Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | December 29, 2019

I prefer things to make sense.

For instance, if you want to take a bus from one place in a city to another, the place to stand is in the close vicinity of a bus stop.  That makes sense.  Or if you want a built-in bookcase made of dark cherry wood,  hire a carpenter, not a brick layer. (I speak only to the not-handy, otherwise, by all means, make it yourself with wood.  Dark cherry, if you like.)

From twelve to nineteen, I played club football.  At twelve, I was one of the bigger players; my coach told me I was a tackle.  Back then we played both offense and defense so I learned how to block and how to tackle.  By fifteen, though, I was taller and much slimmer, no longer tackle size.  Nor was I suited to quarterback, nor was I fast enough for running back.  What was left?  End.  I didn’t need to learn blocking or tackling, but I did need to learn catching and patterns.  I could do that.  I didn’t think it was hard.

At fifteen, I was no longer on a club team.  Instead I played on the junior varsity team. We scored touch downs on offense and defense. We tackled quarterbacks and running backs in their own backfield. We were very good and lost no games.

The end of the fall sports season always included a morning athletic assembly.  Members of teams, junior varsity and varsity, were called to line up in alphabetical order to receive certificates, numerals (of one’s graduation year), or letters.  At that season’s assembly, our coach gave a brief recap of our season.  He was very brief. He asked us to stand, and then announced to the student body that ours had been an undefeated team.  The entire student body and faculty applauded us.  We were celebrated.  We were acutely embarrassed and very proud.  All day long we were congratulated by our peers, upperclassmen, those in lower  school (grades 7 through 9), and by many of the masters, which was what we called teachers.

I know for a fact that never, not once, in any of the games of that undefeated season, did any of us celebrate a good play: touchdown, tackle, a long run, or a skilled catch.  We patted each other on the back, said nice catch, or good running, or way to go, great tackle.  We never danced, we never pretended to pose for a picture, we took no stance or posture and looked at the bleachers (there were almost always at least two or three parents watching), and we never spiked the ball.  None of that ever occurred to us.  What we did do was play the game we had been taught and coached to play as well as we could.  That was fun and rewarding, which was the point, which made sense, which was why we were there on the field in the first place.

I stopped playing football after high school – not big or fast enough. I did watch our team play.  I cheered for them, glad when they won, sad when they lost.  That was the fall of 1964, and I never saw any of the kind of celebrating that is nowadays impossible not to see many times over whenever a football game is televised.  To me, it’s unseemly, unsportsman like, braggadocios.

Professional athletes are paid astonishing amounts of money.  Surely that is reward enough, not to mention, what else are they hired to do other than play football well which includes, as it always has, tackling, blocking, catching, running, and scoring points?  Does it not make sense that a young man who is paid multiple millions of dollars to catch footballs actually does catch footballs?  Is that not what he expects of himself?  Isn’t that what his coaches expect?  Is that not what his owner, he who pays the salaries, expects?  Certainly fans expect that.  Does it make sense that doing precisely what you have been hired to do is cause for celebration?

Then finally there’s this:  celebrating successful football play apparently has nothing to do with your team’s success.  Even when a team is clearly going to lose the game, say, behind thirty points or more at the final two minutes warning, first downs are accompanied by the exaggerated sword thrust, hand gesture.  What exactly is that celebration meant to celebrate.  Certainly not the team’s play.  What’s left if not that one particular player’s successful play, albeit in a losing effort?

Other sports are not exempt, but no others celebrations are so elaborate, so emphatic and extravagant.  I enjoy watching football games more than any other sport (except for the UCONN Women’s Basketball Team), but I do wish most players would take notice of the handful of players who do what they’ve been hired to do, like handing the ball to a ref, and jogging back to the huddle.  I appreciate that, not the other.

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | August 15, 2021

The Anniversary of a Death

I stopped visiting my father three or four years before he died – I’ll get to the reason – which he did in August, but I don’t know the date.  During the last visit or maybe second to last, his wife, the step-mother, had asked that I go with him for a short walk.  He was still rehabbing a broken leg from a month or so previously.  On our way out the door, apropos of nothing, he said, “If you wipe your razor off with Kleenex after you shave, it will stay sharp longer.”

“Now you tell me, I said.”  I had by then been shaving for about fifty years.

“You never asked before,” was his comment.  I did not point out the near to no chance whatsoever that such a question would have occurred to me at any time in my life. 

He’s been dead now for I think ten years, and I continue to perseverate about that conversation.  You may be thinking a three-sentence exchange is not accurately described in the word conversation.  I can only say you weren’t among my father’s progeny.  Not only was that a conversation, it was a long one.

Here’s why I stopped visiting.  I, along with my siblings, received a letter from some officer of the Bank of America.  We were being notified that instructions for the distribution of income from a trust established under my mother’s will were about to expire according to the terms of the will because our youngest sibling had reached the age of 35.  According to those terms, 46% of that trust’s income had been periodically distributed evenly among us ten children.  54% went to our father.  Absent any further guidance provided by either the will or the terms of the trust itself, that Bank of America officer, Patricia Somebody, had prepared a Memorandum of Understanding for moving ahead.  As of such and such a date, 100% of the income was to be distributed solely among us children.  That would amount to a raise of 5.4%, from approximately $3500 per annum to a bit more than $7000.

