Busy, Busy, Busy

kWVqQTNKQW24%%NEjSua9AI have loved where we live: Storrs, Wildwood Road. More the land where we are than the town, especially now that I am retired and no longer so involved with the school system and thus the community. I’m noticing though, that it is a lot of work both for me and Suzy. Are we slowing down as we age? Are our priorities changing? Inside the house we’re in a mess because we’re always going to Maine or to the Cape; outside we’re  a mess, too. Not now. This morning it is beautiful. I mowed and weed whacked for three hours yesterday, and had been mowing a few times before that so we’re not in bad shape, but it is raining and the grass and weeds are growing as I sit here not mowing. We have an orchard and two gardens that have fences, three acres of grass, two ponds, a barn, four sheds, a wood pile, over a thousand feet of stone wall, a 600 foot driveway in addition to the house.9dGRtUlWQWmbkXl4pl4qQQ

 

Just writing that makes me marvel. And Suzy and I have built almost everything ourselves. I mean we put up the walls of the house, pounded nails- Suzy on the dormer wall shingling to beat winter that first year, sewing curtains, reupholstering chairs we got from the family or tag sales because we were so broke. I’ve shingled every roof on the place, built every chimney, installed all the windows and and painted and scraped and dug and designed and fenced and trimmed and mowed and split and stacked wood: this place is us. And I’ve been proud of it. Proud of us and of our place. And now I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. Suzy and I both. We have a full and active life. I don’t want to give up sailing and swimming and  rowing and cycling and gardening.

Yesterday was perhaps the pinnacle. of it all. We had a karate testing session here in our small dojo in the upstairs of the barn. Claire, who has been with us for over a decade was testing for second degree black belt. Very impressive. Her husband Peter who has just started- not quite ready for yellow belt, but was going to participate because of the high powered guns we had showing up for testing. Steve got me started almost fifteen years ago. He was then third degree black belt. Now he’s sixth degree. We studied with Grandmaster Chuck Graham. Chuck stepped down recently as the head of the organization we belong to, American Tae Kwan Do Moo Duk Kwan, but he likes to keep involved. He was inducted into the Martial Arts Hall of Fame as a tenth degree Grandmaster a few years ago, so he’s the real deal. He was coming up to do the testing. Stanley Heath, head of the Connecticut bunch of us, eighth degree Grandmaster was joining us, as were Masters Art Roberts and Jose Reviera. Wow, right? And Ceara is going for her green belt- she’s been really working hard, and Jonathan, working out with us pretty steadily for the past year but with many years of fencing and Capoeira and Muay Tai and most recently Shaolin Kempo was also testing. We had some spectators. How proud am I? I built the dojo. Right? I am tied up in this heart and soul. Great day. It started early. 7:30 I’m in bed pondering my dream about the old white haired man whose ancient Studebaker wouldn’t run that I’m trying to help when I hear tires on the driveway. It’s Claire and Peter. The test is at ten. They want to warm up and practice. Jonathan shows up shortly after. He wants to take a run and then start warming up. I can’t imagine taking a run first. He’s younger than I am, but he explains is getting older and need to warm up before he warms up. Ceara shows up shortly after that. Steve has warned everybody that Chuck will likely be early. Show up by nine. Well we’re all here well before nine. Steve and Chuck show a little after nine and it’s great to see Chuck. He is a bear of a man and formidable if he wants to be, but a very friendly and genuine,nice guy. We talked for fifteen minutes about his retirement from head of security at a hospital in Bethesda and his new life in New Jersey. We are planning a dinner- we’ve made a pot roast and pound cake-

after the testing and Steve is bringing beer and wine and lasagna, others brought salads and cookies. pie, cheese and nibbles. Our fridge is full and coolers have to be used, and Suzy and I are missing our usual hour of peace and tea. It’s a little nerve wracking. I’d been mowing and whacking weeds for days. The night before I mopped the mat in the dojo and cleaned things up and set chairs out. When Chuck started class about nine thirty it was a relief to finally be in my gi and part of a class. Except Chuck calls me out. I’m to line up with the masters, not in the class. Yes, he promoted me to Master level last fall. I was shocked and almost corrected him. I almost let slip, “No Chuck it’s third degree,”  as he handed me the black belt with the red stripe in the middle of it. When a tenth degree Grandmaster says you’re a fourth degree you’re a fourth degree. Who am I to question?

So now I have new perspective on the class. I am watching the stress that they are under. I see Claire as she falters in a kata. I see her mind work. Chuck throws me a question. “Did she do that kata well?” Ho! on the spot Master Murray. I, too, am tested. Claire does a really good job on Basai, and another advanced kata which I somehow failed to see. Jonathan does well, joining Claire for Naihanchi  Shodan. Ceara and Peter performed admirably during the basics where Chuck barks out commands. They  are also fine on the first three kata. Way to go Peter. Ceara gets through Needan- we’d been practicing. I am proud of them. Then some one steps- an attack and take down. Some three step sparring, then four guys around them attacking from different directions. Yes! I keep getting more proud. Steve has does a wonderful job with us all.does he feel the pride I do?  Of course I’m just standing  around looking good- not my favorite role. By noon it’s over. We line up; we listen to Chuck; we hear the promotions. Claire is now second degree black belt and she has earned it. Her husband Peter is seventh kup white belt, and his certificate is signed by two grand masters and four masters. Ceara now proudly wears green belt. And Jonathan jumps to red. We had been thinking purple but Chuck is the judge- he’s good at this. All of Jonathan’s years in other arts. We sign certificates, have the belt changing ceremonies, talk, good feelings abound. It’s over. The tension is gone, and we drift toward dinner and now it’s time to host. Steve and I are hustling to heat food. Chuck wants to eat and get going. We sit and eat and talk around the table in our kitchen, Suzy beside me. Chuck has been  involved in martial arts for over 50 years. The talk is astounding. He talks about Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee because people ask about them. He knows there are people more impressive than them. Really? Hollywood martial arts. It is two o’clock. People leave. I walk Chuck and Stanley out. It has been awesome. Everyone has been helping pick up. Suzy and I say we’ll finish the clean up. The testees all leave. Steve has to get going.  Suzy had loaded the dishwasher while I walked the first wave out;  we both polish it off.  I invite Suzy to take a walk with Hobbes and me. Down by the Fenton River. I want to decompress. I am some wound up. %JSHTVw8Tw637h+cRcAfTw

We walk. We come home. I work in the garden. I plant some more beans. I set out my watermelon plants. I weed a little. I break out the weed whacker. It gets finicky I decide to swim with Suzy while there is still sun on the pond. She swims a lot. I swim for two minutes, then I get on my paddle board. I glide around, totally cosmic. Golden sunshine streaming in across the pond in the late afternoon. The pond looks better since I attacked the phragmites with the weed whacker; we get these giant weeds all along the outside edge of our pond. “Two more hours”  I think. “I’ll lash the canoe to a dinghy to stabilize it and float around with the weed whacker and work those weeds from the inside; it’ll be all clear.” Suzy gets out after her swim. We pull the kayak down. She paddles. I paddle my board, Hobbes is not tempted to join us, but watches like the good shepherd he is. It is lovely.

We get out. Enjoying a moment.

I dry off. I dress. I put the board back.  I climb on the mower for a couple of hours of mowing.

And this morning I think about giving all this up.

Leona Peona

When I was a confused college kid the one thing I most looked forward to was coming home for the weekend and  I could leave early on Friday, hitchhiking back from UConn to Newington, to talk for an hour or two with my mom before everybody started coming home, everybody being my Dad and brother who would change the tenor of the conversation. My mom was a good listener and it really helped me sort things out to talk with her. Not so with my dad and brother who both had all the answers.

On this particular day I had wanted to come home from a different approach and so had gotten out up by Lack’s Market so I could walk down Golf Street to the country club and then down Oak Street to Indian Hill. Even then, when I was close to 20, the memories would flood back. Me n’ Kenny walking from his house to mine. Rex, the Leinhardt’s golden retriever. My brother Joe and I going up here late one night on Halloween for a little extra trick or treating and my being scared by one house that Joey just blithely walked up to to ring the doorbell. He got a lot of candy. I was still too scared to go up.  Greg Tower, on the corner of Sequin, whose younger sister Leslie suddenly blossomed.  One year she was Leslie, Greg Tower’s little sister, and then one year she was holy cow Leslie Tower, Greg Tower’s little sister. I guess you’d have to add an exclamation point. Adolescence. Then past Russell Knowles’ house, past the little secret place under the apple tree at the end of the Utman’s yard, right next to the fairway on the first hole, where Bruce, and Leigh Bacon and I all showed off for Russell that we smoked. I had inhaled by accident and fallen on the ground coughing. I came down the hill and saw Leona, our dog, waiting on the corner. What a treat. I was going to call when a school bus pulled up. Little kids were piling off the bus and Leona still sat. One little girl got off and ran over to her with her arms out wide calling, “Leona!” I continued down the hill The little girl went her way and Leona headed to our house. I followed her.

I told my mom. “Oh yes. Leona likes to greet the school bus. I let her out every afternoon.”

