‘The end of the end of an era’
Let me start by saying how pleasantly surprised I was, upon googling my late dad’s engineering firm, HMG, to find that it not only still exists, but appears to be thriving — with four, count ’em four offices instead of just the one they started when I was a kid. The home office, however, appears to have relocated from Carlyle Lake Road to somewhere in Breese, which is kind of like the Dodgers absconding from Brooklyn to LA.
“HMG” stands for Henry, Meisenheimer & Gende, the names of the three young gumption-filled engineers who founded this firm back in 1966. Of these, “M” was Last Man Standing. Until earlier this week.
Learning of Mr. Meisenheimer’s demise (I could never bring myself to call him “Hal” or even “Harold”) sent me careening down Memory Lane. Of course, to be fair, just catching a glimpse of, say, a handprint ashtray has the power to do so these days.
(Incidentally, I did start calling Mrs. Meisenheimer by her first name. It was the year I turned 65, and Mrs. M, er “Ruth” convinced me that it was about time.)
See, not only did my dad (the “H” in HMG) work with Mr. M, I babysat for their kids. Which amps the grownups-deserve-your-respect level up another notch, or maybe even two. I babysat for a lot of people back then; I racked up a lot of experience doing this, and not just experience watching kids. See “Alice’s Adventures in Babysitting.”
Babysitting at the Meisenheimers’ was my favorite gig. I can’t remember these kids fighting, much less peeing on each other. And they always gave me a goodnight hug. (Sometimes even a kiss.) Also, the Meisenheimers had this beautiful house that felt so warm and comfortable to sit around in after the kids had gone to bed. It was only years later that I realized this was because the Meisenheimers had lovingly restored it and furnished it with antiques — kind of rare for that split-level rumpus-room era. They even had shelves and shelves of books — books that they let me read. I’m pretty sure it was there that I discovered Sherlock Holmes.
But back to Mr. H. The photo at the top of this post was taken about the time the firm was founded, and shows him pretty much the way I remember him. I say “pretty much” because it is missing one very important detail: his pipe. I can honestly say that I never saw Mr. M without one clenched firmly between his teeth. He didn’t even remove it to speak. He would just kind of position it in the corner of his mouth and talk around it. Since my dad did the same thing, only with a cigarette, it made for some muffled exchanges. In fact, we Henry Kids called the way they talked to each other “Engineering Speak,” and used to imitate it ourselves. “Hey Harold,” our dad would go, “can you (mumble mumble) me the (mumble mumble) plans?” “Sure!” goes Harold, “Let me just finish the (mumble mumble) first.” This method of conversing was made even more hilarious once HMG built their new office and they communicated over an intercom.
Anyway. The photo of Mr. M in his obituary doesn’t have his pipe. But he looks remarkably like he does in the photo on the HMG website — and in my memory.
RIP, Mr. Meisenheimer. If the angels can’t understand your mumbling, my dad certainly can. Assuming he’s up there with you.
Amagansett, New York. July 2023