My maternal grandfather, Edward Dewey Graff, was born on December 29, 1916 in Brooklyn, New York to Henry William Graff and Lizzie Neuhutl/Newhill Graff. He was the third born son after George in 1912 and Henry Adolph in 1914 – and after Edward came Eleanor in 1921 and Elizabeth in 1925.
He grew up between Brooklyn, New York and Canterbury, Connecticut where the family had a farm. He and his father had a rough relationship, causing him to leave home when he was thirteen. He became a toolmaker at a young age in New York – apprenticed to an old German toolmaker. That early training was suited to his need to strive for perfection.
He met her at a Halloween party on October 31, 1938…and on February 5th in 1939 he married Helen Adelaide Reynolds, but they knew their marriage would not be approved and so they had a bowl of beef stew at a local diner and he took her home. They lived apart for three months. They finally got together after Helen told her cousin…her cousin told her uncle..and Helen’s parents found out and tried to get the marriage annulled – but Helen left and moved in with Ed, settling the matter. He built them a home in Canterbury, CT, near the farm he grew up on, with his own two hands.
World War II would find him working as a draft exempt toolmaker at Electric Boat (General Dynamics New London).
Their first child, Robert Edward, was born on February 10, 1940, followed by a daughter, Joan Marie on June 10, 1941. Helen was pregnant with their third child, Elizabeth, when a house fire took Bobby and Joanie on October 14, 1942.
Ed was working at EB still – and shortly after the fire, he and others were required to work six twelve-hour days a week at EB to support the war effort. He became involved with a group of other workers who planned to stage a walkout after eight hours to protest the working conditions. When management heard of the plan they informed everyone involved that they would be fired and lose their draft exempt status if they participated. Eddie Graff’s response was to pack up his toolboxes and leave. He was the only one.
Ironically he failed the draft physical because his trigger finger had been broken in a farming accident as a child and never properly set.
Instead of taking a mill job he leased a small gas station/ repair garage named Cozy Corners on North street (rt 12) near the intersection of North St in Danielson. He told my Uncle Hank that because of rationing and tire shortages he made good money buying junk cars, stripping tires and other reusable parts and scrapping the rest.
He was also able to trade gas and oil for war souveneirs from returning veterans and Cozy Corners was well known as a place for the mill workers and state police down the street to run a tab and get their paychecks cashed, purchase gas, and have car repairs done. He estimated he was earning $150 a week back when mill jobs were paying $14-$18 a week.
Elizabeth Joan was born in 1943, Sheila Hazel in 1944, Henry Reynolds in 1948, Cheryl Kathleen in 1950 and Marc Edward in 1954.
It was about 1947 when he purchased the three acres on Cook Hill Road, became more focused on going to church and stopping drinking to begin rebuilding his life and home for his growing family. He took a job at Young Brothers Lumber company as the Foreman. They allowed him to purchase building supplies on credit against his wages. Nights and weekends were spent building the home on Cook Hill.
He dug the well and cellar hole with a pick and shovel, using the stones to line the twenty-five foot deep well and the twenty-by-twenty foot house foundation. Took a part time job at Ingalls saw mill in Brooklyn Ct. and bartered for use of the saw mill to make the lumber from the pine he cut on the Cook Hill property . In October of 1948 he moved the family into what was essentially ” a tarpaper shack”, but it was theirs free and clear. I have some wonderful memories of family gatherings at that house – and it is still owned by an Ed Graff – my cousin, his grandson.
I was the first grandchild for Ed and Helen, born in 1963 – and the family joke for years was the sheer amount of photographs they took of me. “Inhale…click…exhale…click” and so on.
I couldn’t say ‘Grampa’ or ‘Grampi’ so Ed became Bampi. All of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren called him Bampi after that.