We had gotten Leona on the Cape one summer. We had Freda, a pup the Arcari’s had given my brother Joe because he was their paper boy. Freda was part cocker spaniel and part something else.  She was a lovable dog, too, with a vast interest in food that my mom attributed to her having been spayed. Freda would pick a single blueberry off a bush from our yard in Eastham. She’d eat a piece of an orange if you made here do a trick or two. She’d eat anything actually. She blew up like a balloon over the years. There was a time where she was so fat that she was sway backed both ways. When it rained there would be a little puddle of water on her back. We got Leona to kind of keep Freda company and to keep us kids company after we’d lost Freddie. It was in the summer and we were on the Cape- our family had bought a piece of land up there and built a big cottage- a house really. We’d spend some very happy weeks in the summer. I think our family’s happiest days. Somehow my parents had located a litter of pups and we went over- it was down by the Wellfleet Drive in theater on Massasoit Road. The mother was a golden retriever. The pups were long curly haired, and white. Sheepdog? I used to joke that the father belonged to some people who were driving through in a Packard- a  James Thurber line. We took Leona home with us. I’m not sure where the name came from. My dad and mom were both pretty clever. She did look lion like, and Leonine means lion like. Hmmm. But we thought we’d named her and we loved her to pieces. We’d take her everywhere. Freda too. Freda was older then. I remember a lady at the beach one day saying to Leona while she climbed all over Freda chewing her with abandon, “Give her some peace!” We had adventures all over with Leona on the Cape. You know, little adventures. We’d give her some ice cream from the Dairy Queen in Orleans. We’d take her for walks. We’d play fox and geese down on the clam flats at low tide. People were more relaxed about dogs back then. Leash laws? I don’t think they were invented yet. Not that we didn’t occasionally put Leon a on a leash. If we were going down to the Landing, a local market, we’d put her on a leash. I had just gotten my license, and my mom would have me drive her down there to pick up a few things. Ginny and I had Leona with us while we helped our mom shop. A woman stopped us to admire Leona and asked what breed she was. I was always ready with the joke I guess, because I said, “She’s a pure bred Golden Fetcher.”

The woman said without hesitation, “You can tell she’s pure bred.”

So we had golden fetcher jokes for the rest of the summer.

I’m not sure it was that first summer; it must have been the next, because  I was driving our 1960 Chevy Impala, that my dad got after he wracked up our 64 Buick Skylark. The one with a three speed manual transmission because my dad liked to shift. Fine by me. I liked to shift too. That Buick had a V 6 engine in it and if you were a merciless teenaged boy with no regard for machinery, you could peel out in that thing like crazy. You’d rev it up and pop the clutch and wow! Smoke and noise and all manner of attractive things. There was many a patch of impressive rubber all over town, I was proud to say. I remember an embarrassing moment when my dad brought the car in to Sears over by where West Farms Mall now is, to complain that the brand new tires he’d just bought were showing signs of alarming wear in the rear. I was with him. The salesman suggested that, if there were younger drivers, it might be due to their enthusiastic starts. My face got a little warm, but my father just said, “That’s ridiculous. It’s a little six cylinder engine.” We did get new tires. My enthusiasm for starts waned a little.

 

My dad had a pretty bad wreck in the Skylark. He got tossed out of the car through the windshield, fanny first. The car ended up in the river and my dad probably would have drowned if he’d had his seatbelt on. I used that for years  as evidence to take a contrarian stance on seatbelt usage. And it was true. He’d been drinking heavily, the reason for the crash, and would probably never have been able to figure how to get  out of a car under water. I’d read the Reader’s digest article on how to do it. You open the window to let water in until the pressure of the outside water is equalized by inside water and you can open the door and swim out. You know, in case you’re ever there. He had 32 stitches in his backside and had to sit on an inflatable cushion for the longest time. We needed a new car and we went looking. I was rooting for a VW bug, and my dad wasn’t against that- he’d had the 1961 Morris Minor convertible just before he got the Buick, but in the end we got a red Chevy Impala. 283 V-8, two speed Powerglide transmission. It was what was called a convertible hardtop. It was two door, with no pillar between the front and the back, so you could put the windows down and it was a lot of open area for the breeze to flow through, which is exactly what we were doing as we cruised along Ocean View Drive in Eastham from Coast Guard Beach toward Nauset Light Beach when Leona spotted a rabbit. She went out the window in a flash. We were doing about 25 or 30 and Leona leaped for the side of the road. When she hit she rolled over sideways about three times. She got up a bit stunned. The rabbit had escaped. We stopped and got her. None the worse for wear. She didn’t jump out the window after any more rabbits after that, though.IMG_8017

This picture is not exactly Leona. It’s Hobbes, our current dog. Leona once had her picture taken where she had so many burrs on her face that you could tell she was embarrassed to have her picture taken. Back in the day of film. I’ve no idea of where that picture is, but I had to have some picture.

 

We never had Leona spayed. I guess we thought that since Freda had been spayed and gotten so fat that we’d avoid that. She had puppies pretty young. About every dog in town was hanging around our house. I thought that was pretty cool. She gave birth to a batch of puppies that varied quite a bit. The family across the street from the Utmans- the Bartletts? had a dog named Tony, black and white. My sister Ginny used to baby sit for these guys. Don’t you know one of the puppies looked like Tony. Somebody said a litter can be the product of more than one father. I’m embarrassed to say that I do not know if that is true or not, but we sure assumed it was because these puppies varied a lot! We had to get rid of them, of course, and we did. I didn’t want to see any of them go, but I was by now a college student and not home. My mom would have to take care of them all. We decided to keep Hansel, a handsome dog- we thought part collie because of his ruff who turned out to be giant of a dog. He could put his paws on your shoulders and lick your face, just the way the Russian Wolfhounds my mom and Dad had cared for at one point in their young married life had been able to do. My Dad was 6’3″ Or was it 6’2″?

 

We had two pups left. They were over six months old now, and pretty big. I told my mom I could take them up to UConn and find them good homes. I actually had no intention of finding them good homes. I was going to keep them myself. Gretel and Gza Gza. So I hitchhiked back to UConn with the two big dogs- yes, a very different time. It didn’t work out though. I had to leave them in my room when I went to class and as infrequent as it was that I actually went to class, I did sometimes go. I was living illegally in what used to be a janitor’s supply closet in Colt House at UConn, where a friend on mine was the resident advisor. He was letting me stay there for free. Well one day the dogs were making a ruckus when I was at philosophy class. A house cleaning woman opened the door. Imagine her surprise. I got found out. I got called in the to administration, had to pay back rent. It was awful. I did then manage to find homes for the dogs. And I did then drop out of school and run away to Cape Cod where life was little more sane.

 

 

 

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Mr. Buddy Gets a Burger

 

 

 

pcmmgdkgSKirTVPzVoXZawDinner in Lee Massachusetts, after a reading in North Hampton the day before.  Mr. Buddy did not attend the reading. Mr. Buddy did not attend the dinner. Mr Buddy would have loved to have attended either the dinner or the reading or both. He is very sociable. Why did we exclude Mr. Buddy from both the dinner and the literary event? Are we cruel? Who are we to decide whether or not Mr. Buddy will attend a dinner or a gathering of intellectuals? Is he somehow socially awkward despite his proclivity to be social? Is his hygiene questionable? No. Mr. Buddy is a dog, and there are rules we humans make up about dogs and restaurants and public gatherings. We were just following convention. Mr. Buddy likes to think a lot. You ask him to come, and he thinks about it. “Some dogs come when you call them; I come when I want to,” Mr. Buddy explains. That was Mr. Buddy talking. A dog who thinks and talks. No wonder he would have enjoyed the reading. No wonder he would have enjoyed the dinner.  If only he had opposable thumbs. Well there are differences between humans and dogs other than our big brains and opposable thumbs. Dogs are pretty honest. I mean Mr. Buddy is upfront about not wanting to come sometimes, and that can be inconvenient, but you know where you stand with him. An inconvenient truth? If you want to pet him and he wants to eat, he won’t let you pet him. He can’t dissemble to save his life. He is utterly transparent. I guess that’s a big difference between a dog and a human.

So to make up for the fact that he couldn’t come into the reading or the restaurant, we bring him a little treat. He got a half a burger from Michael’s. Fair enough? I couldn’t tell you how he feels really- it’s not actually Mr. Buddy who does the talking; it’s us humans around him.  But he seemed to be pretty pleased with the deal. He didn’t say anything.

