Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ed Cassidy and Don Teschek: The postwar years

Note: This is part 2 of a 2-part article. You can read part 1 here.

Pictured above, Don Teschek and his daughter Karen on Lynn Beach, circa 1948.

Homeward bound
While Don and Ed served overseas, Eleanor sacrificed at home. Shortly after the outbreak of war at the age of 17 she had begun work at the Employer’s Group, which had changed its name to the Commercial Union. It was a time of sacrifice and scarcity: She recalls ration tickets, Victory Gardens, war bonds, brown-outs, and not having any nylons to wear (the armed forces needed the material for parachutes, she recalls). Her boss, 38-year-old Bob Anderson, was drafted into the service despite having two children at home. “It was such a long war and on so many fronts, they literally were running out of manpower,” she says.

She also remembers casualty lists: One of her friends, Red Slack, a young man with whom she used to dance, was killed in combat in Germany.

When V-E Day (Victory in Europe) and V-J Day (Victory in Japan) occurred, cities across the U.S. erupted in a wild celebration. The Commercial Union and all the rest of businesses in Boston emptied their workers—mostly females and older men past the age of military service—into the streets.

“It was great—we threw all the adding machine tapes and rolls of toilet paper out the windows like streamers, and went out and danced all around post office square when it was over,” Eleanor says.

After the war, Cassidy, his wife Kay, and Don eventually returned to the Boston area and resumed work at the Commercial Union. When Eleanor first caught sight of Don strolling into the office—tall and dressed sharply in a beige suit, but yellow-skinned from malaria pills and bad diet—she wasn’t so impressed.

“Over the years I had heard about him because he worked in (my) department,” Eleanor says. “I can remember the first thing I said was, ‘I don’t think he was so hot.’”

Nevertheless, the pair began dating and eventually married in 1946. Both families settled down and began raising families in the post-war years: Ed and Kay had four sons, Don and Eleanor three daughters.

Ed and Don didn’t talk about the war much, though they’d occasionally share a memory that stuck with them. Cassidy says it wasn’t the horrors of war or the grand sweep of the world-wide conflict they had participated in that prompted their conversations, but most often the small things. “We’d remember how bad the food was,” says Cassidy, recalling that the ice cream and fresh-baked Australian bread were manna from heaven in comparison.

The Andover connection
In 1953-54 Ed and Don began looking at summer property in New Hampshire. They initially considered a campground on Webster Lake, but that proved too expensive. Cassidy was alone when he first saw the Maple Street property in June 1954. It was a former orchard and a few apple trees remained on the long, sloping hill down to the lakefront, along with a small beach that caught Cassidy’s eye.

“The scoop was the woman that owned it had bought it, and her boys would use it, but because of the war, they had circulated around the country just like all of us did,” he says. “They met gals they ended up marrying and were out of state. So this place was not being utilized like she thought it would be and she decided to sell.”

Cassidy called Teschek and told him about the property, and the latter gave him the okay to tie it up. At the time, the price seemed high and it was a struggle for the two families to make payments.

“A lot of people thought we paid too much because a lot of land was going for cheaper, but not necessarily waterfront,” Cassidy recalls. “Land in general was very reasonable at that time in this area.”

Don and Ed soon set to work building cottages. Between the two of them they had minimal building experience—sheet rocking, plastering, and insulation was about the extent of it, Cassidy says—but that didn’t stop them. They drove up on the weekends and worked hard.

Some of the materials were new and others, including the windows, were second-hand or refurbished. Three windows in the Teschek place were hand-me-downs from Anderson—not the noted window manufacturer, but Eleanor’s boss, who had made it through the war unscathed. They built a pump house by the water’s edge and ran a couple of lines up the hill for a water supply. Cassidy recalls that they tried to drive a point for a well, but the rocky Andover soil wouldn’t oblige.

They started on the Cassidy cottage first. To speed things up the two men took a working vacation, pitching a 9x12 white sidewall tent and cooking their meals on a gasoline camp stove. Teschek slept in his car. Though quite different in their approaches to construction, the two men nevertheless made an efficient tag-team.

“Ed Cassidy is very deliberate in everything he does and [Don] was more apt to go ahead and get it done whether or not it was perfect all the time,” Eleanor recalls. “All of our couple friends knew these traits and we used to have a saying that if Ed built the cottage himself, he would still be building, and if Don built it himself, they would have fallen down years ago.

“Ed would be measuring and measuring and Don would say, ‘It’s only a cottage, Ed, nail it up,’” she adds. “I used to joke and say Don would fix the plumbing with a piece of chewing gum. In spite of these differences, together they got everything done.”

The work was hard but progressed rapidly. They got the Cassidy cottage framed, the windows in, the roof on, and put down felt paper. With a dry roof overhead they moved right in, even though the sides were open.

But late that first summer their work suffered a setback in the form of a raging storm that grew worse as the day progressed. As the wind whipped and the rain sheeted down, Cassidy and Teschek climbed up on the roof to try and keep the felt paper on—a futile and dangerous effort. Only later did the two men find out the raging blow was actually a hurricane.

Eventually the storm was too much and they retreated to Teschek’s brother’s house in Concord and holed up there until the storm blew through. “We came back and resurrected whatever we could. It was wide open so it wasn’t watertight,” Cassidy says.

