I’m not sure how long it takes for a tragedy to turn into fun, but in the case of the Titanic, that happened a long, long time ago.
Songs, movies, memorabilia ... today it’s all about entertainment.
At least for most families.
Not so much in the eyes of lifelong Cuyahoga Falls resident Cathy Brightman. On Saturday — the 105th anniversary of the sinking of the allegedly unsinkable ship — she sent out a little prayer of thanks.
Her maternal grandfather, a B.F. Goodrich tire builder named Andrew Miller, dodged the bullet. If he had made a different decision in 1912, Cathy and most of the rest of her large family probably wouldn’t be here.
I can’t tell the story any better than Cathy’s late mother did in a loose-leaf memoir, My Story, My Life, written for the family in 1995. So I’m turning the task over to her.
“Andrew continued to work for the Goodrich. Right after they were married, in August 1911, he was approached to see whether he would go to Paris, France, with a group of executives. He would be the laborer who would build the first tire for Goodrich in France.
“It was a difficult decision. He was torn between his desire to get along in the company and his regret at leaving his new bride. [His wife] Edith convinced him to go. The other wives were going along with their husbands, but they were people of a higher economic echelon.
“Also, at this time, Edith found out she was pregnant. So it was decided she would stay at home and live with his parents.
“He left in November and arrived in France during their season of bad weather. [Unable to learn the language and not having much fun, he spent most of his time working and writing to Edith.] ...
“In early spring of 1912, Andrew was ready to come home. His company had purchased his passage on the newest and most beautiful ship in the English Cunard line. The highly touted ship was called the Titanic.
“Andrew didn’t care that it was the best-known ship in the world. He just wanted to get home. He finished his work a week ahead of schedule and was ready to leave.
“He went to the shipping company and asked if he could trade in his ticket on the Titanic for a ticket on a ship that was leaving earlier. They were happy to oblige him.
“He departed three or four days before the Titanic was ready to leave.
“He had just arrived in New York on this ship called the Olympia, a sister ship of the Titanic, when the news of the sinking of the Titanic came to him. He had quite a fright and he had a very bad time dealing with this.
“It was in his mind. He could imagine it, for he had just sailed through those very same waters.
“And, of course, the story was at the very top of the news for many a long month.”
And will likely be talked about for many a century.
After Miller got back to the States, his luck was mixed.
Goodrich, like most places, was in a huge financial pinch during the Depression, and plenty of workers were being laid off. Because of his history with the company, Goodrich didn’t want to let him go, so it gave him a low-paying job as an elevator operator.
Later, Miller lost his leg to diabetes. But he managed to live until 1955.
Says his granddaughter, Brightman, “I just keep thinking about all the things that never would have been, like my nieces and nephews.”
She runs through a list: the niece who is an engineer for Procter & Gamble ... a nephew who was an Air Force pilot ... a nephew who is a lieutenant colonel ... a nephew who is an automotive design engineer whose credits include the Saturn Sky.
Nor might the world have Brightman herself, a 59-year-old, 5-foot-2 pistol of a woman with the handshake of an offensive lineman.
Her physical strength is no coincidence. She grew up on a family farm in Stow where the Wal-Mart and Lowe’s stand today, throwing sacks of grain over her shoulder and lugging them a quarter-mile to the chicken coop.
She was one of six kids. Her father used to tell people, “Yes, I have six children, and they’re all boys except for five of them.”
Brightman, who had two boys with her former husband, worked for years as an ER nurse — and loved it — before fulfilling her lifelong career goal.
In 1999, she became the second female ever hired by the Cuyahoga Falls Fire Department, and “by far the oldest.”
She was 42 when she saw an ad in the Falls Press seeking firefighters and heard a voice say, “Take the test.”
Brightman had always wanted to be a firefighter — she has a photo of herself at age 5 wearing a toy firefighting outfit, complete with plastic helmet — but when she was in her 20s, fire departments simply didn’t hire women.
The next best job, she figured, would be policewoman. But she fell a couple of inches shy of the minimum height requirement of 5-foot-4½.
Antidiscrimination laws eventually opened the door for women firefighters, and she wound up serving for nearly 10 years before a series health problems forced her to retire — “one of my biggest heartbreaks.”
By contrast, she’s not the least bit upset that her grandpa never got a chance to be played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31