Counting Money

 

I don’t really hate pennies. Or singles. But it now costs so much to buy things that a penny seems sort of useless. A single does, too sometimes. Remember when a twenty was a big bill? My brother Mike bought a car from Mr. Utman for twenty dollars when he was in high school. The Utmans were a young, cool couple in our Newington neighborhood. Mr Utman could do the belly roll- he’s lift up his shirt and roll his stomach in and out to our immense amusement. And he told jokes and snuck out on the golf course toward dusk to shoot a few holes just like we would a few years later. Their house backed right up onto Indian Hill Country club. The first hole’s long fairway.  And his wife Nancy, was young and beautiful. I think every boy in the neighborhood was in love with her. I know I was. We were all about ten. So Mr. Utman was going to get a new car, and rather than trade in their 1950 Ford, he offered it to my brother, who snapped it up. Twenty bucks. And it was a V8. “Nuthin’ outrun my V8 Ford.” I didn’t know that song yet, but my brother Mike was some set up. He loved that car. And he was working and needed a car and gas was cheap and if the Ford broke you could fix it and it ran like hell. Mike set the official – well he said it was official and he was my older brother- Newington to Cape Cod land speed record in that car with my mother, who was thanks to us kids getting to be a little grey haired old lady by now, sitting in the passenger seat, and my mother was not one for excitement. Mike was a good story teller and it was a thrill for me to hear him tell of hitting 80 miles an hour on route 101 headed to Providence while keeping up a good stream of jokes and stories  so Mommy wouldn’t get alarmed and ask him to slow down. Four hours and ten minutes. A little over 180 miles. And you had to go through Providence back then which could take pretty close to forever because they changed the route every two or three days and getting lost was more of a probability than making it through. And he didn’t have anyone to spot the white route 6  signs with the little black arrows indicated where you had to turn as you wrestled with Providence traffic. Close to 50 miles an hour average.  You can’t reproduce that route today. 195 runs through Providence now so smooth it just isn’t the same. We got to know Providence a bit. Martin Plastics used to have a sunfish on display in their window that I would stare at with yearning. United Fruit had warehouses. Donut shops. Car dealers. Tasca Ford. I forget what it was- the largest Ford dealership in New England or the world or something. Our father taught us to curse Providence drivers. Drivers from Connecticut were so good of course. I still notice Providence drivers. They are crazy.

 

So the hippopotamus bank pictured above was my brother Mike’s. He’d save his change in it. He was pretty focused on money. He worked at Belmont Records in Hartford, and right next door was the Sound Room which dealt with stereo equipment. High end stuff. He loved that job. He was really connected to the music scene in Hartford. He met his good friend Roger at Belmont, and worked with some guy named Max at the Sound Room. Max was apparently an inventor of sorts in the stereo world. So between selling and installing high end stereo equipment and selling records, Mike was in heaven. After he’d been to college, though he felt compelled to get a real job and so ended up working at Aetna. The money was good, and he was good at the job. He had a wicked sense of humor and called his boss Pooh, and Mike made some training films that stuck around for quite awhile. But what he loved was the weekends when he could still work Saturday at Belmont and the sound Room again. That was the good old days. He drove a hot baby blue 67 Buick LeSabre convertible. Bought a 65 Chevy Corvette Sting Ray coupe. He wrecked the Vette. Drinking one night. He was o.k. I mean physically. I guess things we going on in his head though.

 

Right after high school Mike had gone in the navy for a while.  He didn’t quite make it through. I was never really sure of what went on. I was a pretty clueless kid. There was time when he was home on leave, after a stint in the hospital. Lithium as a drug. Wild mood swings. I knew something was up. But I was as proud as can be of my brother Mike for being in the navy. I still remember his service number: 598 58 58. Printed on his dog tags. I had joined the sea scouts with Kenny Peterson. Kenny’s older brother Billie was in the sea scouts, so we left boy scouts, which used to meet at Elm Hill Elementary school and you only had to be 11 to join- bunch of little kids,  to join the sea scouts. You had to be 14 to be a sea scout, so it was really cooler than boy scouts. And we wore old navy uniforms, the dress blues. We had to peel off one of the three white stripes that ran around the edge of the neck and the bottom of the sleeves.There was a flap that hung down in back, too. And we squared our hats, and you felt pretty official. And Gil smoked cigars at the meetings, and you could get chewed out for goofing up. We felt pretty grown up. Nothing like getting sworn at by an old guy with a cigar to make you feel like things were serious. I remember one lecture we got where Gill talked about how they – the adults who were helping us- could all go bowling and it would be a lot more fun and easier, but they thought they might be doing something worthwhile here and what were doing here if all you were going to do is goof off. Oh yes.

Mike  was a musician. He played violin in high school, and he was good. He was the concertmaster of the All Connecticut Orchestra. My dad bought him a fiddle built in Germany in 1758 or so, might have been ’53 and paid $750 for it. That was a tremendous sum of money in those days, right. I mean the Ford was twenty bucks. I guess he knew he was going in the navy and so when he was a  junior or senior in high school he took up the baritone horn so he could play in the Navy band. He made the band. That was pretty impressive to learn the baritone well enough so fast to audition for and make the Navy band. And he got to play for the president. Pretty cool, even if, the way I figured it, he probably wasn’t going to be sailing on a naval vessel with his baritone, he was still in the navy. He didn’t have to rip off one of the three stripes on his uniform.

 

I was talking about money. I have my brother Mike’s hippo. That’s pretty funny, right? My wife has a piggie bank, and that’s pretty cool, but this is a hippo bank. Much cooler. Mike passed away a number of years ago He was in his young 60’s. Ouch.  Kenny just turned 70. I’ll be 70 in a month. To die at 62. No. That’s wrong. That pursuit of money that Mike was so focused on kind of went awry. After he quit Aetna- how could he quit a cushy high paying job where he could have stayed for another couple of decades and retired? He said he just didn’t have the grey flannel mind. People at work got to him. So he had some kind of integrity, a dream. He worked for Sony, and Marantz and then kind of drifted- starting businesses- Frozen Red Snapper. Frozen beef. It’s disheartening to think about. Small one man operations that all went broke. He used up his entire nest egg. He’d always planned to retire at 40 and I forget the number, but I think it was 40 grand he had stashed away- this is fifty years ago when that was a ton of money- when he was working for Sony. He’d been their number two salesman, and although he worked on salary, not commission- didn’t have the confidence to go out on commission, he was doing quite well. Not now. Business after business. He’d borrow money I guess from Eleanor. and try again somewhere else. Moved to Tennessee. Things were getting tough. He asked Uncle George for his inheritance ahead of time- George was still alive and well. He started selling used cars. His feet were killing him. He smoked. He drank. He used to come up to the Owls Head Antique and Classic Automobile Auction with Aunt Eleanor.  Suzy and I have a cottage in Owls Head and it was always fun to have them come up. And boy is Mike fun to go to a car show with. Although he liked the big Detroit iron. If it wasn’t at least 19 feet long he didn’t like it. I was into sports cars, old Porsches especially. We always dreamed of buying a car together. We’d walk around admiring car after car after car with old Chuck Berry and Beach boy tunes blaring out of the speakers. You look at 62 Chevy while the Beach Boy’s Tune goes- Vroom Vroom Vroom…. dual quad four speed postitraction 409 . Oh it’s pretty close to heaven.

 

He retired from selling cars. I don’t know what he had to retire on, but he did.  Aunt Eleanor had bought a trailer in Oceanside, CA where she and Mike would go together for vacations. Eleanor had tremendous affection for Mike and she said to him that he could stay in the trailer. He said when he left that he just wanted six months in California. He asked me to try to sell his fiddle. We made plans for the Owls Head Auction and this year, I’d saved a thousand dollars up and I was going to be ready with my half of the money. We were going to bid on and buy something this year, take it home, fix it up and flip it to make a little money.

 

I remember the call. My sister Ginny called up the night before Mike was supposed to show up. Jesus. He wouldn’t be showing up this year. Or any other year. My brother Joe went out to the trailer in Oceanside. It can’t have been pretty. Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. Crackers. Beer cans. Booze? He got his six months.

 

I miss my brother Mike. You get older and you want to be around your family a little more. Your friends.

 

So the hippopotamus was overfilled. It wouldn’t take another dime. It had a quarter sticking out of it. So I got out the coin wrappers, just like Mike used to. And I spilled the change out onto the stool. It was hard to get it to come out. It was packed. I keep pennies in a little bowl, so he hippo is full of real money. And it adds up. I’d unjam it with my finger, shake it, money poured out. It took a long time to count it, roll it all up. Off to the bank. There was over a hundred bucks in that little hippo. Five Fords? Yeah, I guess so. Five Fords. The good old days. When Mike was around.QvO8Y+xYS0SmKTRuqc+WQQ.jpg

 

 

Road Trip March 2019 or Usually the Mayonnaise is in the door in the Fridge in the Winter: Life with Suzy

 

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We need to know. We love to be certain. We like to expound  and have others think that we know. We’d like them to be convinced that we know, we really know. We’re certain. We’re sure of ourselves. Confident. Positive. Strong. Part of Trump’s appeal to some is this. He knows everything. Believe me. Trust me. Do those who follow Trump relinquish their own ability to function in the world? To think for themselves? We all want to be  right. It’s a natural tendency to want to believe you’re right and sometimes we fight really hard to hold on to that belief.  Uncertainty makes us uncomfortable. If some overly confident self-promoter comes along do we always want to believe in him. The messiah? No uncertainty for us. Please. No more uncertainty. We can’t stand it.