Don and Ed worked hard to make up for lost ground, coming up every Saturday morning to work and leaving late on Sunday afternoon. By the end of the summer Cassidy says his cottage (pictured at right, Teschek cottage visible at rear, left) was nearly done.

The next year the two men scraped together enough money for materials and got started on Teschek’s cottage. They worked on it into the late fall and had the roof shingled, the siding nailed down, and the windows in when it started snowing on a Sunday afternoon. The early snow was a bad sign of a wicked winter to come.

“That winter we had very severe winter, lot of snow, rain, freezing, and the roof was loaded with snow and ice,” Cassidy recalls. “A lot of places collapsed, including commercial buildings, and that place collapsed too.” Under the weight of snow the roof fell in, pushed the back wall of the cottage flat, and knocked it off the platform. The end walls got damaged, too. More rework ensued.

“We had to dismantle everything,” Cassidy says. “We took off all the shingles very carefully and piled them up. Some of the boards were broken, some of the roof rafters were cracked in half, and we had to eventually replace those.”

Fortunately they were able to salvage half of the roof rafters and most of the siding. “Money-wise, it didn’t cost us that much to rebuild,” Cassidy says. “Time-wise, we lost a year.”

Eleanor, who remained home alone with her three children, says it was a period of struggle for her and for Kay. But the finished cottages and the expanded beach eventually turned out beautifully.

For a time the two families rented out the cottages to pay off the mortgage they needed to finance the Teschek cottage—a mortgage that all four (Don, Ed, Eleanor, and Kay) signed together. In the years after the cottages were completed, renters got more use out of them than the Cassidy and Teschek families.

Later, Teschek daughters Karen, Janet, and Joyce, and Cassidy sons Jeff, Bruce, Gary, and Allen began coming up for summer vacations with their parents, and renting the cottages soon was no longer necessary. In the photo at right, Eleanor, Joyce (holding her son Greg), Ed, Don, and Ed's grandson Patrick are pictured enjoying a summer day in the driveway between the cottages.

The two cottages have been reworked and added to over the years, including an extensive overhaul and addition on the Teschek cottage in 1989 by local contractor Patrick Frost. But although the cottages have been expanded upon and updated, their sturdy frames are still very much Cassidy and Teschek.

These days, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the two families continue to use them, and to enjoy the fruits of the labor and sacrifice of Ed Cassidy and Don Teschek. Their unique friendship, hard work, and lasting legacy as members of The Greatest Generation are not forgotten.


nephite blood spartan heart said...

Is that you in the back of the pick-up or are you being held by your Mom?

Interesting touch too about your Grandma's first impression of your your Grandpa.

Mine met right after the war where she was a nurse and he was an intern, later a Doc.

Bill Teschek said...

Brian, great story. I've been going up to the camp on Highland Lake since I was a young child but never knew all the details of how it all got started. Will there be a part three?

[My father Earl Teschek was Don's brother from Concord mentioned in part two.]

Brian Murphy said...

David: That's actually Ed Cassidy's grandson Patrick in the pickup, and my cousin Greg being held by his mother, Joyce. I was camera-shy. Both of those guys are now about my age, a few years younger.

Yeah, my grandmother has always quotable and her comment about my grandfather "not being too hot" was a good one.

Bill: Thanks for stopping by and I'm glad you liked the story. I should have mentioned Earl by name.

No plans for part 3, but who knows?

Mike in MN said...

This was a great read. Thanks for sharing it with us. It's terrific that you were able to learn firsthand from Ed about his and your grandfather's experiences during and after the war. I am sorry for your loss in Ed's passing.

Brian Murphy said...

You're welcome Mike, I'm glad I had the opportunity to interview Ed as well. I actually did the videotaped interview 5-6 years ago during one of his last trips from CA to NH.

When I finally got around to getting it all down on paper a few months ago I had some followup telephone questions that Ed, despite his failing health, was able to answer very definitively. He also reviewed the article for accuracy and gave it the "thumbs-up."

Mike in MN said...

Have you heard of the Veterans History Project with the Library of Congress? If you've still got the original videotaped interview you conducted with Ed, it might be exactly what they're looking for.

Brian Murphy said...

Hi Mike, someone just mentioned that site to me the other day. I will check it out. I still have the videotaped interview.

Eleanor Teschek said...

Ed, Kay, Don and I always hoped that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would continue to enjoy all the pleasures of the two cottages(and the chores that come with them). Our lives have always been so intertwined.

"May the Tescheks and the Cassidys never part."
With love, Grammy Teschek

Carolyn (Hawes) Willard said...

The story was great and it reminded me of the times I stayed at the cottage over the years. I was visiting with Aunt Mil (Don's mother) shortly after he returned from the war and can remember him sitting in a chair on her lawn to stay warm. The rest of us were hiding in the house with the shades drawn trying to stay cool. Guess his blood had really thinned out after being in the South Pacific for such a long time. I have one picture of him (somewhere -- at least I did have) looking after his garden of tomatoes. Along with Ellie's sister Joanie, I was a junior bridesmaid at Ellie and Don's wedding. I also used to baby-sit for them (and iron the girls' dresses) when they lived on Fields Court in Melrose. Don always said I was the only one who would stay with them in the summer because of the heat in their apartment. They were fun to be with. I can also remember lots of picnics in Aunt Mil's back yard with the Teschek and Cassidy families. Your story brought back lots of good memories. Thanks so much for writing it.

Carolyn (Hawes) Willard
(Don's cousin)