sister Martha arrived in March 1948. An islander from the start. The Air Force relocated my dad often. My sister Patricia and I were born at Mitchell Air Base on Long Island. He was next stationed in French Morocco at Sidi Slimane Air Base. My mom flew over with the three of us in tow. The trip back to the States two years later was aboard the troop ship Pvt. Thomas. The earliest memory of my life was on the deck of that ship. Just before departure, I very vividly recall watching one ship pass in front of another and appearing to merge into a single vessel. I remember thinking that was out of the ordinary.

Every few years my mom had to pack up all our belongings to move to another state. We always lived off base and went to public schools. My brother Robbin was born at Willow Run Air Base in Ypsilanti, Mich. My sisters and I attended a one-room school house. My brother Christopher was born at Lowry Air Base in Denver, Colo. We looked out our living room window at the Rocky Mountains.

Every summer we would drive to Chappaquiddick from Colorado. The car was packed to the roof with kids, cats and a dog. For my mom, it was coming home to her favorite childhood haunts. So when my dad retired she chose Edgartown. My dad started flying for National Executive Airline out of the Vineyard. Less than a year later he was killed in a plane crash. This left my mom to raise five kids, ages 4, 6, 11, 13 and 15, alone. She bought a house on the corner of North Summer street and Simpson’s Lane. We rented the house out during the summer and stayed on either Manaca Hill or out at Cape Pogue. She stuck it out for four winters on the Vineyard and then moved us back to New Jersey to be near her mother and sister. She bought a 200-year-old house in Chatham Township, taught nursery school, sewed drapes and slip covers for my grandmother’s business, rode horses with my sisters and succeeded in getting all of us educated and started on careers. She managed to get back to Chappaquiddick yearly. I took her out sailing often. She loved driving out to Cape Pogue. One of her last voyages around Edgartown Harbor was bundled up in an overstuffed chair in the back of my pickup aboard the On Time II.

My mom’s and dad’s ashes are now interred side by side in the new Chappaquiddick cemetery. Their five children, three daughters in law, 11 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, her sister’s children and grandchildren, along with several of the children of her childhood friends, participated in the memorial and interment on a sunny day last June.

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