In our family’s case, I had always felt the purpose of the oddly split distribution was to assist our father with the expenses of raising ten children.  Why that condition might continue until the youngest reached 35 I can only imagine.  Be that as it may, when the sibling reached that age, it can be accurately said that all ten of us were living our own lives and had been for quite a while. Not only did our father no longer need help with the raising, he hadn’t for some time.  So in my thinking, Patricia Last-name-unknown, had been in contact with our father and it was he who had instructed her to promulgate the Memo of Understanding.

To the best of my knowledge, my mother’s second youngest sister’s will – she predeceased our mother by three plus years – had been similarly structured.  However, when that sister’s five children reached adulthood and were living their own lives, well before the youngest was 35, their father gave instructions for 100% of the income to be directly distributed to them.

Turns out I was very wrong about my assumption of the source for the Memo of Understanding’s language.  Our father, in what can be fairly and accurately described as panic, put the kibosh on that plan in no uncertain terms, for according to him, if those new terms were to go into effect, he would be destitute within minutes.  I could delineate here the absurdity of that notion, but I won’t.  Let this suffice: his income in 1950 was $65,000.  From 1950 to the year 2000, annual inflation averaged 4.1%.  The 2000 equivalent of $65,000 was then $463,538.00.  In the year 2000, he, our father, was still fully employed as officer of at least three oil companies – president of one and vice-president of two.  At the time of the dust-up, he had been retired for about four years, but he remained on the board of directors (paid positions) of two of the three companies.  The size of his independent wealth can only be guessed at.  His home in Newport Beach was tasteful, filled with art by such as Remington, Sloane, etc. His and the step-mother’s cars were new every two years. They favored Lexus. Their membership in a country-club was secure, and their travel was first-class.  Were his share of the trust of which I spoke to have stopped coming his way, he would have had to adjust to approximately $8000 reduction in income each year. Need I go on?

Six of his ten children brought suit with the object of increasing all ten of our individual incomes by five percent, even at the risk of sending him to the poor house.  We did not prevail.

In 2011, when our father died, his wife and our four siblings who did not join  the suit saw fit to keep the information from the six of us.  Okay, I guess, even though we had done what we could to make our bringing of the suit not a personal attack on the man.  Nevertheless, that is the way it was taken and characterized. But why, you may wonder,  keep his death a secret?  Ah, well, try this on for size:  this 98-year-old man with a history of heart disease, with age related leukemia for which he had blood transfusions once a month, who kept falling and sustaining injuries from the falls – what was the cause of death?  A shattered heart, we were given to understand, caused by the suit brought against him by six of his children for whom he had labored and sacrificed all his life. 

Now, back to wiping your razor with a Kleenex to keep it sharper longer.  He could have given  me this handy piece of information ages ago, probably long enough ago so that over the years I would have saved enough on razor blades to afford semi-annual vacations on the Riviera had I but asked.  This got me to thinking about how else my life might have been better had I only thought to ask other questions.

Hey, Dad, do you have any tips for making me a more successful person?

Well, let’s see, did I ever mention keeping your nose to the grindstone?  Oh, I did, well, you must have asked me already, then.  How about, you need to try harder?  Did I tell you about that one?  Then there’s don’t bite your fingernails, don’t pick your nose, don’t fart in a closed car.  And, uh, always close the front door and make sure you turn off the lights.  Keep your feet off the furniture.  Oh, and be careful around my new car.  And don’t let your children use the front door if they’ve been playing outside.  You’ll save a fortune cleaning bills!  Hang up your clothes.  Keep your room neat.  Colgate makes the best toothpaste, never had a cavity in my life, but always put the cap back on.  Don’t wear gray pants with a brown jacket.  Or brown shoes with gray pants.  You never asked me about any of those, did you?

Hm…Let me see.  No, I never did ask him about any of those.  No wonder!

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | October 16, 2020

To mask or not to mask…

I live in Sedona, Arizona.  Early on in this Time of Covid, our mayor declared a city-wide emergency.  Non-essential businesses closed their doors. 

In the essential businesses, such a supermarkets, pharmacies, liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, wearing of masks was required, wearing of gloves was encouraged, aisles were made to be one way and those who managed not to see the red and white stickers on the aisle floors every six feet were approached by staff and educated.

The check-out lines where an actual person did the scanning and weighing for you were subject to the Designated Shopper-Control Official.  A separate D S-C Self-Checkout Official handled the self-check-out traffic; that task was harder because too many would be users were unable to figure out one part or another of the required steps, causing the D S C S-C Official to leave his or her Control Post to apply a magic card to the scanner which made any irregularly entered data vanish;  however, the magic card often necessitated re-scanning everything, thereby annoying quite a number of the socially distanced shoppers awaiting their chance at a machine.  

Those whose carts and baskets were ready for the scanner were directed to The Wait Line.  Behind the front of The Wait Line were red Social Distance Marks stuck to the floor every six feet, continuing on a slight curve past the gourmet cheese section, the aisles to the wine and liquor section, and stopping just about where the bread began.  That line, often a long one, was colloquially known as the waiting lineThe waiting line presented its own varying challenges depending on its length.  During the first weeks of city-wide emergency, people wanted to shop as little as possible so when they did, they filled their carts completely.  Every now and then, husbands who had habitually heretofore waited in their parked cars, no doubt wanting to be fresh when it came time to help the little woman empty the cart, ventured into the stores themselves so as to fill a second cart. 