Bampi was the one that explained what getting my period would mean – and how to sweep a floor properly. He showed me how to season a cast-iron frying pan – and how to cook a fresh venison steak in it over a wood stove. Bampi taught me woods-lore and survival techniques, basic instructions on how to care for a home – and many, many life lessons. Everything from playing horseshoes to how to split wood for a fire – and build it properly. Bampi had me shooting a gun when I was six, teaching me proper ways to handle them, as well as how to work a garden – and how sweet a small cucumber, picked fresh and still warm from the sun, would taste.
One day, he asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. It was a gorgeous autumn day and we had been working in the shop where he was teaching me how to sharpen a saw. We spent a good five or six hours, tracking a buck through the woods, over miles of Connecticut hills and streams – pausing when we would catch a glimpse, and finally seeing it in the clearing by an old gravel pit, we settled in to watch it. The scent of pine trees and fallen leaves to this day will bring me back to that afternoon. We didn’t talk much during the walk – we didn’t need to.
While we were up in Maine at the camps, he taught me how to handle a canoe – and how to swim if it flipped over…by flipping it over. I can’t even begin to count the many, many lessons he taught me – taught all of us, his children and grandchildren. I can still see him pulling a rag out of the back of his belt and wiping off the headlights of Mom’s car before we backed out of his dooryard.
Bampi was strong and outspoken…many would laugh at that…outspoken is a bit of an understatement. He was a warrior where his family was concerned, a farmer, a butcher, carpenter, businessman, teacher…a true renaissance man. He was also an alcoholic, a man with a vicious temper and someone who had his opinion and rarely listened to someone else’s. He loved Helen completely – calling her his “Little Red Hen” and they had fifty-five years together.
My Uncle sent me this part:
“I never witnessed my father drink alcohol until 1970 when he came to visit me at Andrews Air Force Base when I was there on a temporary duty assignment for a F-105 “Missing man formation flyby ” for some dead generals funeral. I had recently returned from South East Asia where I like many others of my generation were “self medicating” to be able to deal with the every day reality of that senseless war. I got permission to bring him out for a tour on the flight line where he got to meet and talk with the pilots and other crew chiefs of my squadron.
I have never had a prouder day in my life.
I was there as I had previously won the Crew Chief Of the Month award for the 355th TAC Fighter Wing at Maconnel AFB back in Kansas and my assigned bird and I were one of the chosen for the TDY. That night I took my dad to the base NCO club for dinner. I needed a beer really bad and when I ordered one he said he would have one with me. I was more than surprised. Turns out my mother and he were having some “empty nest/ mid life crisis” and he had back slidden and “fell off the wagon.” My parents eventually worked things out and lived together till death did them part.”
Edward’s life was forever marked by the loss of his babies – and he and Nana stood by my side when I buried my second daughter. So marked that when my sister was born on the 26th anniversary of the babies’ death, looking just like Joanie, he found it difficult to relate to her as he did to the rest of us. I wish that had been different – my sister missed out on knowing him the way I and my brother did – and that is a horrible loss on both of their sides.
Edward died in Connecticut on October 22, 1994 from complications due to Alzheimer’s disease. To me, the last four years of his life were a long, slow fading of the larger-than-life man he had always been in my world. Even though it is coming up on twenty years since he’s been gone – there are times when I still think “Bampi would love to see this..” or “I wonder what he’d think of this place?”
He was everything one could want in a grandfather – he would have given his life for us, and we knew it. He made sure we had the tools we needed to survive this life – because he knew how hard it could be. I won’t deify him by saying he was perfect – but he was exactly what I needed in my life and I am grateful I was lucky enough to grow up with him.
Addendum: My noting that my grandfather was an alcoholic has bothered a few folks. Let me clarify. I loved him and admired him – but he told me himself he considered himself an alcoholic because he said he was always struggling with wanting too much to drink. We had this talk once when he found out I’d gone out and got drunk as a teenager- and said it was something to watch myself on because it ran in the family. On both sides. My dad’s mother was an alcoholic – it’s why she was taken away from her kids and they ended up on the state, because she’d get drunk and abusive and neglect them.