Category Archives: Autobio

Memories of Chris on his 49th birthday

It’s no secret in my family that both Chris and I were snack hounds as kids. If there was a single sugary morsel in the house, one or both of us would find it. During the week we lived with our Mom and Stepdad Bob, and our diet was kept more or less healthy there. But on weekends we’d be unleashed upon my biological Dad and he was the definition of the Permissive Weekend Parent. We could talk him into just about anything at the grocery store and he knew we’d descend on his stash of goodies at home like a plague of locusts devouring crops. Our favorite soda back then was a local Pennsylvania/New Jersey brand called A-Treat and we quaffed can after can of their sarasparilla, lemon-lime, orange and grape varieties.

Knowing this, Dad tried buying A-Treat’s grapefruit variety, hoping we’d turn up our noses at it. Needless to say, we didn’t. And on those occasions when Mom or Bob baked cookies or some other treat, it had to be hidden very carefully somewhere in the back of a cupboard on the very top shelf with explicit warnings that snooping would be swiftly punished. As we grew up things got slightly more laissez faire at home and my folks started buying ice cream sometimes. But even as an adult Chris had a talent for nosing it out, so it had to be hidden away in the back of the freeer by any means necessary, usually wrapping it inside a bag that used to hold frozen peas or something. “Let’s have some mixed vegetables” became code for my parents digging out the ice cream and having themselves a frozen treat when Chris wasn’t around.

This next memory’s pretty esoteric but bear with me. Back in the 1980s when dystopian futures really got popular in fiction, a comic book character called Johnny Nemo appeared and I snapped it up at my local comic shop. This hard-boiled punk detective from 2921 AD had a half-shaved head and geometric shapes on his suit jacket, and the comic had all sorts of silly future-speak words and phrases. If I recall correctly there was a drug called “death-juice” and the standard drug dealer offer to passersby was, “Wanna die?” After reading this, it became an in-joke between me and Chris, especially when he was in surly, big brother, faux-bullying mode. He’d walk past me in the hallway, bump into my shoulder and growl, “Wanna die?!” To which I’d respond, “I’m not Johnny Nemo!” And he’d chuckle in spite of himself. Hey like I said, it’s esoteric. But it gives me a big smile to think about now. We bickered alot as kids so little dumb moments like that and playing baseball together are amongst the rare times we actually bonded until we grew up and started liking each other.

My Mom can tell this particular tale better than I can because I obviously don’t remember it. But apparently when I was a baby, one early morning after my parents had spent all night wrapping gifts and artfully arranging them under the Christmas tree, Chris came and retrieved me from my crib without waking my parents up. We then proceeded to go into the living room and he got at least part of the way through unwrapping our Christmas bounty before the adults arrived on the scene. Maybe the idea of clandestine gifts rubbed off on me because when I was in kindergarten I grabbed a stack of comic books from Chris’ sacred collection and handed them out to my classmates in school. As you can see, I more than held my own in the battle of Who Could Provoke the Other Brother Quicker.

There were some things we could agree and collaborate on as kids like building things with Lego bricks. But the thing that looms largest in my memory from my early years is Matchbox and Hot Wheels toy cars. Chris and I shared our collection and would often take them outside to play. One of the places we brought them was over to Chris’ friend John Gran’s house. We played in his backyard with them and I remember one time a sudden downpour arrived out of nowhere and we ran for home wthout collecting our cars. The next day we found they’d gone missing and some nearby kids had made off with them. I don’t remember the specifics but I know it was a pain in the butt getting them back and parents may have been involved.

The other place we played with our cars was in The Foxhole. Again I plead being young but I don’t remember the origin of this dirt hole in our side yard. I know my Dad dug it for us and it was a rectangular hole about 4-5 feet long and maybe 3 feet wide. Considering we called it The Foxhole it was probably requested by us so we could play soldiers but we also used it to build roads and caves for our toy cars and I have such happy memories of that. As an adult I’ve divested myself of most of my childhood toys but certain ones like that I held onto because he was so much a co-owner of them. Now that he’s gone I’ve taken the tough emotional steps of selling off our shared collections like those cars and our Star Wars toys, but I’ll always hold on to those memories.

For a few years as kids Mom and Bob drove us out to Ohio for annual visits to see my great-grandmother Flood at her ancestral home in Attica. That side of the family had lived there for many years and there were lots of fun nooks and crannies to explore. When we discovered that one part of the wooden bannister on the stairs came apart, we were overjoyed and went about the business of creating our very own hidden treasure. We found a brick that moved in the outside of the house and behind it we placed an old medicine bottle filled with little trinkets and some pocket change. Then under that piece of wooden bannister we left a cryptic note or map leading to the “treasure.” I can’t remember if we left it there or grabbed it the next year but for all I know the current owners still have a little surprise waiting for them to discover.

