I spent twenty years in an abusive marriage before finally leaving in January 2010. My three sons and I have endured a great amount of trauma and pain which has had long-lasting effects on all of us. I’ve come to realize that unfortunately, what you leave is also what you take with you. It hasn’t been an easy road. My youngest son, Marc, has had the most difficult time dealing not only with what transpired in my marriage, but with my divorce from his father. Marc struggles with anxiety and depression and he also has ADHD. Everyday presents a new set of challenges that most parents couldn’t even fathom.
On a beautiful spring day when Marc was eleven years old, he returned from school clutching a handful of paperwork while impatiently yelling my name.
“Mom, mom, mom!” Marc bellowed.
“Hold on, honey. I’m on the phone.” I replied.
I was on the phone with a friend of my father’s, Melanie Marks, founder of Connecticut House Histories. At the time, my father, Edward Collins, was devoting a great amount of his time, passion and effort into trying to save Gustave Whitehead’s historic home in Fairfield, Connecticut, from demolition. For those of you who don’t know, Gustave Whitehead was an aviation pioneer who made history’s first manned, powered, controlled, sustained flight in a heavier-than-air aircraft in Bridgeport, Connecticut, two years before the Wright Brothers flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. My mother’s grandmother, Mary Savage (Jusewicz) was one of eighteen witness’s to Whitehead’s flight, so my family has an interest in preserving Whitehead’s historical home and legacy.
I had to end my conversation with Melanie more abruptly than I would have preferred, but Marc’s urgent pleas could not be put off any longer. Ironically, Marc had just returned from a school trip to visit the Osborne Homestead Museum, a historic house located in Derby, Connecticut. (pictured above)
“What’s up, Marc?” I asked.
Marc asked, “Mom do we have carrots, corn, celery, potatoes and chicken broth?”
Confused, I opened the refrigerator and took a quick inventory.
“Yes, Marc, we actually do,” I said, while I checked the kitchen cabinet for chicken broth. “Why are you asking?”
Marc unrolled the papers that were clenched in his sweaty fist and handed them to me. I stared at a wrinkled recipe that boasted it would make, “Enough to feed a large colonial family.”
“Where did you get this?” I inquired.
Marc replied, “Mom, I had the best day! We went on a school trip, visited this old house and I learned how people lived in colonial times. This is what they ate. I even saw the kitchen that they cooked in. It was awesome! I’m making dinner tonight…and dessert,” he added, handing me another recipe for an apple cobbler dessert.
“Do we have the stuff to make this too?” he asked, “Do we?”
Glancing over the second recipe, I surmised that we also had all of the ingredients to make the dessert.
I nodded my head, yes. Marc had never shown an interest, and had no experience in cooking for that matter either, especially not dinner and dessert, I thought.
“Okay, get everything out that I need,” Marc stated, “but I’m doing it all by myself.”
“Marc, these recipes are entirely from scratch,” I explained, as I started grabbing all of the ingredients, pots, pans, measuring cups and utensils that he would need.
Marc replied, “I know mom, I can do it. Tell everyone that I’m making dinner.”
“Okay, Marc,” I replied, “but I’m going to stay and watch you, just in case there are any questions. And to make sure that you don’t cut yourself. In fact, if you cook, I’ll clean the kitchen!”
Marc gave me a quick smile as he carefully read the first recipe so he could perform each step. Marc began chopping the carrots, then the celery and moved onto the daunting task of peeling the potatoes while his large pot of broth began boiling on the stove. My eldest son, Kevin, walked in the room, took one look around and asked, “What’s going on?”
“Marc is making dinner for the family tonight.”
“And dessert.” Marc added.
Kevin yelled for my middle son, Eric (Whose nickname is Rocky). “Rocky, come here, you have got to see this!” Kevin laughed.
Seconds later Rocky flew into the room. “What’s going on?” he asked Kevin.
Kevin replied with a chuckle, “Marc is making dinner tonight.”
“And dessert.” Marc added.
“Well, I’m not eating it.” Rocky stated with a snicker.
As they left the kitchen, I heard Kevin yell, “Good luck, Marc.”
Two and a half hours (and one destroyed kitchen) later, with flour, dirty dishes and scattered remnants of vegetables everywhere…both dinner and dessert were finally prepared. The soup was ready and the cobbler was in the oven. Marc looked as disheveled as the kitchen when he exhaustedly stated, “That was a lot of work.”
“Not as easy as throwing a Hot Pocket in the microwave, is it?” I asked, as Marc and I set the table together.
“No way!” Marc replied, before becoming a bit nervous about his dinner tonight. “Mom, do you think it’s going to be any good?”
I have to admit, although messy, the kitchen smelled wonderful. “Marc, your soup looks delicious and it smells even better,” I replied, “Don’t worry, everyone is going to love it.”
Excitedly, Marc called his brothers for dinner. Reluctantly they came. We sat at the table while Marc filled each of our bowls and served us the first meal that he had ever made entirely on his own. The soup was delicious! Both Kevin and Rocky praised Marc endlessly as they asked for second helpings. Marc beamed as he served each of his brothers more of his colonial soup.
Over dinner Marc told us all about his day and what he had learned about the Osborne family. He mentioned that the lady at the Osborne Homestead said the Osborne family was buried close by, then Marc asked if I would take him to the cemetery to visit their grave-sites.
As dinner was winding down, the timer on the oven went off signaling that Marc’s apple cobbler was done.
“What was that?” Rocky asked.
“That’s my dessert!” Marc replied.
“You made dessert too?” Rocky smiled, “This kid is amazing!”
Kevin added, “I have to hand it to you Marc, I’m impressed. I didn’t think you could do all of this by yourself!”
The smell of baked apples and brown sugar filled the air as Marc served his homemade apple cobbler with a side of whipped cream. Everyone was in heaven as we talked, laughed and devoured our dessert.
“Marc, you did it!” I said, giving him a big hug.
“Thanks, Mom. Are you still going to clean the kitchen?” Marc asked, as he glanced over at the disaster that awaited me.
“Yes Marc, I am. Thank you for making a wonderful meal.” I said.
“I love you Mom.” Marc replied.
“I love you too, Marc. And I’m really proud of you!” I said.
I am so grateful to the Shelton School system for giving my child the opportunity to visit the Osborne Homestead. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Osborne Homestead for the wonderful learning experience and subsequent inspiration that they provided for my son. It is truly priceless.
I am deeply saddened that Gustave Whitehead’s self-built home in Fairfield was not preserved and saved from demolition, nor were P.T. Barnum’s Home, Tom Thumb’s Home or the Wheeler Mansion, to name just a few.
In a world of YouTube, Netflix and video games, are we as parents offering our children the best learning experiences available to them?
I say my son’s experience at the Osborne Homestead answers the above question with a definitive “No.” It is important to value, preserve, visit and donate to ensure the continued care of the historical homes in our state for ourselves and future generations. I know I will.