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Maxime Nicholas Fidao's Life Story (Written in 1947)
(Page 6 of 8)
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I spent many weekends clearing the property, previous to the building of the house, and preserving only the good trees. As I had done since we moved to Riverside from New York, I planted a flower and vegetable garden there also, which I cultivated in my spare time. Commuting to and from New York daily took several hours, which I wished I could employ more agreeably in this gratifying pastime.

We lived very comfortably in our new house. It was a quiet neighborhood. We were surrounded by woods on three sides and our neighbors were most agreeable people.

A few of the men in Riverside, including myself, twelve in all, formed a Glee Club, under the direction of Ray Harrington, music director, and called it the Riverside Glee Club.

For ten years we met every Monday night. Each one of us in turn entertained the club at home. We usually sang with Ray at the piano for about two hours, and then repaired to the dining room for refreshments. It was, of course, always a stag party. The indispensable bottles of uplifting spirits were always on the table. There was always an exchange of stories, many that we would never tell in the presence of our wives, but which, no doubt, they usually heard later from their own husbands. Some of us found more "glee" at these late collations than in the preceding two hours.

We gave several concerts at Clubs and public entertainments. There was not professional talent among us, but under the able direction of Ray Harrington, we did fairly well, and always managed to receive good applause and requests for encores. When the depression of the thirties came, some of us found it difficult to continue the entertaining at home, and the Club was disbanded, much to the regret of us all.

I tried my hand at golf, but without much success. I am somewhat impulsive, and I believe that that is a serious drawback in the game of golf. That is why perhaps, it is said that golf is an old man's game. I found real pleasure in the companionship end of the sport and kept at it for four years, but the lack of real enthusiasm for it and the chores that developed on me at home with three growing children and no outside help, kept me from the links more and more. On the fourth year, I figured out that each game I played cost me fifty dollars, between club membership fees, lost balls, caddie fees, and incidentals, I gave it up for good.

The Riverside Yacht Club, beautifully located on Cos Cob Harbor, provided its members and families with facilities for most enjoyable summer seasons, with bathing, sailing, and tennis.

In its large dining room, extending over the water with a broad view of the harbor scenery, were served excellent meals, and dances were held in its ballroom every Saturday night in the summer, to the tune of first class orchestras.

Swimming races and tennis matches were held once a year, and sailing races over the weekend through the summer. The Club had a great share in making life in Riverside most agreeable and providing a real heaven for the children of the members, who spent, there, every day of their vacation.

From Commodore Pierce I bought a sailboat, of the Shell Class, which provided me and the children with great enjoyment. Races were held at the Riverside Yacht Club for that class, and I always participated in them. I was fortunate to win all but one of the cups given in three years. Commodore Montagu, a genial fellow with a fine sense of humour and a good sport, was one of the racers. Later, the boys raced the boat and did as well. They developed into fine sailors, well known in the harbor.

All of my children developed proficiency in one sport of another, and were local champions for a time. Jay in sailing, Lloyd in sailing and tennis, and Marjorie in swimming. Marjorie is also today one of the best sailors in the harbor.

My trip to Europe proved very successful, and the foreign business of the New York Trust Company expanded considerably, particularly in the Foreign Exchange transactions. The Foreign Department was a complete bank in itself. We performed all the functions of a bank in connection with local banks and merchants doing foreign business with this country, and at times with foreign countries only. Shipments of merchandise to and from this country were financed, and loans made, abroad.

Our Foreign Exchange business was most active and arbitrage transactions were made daily with other financial centers. We often bought a foreign currency, say in Paris, and sold it in London, or vice versa, with conversion in dollars. Silver or gold bullion at times was involved instead of currency at one end of the transaction. We had direct telephone connections with the Cable companies in New York, to whom we telephoned messages for dispatch to various capitals of the world, and received their answers, likewise, on those direct wires. Transactions were often concluded with Paris and London within two minutes. When Radio telephone connections were established with Europe, transactions could be made, of course, as quickly as on the telephone right in New York.

On account of the difference in time between other important financial centers and New York, messages were received in New York at all hours of the night, and it was not uncommon - upon prearrangement - for me to be awakened at home at those hours by telephone to receive the messages and give the answers. Our day's transactions totalled millions of dollars in value.

On my desk I had twelve telephone instruments, being direct connections with Foreign Exchange brokers and cable companies, also one connected with our main switchboard. I had come to distinguish each one of them by tone of its bell, but at times several phones would ring at once and it was rather confusing. One afternoon a particular broker had called me several times, at two minute intervals, insisting that I made a certain trade with him, and I finally got impatient with him. Shortly after, two phones rang at once, and believing that I was grabbing his connection, and without waiting to hear what he had to day, I halooed, "What in Hell to you want now?". It was George Murnane. I don't think he ever forgot it. I was given a private switchboard after that.

When the wireless telephone service with London was inaugurated, I celebrated it by making a trade over it with the Chief Trader of Barclay's Bank. It was really exciting, but a little hard to conceive now.

The subsequent debacle and cancellation of the German Mark, and its replacement by the Reichmark in 1924, is well known, as well as the final stabilization of the French Franc in 1926.

By 1927, the earnings in the foreign banking business had dwindled. I was told then by George Murnane that there was dissatisfaction among several high officers of the Trust Company about my high salary. The upshot was that I resigned and established myself as a broker in Foreign Exchange.

I had had enough of the "Money" business and the cold Down Town (Wallstreet?) atmosphere. Buying money, selling money, borrowing money, lending money: It is a cold article. The narrow confinement in the office, and the daily attendance required, felt like a permanent hindrance to a broader life.