 

The last night driving along 84, coming through Waterbury Suzy got confused. We’d been in the van for a long time. She used to live in Watertown. Her parents have lived in several houses down there, and so has she. She still has family there. She talked about it a little. Confusion about where you are. Who you are. Where you live. Where you used to live. Who you used to be. Where you’re going. There’s a line from the movie, The Matrix where one of the Agents says “He doesn’t know.” They’ve got Morpheus trapped they think, and I forget exactly which agent it is, but he’s been unplugged and is out of the loop and it really quite a creepy line- “He doesn’t know.” We don’t like to not know. Last night it happened again. Suzy didn’t know where she was. It was a very tender moment. We’d been home, she’d a long bath, with a glass of wine. We’d laughed and talked at expressed relief at being home. I got something to eat ready. We watched Rachel Maddow talk about Trump’s latest folly- they never end. We talked with our son by phone. It felt great. And snuggled up in bed, that oh so comfortable bed, with Hobbes contented, lying on the floor with his bunny and a pink slipper he’d stolen, a bit of rain starting, Suzy woke and asked where we were. Right. Long trip. She was confused. I told her, “We’re home. Storrs,” She didn’t get it. “The house we built. Where we’ve lived for 37 years. Where we raised our son. Remember?” Talk about uncertainty.

“Is this my parent’s house?”

“No, Suzy. Remember we built this place? You helped shingle it. You pretended winter was coming to make yourself work faster?”

It took a while. She got it. We’re home. Not in the van anymore. Not at her parents. It was more than just being sleepy. She snuggled in and said, “I’m scared.”

“I’m scared, too.”

“Are you?”

“Yes. I don’t want to lose you.”

Suzy and I had just gotten back from a trip down to Florida in our van. Two weeks. Shorter than I wanted. We had to barge through the berm of snow at the end of our driveway last night and it was bit dicey at times getting down the driveway. Another week in the warmth and the sunshine would have been nice: Sanibel. Island, The keys. A little diving, and canoeing.  Some surfing in Melbourne? I could have enjoyed that. Suzy was not enjoying the trip. The intrepid traveling partner I’ve had for so long was not there. She wanted to go home. She hated Florida when we were in Delaware. She hated the weather.  She didn’t know what state we were in. She didn’t know what day it was. She didn’t know where we were headed or how long we’d been gone or why we’d come. She wanted to go home. And when we got home she didn’t know we were there. Yes, I was scared. Will there come a time when she doesn’t know who I am? Who Hobbes is? Who she is?

When I was younger I heard about Alzheimer’s disease and I thought there’s a useless worry. So you can’t remember things. Big deal.

Well I see it differently now. This trip helped open my eyes, and the tender and honest moment Suzy and I had gives me hope and insight. She’s fine now. She gave Hobbes a bath last night, has been doing laundry. We shopped together, had a hamburger with a Florida tomato we’d brought back on it while we watched the news. Trump? Oh yes, still up to his antics. There is no hope for him. He’s delusional, either by choice because he has figured out a way to make his life better that way or he’s just delusional. Distract people, confuse people, con people, get your way and barge ahead all the while explaining in that annoying voice with those annoying mannerisms. I guess people who like him aren’t annoyed. He seems to think that if he says something it makes it true. And certainly we humans do get lead down the garden path by people like him. I thought we were smarter. Some of us are. Is it the end of democracy? Is democracy going to drown in a sea of disinformation, misinformation. I guess we’ll see. Alzheimer’s of the nation. Too confused to act?

I know my course of action has to be different than Trump’s. I need to be quite patient. Suzy isn’t doing this on purpose.This is just happening. She needs love and understanding and friendship and fun and good food and music and dancing and travel and swimming and sailing and campfires and stories and movies and jokes and conversation just like the rest of us. And I’m her guide. And when I get discouraged, or scared it’s not good. I’ve got a lot to learn, and I’m on it. So where do we get our information? From the internet? Will some of you who read this blog comment and will I read those? Yes. Will I read articles? Yes. Books? Yes. Talk with people? Yes. Seek experts? Yes. How about prevagen? Television ads claim it helps the brain. Yeah, I like that. A creature with no brain ground up and put in pills to help your brain. You know, the reason a news show is an hour long now is so they can show you all those ads. And on the internet, same thing, right? Where the disinformation/misinformation campaigns start. The rumor mill. Lock her up. No, I will not be getting sucked in to that morass.

 

Our van trip was not as long or as joyous as I’d hoped, but we did have a lot of good times. I’m off the pity pot that I will admit I ended up on quite few times. There were moments- anguish? Close.  But I got a lot of help. This great blue heron stopped by while I talked on the phone to Kenny and Debbie Peterson from Anastasia State Park in St. Augustine Florida. The weather had been quite cold. Suzy was upset. I was upset. I called Kenny to see if I could visit. He and Debbie were wintering in their RV in Flagler Beach, one of the resons we were there.We talked a long while. Debbie dad had Alzheimer’s. I’m new to accepting that Suzy has Alzheimer’s. It felt so good to talk. I felt less alone.Yq+yPF4ESZ6dir5tjFRolQ

 

 

 

 

 

 

At tea this morning at home was wonderful. Suzy was chipper. We talked, and laughed and planned. We had another moment of frankness talking about Alzheimer’s. I want to be honest. I want to be open. I want her to understand that I will care for her and comfort her and love her and that our life has changed in some ways, how we may be selling Storrs, building on to our cottage in Owls Head to make a simple, suitable home to ease our life a bit. We;ve talked about it a lot. But our marriage is still the foundation of our lives. We’re committed to each other. It feels so good. Frank. Earnest talk. Then I have to go out to get to the post office before it closes to pick up our mail, and when I come back it has gone ugly. Suzy is bitter. She’s upset. Her answers are clipped. One word.  Uh oh.

“You know your really hurt me this morning.”

“I can tell. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

We go back to our tasks. I’m making chicken Cacciatore for dinner. She’s sweeping the floor for the third time. I try to break the ice. “Do you want to help me make the cacciatore?”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?.”

“I have Alzheimer’s. I can’t do anything.”

I instantly regret my moment of honesty. I backpedal. I am surprised- flummoxed. “I…”

“I’m not drooling in my oatmeal. I have some memory loss. I’ve always been timid. I don’t have Alzheimer’s. You really hurt me when you said that.”

“I’m sorry. I won’t say it again.”

“I’m not drooling in my oatmeal.”

“No Suzy, you’re not.”

“You hurt me. What hurts me most is that you think  I have Alzheimer’s.”

“I’m sorry. Do you believe that I didn’t mean to hurt you?”

It takes some time for the answer to come. “Yes.”

“Do you believe that I love you?”

“Yes. I love you too.”

Are we back to normal? No. There is no normal. This is the new normal. Finding two two pound bags of sugar in the spice cabinet. Not seeing the compost bucket and going to search and finding it halfway back from the garden in the back yard near the buoys that Hobbes plays with. Helping to look for her jeans that we “left in Florida.” Leaving her doing one thing which you think will occupy half an hour and make her feel good about helping out and coming back to find her having just finished giving the dog a bath, task forgotten.

 

So we got these mood swings on the trip. My god it was good to see Kenny and Debbie and Kenny’s brother Billy and his wife Jackie. We talked and talked. Around the campfire with Sue from Newington, and Mark, and friends from New Brunswick and fellow campers. Telling tales, rioutous tales about the laundry. Jokes, Comaradery. Suzy enjoyed it, too. Company is good for her. It was hard to leave. Kenny and Debbie are off to Bryce Canyon for the summer very soon where they will be camp hosts. We said our goodbyes and thanks. The next morning was warm. We hung around basking  in sunshine, made plans to run  for Ginny’s in the Villages to see her and my sister Claudie. but first, we had to have a swim. We went to St. Augustine beach and had a glorious swim. A little cool: the wind- the water is mid 60’s. We both love it.

Suzy and I drove down following what my phone said to do along gorgeous back Florida roads, to my sister Ginny’s place, and Claudie was there, too. I was almost overwhelmed when I saw Ginny and Claude walk out of the house. Some family. Some friends. Very nice. We enjoyed a fantastic time talking with Ron and Claude and Roy and Ginny, eating pizza, having a beer. Then desert. Pumpkin bread my sister Claudie made with ice cream and whipped cream. Heaven. For Suzy? For me. vb+Vy73lT+S%VQHtPx6XoQ

Roy’s gotta go golf.

 

Then we had a few days on our own. We stopped for a beautiful swim in Crystal River at Hunter Spring. something about 70 degree water in March is very nice. Suzy prospers.MIi+vgVkRr2RxK8Iz4zRIQ Then off to our reservation at Sunset Isle RV park in Cedar Key Florida, where we had three great days/nights. Tht top photo is the sunset on our arrival. Warm weather, pot luck supper, a music jam where Suzy chickened out of playing her guitar, but came up front two times to sing with us and I played the fiddle. The next night day a canoe ride out to a key,TLN9iVvwTBqCoQb4Qkcr6Qthen a sunset  fiddler at a bar for two hours. We drank beer and danced and listened and laughed and walked back to the van happy. Then the third night, just back from a swim at Rainbow Springs, a concert at the RV park where we danced eight or ten times to oldies with Hobbes right there, once on the dance floor, but mostly being tended by other campers. Nothing short of awesome- for Suzy, too. Not just me.

