Northfield, Vermont

Northfield, Vermont             It was the summer of 1941. My father packed up the family, (then consisting of only Mother, Dad and my sister, Jackie) said good-bye to Barre, Vermont and headed to the Bay State to find fame and fortune (or, well, hopefully just a good-paying job). He was eager to swap his occupation as a journeyman stonecutter for one as a machine-shop maven. Of course, I was only a twinkle in my parents’ eyes at the time, as the saying goes. Dad found work with the American Rubber Company and later Milton Bradley, the amusement company that had switched its focus from board games to manufacturing universal joints used on the landing gear of fighter planes. In late 1943, Uncle Sam took a great interest in him. He passed a physical with ease and was deemed fit for service in “This Man’s Navy,” which was quite remarkable since he could not swim! Knowing he was going to be called up, he moved the family back to Vermont in September of 1944 which now consisted of three native Vermonters and one Flatlander. Mother and her Flatlander son after moving to Vermont in 1944. Note the porch in the background. It became the scene of a crime. Northfield in the forties was a terrific place to rear children. In the warmer months, you could put your little ones outdoors and not worry about their well-being until it was time to feed them lunch or supper. Many kids of my war-baby generation lived everywhere, especially on Central Street, the location of our rented apartment. It was only a short walk downtown to Northfield’s small yet vibrant business district clustered around a compact oval-shaped park called the Common. This green space was dotted with trees, a civil war monument, and a water fountain with a spouting geyser. The weary and contemplative had their choice of numerous park benches scattered about. It was, and still is, a Rockwellian scene. Norwich University, the nation’s oldest private military college, was located at the other end of the street. My mother’s forebears had been living in town since 1859, and my mother’s grandfather, William Houghton, was still there at 16 Vine Street when we made the move in ’44. My mother graduated from Northfield High School in 1936. Her brother, Glendon, soon to be forever known post–high school as Ponzi after the notorious swindler, received his NHS diploma (barely) in 1933. My mother’s mother Ida Mae and Ida’s brother Clyde likewise (barely) received diplomas in 1911 and 1916 respectively. And my sister, my sister’s kids Joseph and Judi, me, my sons Peter and Michael, my daughter Amy, and my two  wives (fortunately, both are known by the nickname Susie) all graduated from dear old NHS as well. I don’t remember the move from Massachusetts to the Green Mountain State as I was only fourteen months old in September of 1944. Nevertheless, memories formed soon after. Let me set the scene. Northfield, as I painted above, was (and still is) a pretty New England college town as well as a blue-collar community where everyone knew everyone. Many grocery stores  (there were at least six in the compact village area alone: Fernandez, Diego’s, Abascal’s, Ray’s, Donahue’s, and Denny’s) delivered to your door. If you were not home, then they simply left your order on your porch or stoop—there was little danger of someone absconding with your supplies. Certain items were rationed during World War II and even up until 1947. Sugar was in great demand and in short supply. Coupons were issued to families that allowed the...

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The Beginning

All stories must have a beginning. Mine commences July 24, 1943, the date of my birth, in Springfield, Massachusetts. Family lore has it I was quite a homely newborn, one who apparently engaged in mortal combat with the birth canal. I had no chin and a nose that was bent to the side of my face. (I was never informed which cheek my schnozzle favored.) My parents nicknamed me Andy after the comic-book character Andy Gump, who literally had no lower jaw. I’m pleased to have provided them some comic relief in ’43, but really, it got old by the time I was in high school. Most pundits who think about these matters agree that babies born between 1938 and 1946 make up the war-baby generation. We are too young and too lucky to have experienced any of the Great Depression. Many of us have only the faintest recollection of our country being at war with Germany and Japan. And most of us were too old to have been caught up in the campus turmoil and drug culture of the late 1960s. We were the first generation to come of age with rock ’n’ roll in the fifties. The drugs in the saying “Sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll” were absent for quite a few of us, but you could certainly substitute beer or maybe television in their place. We were also the first couch potatoes. Marshall “the medium is the message” McLuhan had nothing on us. For many, or at least those of us who were white, our lives were, for the most part, idyllic. Our main conflicts were with our parents over such things as the devil’s music, the length of our hair, homework, Little Richard, and whether we could have the car on Friday night. However, our introduction to and love for so-called black music presented aspects of African American culture in a way that helped spur many of us to participate in the civil-rights struggles of the sixties. We were not completely self-centered—it just looked that way. We were tweeners, wedged between the greatest generation and the boomers. (I know, I know. I skipped the silent generation. Mea culpa.) Yep, I was a brand-new member of the war-baby generation. Many of us were conceived in lustful haste and abandon with the sword of Damocles hanging over our fathers’ heads. Off to war they went, some never to return. Conventions be damned. Full steam ahead. Well, you get the picture. And no matter what the backstory is, thinking of your parents engaging in baby making is—let’s just say—hard to visualize. As a youngster growing up in Northfield, Vermont, I often bragged about my Massachusetts heritage. My birth state had the big cities, the Red Sox and Celtics, the ocean and television. Vermont had cows. I waxed on about the Bay State’s superior attributes as I understood them. Most of my classmates were born in Vermont, and many had never left its friendly confines. I thought of them as local yokels, whereas I considered myself to be utterly cosmopolitan—a citizen of the world, if you define the world as the states of Massachusetts and Vermont. Then one day, during sixth grade, my world, my essence, my soul was suddenly altered. I was spouting off as usual about the state where I was born, touting its glories, when one of my provincial classmates rudely informed me that I was not a Vermonter and could never ever be considered one. “Whaddaya mean?” I replied. “All my mother’s ancestors have been living here since Vermont was an independent republic. My...

