The Cousin Allen & the Townsend’s Story1958
Written 2010 and Rewritten 1/2016 Unedited
1957 was my graduation year from Hill House high school, in New Haven Connecticut
My cousin Allen and I both worked for Tony Navarro part time at the same Gulf gas station, in Westville Connecticut because we both liked fooling around with cars.
The late 1950’s were later called the “Fonzi” years because a lot of us dressed like the TV character Fonzi later did. That meant wearing a black leather motorcycle jacket, Levi pants, motorcycle boots with black slicked back hair, and that was the way I dressed.
My cousin Allen was a more casual dresser. That meant he wore a somewhat clean tee shirt and not too dirty slacks.
If we weren’t at work at the gas station, you could usually find us working on hotrods in my back yard on Davis Street in Westville.
It was when my cousin Allen graduated high school, in 1958 that he told me that he had a serious girlfriend, and was considering getting married, I was stunned,
Allen, who was the only son of my mother’s sister Adele, grew up under unfortunate circumstances, as his father Jim was an alcoholic, but Allen’s mom, Adele was a dedicated and hardworking nurse and she kept their family together, even with Allen’s father being drunk most of the time.
I knew that Allen had intentions of going to the University of Connecticut, but I had no Idea that he had a girlfriend, or was even thinking of getting married.
I asked him where he ever met his girlfriend and Allen said that he had met the young lady at his Church and had started dating her. I was kind of shocked to hear it, as my main interest was working on hot rods, not fooling around with girls, but I guess because we had both grown up in different parts of New Haven, and had gone to different high schools we had both developed different circles of friends. I didn’t even know that Allen ever went to church.
When Allen said he had a girlfriend and was considering marriage, I became real curious as to who this girl was, I was afraid he might have met a girl that would take him down the wrong path, perhaps talking him into marriage to take her out of a bad family situation. I knew that happened often, and usually ended in disaster. So, when Allen asked if I would come with him to visit his girlfriend, I was delighted and I was also very curious.
We got in my father’s car and Allen then directed me where to drive.
We drove to one of the fancier Avenues in New Haven called Townsend Avenue.
I couldn’t imagine who Allen knew, that lived near Townsend Avenue. The Avenue had once been part of the large Townsend estate, which at one time consisted of property belonging to the Townshend family, who were some of the original founders of the original Colony of New Haven.
I learned later that over the years, most of the estate property had been sold off with the exception of the Townsend House, which was a Greek revival mansion that has been in the Townsend family for seven generations.
Suddenly, Allen directed me to turn into the driveway that led to the Townsend mansion. I just knew Allen had to be pulling my leg, making me drive in there, and I knew he was going to tell met to turn around any second, but he didn’t.
We parked in front of the big mansion which is now on the historical registry, and we were greeted by Henry Townsend himself.
While I certainly was not familiar with the Townsend family, I did know who Henry Townsend was, because he had recently run for mayor in New Haven.
So here I was with my motorcycle jacket, engineer boots and slicked back hair being led into the historical Townsend mansion by Henry Townsend himself.
Now, my cousin Allen was acting like this was the most normal thing in the world, he simply asked Henry if his daughter Sharon was at home.
While we waited in the living room for Sharon to make her appearance, I couldn’t help but observe Henry Townsend’s reactions, and I wondered what he must have been thinking. As I looked at him, I thought he would swallow his Adam’s apple. I didn’t think the Townsend mansion ever had anyone that looked like me in it before, as every Townsend that had lived in the house for generations had been a Yale University graduate.
Yes, I certainly felt ill at ease in the mansion, but my cousin Allen was as nonchalant as ever, he had a broad smile on his face, he looked like everything was quite normal.
Soon, Allen’s girlfriend Sharon Townsend descended the grand staircase. When she reached the bottom, Allen hugged and kissed her. I could see that Sharon was just as pretty as can be, my cousin Allen had done well.
Sharon walked us outside the house and gave us a short tour of the estate. When we reached the former stable and grounds keepers house, Sharon introduced us to a young lady, who Sharon said was a Ministers daughter, her father, was renting the large groundskeepers house. I had all the intentions of coming back one day to see her.
