Our grandparents J. Alfred and Helen Connell Taylor lived in Barre, Massachusetts, a small town approximately 50 miles west of Boston. When we visited them in warm weather, one of the highlights for us children was to drive the jigger along a bumpy sidewalk across the street from our grandparents’ house.
One dictionary definition of jigger is “any device that operates with a jerking or jolting motion.” The jigger in Barre was a small vehicle that our mother had as a child. We propelled it by jerking on a pumping handle connected to the rear wheels and steered it by orienting the front wheels with our feet. Getting the jigger started was touchy. If the pumping handle was not properly aligned, pumping would make the jigger go backwards instead of forwards. Going up an incline could be challenging. Going down could be thrilling. The pumping handle moved faster and faster as the jigger’s speed increased. Slowing the handle down was the only way to brake.
We don’t know what happened to the jigger after our grandparents died. We’ve never seen anything quite like it. Now, decades later, it seems like it should be in a museum.
David Alfred Stocker, pictured here with his mother and his big brother, Robert Nathan, was the second child of our parents, Mary Lou (Mary Louisa) Taylor Stocker and Bob (Robert Henry, Jr.) Stocker. He was born June 2, 1949, and he died of spinal meningitis at the age of seven months on January 24, 1950.
Our parents were private about their grieving for their son, speaking of him seldom, though with obvious pain, regret, and sadness should the occasion arise. As their recollections would have been the best descriptors of David’s personality and also the trauma of his death, we have little to contribute to fill out this chapter of our family’s life. Robert Nathan was only four when David was born, five when David died. He still possesses some notes our mother wrote to him while she was in the hospital for David’s birth. He remembers liking to play with David, and he remembers being sad and angry when David died.
As very small children, both Eric and I remember opening up the hope chest in the hallway of the Canton house and rifling through its contents. Independently of each other, we found David’s little teddy bear sequestered there, and, with great excitement, ran to show it to our mother. That was how we found out we had an older brother we never knew. (Decades later, we placed that same little bear in our mother’s coffin when she died.)
Other fragments of memory flitter in based on conversations with our parents over the years. We think David had black hair. With two blue-eyed parents, he also had blue eyes, by definition. He was reportedly an even-tempered and easy baby, or at least we have some vague memory of him being described so.
When David took sick, he was hospitalized – we think at Children’s Hospital in Boston – where he died shortly after. He was treated with massive doses of penicillin, the only drug available for such treatment at the time, even though it was largely (and, in David’s case, obviously and completely) ineffective in combating meningitis. David’s funeral service was at the Abington MA Universalist Church, conducted by the Rev. Francis (Frank) Anderson.
Mary Lou expressed her grieving in this poem written about nine months after David died:
Banded, Mary Lou StockerOctober 1950
I watch his struggle in the narrow cage
As if his wildness can outwit those bars
Unyielding still despite the tiny scars
From other frantic claws and winged rage;
Then comes the keeper with the charted page
Of feathered journeys to the southern stars.
He bands the bird and frees it, yet he mars
The untouched beauty of its pilgrimage.
For now the bird must learn to fly again,
With added weight to balance by its wings
And carry till it seems a part of him.
Just as the grief of loved ones lost must pain
Until the heart adjusts itself and brings
Its quest for good up to life’s farthest rim.
I have occasionally shared that poem with bereaved parishioners during my years serving as a Unitarian Universalist minister. I have witnessed the poem bring comfort, as the bereaved see themselves reflected in its images and message. They feel seen and understood when they read my mother’s words. So, although many of the actual details of David’s life and death are lost to us at this great remove of time, perhaps there is solace knowing our family’s experience has, in some small way, contributed to the comfort and meaning-making for others who face tragic loss.
When you look in a mirror,
Whom do you see?
You will say, “Don't be silly;
I see only me!”
But study more closely
Your faithful reflection,
The eyes and the lips,
Your shade of complexion;
Then try to imagine,
From the whole human race,
Those myriad forebears
Who fashioned your face.
Did your eyes come from Erin,
Your chin from old Rome,
Your mouth from the Highlands,
Your cheekbones from Nome?
Oh could you but know
The adventures of those
Whose genes through the ages
Determined your nose!
Were your ancestors slaves
Or were they free men?
Did they stand fast for justice
Again and again?
Where they pirates or Kings,
Rebels or Tories?
You can only surmise
Their struggles and glories.
They each gave you something:
Once more take a view;
Aren't you glad to be special?
There's no one like you!
