A last request: One more ride along Pequot Avenue
New London — Josephine Pollio, at just about 5 feet tall, may have been diminutive, but when she wanted something, those around her knew it wasn't a request.
When the 87-year-old died Jan. 30, among her final wishes was a horse-drawn carriage ride on Pequot Avenue on a pleasant day. She requested that her blue casket, which she picked out more than 15 years ago, be pulled by a white horse and that snacks be provided for the horse.
Except for the weather, all of her wishes were granted.
"My mother is smiling down on us,'' her daughter Anna Culbertson said Tuesday from atop the carriage that held her mother's casket. "Mother had this planned out to the last nut and bolt.''
Gus, a Percheron draft horse, pulled the carriage along Pequot Avenue Tuesday morning, slowing traffic a bit and turning the heads of pedestrians.
Although the weather was cold and spitting snow, Culbertson said her mother would have been pleased.
"She would have been extremely impressed,'' she said. "She got what she wanted. I'm sure she's up there saying, 'Way to go.'"
Pollio, who for nearly 50 years lived on Huntington Street, enlisted the Byles-MacDougall Funeral Service and paid for the arrangements 16 years ago.
"She was a very lovely lady and very proper,'' Reid Burdick of Byles-MacDougall said. "She told us if it was possible, she wanted one last ride up and down Pequot Avenue."
Burdick helped make the arrangements, calling on Jim Cherenzia of Hopkinton, R.I., for the horse and carriage. Burdick also brought along organic carrots for Gus.
"She was as sweet and nice and as normal as anyone else,'' said Burdick, who met with Pollio a few times over the years to discuss the arrangements. "I think it's cool that 16 years later, we can still do what she wanted.''
Culbertson said her mother was a "determined person" who did not let her limited formal schooling deter her from a life of learning.
"My mother was always trying to better herself and educate herself in any way she could,'' she said.
Pollio grew up on Fowler Court, leaving Harbor School to work in a factory. She worked at the former Winthrop Bank on State Street, as a hat check girl at the El 'N Gee Club in New London and as a seamstress.
Culbertson said her mother always admired the house on Huntington, which was a doctor's office while she was growing up. Visiting the doctor's office as a youngster, she said that she wanted to buy the house some day and live there.
Nearly 50 years ago, while her mother was on lunch break from work, she saw furniture being moved out of the house. She went to several banks to get enough money for the deposit and bought the house.
"She was smart, not college smart. She was like, street smart,'' Culbertson said. "She was the matriarch of the family, and everyone came to her for advice."
A wake is scheduled for 3 to 5 p.m. today at the funeral home, and a Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church.
"She liked the water. It always soothed her,'' said Culbertson, who took care of her mother during the past four years. "Maybe it was something she always wanted to do. She never explained why."
The carriage ride was a simple affair. No one other than Culbertson and her husband David were on hand.
"I feel it went very wonderfully,'' Culbertson said afterward. "She planned it all out. I told her I would see it get done."
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