Our first city-wide emergency during the first days of Covid made for strange times.  The store shelves were either entirely empty – think toilet paper, hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, peroxide, any cleaner that promised to do away with bacteria even though we all knew Covid itself was a virus and a novel one at that.  Or, never before seen brands were to be found but in limited supply.  Frozen vegetables all but disappeared, so canned vegetables became the substitute of choice.  Didn’t take long for canned vegetables with reheating instructions in languages other than English and Spanish to show up, also in limited supply.  This, I wondered, must be what it’s like to shop in Cuba.  Still, the carts filled with such items as two-per-customer, four-packs of generic TP, two per customer, very small bottles of something that claimed to be hand sanitizer, hundreds of jars of prune jelly, double packs of economy sized q-tips, many cans of chopped collard greens, lima beans, cauliflower, broccoli, and succotash;  certified, grade B Arizona tripe, Rocky Mountain oysters, smoked ham hocks, plant based ice-cream,  spaghetti sauce imported from the Ivory Coast, and fresh-pressed, extra virgin, Kazakh olive oil.  Better a full cart of whatever could be stuffed into it, provenance be damned, than returning with over-ripe bananas, frozen calamari, and nothing else.

Weeks went by, the hospitals in Flagstaff, Cottonwood, and Prescot, as ready as they could be for floods of ventilator needy Covid victims, relaxed.  Excellent care for the trickle of Covid positive persons was provided.  No trucks were needed to collect bodies left out on the side-walk for disposal.  The mayor reduced restrictions.  Businesses could open, masks and social distancing required, except for restaurants where masks were only required while entering or leaving.  One way traffic in large stores was no longer enforced, lines at checkout stations formed willy-nilly, with only a nod to a panacean distance, and mask wearing was no longer ubiquitous.

For those who still did wear masks, how they were worn became, I think, a fashion statement more than anything else, to wit:  some masks were worn with the nose exposed, with the nose and mouth exposed, but the chin completely covered.  Some preferred their faces to be entirely uncovered so as to provide ample protection to the Adam’s apple.  In the case of shopping couples or groups, only the designated payer who actually stood in front of the check-out person wore a mask (in his or her preferred style).  It occurred to me that many, many people didn’t quite understand the actual purpose of mask wearing.

Soon enough, though expressly forbidden in many towns, cities, counties, and states, large gatherings began to gather, both masked, semi-masked, and mostly not masked at all.  People gathered for any number of different events and activities:  political rallies, religious services, parties (mostly young people partaking, protests, days at the beach, riots, sporting events, looting, and social intimidation.  It was while watching one such gathering that I had an epiphany.

I watched (some of) my first of the year NFL game last Sunday, Cardinals vs Jets.  I joined it in progress so I saw only the action on the field, but I distinctly heard crowd noise! That was confusing. I had understood these games were to be played in empty stadia.  After a long pause for many, many commercials and political ads, the game returned. The shot was from above the stadium. It panned down to the field.  That is when I saw clearly that not only were the stadium seats empty, they were covered over.  Aha! I thought.  I’ve been bamboozled. The crowd noise is recorded.

I found that both odd and dishonest?  Do the players hear that noise, do you think?  Or is it added electronically so only the audience at home hears it? The fake crowd reminded me of nothing so much as half-hour sit-coms and their canned laughter. 

Back to the masks.  Once I got over my surprise at the canned crowd, I started to pay attention to the behavior on the sidelines and benches. There players, coaches, managers, trainers, down holders, VIPs, medical staff, the guys who bring the bottles of Gatorade out to the players on the field – they were wearing masks, well, maybe a little more than half were wearing masks. 

After one play, yellow flags were thrown, and the referee came over to the Jets’ sideline to explain the intricacies of the call to the coach.  The ref was wearing a mask, the coach was not, the assistant coach was.  When the ref arrived on the sideline, he lowered his mask into the Adam’s apple position.  Explanation delivered, he raised his mask and ran back to the field.  The coach remained mask less, the assistant masked, the players on the field mask less, but all officials masked.

Leave aside for the moment the exchanging of aerosol droplets and bodily fluid that is an unavoidable part of football. Don’t think about the proximity of the players to each other every minute they’re on the field: the huddle where they all lean over and inhale each other’s exhalations, the line of scrimmage – more exhaling and inhaling – the actual play where they push and shove and embrace each other. I would guess that by half-time, at least each one of 66 men are now in possession of the viral and bacteriological contents of 65 other men. But okay, someone somewhere made the decision, and the players agreed to go ahead and do all that, risks notwithstanding. The herd immunity thing will probably be achieved by football players first.  But what of the others?  Is it a rule that when you’re on the side-line you wear a mask?  Is there a transition distance when you come off the field during which you find and put your mask (back) on?  Is it part of the agreement that you do your own personal congratulatory greeting with your friends and colleagues sans mask?  I ask, because I observed all of that.

