Thursday, September 25, 2008

Uncle Eddie Gailliot was a model builder. (25 Sep 2008)

Uncle Eddie has always enjoyed building models since he was a kid, especially model airplanes. Eddie is about 13 years older than I; so when I was about 5 years old; and he, about 18, he was really getting good at his hobby. I recall that he used fishing line to string his model airplanes all over the ceiling in his bedroom. That was a smart move because a 5 year old could only look at the ceiling mounts, but never touch or play with the delicate models. During and immediately after WW II, Eddie concentrated on the war planes of that era, painting them with vivid colors and pasting them with military logos.

Eddie continued to make models after he retired from the Bell Atlantic Telephone Company (the old “Ma Bell”). He became a docent for the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, giving lectures on various airplanes and illustrating his talks with the models he created. He also gave talks at local schools in Alexandria City and Fairfax County, Virginia. It is remarkable to compare his models of the Goodyear Blimp and the Hindenburg Airship (see below). One can really perceive the difference in sizes of these two lighter-than-air aeroplanes. You might remember the dramatic newsreel of the Hindenburg when is exploded into a fireball because it was filled with highly explosive Hydrogen gas.

Image: Uncle Eddie compares the different sizes of models of the Goodyear Blimp and the huge airship, The Hindenburg.

Recently, Eddie turned his talents to making a model of the house he grew up in. His father, Charles Anthony Gailliot, built the original, life-size house from a Sears kit for $2,941- no mortgage nor bank bail-out problems then. It still stands today in Del Ray, Virginia, but no longer in the hands of the Gailliot family. Fortunately, the present owners allowed Eddie to take pictures for his scale model. The model can be taken apart by sections to show “break-away” views of the first and second floors, and the basement. The model brings back vivid memories for me of the real house and its former inhabitants. In the corner of the basement was the coal cellar. Every so often a dump truck would back up to the small outside window and pour coal through a chute into the cellar. The older coal burning stove has since been replaced by an electric one. Perhaps in these energy-crunching days, the cheaper coal burner will return. For years I had nightmares about the dark opening in one wall of the basement that went under the front porch- sort of like a cave. If my Uncle hadn’t told me there was an old man who lived in there, I probably would not have paid it much attention in my youthful dreams. Be careful what you say to a kid.

Image (above): Eddie Gailliot displays a scale model of the house that his father built from a Sears kit. Also on the table is a 1926 Sears and Roebuck Catalogue listing the original building kits.

Many family pictures were taken on the front porch and stoop of this house which was sold by our family in the late 1950s.
Image above: First floor and Basement (coal bin in upper right corner). Some of you might remember the old wringer washing machines. Didn’t you just love squeezing the water out of your handkerchief … and then handing the rest of the job over to Grandma? You may NOT remember the electric clothes dryer … ahem … because there was none.
Several books on the subject of writing your family history suggest that you sketch a floor plan of the house in which you were raised. I have done that for the house where my family lived during my growing-up years, 1949-1963, in Bethesda, MD. But the 3-dimensional model of my grandparent’s house that Uncle Eddie built goes a few steps further. I could write many paragraphs on the activities which surrounded my grandparents house when I visited there as a child. But, the same things are not happening in my generation, and I feel sort of sorry about that. Can you tell I’m getting a little old and sentimental and longing for the old fashioned ways?

  • Holiday dinners in the dining room; children ate at their own table in the kitchen.
  • My grandmother’s stepmother, Mrs. Rosa Poeschl, spending her last days dying of cancer in the dining room.
  • Playing with my plastic toy cowboys and Indians on the living room floor, while listening to the roar of airplane propellers as they landed at nearby National Airport, now, Reagan International.
  • The blowing of steam whistles from locomotives at nearby Potomac Yards, “Gateway to the South”.
  • The ladies in the kitchen making Fussnachtkirchle (Swiss pastry fried in lard).
  • Posing for THE Christmas picture by the Xmas tree in the “front” room. All the grandchildren gathering around grandma for that traditional picture.
  • Grandma Gailliot, standing at the fireplace mantel with her head on her crossed arms, weeping over the early death of her husband.
  • The big oval glass door leading to the front porch.

References and Links:

The City of Alexandria initiated an oral history project a few years ago. School children went into the community and inteviewed some of the senior citizens who spent most of their lives in the area and are essentially walking history books. I am very thankful that a group came to the home of Uncle Eddie and his wife Shirley and took their oral history on audio tape which was then transcribed on put on the city government's web site. I learned some history and stories of my mom's brother and sister-in-law which I had never known before.

Oral History project: Alexandria

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