Chris was always into sports card collecting from an early age but around the time I reached junior high, baseball fever gripped me as well and the two of us started feverishly collecting Topps, Donruss, Upper Deck, Sportsflics, Fleer, and every other baseball card set we could get our hands on. One year for my birthday or Christmas, Chris gave me a little set of homemade cards he created himself. I also played in little league for a year and Chris dutifully kept track of all my stats on graph paper, though I fear he had little to report as the only time I reached first base was when I got hit in the arm by a wild pitch. Our baseball excitement culminated in a trip to Cooperstown, NY with our Dad to the Baseball Hall of Fame. We were beside ourselves at seeing the uniforms and signatures of our favorite classic players. And you can bet we pawed through the collections at Cooperstown’s local baseball card shops.

Chris was a classic meat and potatoes guy. His favorite meal was meatloaf and mashed potatoes and it was usually his request for a birthday meal at my parents’ house. I’m really grateful that we not only made peace and loved each as adults, but that we also lived in the same city of Keene, NH for so many years and would see each other at least once a week at my parents’ house for Family Nights. I always knew if Chris was already there because his backpack would be on the floor when I came in. Chris never went anywhere without a backpack full of everything he might need, from medications and water to reams of paper collecting his latest thoughts on music, or albums on CD he’d purchased recently and wanted to talk about with me. If I gave Chris a ride somewhere, the backpack came too.

I mentioned earlier that we both collected Star Wars toys as kids and like many people our age the first three movies (now known as episodes 4-6) became touchstones we could return to over and over again. When we were kids we devoured the minutiae of the Star Wars universe in books and Chris never forgot seeing the infamously bad Star Wars Holiday Special on TV when he was a kid. He’d always tell me how excited he and his friends were at the bus stop the next morning discussing it, and one of the things that made a huge impression on him was a miniature aquarium one of the charactes had. He made his own from a little clear Tic Tac mints container filled with water and gravel.

That was the kind of stuff we reminisced about in Chris’ last years, especially once Chris discovered the joy of a good brunch. Nearly every weekend Chris wanted to go grab brunch on a Saturday or Sunday, usually at Lindy’s Diner where we’d see our Aunt Cindi working a morning shift. Adulthood hadn’t exactly brought Chris an embarrassment of riches as far as new experiences go. His anxiety and other factors meant he didn’t leave town much and so the topics were either “Hey, remember that time…” or music he’d heard on the radio recently. I’m really glad we had those times together, just the two of us chatting and kidding around over eggs and home fries.

I’m sure as time goes by I’ll continue to remember other good memories of my big brother but I suppose this will do for now. Thanks so much for reading this and spending some time getting to know Chris a bit better. Much love to everybody!

A Post For Grammy

(Repost from August 24, 2013)

I got a phone call from my Mom this morning around 9:45 AM, letting me know that my grandmother, Eleene McCann, had died.  Grammy had been getting steadily weaker the past couple years, ever since her eyesight really started to fail.  Last week she fell and broke her hip and humerus.  After that, her health declined very rapidly and we’ve all been taking turns visiting with her.  She couldn’t swallow very well and could only take a little liquid.  Then she stopped taking in anything a couple of days ago and fell asleep in a painless morphine haze.

Today was warm and the sky was perfect blue as I headed over to the nursing home where she’d been staying this year.  I took the elevator up to the third floor and met the family at her room.  Grandad and my Aunt were by her side.  I went to the other side of the bed, kissed her cooling cheek and said as much of a goodbye as I could manage without breaking down.  Then I had to go out in the hallway.

When loved ones die from an illness, it’s often best to remember them at their most vibrant rather than the last days, and Gram was extraordinarily vibrant.

Grammy (left) with school friends in the 1940s, Bethesda, Ohio

I’m still learning about her early days in Ohio but I do know that she married young to a man named Joseph Coleman and gave birth to my mother just a few days after turning 19 years old.  After divorcing Joe, Grammy was a single mother for awhile, raising my Mom on her own before meeting and marrying Edward McCann.  For my entire life Grammy was the undisputed matriarch of our family.  She was widely acknowledged to be the best cook and she loved hosting holiday dinners with Grandad at their house.  My first decade was spent growing up in New Jersey and I have wonderful memories of their farmhouse in Mountainville, a small country town with immense charm.  During the summer my brother and I would fish in the creek behind the house, swim in their pool and explore the rest of the property.