Just so we’re all on the same page, let me review with you the relevant information about masks and their purpose.  (1) Primary purpose, some measure of protection by the wearer of the mask for anyone with whom that wearer comes near.  Does the mask you are wearing protect you?  Yes, a bit, but that depends entirely on where you are, who you are with, how close you come to other people, and whether or not they themselves are wearing masks.  Your safety also depends on the quality of the mask: numbers of layers and how well it fits.  Gaps where the face and mask don’t meet are virus highways.  And the efficacy of any mask at all depends on how the mask is put on. The only safe way is to hold the straps and pull the mask up and over the mouth and nose.  From then on, touching the mask is a no-no because anything one has touched since putting the mask on (without, remember having touched the mask itself) is transferred to the mask.  Wherever one’s hands go, what has been touched goes with them.  To take a mask off safely, we need  to hold the straps, pull up and forward, and lift the mask away. Now, do not touch the mask!  Do not put the mask down on any surface!  In fact, do not let the mask touch anything! If the mask itself is touched or laid down on any surface at all, a new, pristine mask must be used in its place.  Discard the compromised mask!

Question.  Is the mask protocol above followed anywhere?  Answer.  Yes, in a hospital operating room.  Of course, careful mask handling is practiced outside operating rooms, by hospital workers and first responders and even civilians, but they can only be as safe and circumstances allow.  Only an operating room is a sanitized environment where sanitized doctors and nurses use only sanitized equipment and breathe only sanitized air.

Now, let me ask you, if Sedona’s mask behavior and the mask behavior of gatherings we can all see on a television screen is, in fact, the norm for the nation, do you think there would be a significant difference in the numbers – total cases, total deaths, total tests – if mask restrictions became instead mask advice and recommendations?   

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | September 11, 2020

Any Time Stick

Any Time Stick

Any Time Stick.  Now read that another way, with the comma in there to make you pause a tick.  All right, Stick.  Get it?  No?   Think like this.  You say to somebody, “Is it okay if I use some of this here?”  And the guy says back, “All right, Stick,” only they’d only say Stick if that was your name or they were talking to me.  Like for instance, if your name  was Adele – that’s my wife’s name , then they’d say, “All right, Adele.”  See?

But here’s the thing you probably don’t recognize on account of pretty much all you guys probably live in what they call a Smart House.  Like you probably know, in a house like, you want a light on, you just say it, and the light goes on.  Or, turn the heat down when you go to bed, you just say, turn the heat down to 55 or whatever. 

But that wasn’t always what you had.  First I think there was Siri that you could talk to, then I think it was maybe Alexa – she come from Amazon – and Cortana on Microsoft things.  And for a long time Google had lady that could help find things but I think she it didn’t have a name.  You just told  that Google lady what you was looking for.  You couldn’t never get real fond of that one.  Me, I was partial to Alexa right off.  She was there for you, you know?  That’s still a thing, right? There for you?  Anyway, unless your internet thing was dropping the ball, she was always ready to do what she could.

So back then, what Alexa could do  – real stuff, you know – she played music, she could wake you up with just an alarm sound or with that music, she could remind you to do stuff, and if you was cooking or something like that, or taking a nap, say, she could time it out just right to the second. First time I figured out that one, I remember,  I was cooking a roast of meat where  you started it out real hot, at least 500, but then in not too long, you turn it down to a regular amount for a while, then off completely.  If you didn’t do the turning down and off  at the right time, though, you’d end up with a chunk of meat so cooked nobody wants any. 

So, anyway, this time I’m telling you about? I was tired, like maybe I spent the day unloading truck after truck of cases of booze.  My eyes just kept drooping closed.  I was so nervous of missing the time to turn the oven down!  So just on a chance, I say, “Alexa, can you help me with something?”  And she goes, “What do you need help with?”  And I say, “Can you tell me when twenty-minutes goes by?”  And you know what?  She says, “I’m setting the timer for twenty minutes starting now.”  Well, I just let my eyes close and next thing, there’s this real nice, kind of gentle, alarm sound going off.

That was when I started finding out about what Alexa could do.  Tell jokes, play quiz games, sing songs (not too well, though, but I never complained not wanting to hurt her feelings –  not that I thought she had such a thing, but just in case) read books (also, not really like you get when a real human person reads a book, but I mean, it’s something different you can listen to) , tell you what time it is, what the weather’s going to be, what’s playing at the movies – lots of interesting information that she knew pretty much soon as you asked.  You got to wonder what that’s Alexa’s brain looks like, right? 

It got so she was doing everything.  Well, you know, not everything, but a real lot.  So I got to saying thank you after.  What noticed right away at that time, she didn’t say back, “You’re welcome” or “No problem” or like. I wondered about that some.  This Alexa lady, she was always so polite when you talked to her, relaxed like, just kind of nice in a calm way, so how come she don’t say you’re welcome when I say thank you?  Then it come to me:  she don’t know I”m talking to her, telling her thanks.  So, next time, I tell myself, say her name before you tell her thank you.  