But I always felt ill at ease at the mansion, and I was sure the Townsends were just as ill at ease having me in their home, but they always acted graceful about it. Allen has told me that Mr. Townsend spoke to him, he was very concerned that his daughter was marrying a gas station attendant and he had hoped that Allen’s aspirations would be higher, they were.
The wedding date was set in 1962, and the wedding was to be held in one of the three Greek Revival Protestant churches located on the New Haven Green. The Churches were almost as old as the New Haven Colony itself and I certainly never dreamed I would actually be invited inside one of them. But, I was appointed an usher at the wedding, and here I was the son of Russian immigrants showing people to their seats in a beautiful Protestant church that was used by the families of the original New Haven founders.
The Townsends spared no expense on their daughter’s wedding. I marveled at how my humble cousin Allen handled the opulence so well.
Allen later told me that he had been concerned that his father might arrive drunk and disrupt the wedding, but his dad, Jim Nelson had passed away of a heart attack a few weeks before the wedding.
Cousin Allen and Sharon then left to attend the University of Connecticut together. During one of their vacations, Allen and Sharon came all the way to Florida to visit me. I had gotten married and moved to Hialeah Florida in 1963.
Allen had always had a passion for electronics and had already graduated from electronics school prior to going to college. He had become a Ham Radio enthusiast, and it had become an important part of his life, he was communicating with others with similar interests all around the world, and he was spending a lot of his time on the short wave radio, a pursuit that probably didn’t sit well with Sharon and their marriage was short lived.
Henry Townsend who had always wanted Allen to aspire to something greater, helped Allen to continue his schooling and he did receive his doctorate.
When my cousin Allen graduated, he even went on to teach for a semester at the University of New Haven, the very college I had attended.
Allen told me that he always kept in contact with Mr. and Mrs. Townsend, even after he moved to Colorado and remarried.
As time passed, Allen went on to build a Solar home in Nederland Colorado, then Allen and his wife Diana took up sailing on the fresh water lakes in Colorado, and once they became proficient, they bought a fifty foot Gulf Star sailboat and sailed the Caribbean. They always traveled with their pet dogs and two parrots, every year, always stopping by to see my wife and I when they were in Miami waiting for Customs approval.
In 2008, Allen and Diana brought the sailboat back to the U.S.A. mooring it in Fort Lauderdale. We saw them every year, when they came to do maintenance. They would visit with us, usually staying over with us at our home in the Florida Keys.
In 2011, Allen came down to do maintenance on the boat and visit with us. I asked him what
Ever had happened to his ex-wife Sharon Townsend.
Allen said, he hadn't tried keeping up with her, but he had heard that she had remarried a few times, and was then living in Portland Maine doing Ceramics.
We looked up Sharon on the Internet, and found that she had changed her name back to Townshend, and she was indeed a ceramic artist living in Portland Maine. Her work included doing large ceramic mosaics for schools and public buildings, and her smaller ceramic work was very special and only sold in galleries.
In February 2011, I sent an E Mail to Sharon, and asked her if she remembered me? I also asked her if she ever needed a good used wedding usher, that I was available for the job.
I also told her that Allen was now a married and retired Professor, living in the mountains of Colorado.
Sharon replied that she remembered me, and still had several photographs taken at the wedding in
1962. She said that she now had a father and mother in law living in Vero Beach Florida and came down every year to Florida to see them.
In August of 2011, Katherine and I took a trip to Maine. We went there with our dear friends Sandy Shwink and Tommy Letis from Foxon Connecticut.
In South Portland Maine, we went to Sharon’s studio, and met with her, I recognized her right away. Sharon said that she taught ceramics at the University of Maine and also ran a school for other accomplished ceramic artists. Sharon said her husband was off mountain climbing in Switzerland.
In 2015 Allen and Diana advised us that Allen was selling the Gulf Star sailboat. They were now down to only one parrot named Big Bird, and any future sailing would be on cruise ships.