 

Then it is time to head. I promised Suzy if she was not happy after our reservations were up, we’d head back. So we did. Off to Knoxville, by way of Thomasvillle Georgia. I love driving these new roads. Monticello, Florida.of9vLm+dSIuXl1N4yjPgjQ

This is a gorgeous town on route 19, out toward the panhandle end of things. I am eager to get back.

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Why not stay? Why not explore while we’re here? Because we can’t. We have to head home. Suzy is happier when I tell her we are headed home.

 

Knoxville with my brother Joe and his wife Phyllis and their daughter Stacey, and granddaughter Ariel. It again felt sooo good to be with family. here are Suzy and Phyllis and Joe on their boat dock where you can sit on the boat and feel like you’re boating because the Tennessee River is flowing by at four knots. Joe says,  “With a gin and tonic in your hand it’s cheap boating!”  Right at the dock. No fuel, no steering needed. Just sit and watch the water flow. And he can almost see his boat from their condo.eMSLvatKTnGWwXwpIiQ

 

We go out for ice cream and Joe and PJ are talking about dinner the next night at a cool Mexican place, but when we go out for ice cream I tell Joe that we had better leave. Suzy has asked four or five times where Hobbes is in the last fifteen minutes. We have to run for home. We had a great visit, but it is time to boogie. And so we do. The next morning. Late, but we head north.

 

It’s not over. I like driving. there are moments driving, say cruising down route 17 in North Carolina, almost no traffic, and you get an absolutely wonderful feeling. Like Sailing. Almost. I mean not as fun, but that feeling of freedom, of escape from the routine, of just floating, of getting somewhere sort of slowly- even if it is 65 miles an hour, with scenery  unfolding before your eyes, with your dog on the floor next to your and Suzy beside you knitting a patch for the favorite sweater she made me thirty years ago is pretty nice. Or route 19 North out of Florida and into Georgia. Or even on the interstate rocketing along at 70, with Enya blasting on the CD player. Making our way back home. Even the sight of a Confederate flag flying proudly on a distant hillside doesn’t completely break the sense wonder, of amazement.

 

We drive. We make miles. We look for lunch. Great Mexican place at exit 17,  route 81,  just into Virginia.vK46MPmwQaSn%8uaJD2DMA We use our phone to make a reservation. We rock out to our favorite CD’s. We listen to the radio. Some interesting guy about what scarcity does to your brain an deciusion making. Scarcity of money, scarcity of time. I missed the part about what the other end of the spectrum does to you: excess, the billionaires; we drove out of range. We camp we shower, we cook in the van, we sleep, we get up, we walk Hobbes, we make tea, we eat breakfast, we pack up, we make some miles. We’re in Pennsylvania. It feels like home. Only 250 miles to go. Fuel and food, so we can just drive.

 

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This place was awesome!

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Suzy divijng into a chili dog. Super Gyros. Near Bethlehem, off 78.

 

And we drive. And think. You see  things. You get ideas. You change. slowly. You think about life differently.OYeElDHzRoWvSEWAxSAKUwrV7XSjyXTk28CAuL1qhNFQ

 

You get home. And it feels good. Life with Suzy.

 

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Summer of ’59

 

It is a little unfair of me to think that my parents did not support me in my endeavors when I was little kid. I felt they were antagonistic to me, wanted me to do things I did not want to do, and of course they did that. They were parents. What kid wants to practice violin? They did encourage me in some things and did give me me two physical things, though, that were incredibly important to me then, and I suppose many in modern America would question the wisdom of these two items for young kid. The first was a little hatchet, made in Germany, with a steel tang that ran all the way to the butt given me at an age when Kenny and I were roaming the woods terrorizing trees and in the manner of young boys everywhere, took breaking things a sign that we were tough. This hatchet had two wooden grips riveted on to the steel tang coming out of the head. It wasn’t especially comfortable, but it was all but unbreakable. You could miss what you were chopping and hit the handle against the tree, or a rock, and nothing broke. Kenny and I would broken a wooden handled one pretty quickly. We could chop to our heart’s content and that hatchet never let us down. It survived my childhood. I still have it. The other thing, which meant even more to me but I now no longer have, was a genuine imitation Bowie knife. Jim Bowie and Davie Crockett were big heroes to us kids, from television I suppose. And when my dad gave me, at the age of ten, this whacking big hunting knife I was thrilled to my socks. We were making the grand preparations for what would be the camping trip of our lives and he got me a knife that could not be surpassed in my ten year old mind. It was about a foot long. In the hands of a ten year old, it was an absolutely gigantic knife- almost a sword. And of course Jim Bowie carved out a life with his knife, and died, we believed, wielding it in the last stand at the Alamo. Jim Bowie is a pretty interesting character. His name was pronounced Boo ie and he was born in Kentucky in 1796 to a man who fought in the American Revolution. He was one of a passel of kids and they were raised on the frontier- his dad moved to Louisiana when Jim was four, and as such had to be capable in many ways: clearing land, planting, hunting. Guns and knives were tools he had to use. Jim Bowie had an Indian pal who taught him how to rope alligators. He grows up learning to read, speak English, French and Spanish, and was quite the plucky fellow. A few things just to tantalize you. He notices that Louisiana is growing by leaps and bounds and he and a brother decide that land speculation would be the way to go. They need money. They have each inherited some slaves and horses from their father, but to speculate you need real money. They get into a slave trading scam with Jean LaFitte, the famous pirate. Jim Bowie- remember that’s Boo ie, not Boh ie, would go down to LaFitte’s place on Galveston Island, and buy some slaves. He would then go to the authorities and inform on himself as a slave trader. The law read that whoever informed on a slave trader would get half the value of the slaves at the auction block. The slaves would then be auctioned off, Jim Bowie would buy them, and he would get reimbursed half their price. The birth of the fifty percent rebate!  He got them, they were cheap, and now they were his to now legally trade. trade the now legal?? I’m not sure why they were now his legal slaves. Wouldn’t they just take the slaves and turn them free? But this is pretty early on- emancipation doesn’t happen for another fifty years. Slaves and sell them elsewhere for a lot more than he paid. but he and his brother amassed $65,000. That was quite a bit of money back then. Just to give you an idea, a carpenter would make anywhere between 80 cents and a dollar a day. Three hundred bucks a year? 65 K would be more than two hundred years wages. With his brothers they buy a plantation in Thibodeau and have the first steam powered mill in Louisiana for grinding sugar cane and it’s a pretty successful operation and they sell it two years later for 90,000 dollars. Seems like the Bowie brothers are doing quite well. But they get hauled into court over some land speculation. It’s a right royal mess. The United States had promised with the Louisiana Purchase, to honor all former land grant claims and turned over the authority to superior courts of each territory to hear the suits of those with claims that had been overlooked. The Arkansas Superior Court got 126 claims that involved having purchased land from the Bowie brothers. It seems the Bowie brother had never owned the land. Original land grant documents had been forged. My. Swindlers?  And when the unhappy purchasers considered suing the Bowies, it seems that some documents went missed from the court. Oh my. No evidence? No case. Bring up the theme music…

 

“Jim Bowie, Jim Bowie, he was a brave, adventurin’ man. Fighting for right with a powerful hand.”  And a con artist.

 

Kids don’t care about shady business deals. We want glamour. The stuff of legend. Action. Flashy heroics. That’s what Hollywood picks up on and presents to us young boys back then. So here’s the stuff behind the legend. It’s pretty good.

 

There is something called the Sandbar fight. Bowie had supported the opponent of Norris Wright in the race for sheriff. Wright won. Wright was also a bank director and was instrumental in turning down a loan application Bowie made. Hmmm. A little bad blood. One afternoon Bowie and Wright have a confrontation. Wright fires a shot at Bowie. Bowie resolves never to be without his famous Bowie knife. The following year, on September 19, 1827 both men attend a duel on a sandbar each supporting a different man in the duel, of course. The duelists each fire two shots and miss- you must get pretty nervous standing there at short range with a pistol aimed at you and yours aimed at the other guy. Since they’d been through the ordeal of the duel, honor had been upheld, they settle the difference that they had with a handshake. But you know how it goes. The crowd wanted some blood, and fights break out. Bowie gets shot in the hip. He rushes the guy who shot him, gets clocked in the head with a pistol, which breaks, and goes down. Wright then shoots at Bowie while he’s down. And misses? Bowie shoots back, but Wright, not knocked down by the shot, has a sword cane and impales the prostrate Bowie. He comes over, puts his foot on Bowie to extract his sword, and Bowie- ever the trickster, pulls him down by the leg, and with his handy foot-long Bowie knife disembowels Wright. Wright dies instantly. It’s not over. Somebody else shoots Bowie, and somebody else stabs him. Say what you will about his business behavior, he is one tough buzzard. A doctor present pulls out the sword and bullets and patches him up. Newspapers pick up the story and Bowie’s reputation as a knife fighter spreads like wild. Apparently, he was attacked by so many because he already had a reputation as a dangerous man. The newspaper cemented his reputation as a knife fighter and talked, too about his knife. A Bowie knife, and of course the origin of the knife is shrouded in legend, mystery. Like Excalibur. Arthur’s mystical sword. There’s a lot of nonsense about it too, which we boys of course swallow hook, line and sinker. Basically, it is a knife with a heavy blade, nine inches long or so, with a point that is sharp on both sides, and has a pretty good hilt to protect your hand. Did Jim Bowie invent it as we all heard. It is called the Arkansas Toothpick, too, so we may wonder. Jim’s brother Rezin claimed to have invented it, too, but the truth is probably that some blacksmith took a design that had been evolving for decades, and under Rezin’s direction, made a version of it. Once the knife became famous, everyone scrambles after a bit of that fame. No question about it, though, Jim Bowie was a dangerous man with a knife.