That night, I’m about ready to go to sleep.  Old Alexa, she knows how to turn lights on and off, like the light on the table next to my bed.  I says, “Alexa, turn off my bedroom light, please.”  She wiggles her blue light some, my light goes off, then she does a nice bong to make sure I knew it was off.  Of course, I knew it was off already.  I could see it was all dark, but she can’t, so she makes that little bong.  Anyway, that night, just after she bongs,  I go, “Alexa, thank you.”  And she goes, “Any time Stick.”  Well that popped me right back to being awake.  I says, “Alexa, how do you know my name?”  Well, that kind of stumped her.  Then she thinks it over and decides I want to know what the word how means.  I wait politely till she finishes with the definitions, of which there was a lot of, and I say, “Alexa, where did you know my name?”  Poor little thing.  All she could do was go, “Hmm, I don’t know that,” so polite and calm and not even showing how bad she must of felt for not being able to help, so I say, “Alexa, thank you, anyway,” and she’s right back with, “Any Time Stick,” each one of those words on the same note, like, and same pause between.

Well, I think, if Alexa calls me Any Time Slick, then I’m going to change over.  And I did.  I changed my email.  Now it’s to ATS@ (I’m not going to say here which email.  We still got the Covid thing so you need to be careful). Now I even answer my phone, “Hello, AT Stick speaking.”

Of course, like I said up top, all you guys’ houses are probably all smart about pretty much everything, and you probably don’t call the one who does stuff anything at all, just say what you want.  One guy I know says, “Hey, you, do this and do that.”  I didn’t want my house to be like that so I just kept it me and Alexa and Adele. 



Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | June 10, 2020

Summer Movies

Going to the Movies

The Heaths were not much a movie going family.  In West Hartford we always needed someone to drive us there and back.  Rarely, our father himself would want to see a movie so he’d take anyone whom he deemed old enough to go.  Being old enough could change from time to time, film to film, mood to mood.  I was always old enough, Pam was most of the time old enough, John was seldom if ever old enough. For a while, by which I mean three of four years, we would go regularly to the Saturday morning movie at the Central Theater in West Hartford Center.  Before the feature – never a current film, most often a Western – the projectionist ran many cartoons.  The audience loved them.  The problem with the Saturday morning movies were their scheduled ending time, 12:00 noon.  My father most often was the one to pick us up.  To him, 12 o’clock meant 11:45.  If we were not walking out the doors at 11:59:45, he parked the car and went in to find us.  I can’t count the number of movies we did not see the end of.

Summer, though, that was different.  Close to Great Elm were five movie houses all reachable by car in twenty minutes or less.  Dover Plains (NY), Amenia (NY), Millerton (NY), and Lakeville (CT), Canaan (CT) which for a time also had a drive-in.  Every night each theater showed their film twice, at seven and nine P.M.  I cannot recall going to the late show until I was perhaps 15.

For a time, each movie house except Canaan, showed different films.  It was theoretically possible to see four movies a week, but we never did that.  Then something changed and Dover Plains and Millerton began to show the same films, and not only that, but the run of the movie was upped to two weeks instead of one. Rarely we pleaded and cajoled our way into three movies in one week. 

At first, Mother drove us to the seven o’clock show.  She insisted that we leave early so she would not to be too late for cocktails at the Big House.  That was the theory anyway.  Everyone knew, including Mother herself, being where she was going on time was not our mother’s best skill.  If the movie were in Amenia, say, barely ten minutes away, to be at the Big House by 6:30, she would need to have left Amenia at 6:15.  Allowing five minutes for us getting out of the car, Mother giving us money which she never thought to do before hand, and turning around to go back to Sharon, we would have had to be at the movie house by 6:10.  In actuality, she never got us to Amenia before 6:20 and never headed back until just before 6:50.

Mimi and Mother were very close.  Mother was her first child and, take it from me, the first child is valued in a way that no other subsequent child can be, not necessarily more, but different in quality. They enjoyed each other’s company tremendously. Nevertheless, Mimi preferred that cocktails be served at 6:30 and supper at 7:00.  Mimi did not have a cocktail until someone was with her to join her.  To wait, and more important, to make the servants wait, to begin the evening at 7:15 disappointed Mimi and made her unhappy, not that a casual observer would ever be able to tell.  Mother, however, was no casual observer.  To Mother, Mimi’s unhappiness because of her inconsideration was abundantly clear and neither tolerable or to be repeated.  Not long after,  Leslie became the driver who took us all the time (he would say, carried, Southern vernacular for take). 

For Leslie to drive us required one more step.  Mother needed to call Leslie to ask him if he would mind. (He never minded. That part was just formality because Mother always paid Leslie for his trouble.)  Unless Mother was reminded more than occasionally, she would not remember to call. However, Mother did not like to be reminded more than once.  Mimi, of course, solved the problem.  We asked Mother if we could go to the movies.  If she said yes, we would call Mimi.  Mimi would ask Elizabeth, Mimi’s maid and Leslie’s husband.  Elizabeth would tell (not ask) Leslie he was driving us to the movies.  That system worked best. 

Occasionally Mother would say, “Yes, you may see (name of film), and I’ll even drive you as a special treat.”  She was being only gently sarcastic with the special treat part.  The thing was that unless Leslie was to be the driver, going to the movies became fraught with anxiety about making sure our mother was ready to leave on time. 

We tried telling her that Leslie liked taking us.  That was when we found out she was paying him.  “Of course, Leslie likes taking you.  I pay him handsomely to do so.”

