Title: registered 9 Sep 1902
Page: Book 2, p. 141
Author: Clerk, Bradford County Orphans Court
Publication: Towanda, PA
Note: (Medical):Dad died alone and afraid. Such fears were not about his long absence from the Catholic Church, nor its propaganda of hell. To Dad the Church was an institution to which one mustered outward reverence, while inwardly rejecting it as a lifeless institution that sought to replace pleasure with guilt. I don't know what he thought of the next world; my guess is that it offered nothing to one so bound to this one. No reunion with dead family members, no bathing in the bliss of God's love, no freedom from stress and responsibility could compete with a wife who made him the centerpiece of her life and the comradery of bar room buddies who were always glad to see him, full of raucous laughter, off-colored jokes and the hilarity of competing in tournaments of shuffle baseball or darts. How could any place dull with do-gooders waving you onto a room full of white light hope to compete with this? Would anyplace else allow you to look back to a time when you were so drunk that your pals dropped you off at the front door of a house that resembled yours, then ring the doorbell and run? And anyone who has ever read their catechism knows that there is no place in Heaven where you can watch TV and eat a half gallon of ice cream in a bowl full of ginger ale. But Dad's will to live and all that held him here were not enough. He died slumped over in a wheelchair as he looked out of his 5th floor window at Jewish Brooklyn Hospital. He had been moved from the medical ward of Brooklyn State Hospital when the damage of his 2nd stroke did not improve. Brooklyn State had been his employer for 30 years and when they moved him, he knew he was never going home again. I can only guess at how helpless and trapped he felt, like a small fish in an evaporating tidal pool. In his last days, Dad's anxieties manifested as demanding dependency on his wife, Mary. She was a psychiatric nurse and suffered the fate of many in her field, who marriage often resembled an emergency room. Throughout their marriage she was as much a mother as wife. And, I, who grew up unable to distinguish intimacy from engulfment, could not tolerate Dad's neediness and Mom's continuous self-sacrifice: "You visit him every day, twice a day; you bring him things and he's still angry and wants more." I would protest. "Don't go to see him until he agrees to be more appreciative." Dad's illness allowed me to give voice, thought obliquely, to my won hated dependence. Though we never acknowledged it, or were even aware of it, Dad and I were rivals for Mom's attention. How like my father I was with my selfish demands; how like so many men I was, who tried desperately to hide their deepest emotions behind a smokescreen of anger. Anger for me, and all the men I learned from, was a talisman protecting us against our imprisoned vitality. Our relationship was like a hall of mirrors where we could only see parts of each other. Like two ships in a dense fog, we kept our distance to avoid collision. We tracked each other using distrust for radar. We were more like enemies keeping alive an absurd tradition handed down as an heirloom. Only in the last few years of his life did we break from this legacy that victimized us both. If there was a blessing to Dad's long suffering, it was that he died facing toward the Northwest, the direction of his birthplace, Towanda, PA. I know that in those last moments of his life his thoughts went back to where he was born, to where his deepest memories were preserved in the land and people of Bradford County. Here were born all the Laughlins from my brother and I back to my great-grandparents, who settled here after a long journey from famine Ireland. Though dad was the first and only one of his family to leave Towanda, elemental parts of him remained behind to form a magnetic field drawing him back like a compass needle to true north. In his last moments of his life, Dad rode his imagination out of that hospital room and headed over the East River and Lower Manhattan, over the Hudson River and onto New Jersey and Delaware where once past Wilmington he was in Pennsylvania. From there it was a straight shot north to Scranton where we would get off the main highway onto Route 6, the road that led into the heart of the spectacular Endless Mountains. If there was one thing Dad and I shared, one thing that held us together despite so much turmoil, it was our shared love for Towanda and our journey together to visit his dad and family. Route 6 took us up to spectacular vistas overlooking the lush farm valleys far below and then it descended steeply and paralleled the ever twisting Susquehanna that both nourished and destroyed whatever land and towns it cut through. Just the name of the towns we passed brings back a file full of warm associations and feelings From Scranton we would drive through Chinchilla, Clark Summit, Factoryville to Tunkhannock where the road veered sharply away from the Susquehanna toward Meshopen when we rejoined the great river and followed it and the Lackawana RR tracks to Lacyville and Skinner's Eddy across the border into Bradford County. Now we were in the area where so many Laughlins had at one time called home. Places like Standing Stone, named after a rock formation in the river, Wyalusing, Wysox, Sheshequin and Towanda, all names of Native American origin. Our journey reached its end as we crossed the Towanda Street bridge, washed out several times by floods, and entered the middle of town. Main street ran along the base of a steep hill into which houses were stuck at right angles. A tiny earthquake measuring 1on the Richter scale would send them and their attached outdoor laundry tumbling into the river and down stream to the Chesapeake Bay. We retreated into the silence of our own thoughts as we crossed the bridge. This may have been the most intimated moments we ever shared. We never talked of it, partly because we never shared anything personal. We were like two strangers attached by strange forces we could neither see nor describe.
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