If you read my blog on the Wilson family’s discovery of WWII memorabilia hidden in the walls of their just-purchased home, then you are in for a real treat! This past weekend Jerry and Gaby Wilson met with Eugene McGarry–the very son of the woman who penned the diary that had been tucked behind a wall panel for decades. Eugene and his sister Carol came back to the Cranford home that was once their own to see what the Wilsons had unearthed. I had the privilege of speaking with both Gaby and Eugene after their meeting, and their story continues to amaze me.
Gaby was a bundle of nerves and excitement on Saturday before Eugene was scheduled to arrive. The Wilsons’ contractor, John, was back to continue renovating their upstairs bathroom, where he had made the original discovery of the vintage trunk. To the surprise and delight of everyone, he uncovered even MORE treasures tucked away behind wall panels up there, just minutes before Eugene arrived! Among the “new” items were an army hat, a championship bowling patch, and a fishing rod.
When Eugene arrived at his old Denman Road home (a home he hadn’t visited in 20 years), he came bearing a gift–a lovely bottle of wine to thank the Wilsons for having tracked him down to return his parents’ belongings. Eugene’s sister Carol arrived shortly thereafter, and the two siblings tenderly went through the items that had been saved by his parents. Neither Eugene nor Carol can recall ever having seen this stash of memorabilia. Reading through his mother’s diary and his father’s romantic letters, Eugene said, “It was so fascinating to get this glimpse of another side of my parents.”
According to Eugene, his father, Walter McGarry, had built the cape-cod style house with his own two hands, with the help of his brothers-in-law. Originally the McGarrys lived only on the first floor, until Eugene’s two sisters came along. At that time Walter built the upstairs bedrooms, and he must have tucked away the vintage trunk and other items in the process. Eugene remembered with a laugh that there was no heating source upstairs! He recalled how they could see their breath in the air on extremely chilly days.
Eugene corroborated much of what Gaby had sleuthed out when she went through the contents of the trunk–that Anna Tesar had been a nurse during the war, and Walter McGarry a soldier. Eugene pieced together bits from his own memory and items from the trunk to conclude that his mother was stationed at Oliver General Hospital in Augusta, Georgia. How did she meet Walter? He had been injured in the war–shrapnel from a grenade damaged his abdomen in the Battle of Leyte. For his courage and sacrifice in the war, Walter received both a bronze and silver star. But Walter would get much more than those stars. While he was being cared for at the hospital . . . he met his beloved Anna.
What Eugene never realized until going through the contents of the trunk–and reading his father’s adoring letters to Anna–was how FAST his parents had fallen in love. Walter had arrived at Oliver General sometime in September or October of 1945, and he married Anna very shortly thereafter on December 30th, 1945! It was a whirlwind romance, to be sure, and once that lasted Anna’s entire life and produced four children.
Eugene shared other tibits with the Wilsons–that Walter worked for Bell telephone for his whole career after the war, and that Anna became a stay-at-home mother and later a crossing guard. “They truly were great parents, and they put me through college and business school,” Eugene said.
Eugene revealed that the lovely tree in the front yard of the home was planted in honor of Eugene’s namesake, Walter’s brother Eugene who died while serving in WWII. Carol marveled that the home’s hardwood floors and chimney look exactly the same today as they did during their childhood. From day one, Gaby knew that this house “had a good vibe,” and now the McGarrys’ memories have made her love and appreciate her new home even more. Carol gave Gaby “a huge hug,” clearly thrilled that her old home is once again filled with a loving family.
Eugene and Carol took their parents’ belongings with them, but they left the fishing pole for the Wilsons to enjoy. Surely it will become a treasured heirloom and conversation piece for the Wilson family. And who knows . . . maybe they’ll sneak it into a wall for another generation to find someday.