My husband Irving Patron died on Memorial Day. The timeline was fitting. At the start of 1944, Irving "Pat" Patronsky of Garden Street in Hartford, Conn. went off to war. And so did most of the boys from Weaver High School class of 1939.
He was buried in Avon, Conn., first settled in 1645. Many towns around here go back to Pilgrim times, with names such as Windsor, Essex and Cheshire, New Canaan, Bethel and Hebron. You can still buy a handmade quilt at the Arts and Crafts Fairgrounds in Farmington.
Having lived in the artificial splendor of Florida for the past ten years I am overwhelmed by the natural greenery and heavy-limbed oaks that must have witnessed the Revolutionary War. There's an acknowledgement of history, a cohesion of land and people. I am glad that 46 years ago my husband brought me here from abroad.
Meeting Irving's contemporaries during my first year in Hartford, I was surprised these fellows rarely engaged in gossip. When I lived in Israel, my intimate group of friends held what we liked to call "social therapy sessions," amusingly gossiping about everyone who annoyed us. But these guys liked to say: He's a nice person. She is so sweet and a good sport ..." This is reticence run amok.
And they dressed funny. They shopped downtown at Tryon's, substituting one navy Brooks Brothers blazer for a newer identical twin. The more prescient would buy several at a time. Why burden the future with extra shopping? But truth be told: no one wears chinos with more panache than a New Englander. Our Israeli khakis were a necessity — theirs oozed nonchalant chic.
Irving grew up in what is now, heartbreakingly, the most dangerous part of downtown Hartford. He'd been an usher at the Majestic, and one afternoon sat on pins and needles with the rest of the family, waiting for his mother Dora and his aunt Sadie to return from the Great Circus Fire of 1939 He never had a bar mitzvah because during the Depression his parents couldn't afford it, and were not religious enough to care.
Irving studied engineering at the University of Connecticut and in 1943, when American pilots were already flying missions over Germany, he enlisted. Everyone enlisted. No one of that generation that I'd met in my thirty-seven years in Hartford had stayed out of the war.
First Irving trained in England. Then, on Dec.13, 1944, he found himself in the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes in Belgium, in what was Hitler's last outburst of rage against the allies. A year ago I learned from the Weather Channel that 1944 was the coldest winter in a generation. Three days later, Irving's platoon was captured by the Germans. It was a lucky break because a day later, on the 17th, in nearby Malmedy, the Germans massacred 80 American POWs.
Irving's two best friends also enlisted. Julius "Juke" Fegelman was a platoon sergeant in the 1944 beach storming in Anzio, Italy; and Seymour "Shloim" Nathan became a navigator on a B-22 bomber. Him being a tall guy — we never understood how he could fit into the navigator's tight spot. "There was leg room," he explained.
Irving spent the rest of the war in Stalag 13 and in May 1945 was liberated by the Red Army.
We always hear from family and friends that their loved ones never talked about the war. Irving did talk, but they were mostly stories and anecdotes. In later years, when the timelines in his brain became scrambled, he cried for the boy who was in the foxhole next to him and was blown to pieces, his blood splattering Irving's uniform. He never knew the boy's name — but he talked about him in his dreams.
It was 97 degrees when he was buried. The Army provided military honors. Two men folding the Stars and Stripes. In slow motion, with precise steps, thirteen folds in tri-cornered shape in honor of the thirteen original colonies. Of which Connecticut, the Constitution State, was one.
Email Rachel Patron at firstname.lastname@example.org.