Grammy loved antiques and she ran a little shop out of one of the barns.  My memories of those summers include visits from all kinds of cousins, aunts, and uncles.  It seemed like the center of our family universe.  Mom has told me about growing up with Grammy for a mother and I know that despite all the good times, it wasn’t always perfect.  I won’t deny she could be a bit irascible at times but she always showed me and my brother surprising patience and I always felt loved.  She took great delight in spoiling her grandchildren.

When I say Grammy was a great cook, I mean it.  She would present these grand feasts for the family; dish after delicious dish, from vegetables to meats to desserts.  Things I never got anywhere else like spaetzle and saurbraten.  She had a passion for potato salad.  She made fantastic corned beef and cabbage and soda bread.  She made the greatest pies I’ve ever tasted.  I learned a lot about food from her, things like: Never worrying about fattening ingredients, worry about taste.  The only worthwhile pie crust is homemade and you need to fold it properly to get it flaky.  If I live 1,000 years, I will never forget family holidays spent with my grandparents.

I think I loved her jams and jellies the best.  Concord grape, apple jelly, red raspberry, peach, pear cinnamon, and sometimes my favorite, strawberry rhubarb.  All you had to do was mention a flavor in passing and Gram would open up her jam cupboard to reveal dozens, if not hundreds, of delicious jars.  “Go ahead,” she’d urge.  “Take some home!”  Yes, please.

Grammy selling her jams and jellies with her famous white van behind her
Grammy selling her jams and jellies with her famous white van behind her

With my grandfather retired, my grandparents looked around for a new home and found the ideal place here in New Hampshire in the 1980s.  It was a very old home in the rural town of Sullivan, just right for all of Gram’s antiques and with plenty of room for Grandad to keep busy on the property.  My Dad was leaving his previous job and my grandparents happened to find the perfect chemist job in the local newspaper, so we headed up to NH not long after they did.  We’ve been here ever since.  Both my Uncle and Aunt ended up here with their own families, and how many parents can say their kids loved them enough to “follow” them hundreds of miles just to live nearby?  That tells you how great it was to be around them.

Grammy and Grandad McCann's house in Sullivan, New Hampshire
Grammy and Grandad McCann’s house in Sullivan, New Hampshire

In addition to her passions for antiques and food, Grammy loved travel, especially to Europe.  During the year she’d make extra money selling pies, preserves and other delectables at local flea markets and church events.  Then she’d head overseas to sail down the Danube, explore Ireland, or find a little cafe in Paris to sit with a croissant, soaking up the atmosphere.  I’d go off to Japan or Australia, and we would swap stories from our travels.  “You got that from me, you know,” she’d say with a smile.  “We both have that wanderlust.”  I believe that’s true and I thank you for it, Grammy.

At age 38, I feel extremely lucky that I’ve had my grandparents around for so long.  I wasn’t the most patient or thoughtful kid, so throughout the 2000s I had the pleasure of getting to know them both as people instead of a child’s view of older relatives.  I would go up to the house and mow their lawn, pick blueberries in the summer, or just sit in the kitchen chatting.  I’m very interested in history and people’s personal stories.   They’d tell me tales from their life and inevitably, Grammy would send me home with a bunch of homemade food.

Grammy's other great love, gardening
Grammy’s other great love, gardening

Of all the amazing memories I have of my grandparents — and Grammy in particular — I think my favorite one might be from the mid-late 1980s.  I recall one December day when my Mom brought me over there for the afternoon and I spent the day in the kitchen with Grammy.  There was Christmas music on the radio, Peanuts cartoons on TV, and snow falling outside.  I stood next to her in that amazing kitchen, antiques literally hanging from the rafters, and we made cookies together.  I couldn’t ask for a more perfect Christmastime memory.

Grammy in her kitchen in Sullivan, NH
Grammy in her kitchen in Sullivan, NH

A few years back, my grandparents knew they couldn’t handle the house on their own anymore.  It was time to sell and move to a place in nearby Keene, the small city where most of the rest of us in the family live.  They had to downsize drastically to fit into their new apartment.  We helped them move and said goodbye to the house in which we’d all spent so many holidays celebrating.  It felt like the end of an era.