I had been working in New York for 25 years and somehow I could not account for all those years in memories. Business had been a daily repitition of the same transactions. My progress in it had been just a matter of acquiring gradually a better understanding of it, having more authority, but it was always the same thing. Besides, married life and housekeeping make many calls on a man's spare time. At the outset one is absorbed in the conjugal attractions, and when one is blessed with children, their upbringing and education require unavoidable daily tasks, repeated for years.

We parted good friends. The Trust Company gave me a farewell dinner and presented me with a valuable wrist watch. They recommended me to the most active banks in Foreign Exchange market, with the request that they give me a direct telephone connection. There was still a profit for the brokers who acted between the local banks, but that advantage for the brokers also dwindled to a very small few, and old established ones got the preference over the new comer.

It was evident that there were no prospects of a resumption of active trading in the exchanges, and I needed an income. I decided to try the Stock Market until I secured a new job, if possible in the near future.

I obtained a Stock Exchange ticker and devoted all my time to the stock market with my limited capital. In three successive months, I doubled my capital each month, but after that it seemed to me that the market was in a position from where it could move either up or down in a long swing, and I decided to avoid that risk. I knew that the man who constantly trades in and out of the market is bound to lose. It is only a question of how long he will last. The odds are all against him: the buying and selling commissions, the interest, the tax, the difference between the bid and offer markets, all these items have to come out of a possible successful trade, and if not successful, will increase the loss.

A trader can easily get trimmed, say, even if he is bullish in a bull market. The market never moves up, or down, in a long sustained move. He may buy stocks after an important rise, get scared at the next reaction, and sell his stocks and take a loss. He hesitates on the next upturn and repeats the previous performance.

At this time, an opportunity presented itself. The International Germanic Trust Company was being formed, and I was engaged to organize and develop their Foreign Department.

This was in 1928. The crash of 1929 and the depression that followed were not auspicious times for the new bank. The control changed hands with the result that the new interests gradually did away with the original officers, bringing in their own men. I was one of the dismissed officers. That was in 1930. The banks were cutting down their staffs and trimming in their sails. There was no use trying to make a new connection.

In 1928, Jo died suddenly in her sleep. On a very hot night, August 9th, Jo decided to sleep in the sun parlor, with its ten screened windows wide open, to cool off after a hard day's work.

When I stopped in the sun parlor next morning to see her, I found her asleep, I thought, but without her usual good complexion. To my surprise, she did not awake as she was wont to do on my nearing her room. I touched her forehead. It was luke warm. I lifted her arm, it was lifeless and heavy. Her eyes were closed and her expression was peaceful. She was lying in a comfortable position. She had complained at times of a little heart trouble, for which she had been doctoring.

I called Dr. Austin, who came over immediately. He pronounced her dead. She had died in her sleep. The doctor called the undertaker, who came a few minutes later and took her to his establishment for embalming.

It all took forty five minutes from the time I stepped into the room to see her, till the time she left us forever.

I was dazed and could hardly realize what had happened.

I went upstairs to wake up the children and give them the horrible news.

My daughter, MarJorie, who was not yet eleven, was jumping up and down on her bed and fooling with her two brothers, who had come into her room and were having a pillow fight. The contrast with the scene downstairs was dumfounding. I could not understand how it was possible that a mother could go out of her life downstairs, and her children on the floor above have no possible intimation of it, no more than I did in fact, and have a hilarious time.

For days I would come home and unconsciously look for Jo in the living room, the kitchen, or in the garden, only to wake up and realize that she was not there any more. There I thought I saw the force of habit permeating our system, and also how easily instinct can develop with time in some living creature.

As often as I think of it, I feel a certain conviction that this life of ours is nothing but physical, that the mind, the soul, can only be physical manifestations of a living individual. The life permeating, a mystery.

What is the mind? Can it be dissociated from the brain? It makes man act, but what about its beginnings, its development? At birth one must admit that the mind is blank. The baby knows nothing. Through its ears, its eyes, all its senses in fact, it gradually accumulates information which is stored in his brain. After a certain time, and gradually, this accumulation is sufficient for the new born child to make use of it. It learns more every day. It gradually learns to speak. When its limbs get strong, it learns to walk, and becomes another normal individual. He acquires more learning by studying, but only through his senses and with the help of his already stored information. Organs of the body perform their functions automatically; cannot the brain be of the same order? Can it not be that the mind is the result of the physical work of the brain?

The most informed agree that the cells of the brain hold registered in them the information acquired through the senses. It is also known that those cells are connected by multilateral fibers to most other cells; also that each faculty of our mind is located in a particular section of the brain. Can it not be that these interconnected cells combine their information to make up thought?

How conscious is our thinking? We are conscious of the fact that we can think, we can direct our thoughts into a certain channel. But, do not thoughts unfold by themselves?

But, what about life, individual life? There was a woman with whom the children and I had daily contacts. She went to sleep every night and awoke every morning. Suddenly she cannot awake, she cannot get up, she cannot talk to us, but she looks just as naturally asleep as she always did. How can it be that the spirit that animated her all these years had suddenly ceased to be?

What is life? This most abundant force on the surface of the earth, that seems like a consuming fire, propagating itself, from living thing to new born, on and on again. Is man but a temporary terrestrial host to life? Are his spirit and his life just one and the same? Man had life, and life is love, faith and hope all in one. How natural that one should wish to live on and on. Science does not tell us if we will. Science does not know, but does not think so. But science is not final. Read ist (the?) books of 200, of 100, of 50 years ago. How many changes in today's edition of science! But love, faith and hope, have always filled man's breast. His aspirations have not changed. Can they not be relied on?

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