Then one summer the Trowbridge’s engaged a young woman – or perhaps she was an old teenager.  Today she would be called an au pair.  Gay Nelson was tall, blonde, beautiful, funny, generous, kind, patient, agreeable, and, well, any other positive quality you might want to find in such a person.  And I was deeply in love with her.

Among Gay’s other accomplishments was the fact that she was an expert equestrian.  As soon as I knew that, I invited Gay to ride with me and Williams© in the mornings.  At first, Williams did not react positively to my having done that without consulting him first.  In fact, he was annoyed.  His eyebrows got lower in the middle, and he said nothing for almost a full minute.  Then he said, “Alright,” but he was not thinking alright.

In Williams’ Stable, things were arranged, put away, and scheduled the exact way Williams believed a stable should be.  My inviting Gay upset the order.  To accommodate Gay, he would need to saddle and bridle one more horse, comb and rub down one more horse, clean and condition one more set of tack.  I’ve seldom since known someone of such even disposition.  He spent each day alone with the horses, keeping the stables just so, and whistling what I think were blues tunes.  One more set of tack and one more horse lengthened Williams’s day.  He could not rearrange what happened or in what order, so the only way to handle an additional rider was to add the time necessary.

As I suspected or maybe hoped is more truthful, the first time Williams and Gay met, they were instantly friends.  They were both horse people and they recognized each other as such.  They spoke horse.  They could and did talk about fetlocks and withers, gaskins and croups, throat latches, curb chains, saddle flaps, and cantles.  Gay had trained horses, not as many as had Williams but a significant number nonetheless, and she loved them, as did Williams.  Though they were not the same age, not the same race, not from backgrounds that were in anyway similar, still I think Gay could have happily spent every day she was in Sharon at the stables, and Williams would have been happy to have her there.

Be careful what you wish for. I’d not heard that before, but even if I had, I wouldn’t have thought about it. Anyway, I got my wish to be able to be with Gay more, but it didn’t exactly work out the way I had hoped.  When I rode with Williams, he led, I followed.  We walked the horses up the driveway, up the dirt road to the woods, onto the bridle path, through the woods and out onto a path wide enough for two horses, and long enough for a prolonged canter.  He took his reins in his right hand, rested his left on the back of his saddle, and motioned me to come up beside him, which I did.  He looked me over to see that I was seated properly, had my boots in the stirrups properly, and that I had a proper hold on the reins.  He would say, “You ready?”  I’d nod, but we had already started.  Both horses trotted a step or two, then responded to the double click sound Williams voiced, and just like that, we were cantering down the path, almost tunnel like, with here and there branches that required ducking under, if  you were I, avoiding gracefully if you were Williams.  The path ended, we slowed.  Go left for a longer ride that would wend its way up Sharon Mountain, or right for the shorter ride, down Herrick Road and right again onto the Green, and from there right to the gates of Great Elm.

Then up the driveway and up the ramp into the stables, the outer stables where the horses were unsaddled and groomed.  I took off my saddle, put it on a large saw horse, and led my horse to her stall, where I removed her bridle and brought it back to hang it on a hook by my saddle.  I’d say goodbye to Williams and say I’d see him tomorrow or whenever the next riding day would be.  He said, “Alright,” but did not pause or look up from rubbing down the horse he had ridden and  that would be that.

When Gay started to ride with us, she rode behind Williams.  I rode behind her.  When we got to the cantering tunnel, she rode next to Williams, I rode behind them both, dodging the occasional clump of dirt one horse or the other threw back at me.  And that’s the way the rest of the ride went.  Me behind no matter when or where.  I was happy enough that Gay rode with us, but Gay was clearly more interested in Williams than in me.  I only went riding three mornings a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but in no time at all, Gay was riding every morning, and every once and again, she’d take one of the horses out by herself if Williams suggested this or that horse could use some exercise.  Then one day, Gay was the one who took me riding.  That was such a position of Williams’ trust and respect, even I recognized it.  Oh, well, at least I was alone with Gay and the horses for a while.  That was nice.

On the other hand, Gay could drive.  And she liked movies.  And there was nothing else about night time in Sharon that was at all interesting (because there was not one thing to do at night in Sharon except stay home).  For most of that summer, William and I and Gay went to the movies twice, sometimes even three times a week.  When there was a movie that the younger children would enjoy, they went too.  The Trowbridges also had a big station wagon, so passenger space was not a problem.

I couldn’t go to just any film.  An insurmountable obstacle to some films, usually the ones that were of interest to growing boys, was the Catholic League of Decency.  Any film the League found objectionable was not one Heaths were allowed to see.  Trowbridges were under no such restrictions which made me toy with the idea that I’d convert to whatever brand of Protestant they were. Then I remembered what my Catechism days had told me what happens to the soul of someone who turns away from the Church.

 Jane Russel was, to William and me, fascinating.  I’m sure we didn’t know what sultry meant or what bedroom eyes suggested, or why a bosom that began to rise and fall rhythmically was so riveting; but the meanings and whys did not for one second make us not want to see any film Jane Russell was in, such as The French Line which was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency.