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Just Plain Stupid

Broadway, courtesy of Mwanner under GNU Free Documentation License, version 1.2 This is how three Vermont teenagers spent their evenings during the summer of 1960. They were caddies at the White Face Inn, a resort in Lake Placid N.Y.  Their solstice home, however, was the Hotel Alpine in Saranac Lake, which had seen better days. The tariff was a dollar a night per kid. Blodgett was game, but Brian and I had our doubts about him. We decided to explore downtown Saranac Lake. I know. You’re wondering how such an harmless activity could possibly be a JPS (Just Plain Stupid) exercise. Yes, we were very familiar with the surrounding streets. We knew the location of all the bars and saloons and which restaurants served homemade mashed potatoes with lots of gravy. We didn’t know what was atop those establishments however and so began the great overland route adventure. The Alpine was located at the north end of Broadway, a fairly long thorough fare lined with one to three story business blocks. Our quest was to see how far we could travel along this street without our feet touching the ground. Our jumping “up” point was a three story brick building not far from our hotel. (Jumping “off” would have been incorrect.) A wrought iron fire escape ladder, located in an alley on its north side provided the means. Somehow, we had to grab the last portion of stairs and pull it to the ground. It was not designed for people to go up. Coming down would not be a problem as the weight of the those escaping would gently lower the stairs to the ground. We gave each other hand lifts to do avail. We cursed. We tried standing on each other’s shoulders but that failed, leaving large welts on our rotator cuffs. We cursed. We simply could not reach the bottom rung of the iron ladder. What to do? Give up and have a beer? Admit defeat? We cursed some more. Ah ha! What is that over there? Why, it’s a bunch of rubbish barrels. We stacked two and ordered Steve, the tallest among us (and more importantly, the rookie of the bunch) to climb up and see if he could grab hold of any part and pull it down. Our jerry rig was rickety. We assured Steve we wouldn’t let it collapse. After some prodding, he very reluctantly scaled the barrel apparatus but still couldn’t reach any metal. I thought of a resolution to our dilemma and said, “Ok, no problem, Steve. Just jump from the top barrel and grab the iron and hold on. It will slowly descend to the ground.” “Yeah Right,” muttered Mr. Blodgett. “I’m supposed to take advice from a guy who lit my pants on fire?” Huh? Our alley antics were beginning to make the Keystone Kops look adroit. We could have been Keystone Bandits. I’m surprised no one called in a burglary in process. Our stealth beginning became a raucous spectacle. Finally, after repeated cajoling from Brian and me, Steve said “fuck it.” He crouched down as if he was Superman preparing to fly and with a huge grunt exploded towards the wayward escape ladder. His left hand missed, but his right hit pay dirt, as the trash containers and contents spewed in several directions. He dangled by one arm as the steel slowly fell to earth. I thought I heard him say on the way down, very quietly, ”Thank You Lord.” I paid no heed as I attributed his religiosity to another example of foxhole piety. We were on our...