The last jam I ever got from Grammy before she stopped cooking around 2010. I made this one last as long as possible
The last jam I ever got from Grammy before she stopped cooking around 2010. I made this one last as long as possible

Depending on my work schedule, I often had time during the week when I could pick them up and drive them around town.  We’d stop for a bite at the diner and maybe do some grocery shopping if they needed anything.  Sometimes, knowing that Grammy and I share a sweet tooth, I’d take her to some candy shop or bakery she hadn’t tried.  She was slowing down but she still loved those adventures.  Over the course of the next couple years they needed a bit more help and we moved them again, this time to a sort of assisted living apartment building called Bentley Commons.  Finally Gram’s deteriorating eyesight meant she needed to go into a nursing home for more care.  Now Grandad, 90, lives at Bentley in an apartment on his own.

Grammy, you gave me so many great memories that I can’t ever fully thank you, even though you probably remember me trying.  You always shrugged it off.  “That’s what grandparents are for!”

After we said goodbye at the nursing home today, I told Grandad how sorry I am and he was wise as always.  “I’d take another 60 years with her if I could.  But we were lucky to have that time.  Nobody ever guaranteed us anything when we were born.  You’ve got to enjoy the happy things while they last and make it through the rest.  One thing’s for sure: meeting her was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Don’t worry Grammy, we’re going to watch out for Grandad now and make sure he’s not alone.  You’ve more than earned your rest.

Goodbye.  I love you.

Cora Eleene Flood

04 April, 1926 to 24 August, 2013


By Chris Hulsizer, with help from his bro Tim)

Our Dad said these frequently…we have fond memories of hearing many of them.
[Douglas Norwood Hulsizer, 25 September 1929 – 23 February 1997]

  • “It’s only water…it’ll dry”
  • “…krud fangles…” (used as an expletive after making a mistake)
  • “What’s all this happy horseshit?” (basically like “What’s going on here?”)
  • “…horses dipped in donkey dust” (A strange one, perhaps referring to an item or food covered in powder, glitter, etc.?)
  • “Use your head for something besides a hat rack”
  • “Tweechees own” (Dad’s pronunciation of the old adage “To each his own”)
  • “I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em”
  • “So what, sew buttons on your underwear” (response to someone saying “So what”)
  • “Baccarudas” (in reference to Plymouth Barracudas)
  • “(You just) fiddled and fooled and farted around” (when someone didn’t complete a chore or task on time)
  • “Beggars can’t be choosers”
  • “You’re a caution (or he/she’s a caution)”
  • “…cranafrazz…” (in place of “thingamajig” or “whatchamacallit”)
  • “It’s good for what ails ya”
  • “That don’t amount to a hill o’ beans”
  • “Hey there, Mr. Baggypants” (a silly greeting)
  • “That’s the Godest truth” (attributed by Dad originally to “Little Joe” Giordano, one of his coworkers)
  • “Let’s not make a big federal case out of it”
  • “It’s cockeyed”
  • “Gasarene” (referring to gasoline)
  • “His eyes are bigger than his stomach”
  • “It’ll put hair on your chest”
  • “It’s neither here nor there”
  • “There, goodasnew”
  • “…Cub Sprouts…” (referring to Cub Scouts)
  • “What do I look like, I’m made outta money?”
  • “Oh fer heaven sakes”
  • “Heavens ta Betsy”
  • “Know what I mean, jellybean?”
  • “You betcha”
  • “Hold yer horses!”
  • “…druthers…” (as in, “If I had my druthers” [choice])
  • “Stick that in your pipe and smoke it”
  • “Toodle-oo” (“See you later”)
  • “What a rigamarole”
  • “Just resting my eyes”
  • “Times a-wastin’”
  • “Takes a lotta people to make a movie like that”
  • “Darned if I know” / “Well I’ll be darned”
  • “(I think I’ll have a) little snicky-snack”
  • “Slow as molasses”
  • “Oh, hogwash”
  • “He needs a good kick in the slats, he does”
  • “sa-LAHD” (referring to salad)
  • “I’ve got an inkling…” (another way to say “I’ve got an idea”)
  • “(Looks like) it only cost a nickel ninety-eight”
  • “Doesn’t that just rot your socks?!”
  • “Drippy drop slop” (anything gross)
  • “Yell-oh” (when answering phone)
  • “Oh, bunk” (or “that’s a load of bunk”)
  • “Hay is for horses, milk is for cows” (when someone called him with “Hey Dad”)
  • “Okey-doke”
  • “Good gravyboats”
  • “It’s all going to pot…” (when things take a turn for the worse in some way)
  • “What in the sam hill?!”
  • “You betcha”
  • “Make it snappy”