            To this day I still want to see The French Line, but at the same time, I don’t.  If I see it, I’m going to compare it to almost anything one can see today on cable or the major networks in the 10 PM slot for that matter.  Then I’ll be disappointed or deflated.  If I don’t, I can remain ignorant of what wonderful sights there were in that film to cause the august Catholic League of Decency to condemn it. We settled for The Pale Face wherein Jane Russel appeared with Bob Hope.  The League had no problem with this film but the reason is convoluted.  Bob Hope appeared in many films with Bing Crosby.  Bing Crosby played priests in many films, memorably in The Bells of St. Mary’s, a tear-jerker with Ingrid Bergman;  and, the clincher, Bing Crosby was a Catholic (not to mention that Juju loved him only a tad less than she did Jesus).  Had my mother known that Bob Hope himself would become a Catholic before he died, she would have been doubly okay with The Pale Face.

The movie houses in Dover Plains and Canaan had pretensions and tried to make their lobbies look like the movie theaters in cities.  In Canaan, for instance, the ticket both was outside the double set of double doors to the lobby, and there was a slight pitch on the way up to the refreshment stand.  Dover Plains had the same arrangement except that the ticket booth was inside the doors on the left hand wall.  The other three – Amenia, Millerton, and Lakeville –  were just what they were:  once upon a house, now, after rearranging the downstairs some, a place that showed movies.  On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, you bought your tickets at the refreshment stand because there was only one person there.  You could also buy popcorn, of course, and a small selection of candy bars, oversized and overpriced. The popcorn in Amenia was sold in small, brown paper bags.  The bag was tightly full, and the top was triple folded to create a seal of sorts.  Millerton and Lakeville sold their popcorn in boxes, but you could watch the popcorn scooped out of the machine where it had popped.  The Amenia popcorn was made from white kernels and bagged by the owner at home, and then brought to the theater each evening.  The other two used yellow popcorn.  All three had a soda machine.  You asked for a cola or an orange, and most of the time you could get the one you wanted.

The population of Sharon in 1955 was 2300. None of the movie houses were ever crowded, except for maybe the late show on Saturday night.  I don’t know for sure because I never went to one. We could always sit where ever we wanted, like left or right or the center, back, middle, or front.  All the towns around Sharon were about the same size, Dover Plains might have been larger by not too many. There just weren’t that many people.  Going to  the movies on a weeknight wasn’t a thing people who weren’t on vacation did.  That area at that time was not a destination, a vacation place like the Poconos or Catskills or Maine.  Almost all the kids I knew there were grandchildren of families that lived in Sharon or Lakeville. They spent all or part of their summer vacations at their grandparents’ home.  Going out wasn’t what people did.  If you ate a meal away from home, it was breakfast or lunch, not supper, unless you were very old and lived alone. Then you might go to a diner.  Both Amenia and Millerton had diners.  Sharon eventually had a place called The Raven that was only open for lunch or breakfast .Other than the movie houses, there was a bar in each town (the one in Sharon was in Sharon Valley along with the Catholic cemetery) maybe two, but nothing else.  Those were bars, like from the olden days,  long and narrow places where men who worked all day sat on a stool or in a booth. They were all closed up by nine or so, at least they were on the days we passed them on our way back from the movies. 

Two years after William and I had our drivers’ licenses, the towns had or were in the process of changing.  A new bar opened in Amenia, for instance, just up Rt 44 a bit.  It had a dance floor  – or more accurately, the center of the room next to the juke box was table free, and people danced on it.  The juke box played mostly selections chosen from the recordings being played by the New York disk jockeys.  Cousin Brucie and Dan Ingram are the names I remember.

So much changes in the life of a child on the day of his 16th birthday, and all is explained by becoming a licensed driver and the being assaulted by hormones.  That is not true of the 18th birthday, however, for what changes then is gaining the right to vote which does little to alter one’s behavior.  In 1963, however, if you spent your summers in Sharon , 19 minutes from Dover Plains, 10 from Millerton, and 8 from Amenia, in each of those places you could legally consume alcohol.  I should mention here two other attractions of the bar outside Amenia: a vending machine that dispensed packs of cigarettes for 25 cents and the beer, a (small) glass, was 10. (A pitcher was commensurately inexpensive.)

My birthday is in March, William’s in August.  For most the summer, I am a numerical year older.  One evening before his 18th  birthday, William and I both had dates.  We wanted to spend the evening smoking, drinking, and dancing – you know, just like adults. The options were that bar in Amenia.  William’s age, however, was a potential problem. While the bar tenders didn’t always ask for identification, sometimes they did.  We solved the problem thusly:  William borrowed my license.  When we arrived,  he and his date would go in.  If he were asked for id, he’d show the license.  After maybe ten minutes, William would say, “I forgot my cigarettes in the car.  I’ll be right back.”  That, of course, was just in case the bar tender got suspicious. 

That is not the way things worked out. You see, there is an intersection in Amenia, an odd one.  At the intersection, Rt 343 which has brought you from Sharon, turns left onto Rt. 22 which will take you to Dover Plains (not the quickest way to get to Dover Plains, to be sure).  Also at the intersection, Rt 44 which is also and has been since Millerton, Rt 22, turns right as Rt 44 headed to Millbrook and beyond. As Rt 22 goes, it goes straight through the intersection toward Dover Plains, and joins the part of 22 that had only recently been 343. 