And of course we kids like that, right. The idea of being formidable. Of being respected. Of being left alone to do what you want to do. It’s still around. Think about it.

 

Last word on Jim Bowie. He does die at the Alamo. He was a pretty good military leader, but he was apparently ill and in bed at that last battle, and he emptied his pistols into attackers and used his knife to the end against those who came to kill him. They did kill him. Forty years old. The relationship between legend and truth, truth versus fiction. Bowie moves to Texas, becomes a Mexican citizen, marries into a wealthy Mexican family, is a leader in the Texas Rangers, fights a battle against incredible odds- hostile Indians, and kills forty attackers, wounds many more and loses only one man. Reports of the attack precede his return and everyone assumes they whole party had been wiped out. He gets back into land speculation. He dances with the political winds pretty nicely. At the end., he has sent his pregnant wife and their first child away to her family to avoid a cholera epidemic, but the epidemic finds them all.

 

At various points in his life he had claimed to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. It seems after he died he wasn’t worth quite a hundred bucks. Wow. Just goes to show you, if you can talk a good line and fight with a knife you can die broke at an early age.

 

My hero, Jim Bowie?

 

My hunting knife was a cheap imitation of a Bowie knife. Plastic bone handles applied with some skinny little rivets. They fell off pretty quick, but I made a great handle for it out of old bicycle tubes and some copper wire. It gave the knife a nice heft and a lot of  cushioning and was a terrific handle. I wish I had that knife today. Rosebud. I wore that thing everywhere. It had a sheath and I’d wear a belt just so I could wear the knife. It wasn’t a cute little hunting knife that you could kind of unobtrusively wear under your untucked shirt. This sucker was a foot long and besides, I was proud of it. I was Daniel Boone and Jim Bowie rolled into one. Now I could survive anywhere.

 

The plan for that summer was to visit three seashore places. My parents had decided we had the wherewithal to buy a second piece of land to build a summer cottage on. We’d hear them talking about it after we’d gone to bed. They decided that they’d visit New Jersey, Maine and Cape Cod, and the place we liked the best would be where they’d buy the land. Once this was revealed to us we all got pretty excited. My dad could get you worked up about stuff. My brother Mike had a job, so he was going to have to skip the New Jersey part, but the rest of us and our two dogs would all pile in to the old Chevy and go.

 

We had to equip the expedition. Off to Mickie Finn’s the outdoor store. To a boy who spent three hours a day tromping around the golf course with a hunting knife and a bad of cornmeal, this was a trip to heaven.

“Joe, I think I’ll stay behind, I’m kind of tired.” My mom was probably looking forward to a few quiet hours. Five kids must get to you. Claudie and Joey, and Ginny and me. And Daddy. We used to fight over who got to sit near the window. This was great because you could be in charge of whether the window was up or down, and you’d usually have a dog to share it with. NO fights, today. Ginny got to it in the middle, because she’s so little. We all had a window. Rolling down the Berlin turnpike had a magic to it. You can still feel it forty years later. In its day it was a grand turnpike, and we all felt proud that this magnificent road ran through our town. Seems funny now. It was lined with small businesses. Motels with ten rooms. The Olympia diner, chrome railroad car where Mrs. Bacon our neighbor was waitress- she had five kids, too. We never went there. We never went anywhere on the Berlin turnpike. It was too far away and thing s cost money. Unlike the Bacon kids. They went to the T Bowl a lot Friday night, to shoot pool and bowl. And they’d call up for a taxi when they wanted to go home at 11 or 12. Their father had the car and he was out drinking. Shocking. We went past the Pike drive in theater. There aren’t many drive ins around, now, but they were all the rage then, and we had two in town both on the Berlin Turnpike. E. M. Loews was the other one and it had a stroboscopic sign that was endlessly fascinating to us all. My brother Mike worked at the Pike drive in and loved it. Watching movies, serving popcorn to pretty girls and getting paid for it. Hot cars. Late nights. It was the scene. Then we drove past the Connecticut Light and Power estate, a grand building way up on a hill off to the east with sprawling lawns. Then at last Mickie Finn’s hove into sight. We were no longer in Newington. This was big adventure. You had to go past Mickie Finn’s. The pike was two lanes in each direction separated by a median and you couldn’t just drive through anywhere. You had to get to turn around. There was another another bowling alley on the right, this is the fateful bowling alley my sister Claudie would meet her first husband years later. It was way down. You’d get up to that bowling alley pull a u turn to the left at the light,  and head north  towards Newington again and then you’d pull into Mickie Finns. Tents were set up outside, and there were canoes out there, too. It was awe inspiring to see such gear outside! And inside would be coolers, lanterns that ran on gas with backpacks, knives, boots, rugged wool shirts, canteens, cook kits made of aluminum. My heart would race as we climbed out of the car. Claude would have her transistor radio up to her ear. Joey would be picking a scab, Ginny was too little to know what was going on, but I was electrified. So was my father.

“Yes sir. Much better than canvas. Different animal. Aluminum poles that come apart. Mosquito proof netting in the windows. Floor included as part of the tent. And it’s space age nylon. Waterproof? You ever sleep in a canvas tent? You touch the sides you get soaked. The paraffin wears off you get soaked. The wind blows you get soaked. It rains too hard, you get soaked from underneath. This tent folded up fits in a bag your boy could carry with ease. It don’t weigh much more than thirty pounds. Real portable.  Sleeps six. They used this same stuff on Sputnik. The best.”

We got the tent and a cooler and a Coleman gas lantern, the kind that burn a silk mantle that is just ash, and a tarp and some poles. We eventually each ended up with a sleeping bag- lined with flannel, but my Dad explained how we didn’t have quite enough money to buy them all at once. He’d pick one up every couple of weeks.  Oh when it was your turn to get the sleeping bag you got pretty excited. My Dad was quite good at stirring you up.  We all slept in them on our beds when we first got them, and boy were they warm And our dad would show us all how to roll them up.  They’d be two foot wide and about a foot and a half around when you got them properly squooshed and cinched down with their built in straps that we thought were silk but in all probability were cheap rayon because they frayed and broke pretty quickly. They also probably weighed about ten pounds. We ended up using string to tie the roll tight. They also weren’t so warm when you got them outside.

 

The great day came. We loaded the car. We were all excited, even my mom who always viewed with some skepticism whatever my Dad was up to. But this was really happening. We were going camping with the whole family. Well except for Mike. We drove pretty close to forever. I have absolutely no recollection of the trip, except that with four kids and two dogs and two adults and five hundred pounds of camping gear in a 1955 Chevy four door, we were all cramped and uncomfortable. Both my parents smoked, too, but they held the butts near those little windows that cars used to have ahead of the regular window. The vent window it was called. You could crack the vent window a little and the smoke would just sneak right out if you held the burning butt near it. The two adults are sitting up front smoking  with one chosen kid which got to rotate every stop. The three of us and the dogs in the back having a high old time with our heads out the window, and the dogs’ heads out the window getting those 50 mile an hour breezes in our faces along with that smoke and we were headed for Chip’s Folly. a little camp ground. We stopped at a rest area, to stretch and swtch around. I was taking a little tromp in the wilderness, or course wearing my Bowie knife and some guy called me over and said, “Hey, you can’t wear that thing around like that. That’s a weapon.”  I’m ten at the time. And not a real talkative ten. I listened, and left. I went right back to the car and told my parents what he’d said. My father got indignant. My mother said, “Well maybe he shouldn’t wear it inside city limits.” It kind of took the starch out of me. I thought we were camping. What if a grizzly came out of the woods?

 

We made it to the Chip’s Folly. Probably named that by his wife. It was a small camp ground with a little pond for swimming just like Churchill Pond back home. We would stay for week while my Dad kind of cruised around looking for land to buy.

I thought that pond was about the greatest thing that had ever happened. My brother Joey and I were down there all the time. We took our trucks and toys and our air mattresses and we had non stop fun. The only time you could get me back from that little pond was when it was time to go to bed. I loved it. The sun was slow to show itself that morning. A little mist. I was still in camp when my father got up that morning. He stretched- he was 6 foot three which was pretty tall back then. And yawned. I’d hear him fart in the morning when he thought nobody was around. He walked over to the ring and began get a fire started. As the flames began to dance, he put the coffee pot on. He wasn’t worth much till he’d had a cup or two of coffee. I didn’t understand that then.  I’m sitting there poking sticks into the fire and my father finally gets himself a cup of coffee, and brings one over to my mom. “Here, Evie” as she climbs out of the tent. Sleepy kids emerge. Along about cup two my Dad says, “I thought we’d take a trip over to the beach today.”  I get pretty excited thinking it’ll be kind of fun to have everybody down at the lake . I called it a lake, but I think nobody else would. Mud puddle. Muddy pond. “Yeah, we could go over to the ocean over by Atlantic City. There’s a boardwalk and lots of sand and waves. It’ll be fun.”

