Edmund Walter Mandigo was born on April 5, 1926 in Tinmouth, Vermont. He was the third of eight children born to Mabel D. Griffith and Francis J. Mandigo, and the oldest male child. Ed, or Eddie as some called him, was a wonderful, loving man. He was my mother’s father. To me, he was Papa, and he was the only grandfather I ever knew.
He was strikingly handsome, with dark hair, high cheekbones, and a smile that would melt your heart. His youthful appearance caused him to even be mistaken for my mother’s husband a few times.
Papa also had quite the sense of humor and loved playing practical jokes on people, especially his mother. Ed would call her on the telephone, put a handkerchief over the receiver to disguise his voice, and claim to be calling from the Republican Party asking for donations and her support at the voting polls come election time. Mabel, a staunch Democrat, would yell back into the phone, “I wouldn’t vote for GOD if he were Republican!”
Then, she’d use every bit of strength in her 4 foot 8 inch frame to slam the phone down. Edmund of course was laughing hysterically on the other end of the telephone. Another time, he had a personalized autographed picture of Ronald Reagan mailed to her house when he was running for President of the United States. Somehow, that picture has survived all these years and I have it on my possession to this day.
Edmund dropped out of high school his junior year to enlist in the U.S. Army to support his family. He wasn’t 18 at that time, so he lied about his age in order to enlist. He served in both the 4th and 11th infantries as an artillery specialist, and worked his way up the ranks to be promoted to Sergeant. His armed forces career had him serving across Europe, in France, Germany, Luxembourg, and Belgium. His unit was there during the Battle of the Bulge. In my late teens, I learned that Papa had tripped over his canteen and cut his hand one morning during the battle and had to stay behind while his friends and brothers left to fight the Germans. Tripping over his canteen that morning saved his life.
His entire platoon was killed that day and never returned.
I cannot even begin to imagine the survivor’s guilt that followed and essentially haunted my grandfather for the rest of his life. He never spoke much about his time in the Army to anyone.
After the war, Edmund returned home where his parents moved across the state from Tinmouth to Springfield, Vermont. He began working at the Goodyear Rubber Plant in Windsor, Vermont, shortly after he returned home. He worked in what was known as the ‘Banbury mixing room,’ where he frequently worked with various chemicals required for rubber-making.
On June 30, 1951, he married Joyce Mary Courtney in Windsor, Vermont. A little over 5 months later, his only child (Carol Ann Mandigo) was born on December 3, 1951.
Edmund continued working in the Banbury mixing room until July, 1980, when he became ill and was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. This type of leukemia occurs as a result of chronic exposure to benzene, a known carcinogen¹, and one of the many toxic chemicals used in the rubber making process. My grandfather’s job was to mix those cancer-causing chemicals in the Banbury room, day in and day out, for over 30 years. He was not supplied with gloves, a mask, or any type of body suit. The Banbury room did not have adequate ventilation for a human work environment. Papa was not the only employee at that plant to end up dying cancer; there have been dozens of former workers of that plant who were also diagnosed with, and ultimately succumbed to, other cancers that were caused by chronic exposure to these rubber-making chemicals. Let me be very clear:
Everyone in my family, including myself, absolutely believe that my grandfather’s cancer was a direct result of his occupation at the Goodyear Plant.
I was three years old when my grandfather was diagnosed; my brother was seven and a half. Because I was so young at that time, I didn’t understand what a terminal illness was. To me, Papa didn’t look or act sick. He was still the same handsome, kind-hearted, and Red Sox loving man that I knew. There were five cans of Budweiser beer in the refrigerator and the sixth was usually in his hand while he mowed the lawn on his riding lawn mower. If I was ill at school and had to go home, Papa and his Samoyed dog ‘Snow’ would pick me up in his big truck and take me home. When I was in early middle school (5th/6th grade) and began playing sports, Papa would come to all of my games. It wasn’t until his last year of life that I saw the cancer ravage his body. The robust man with dark hair and bulging biceps was gone, replaced by a skeletal frame of a man with gray hair who was dependent on oxygen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
After a ten and a half year battle with chronic myelogenous leukemia, Edmund Walter Mandigo died on November 5, 1990. He was 64 years old.
I now live in my grandfather’s house. Every so often, strange things will happen. The doorbell will ring and when I go to see who rang it, there’s no one there. Music will just start playing through speakers. Sometimes, I hear the muffled sound of people talking, but I can’t quite make out what they are saying. Several years ago, my parents’ were vacationing in Florida and I was caring for their dogs at my house. I had spoken to my mother over the phone and she was telling me to make sure her dogs “got their toast” (her dogs are very spoiled). The next morning, I got out of bed and began walking to the kitchen. I stopped and froze in place when I saw a loaf of bread sitting on the floor, centered exactly in the doorway between the dining room and the kitchen. It was at that moment, I knew it was Papa playing one of his practical jokes. I didn’t tell anyone about the bread until just over a year ago.