Mary Louisa (Taylor) Stocker writes in January 1976:
My mother’s family is a mystery. Her mother, Margaret Hayes, was an English schoolteacher who married Irish Maurice O’Connell. Mother was born in Queenstown, Ireland, and came to the United States as an infant. The family lived in South Boston, where her father worked in a livery stable. She had a brother, Daniel, who was two years younger. When she was 10, her mother died, and through the help of a Congregational Church, Mother was sent to Barre, Mass. to work on the farm of Sam and Ester Hamilton and continue her schooling as far as the 8th grade. She never heard from her father again!
After working in several Barre households, she became a housekeeper for the Cooks, who treated her like a daughter and to whom she was devoted. I was named for Mrs. Cook and the Cooks were my surrogate maternal grandparents. No story of my life would be complete without mention of them, so their pictures are also included in the family albums.
Mary Louisa Stocker (27 Algonquin Rd. Canton, Mass.) 1976
Clam Pie is a Stocker family delicacy that most people have never tasted. It’s like a thick New England clam chowder baked in a pie crust. Here’s a recipe written out by my grandmother Lora Mae Stocker. The minor additions appear to be in my mother Mary Lou Stocker’s handwriting.
Here’s what is likely an earlier version of the recipe….
My father Robert H. Stocker, Jr. and my grandfather Robert H. Stocker, Sr., sometimes accompanied by one or more of us children, dug sea clams for the pie at Nantasket Beach in Hull, Massachusetts. I believe clamming was allowed only in months with an “R” (September, October, November, December, January, February, March and April) and a license was required. Because of tides, timing was critical. They clammed only at the low spring tides, which occur when the moon is either new or full. They didn’t go every time there was a spring tide. Another requirement was likely that the spring tide occurred on a weekend.
Sea clams are big, typically 4 to 6 inches in length, but sometimes as long as 8 inches or more. They live buried in sand where they feed by filtering seawater for fine particles of organic matter and plankton. Their feeding makes slight penny-sized depressions in the sand. If stepping firmly near one of these depressions generates a small spurt of water, a clam may be beneath. At least that’s my understanding of how clamming is done. I never found many clams myself even though my father and grandfather would leave the beach with a couple of pails full.
— Robert N. Stocker
When Sylvia and Steve’s son David Nathan Stocker Wellcome went through the Coming of Age program at First Parish of Stow and Acton, the capping ceremony involved, in part, the parents giving a gift to their children who had completed the program. Steve had been unemployed since September 11, 2001. Sylvia was still in seminary and, thus, not earning money of any noteworthy amount. Money was very tight; purchasing a gift was out of the question. So, Sylvia and Steve compiled a scrapbook of family lore, recipes, photos, and other tidbits to give to David.
In that scrapbook, Sylvia wrote about the famous clam pie of blessed memory. In her reflection, “Great Grandpa” is Robert Henry Stocker, “Grandpa” is Robert H. Stocker, Jr., “Great Grandma” is Lora Mae Stocker, “Grandma” is Mary Louisa Taylor Stocker, and “Mom” is Sylvia:
Mom's Clam Pie
by Sylvia A. Stocker
May 23, 2004
When I was little, your Grandpa and your Great Grandpa used to take us to the ocean to dig clams. Now, clamming is something you do only at low tide, and – if you were Grandpa – only on the weekends and in good weather. So our clamming expeditions were rare and exciting. I remember navigating the squishy, wet sand and aiming my shovel at the puckery places where your Grandpa told me to dig. I remember the smell of the ocean, the feel of the salty breeze on my skin – and the plunking sound the clams made as we tossed them into our metal pails.
When we got home, your Great Grandma – with your Grandma’s help – baked clam pie. I remember the family circled around the dinner table, the pie being ushered into the room, and the awed hush that enveloped the family when the first forkful of clam pie hit our taste buds. Your Great Grandma’s clam pie was out of this world!
Now, so many years later, the memory remains. Back then, I was doing a great deal more than excavating clams. There at the ocean’s edge, while the generations of my family worked side by side, I was experiencing an act of creation in which everyone’s contribution counted – even mine, the littlest member of the group. I was beginning to form the building blocks of relationship and team work. I was learning how to open my heart. And so those memories of clamming and enjoying our bounty are deeply tied up with feelings of warmth and love.
Some years ago, your Great Grandma died. And, when we were cleaning out her house, everybody said, “I want the clock” and “I want the dresser,’ and “I want the sewing machine.” And I said, “I want the recipes.” I searched four boxes packed to overflowing for my grandmother’s clam pie recipe until eventually I found it. And this is what it said, more of less: “Double crust, enough for large pie dish. Clams. Sauce for clams. Salt and pepper. Bake in moderate oven until done.”
Ultimately, I don’t suppose there is a recipe for raising up kids. It’s not a science, but, at best, an imprecise art. Most of what I know about it can be drawn from those memories of clam pie – everyone’s contribution counts; love glues a team together; and a full tummy doesn’t hurt either.