My mom exhaled a puff and had a sip. Joey and Ginny and Claude were mildly interested- something to do. I was silent.

“There’s a lot to do at the beach. You can build walls and castles, and play in the sand. You can swim in salt water. It’s fun.”

My mom took a sip of coffee and inhaled a puff. Joey and Ginny and Claude were still mildly interested. I was still silent.

“There’s a lot you can do at the ocean that you can’t do at a little pond.”

I didn’t like that reference to my lake as a “little pond.” That was my lake you were talking about.

“You can see for miles and there’s more beach than you can imagine and the ocean has waves in it. We’ll go right after breakfast.”

After breakfast I went right down to my lake. That’s where I was when they called for me. I didn’t hear them calling because I kept repeating in my head, “I’m not leaving my lake. I’m not leaving my lake. I’m not leaving my lake.”

“PAUL!” shattered the stillness.

“They can’t make me. They can’t make me. They can’t make me.”

My mother came down to talk to me. My father came down after she left. “I’ll show you how to body surf.”  He said a bunch of other stuff too. Finally he picked me up after words didn’t seem to have much effect. He carried me to the car.

I sat for the entire trip with my arms folded not saying a word. “You can bring me there,” I thought, “but you can’t make me like it.”

There was smell to it. I was fighting it tooth and nail and I was little scrapper. But there was an unbelievably attractive smell to it. Kind of subtle and nice. Salty? Maybe some kind of marsh fragrance floating around too. A little salt water pounding the sand putting its ozone into the air to intoxicate everybody. A grumpy little kid included. There were people everywhere and squeals that I couldn’t mistake for anything but delight. Kids were whooping it up in the waves. Racing up and down the sand.  Playing in the sand. And there was sand everywhere. And it was deep, soft warmed by the sun. The light played off the water and that sand and it kind of hit you. Blue and white out there. Blue and white up there. This was nice. I started to get a little less grumpy. I didn’t even have to be carried to the beach. We kids romped a bit. Then my Dad came over and said, “Come on. I’ll show you guys how to body surf. The waves are perfect.” We waded out, our skinny little bodies tensed against the cold and holding our arms up over our heads and jumping when a wave came. And grinning from ear to ear. And our Dad, ahead of us- we all knew how to swim. When we were little we weren’t allowed in the water above our waist until we could swim. We had all clamored for tubes and floats and absolutely not, not until you could swim a certain distance. We won’t need the floats then we’d argue. Well need ‘em or not you can’t have ‘em until you swim. So to get the floats we learned to swim and then we never wanted the floats. “Those are for little kids. A little orange translucent plastic inflatable circle? Who needs that? Kids” And here in a flash came our Dad! My god, like an arrow, right toward us. Arms out ahead of him, head down in the water, being pushed along by a wave way faster than you could ever swim!!! And then he burst out grinning himself. “Come on! I’ll show you how.” And he did. We had a glorious day in those waves.  And I have been hooked ever since The seeds were sown.. I became a surfer when I was ten because of my dad and a little side trip to the beach in Atlantic City. My dad had to carry me out of the water, shivering and blue. I didn’t want to leave.

The Sadie Hawkins Day Massacre

 

 

I have always loved the funnies. I remember Sunday morning, sprawled out on the living room floor, my Dad in his chair, my mom in hers, and all of us kids hanging around. We’d read the paper, talk, eat breakfast. It started to fall apart as my brother Mike and older sister Claude became old enough to want to leave, and go somewhere, but I have a strong memory of this warm, wonderful feeling. And I’d have what seemed like an hour’s worth of funny pages to read, in color on Sunday. It was heaven. I knew it couldn’t last because at some point the piano lessons would start. My father was a music teacher and believed that all of his kids should play two instruments. Everyone should have a thorough grounding on the piano, and then you should play the instrument of your choice. The “of your choice” part was a little dicey. I actually wanted to play the drums. I was a hyperactive little kid who loved nothing better than whacking things. My dad did get me a practice pad and some drum sticks, but I never got drums. I wonder why? Anyway, I got suckered into the violin. He brought home a quarter-sized fiddle one evening, and showed it off and the next thing you know I’m a fiddle player. It’s one thing to pick out a fiddle because a quarter-sized violin is pretty cute to look at. The reality is that they sound horrible, especially in the hands of a kid who likes to whack things. And then there’s this whole idea of practicing. You’re supposed to practice.  Every day. Twenty minutes. Twenty minutes to a kid is enough time, when doing something unpleasant, to kill you. It is unbearably long. Of course if you’re doing something fun, like whacking things, it is no time at all. Funny about time. It’s still like that. Want more time? Do something unpleasant.

 

So on Sunday you had this fantastic morning: school seemed far away and there was food and family and funnies. In color. One of my favorites was the Phantom. Lee Falk wrote it.

It’s still around. Once in while I’ll see it up in Maine. The Phantom was this guy who lived in the jungle, all alone, yeah, except for his pygmy friends/servants. He lived in a cave. An of course he fought for justice. He ran a thing called the Jungle Patrol where a bunch of guys in shorts and safari hats maintained law and order in the jungle. Bad guys were always trying to do things like hurt elephants to take their ivory and make a fortune. Bad guys always had a two day beard. And they’d smoke. Well when the Jungle patrol couldn’t handle it, they’d send a secret message to Mr. Walker- the ghost who walks. That was the Phantom. He was like a ninja. He’d show up mysteriously, no one ever heard him. And he’d settle the hash pretty quickly. He wore purple tights with his underwear on the outside as all super heroes seemed to do back then, and he’d have a tight, purple shirt, of course he was built like Hercules, and the shirt had a hood that covered his head, tightly and came down in front to a point over his nose and eyebrows. And he wore a little black mask. That’s so you couldn’t tell who he was. There was a secret trail through the jungle swamps and if you stepped off the path you were toast. Not toast exactly, swamp goo. You didn’t want to step off the path. And it wasn’t marked. You just had to know. The phantom didn’t want people coming to his secret cave unannounced. I forgot the best park. His cave was shaped like a skull and he wore a ring that had a skull on it. So when he punched the bad guy’s lights out, they’d wake up with a skull imbedded on their chin, forever a mark of shame. Bad guy. Everybody seemed to know all this stuff and for a little kid it was tremendously fun to piece it all together. Then as I got a little older I even started to like the fact that he had a secret girlfriend. Her name was Dianna and she worked for newspaper in civilization- I have no idea of how they met, but she was madly in love with him, and he with her. She wore skirts and had long hair and was pretty shapely herself. She’d come to the cave every now and then, probably just often enough to remind everybody that the Phantom was normal as far as that went. She couldn’t give up her job because she was so important and powerful at her newspaper, the free world would collapse if she left I guess. The Phantom likewise couldn’t leave his jungle, or the bad guys would take over. Comic time is even more weird than regular time and I’d be willing to be that if I followed the phantom for while now it would still be the same, she’d still be kind of foxy and he’d still be a hunk, and they’d somehow be unable to get together. They never went into a lot of detail about what went on in the cave when Dianna was there, but a young boy imagines it must have been pretty nice. Maybe as nice as my own home on Sunday mornings before the piano lessons began. The piano lessons kind of shattered the mood. It’s not that we all hated the piano, although we all sort of did, but my dad would announce at the end of each lesson, in a pretty loud voice, “Next victim.” And the next victim knew who he was. My Dad was joking of course, about the victim. We weren’t really victims; we were pupils. Many a truth is spoken in jest.

 

It’s funny how much you can learn from the comics page. It is reading. You get to do all the predicting, the questioning, the reacting, that you would to a book, but it’s got all these cool pictures, too. I owe my love of the funnies to my Dad. Thanks, Dad. When I was a little kid he’d perch me on his lap and read the funnies to me. Read aloud. As I grew, he’d let me read them on my own, and I’d come over to him to ask questions about words I didn’t know or things I just didn’t get. He’d explain it all. That’s a pun, a play on words. Sail, sale. Same sound, different meaning. It’s not really funny as in laugh out loud, but a chuckle at the cleverness. This is supposed to be funny because this character is expecting one thing and a very different thing is lurking for him around this bush. They were never funny when they were explained, but after a while you started to understand. It was great.

Another funny that was a favorite was Li’l Abner by Al Capp. It was pretty political. “So what’s Li’l Abner, Dad?”

“The apostrophe shows that some letters are missing. It’s Little. But he doesn’t say Little Abner because it’s southern dialect and he’s trying to replicate how a southerner would say it. It rolls off your tongue better that way, too. Lilabner.  Laid back. Now you’ll notice Abner is huge. So that’s a little funny, too, calling him little when he’s big. An oxymoron.”

