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.

PFY Porch026Mother 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 purchase of two cups of sugar per person per week. When you consider the amount of baking folks did in those days, the white cane powder had to be well marshaled. It was sometimes treated as a medium of exchange: “I’ll trade you my allotment of two cups for that roast or steak or whatever.” Sugar was king.

One day, a rationed supply was delivered and left on our front porch. (My mother had somehow saved up her coupons and acquired a couple of flour-size packages.) This delivery was nirvana for a two-and-one-half-year-old. I somehow managed to open the packets and frolic in an ocean of snow as I dog-paddled around the veranda swallowing the whitecap waves. I was the whale that ate Jonah. I was the cat that ate the mouse. I was the wolf that ate Little Red Riding Hood. I was having the time of my short life.

Then came “the bellow.” My mother could really holler. Ethel Merman had nothing on her. It was like the sound of the alarm when a submarine dives to avoid enemy aircraft, a clatter of warning, anger, and remorse all at the same time. Many neighbors heard “the bellow” too. My mother became famous on Central Street for her thunderous roars.

Next came the whacks on my behind. Child corporal punishment was not a big issue in 1945. My mother, and every other parent I knew, believed wholeheartedly that if you spare the rod, then you spoil the child. At the time, I was in a sugar trance, a fructose high, a sweet stupor. Although I both heard and felt the smacks, it was like I heard, felt, and indeed viewed her discipline from outside my body. And I heard words like coupons and rations and war but had no idea what it all meant. Thankfully, my diapers blunted most of the sting. Yes, I have memories from my diaper days. Either I was a remarkable savant or, more likely, I flunked potty training.

The perp at the scene of t he crime

The perp at the scene of the crime

And so it went, that summer of ’45.

“I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it.”

William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Copyright 2015 © Peter F. Young

All Rights Reserved

Most of Peter Young’s musings are from his book “Flatlander and the Rise and Fall of Mike and the Ravens” and is available on the Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Kindle web sites as well as other on-line outlets.

 


 

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