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Liar Liar, Pants on Fire

I met him after I set his pant leg on fire. All caddies (in theory) assembled early in the a.m. on the first tee, awaiting assignment by the caddy master. We would engage in playful bantering while sitting upon the logs that engulfed the driving area till the paying patrons appeared. Practical jokes abounded. It was a teenage bonding session. We joked, complained, smoked, argued, agreed, told stories and one upped each other until the powers that be told us to shut up. I found myself one day about a week into the season parked next to Steve during our daily morning ritual. He was expounding about something as only he can when I noticed that his left pant leg had several long threads dangling to the ground. I just couldn’t resist. I removed my lighter from its resting place and while Steve was orating, lit those wayward strands. The fire quickly ran up to the pant leg itself which also started to burn. Now, understand, the entire group, except for Steve, watched this display as it unfolded. Presumable, he took their expressions of awe as reactions to his monologue. While making a humorous point, he suddenly leapt from the log swatting at imaginary hornets while seemingly dancing an Irish Jig. However, instead of quashing stingers he killed pant ash. The assemblage exploded into laughter. Steve’s face turned crimson in hue as he looked at me with a glare that I interpreted as follows: “It’s that Young guy from Vermont. What do I do? Should I challenge him right now and save face? What if I lose? That’s not saving any face. Maybe I should go with the flow, laugh it off, and demonstrate what a good sport I am. But, will that forever imprint in their minds I’m a chicken shit? I gotta do something. They’re all watching me. It’s all of sudden very quiet. He’s not that big, but he sure is a cocky bastard. What a fucking weird kid.” Meanwhile I was thinking: ‘Gee, he’s kinda tall. Must go over six feet. What if he slugs me? I can’t lose face in front of this group. Do you think I can take him Mr. Ego? Maybe I’ll dive for his legs and knock him off balance. What’ll I do? What’ll I do? Can I take him, Alter?” There was no response from the Brothers Ego. None. They were as speechless and astonished as the rest of the caddies had become. Finally, I came up with a plan. Why not extend a hand? What’s the worst that can happen? He refuses and looks bad or he accepts and makes both of us look good. That strategy got the attention of the Ego Brothers who in unison said ‘Here! Here!” I slowly raised my arm with my palm outstretched. Thankfully, Steve accepted it. From that point forward, we became and have remained very close...

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Magnificent Babe Ride

Hello ….    I don’t recommend a sixteen year old taking a 1957 Pink and White Fuel Injected, Duel Carburetor, 330 horsepower Pontiac Star Chief Bonneville Convertible with Factory add-on Continental Kit  To the Department of Motor Vehicles for the license road test. Or  To his honey’s house for his first car date. Stay tuned for the story in: Flatlander or The Brothers Ego and Me I was fortunate my parents were very liberal when it came to letting me have the use of one of their vehicles.  Awesome!  Little did they know.  It was not so splendid for my sweetie’s guardians however.   I had my first motor car date with my honey on that same Freedom Day.  It was still nice that evening when I pulled in front of her house in the pink and white with the top down and the radio blaring.  Stupid move!  Before I could remove my shades and exit the vehicle, I had a visitor and it wasn’t my significant other. “How fast does this thing go?” rolled of the lips of my sugar’s supreme ruler.  There was no “Hello Peter, good to see you again.  Won’t you come inside while my daughter finishes her primping just for you, and have a coke?” There was no good answer to her query, so I had to parry the question. “Well, I don’t really know.  I try to keep it within the speed limit at all times.  I don’t want to get any speeding tickets. I’m a very safe driver.” “What does the speedometer indicate?” Oh, oh.  Right to the quick! She could have been a lawyer. “Well, I never really noticed and anyway that is just for show I have been told.  Nobody except race drivers would attempt to do that.” “WHAT DOES IT INDICATE,” arose from the depths of her body like a primordial scream.  This was not going well and I only had my license for a few hours.  As usually, the Brothers Ego became deathly quiet as the going got rough. “One-hundred and twenty,” I quietly mumbled. “I can’t hear you,” she replied. “Please repeat that.” “It seems to indicate that a professional driver in a controlled environment with all kinds of safety equipment might be able to achieve a speed of 120 mph,” sprang from my vocal chords as if I was doing a public service announcement.  I heard the Ego Brothers say “Huh? Wrong answer, Pete” “ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY?”  was the astonished reply of the person who had the ability to prevent me and my honeybun from ever being alone in my BMR. This was getting way, way out of hand. Did she know about my quest last summer to reach the 120 mph mark?  Did she have ESP?   I had to do something and quick. “I really am a safe driver. I will take good care of you daughter and bring her back, secure and sound by 11:00.  We are going to the passio…, excuse me the Moon-Light Drive-In  and then straight back to Northfield.  I promise.” To my utter surprise, my answer seemed to put her at ease, to a point.  She responded that if anything untoward happened to her daughter, I would regret living in Northfield.  She made some analogy about a bear and her cubs, the point of which I fully understood.  And with that, my dearest appeared upon the scene, seemingly out of nowhere. With a “Hi, how are you?” I opened the passenger door and escorted her into the vehicle.  As I slowly drove down the street, I noticed in my real view...

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