 

Image result for Lil Abner

 

“Oh, thanks.” I didn’t get any of the political stuff. I was a kid. What I got was Daisy Mae. She wore very short shorts and some sort of a handkerchief top. She was sexy. I was old enough to catch that. She was crazy for Li’l  Abner, who was determined to stay a bachelor. Why, I don’t know because Daisy was curvy enough to make anyone want to marry her, and of course there were other characters who tried to court her, but Daisy’s heart was set on Abner. Well once a year, in November, they had the Sadie Hawkins Day race. Men lined up first and when the gun was fired off they went. Women then lined up next. I forget how much of a head start the men got, but the women had to wait, a lot of them looking a lot like Daisy Mae, buxom, long legged, short shorted, handkerchief topped curvy girls, then some skinny hags, and a sprinkling of fat old women. When the gun went off the women took off- fast. The deal was that if a women could catch a man and drag him back to the starting line, he’d have to marry her. Aha! So we all know who Daisy Mae was chasing. So all of us young boys are rooting for Daisy Mae to catch Li’l Abner so they can get married. It’s not a strip you can find nowadays since Capp kicked the bucket and he was too early in the game to have someone else take over a lucrative strip, so it’s history.

 

When I was in high school, though, we used to have a Sadie Hawkins Day Dance, in November. Girls got to ask boys to the dance which in the not yet enlightened 1960’s was radical. This is before the woman’s movement started to promote women’s rights and it seems silly to have to have official permission to ask a guy to a dance if you want to, but it was a pretty big deal back then. And I got asked.  Marge Pluta asked me. She was pretty cute. I was flattered that any girl would notice me, of course, and I accepted. I didn’t play it cool. There were about two hundred girls that I thought were good looking enough to die for the chance to be with, but I was not any kind of a mover. I was quiet little kid. I liked Daisy Mae, but like Abner, I was tongue tied and awkward around girls I liked.  I just said yes to Marge. I didn’t even think of waiting for someone I actually had a crush on to ask.

 

Marge was awfully nice and she was pretty cute, but she was a year younger so our paths did not cross. Different classes, different routes to those classes? How did she know of me? I never wondered. She must have thought I was cute, but I had absolutely no concept of myself as anything but a more of less than adequate funny-looking guy with ears that belonged on Mickey Mouse blundering around on size twelve feet all over the high school everywhere except in gym class which I loved. Somehow I had been on her radar and so it was set. Off to the Sadie Hawkins day dance we would go. My first dance. There was girl Bruce Phillips from down south, petite, blonde and little hint of a southern drawl that was quite appealing. I really liked her. She was in band and it was just friendship with us, at least that’s what I thought, so that made it so easy, right? I told Bruce I’d been asked to the dance. “Who are you going with, handsome?” Bruce said.

I told her.

“Lucky Marge. Look, Paul, do you know how to dance?” I admitted I did not. “Why don’t you come over my house some afternoon and I can show you?” Does it get any better than that? A really cute girl offering to teach you to dance?  So things were going well. Then it dawned on me, the week of the dance, that I needed a car to go. Planning was not my strong suit. I asked my dad, “Can I have the Skylark to take a girl to the Sadie Hawkins Dance on Friday?”

“Who are you going with?”

“Marge Pluta.”

“Where is she from?”

“She goes to our school and lives over by the end of Maple Street off Willard somewhere.”

“O.K. You’ll just have to take your mom grocery shopping first.” We just had one car. Like everybody back then.

Easy enough.

This was semi-formal dance. The male was expected to bring a corsage for his date, even though she’d asked him. The female was expected to a have boutonniere for the boy, so the boy had to wear a jacket with a tie so there was a place to put the boutonniere, and the girl would of course be in a pretty fancy dress, a gown. High stakes dance. On Friday I got my corsage for Marge after school. It was kind of exciting. You’d go in to pick it up at the florist, and you’d have ordered one ahead and they sort of knew you- small town America is great like that. If you went in frequently- say twice or three times, they’d know you by name. Very cozy. And so excitement seemed to be everywhere. A real date. I had my sport coat and shirt and tie and slacks laid out in my room and then went out to ask my mom if she were ready to go grocery shopping. She was. Things were not always smooth between my mom and my dad. Five kids, one job, a teacher’s salary wasn’t overly generous. My dad had expensive tastes- the Buick, expensive clothes. My mom took it on the chin. A lot. So that she wasn’t particularly cheery today wasn’t new. She took a nervous drag on her cigarette; I helped her put on her old gray coat, the butt hanging loosely from her lips while she got her arms in. We left. I stayed beside her as we walked down the cracked sidewalk out front of our little house, as befits a gentleman. “So are you excited about tonight?” she asked

“Yeah, a little.”

“Is the girl you’re going with nice?”

“I don’t really know her that well. She just asked me to this dance. Before that we didn’t really know each other.”

“I’ll bet she’s beautiful.”

What do you say when your mom talks like that?

I drove us over to GEM market, this special chain store where you had to have membership and if you got in- like they don’t want ordinary paying customers, they want super duper paying customers- you got thee terrific discounts on everything. It was supposed to be a great deal and they were supposedly exclusive about who could get in. Teachers could get in. We were pretty proud of that. We pulled into Gem’s parking lot which was as large as any mall. I’m not sure how exclusive a store it really was, and we walked in. You may be wondering why I had to drive my mom. She had her license. She’d gotten her license when she was ancient. She learned to drive on our 1955 Chevy and she passed the test, but she was so uncomfortable driving that she never drove again. She always renewed her license so if there were an emergency, she could still legally drive. I grabbed a cart and I helped her shop. “Paul, go over to the deli and get some sliced ham, and pick up three pounds of hamburg.”

“You want me to get Krakus ham sliced if I can?” She loved that Polish ham.

“”Oh, that would be lovely. Yes.”

So in fairly short order our cart is full. I was keeping my eye on the clock since I had big plans that night, but my mom had left enough time for her to do the shopping and she was getting older and walked pretty slowly. I was quick ordinarily; today I was a rocket ship. My first dance. A real date. “Oh Paul, would you like to get some Jahn Jagels?” These were a kind of cookie I used to like a lot. My mom bought them so often though that I didn’t like them any more. The way she asked, though I could tell she wanted to do something for me and felt a little bad that she couldn’t do more. I went to get the Jahn Jagels. She slowly pushed the cart, slightly stooped, her gray hair and blue fringed scarf laying tired on the shoulders of her coat.

We were waiting in line to pay, I was preoccupied with thoughts of Marge Pluta and the dance.  It’s our turn to check out and I am absent-mindedly putting groceries on the little rubber conveyor belt while my mom watches the guy cash us out, her red wallet with the built-in change purse open. Five kids and two dogs eat a lot of groceries. The next thing I know my mother is banging her head on the conveyor belt and between deep sobs is saying quietly, “I can’t take it any more. I can’t take it any more. I can’t take it any more.” She punched the “take” more and more as she just kept saying it. Over and over and over.

I put my hands on her shoulders, and stood her up. “It’s o.k. Mommy.” I took the money out of her wallet and paid the guy for the groceries. There wasn’t quite enough. I fished out a five from my own wallet. “Can you push the groceries out to the car for us so I can take my mom?” They didn’t usually do that for you here, you got such big discounts on the food and all.

The cashier was staring. The bag boy looked at the cashier. The cashier nodded. The bag boy said, “Sure,” and began to push the cart. I put my left arm under my mom’s knees. She was sobbing like a child. I picked her up. I had no perception of weight. I didn’t see anyone. I caught up to the cart. In the parking lot we found the car and I put my mom in the passenger seat in front. We loaded the groceries in the trunk. I said thanks to the kid who’d helped and drove home.

We got home to an empty house. My mom was still rattled to the point where she was not making a lot of sense. I had questions. She probably had a few herself. This was not the first time I’d seen something like this happen. My Dad did it a lot. Nerves. My mom had done it a time or two. I knew what they usually did was call Hartford Hospital. I set my mom in her chair in the living room and went out to the phone in the kitchen on the wall by the utility room. I called the operator and asked for the number of Hartford Hospital and called. “Hi, my mom is having a nervous breakdown. Yes, I can wait.”

So I arranged for an ambulance to come pick my mother up, unloaded the groceries and started to put them away. My little sister Ginny came home. The ambulance arrived before I finished. I told Ginny what happened. They took my mother away and I went to put on my outfit. I wasn’t very excited any more. I left to pick up Marge.

At the dance, Marge noticed I seemed distracted. I tired to enjoy the dance. I was nervous, of course. I eventually told Marge what happened that afternoon.

“My god!” she said, in a nice way. “I think we should leave. You should take me home.”

“No, I’m o.k. I don’t want to spoil things.”

“You’re not spoiling things. This is a hard thing for you, and you’re at a dance. It’s not right. You’d be better off at home.” A pause. “Honest. I’m o.k. missing the dance.”

 

“O.K.” I took her home. Relieved. My thoughts swirling. Why was I relieved? Was I copping out on the dance because I was nervous? Should I have stuck it out? Was I being unfair to Marge? Did I not like Marge enough? What kind of a person am I? What am I going to do at home?  At home I don’t remember talking with anyone about what happened. I don’t remember doing anything in particular except watching Man From Uncle with my brother Mike. Illya Kuryaken and Napoleon Solo. I eventually went to bed. Some dance.

Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964)