That intersection today has a full green, yellow, and red traffic light.  Back then it had a flashing red light if you were coming from Sharon, and a flashing yellow light for traffic on 44/22 or just plain 22.  Recall the population of this area.  The only traffic that night was William and his date in his mother’s car, and me and my date in my mother’s car.  William considered the flashing red light to be something one ought to be cautious about at this time of night without actually coming to a full stop.  I thought otherwise, but since William was leading the way, I did at he did.  On my way through, I saw the State Trooper car down the road on the left, turn on its flashing lights.  I was already pulled over by the time he made the turn to follow.  William had not.  He had proceeded to the bar.

The excuse I improvised for why my friend in the car in front had my license in his possession was, to use a contemporary word, lame.  No matter, the Trooper didn’t care why I didn’t have my license, he still wrote a ticket.  He asked if I knew where my friend who also didn’t stop at the flashing red light was.  I told him I would lead him there which I did.  When we arrived, the Trooper, showing great sensitivity, I thought, suggested I tell William he would like to see him.  I asked if he wanted me to return with William, he said that was not necessary. 

My date and I found William and his date at a table next to the dance floor.  I gave William the speed version of what had happened, made sure he returned my license to me, and told him he needed to go talk to the Trooper.  The Trooper, William told me, made no mention of William’s being underage.  He said he understood that there were no other cars on the road, other than his, but that a flashing red light means a complete stop no matter what.  He gave William a ticket, too, and elicited a promise from William that he would never again disobey a traffic signal or sign.

That last part about the promise is not true.  At least I don’t think it is.

The reason the movie houses of my Great Elm summers occurred to me as topic, is an incident that should have been in the chapter about our friendship, William’s and mine.  But it’s ugly, and I’m the cause of the ugliness.  I didn’t want the stain on that chapter.  In fact, I don’t want the stain in this memoir at all, but I don’t see how to avoid it.  There is a connection to going to the movies so I must have shuffled away from the former to here.

William and I were obviously not the only boys in Sharon during the summer, but the other boys came and went.  I know there were more than two, but only two are vivid in my memory:  Harry Loomis and Tom Piel.  Tom needs a chapter all his own, but Harry is part of this story.

Harry was like us and not.  He liked fishing and shooting and swimming.  He played tennis and golf.  He came over to swim, and I think I remember him at Hatch’s Pond.  Certainly, his grandparents, the Carletons, were one of the Sharon families included among the Hatches’ invitees.  But Harry was singular in the ways he was different.  His khaki shorts looked different from ours, always pressed, clean, neat.  He always wore a blue, button down, long sleeve shirt.  His hair was dark brown, and very short, and grew, it seemed, from front to back.  Harry brushed it to the side without much success.  Had he ever tried to let it grow longer, I’m sure combing it in any other direction would not have been possible.  He had brown eyes, thick, dark eyebrows, and wore round, metal framed glasses, all the time.  His unaided eyesight was terrible.  And his laugh was different from anyone else’s.  I liked his laugh.  I tried to copy it, but never could. And he was handsome, not the way boys can be handsome.  He was adult handsome.

Because Harry came to Sharon irregularly and unannounced, his presence was always special.  He didn’t telephone me or William.  We would just find him at the club one day, or at Hatch’s maybe.  We’d renew our acquaintance, and start back doing things together, the three of us. Nothing new, nothing different, but it was the three of us instead of William and me:  fishing, wood chuck hunting, laughing, talking, tennis, and golf.

One time I issued a formal invitation to Harry to join us, brothers and sisters, for dinner and then to go to a movie. What I think is, Harry had mentioned he was leaving, and going, I don’t know, somewhere, for the rest of the summer, and I wanted as much of his time as I could get.   I write this now and it sounds like I was asking him on a date.  I guess in a way I was.  The invitation, as all such were in Sharon, was communicated from my mother to his grandmother, and necessitated a reply call after Mrs. Carleton had caught up to Harry at lunch.  Shortly after, likely while we were with our summer reading books, Mrs. Carleton called Mother to say that Harry would be delighted to accept.

I’m fairly certain Harry spent most of the afternoon at Great Elm, and that the three of us – William, Harry, and me – probably went swimming, and may have hacked around, as we used to say, doing other things.  Then it was supper time.  Before William went home, he asked what we – he meant the three of us – were doing after supper. This was the moment I had been hoping to avoid.  I didn’t want William to come with us.  This was my invitation to Harry, not to William and Harry.  I told William that we, Harry and me, were going to the movies.  That is not the way William heard it.

William went home to supper, Harry and I had supper at the Barn.  Around twenty to seven, William came back up from his house.  Shortly thereafter Leslie drove up in the jeep.  I had requested the jeep especially.  Somehow riding on the iron benches in the back was very special.  Harry and I climbed up into the back.  When William made to follow, I said, “You’re not coming.  I didn’t invite you.” Before that moment I don’t think Harry realized I meant to exclude William.

William and I went back and forth so much so that Leslie only sat at the wheel but did engine off.  He was certain William would be joining.  Why not?  When had I ever gone to the movies without William. 

I held firm.  Harry was excruciatingly uncomfortable and quietly tried to intervene on Williams’s behalf a couple of times.  I held firm.  Leslie started the jeep.  William said, one last time, “Come on, Jimmy.  Please?”  And I watched him stand there while the jeep drove away, not mad but terribly hurt.

That is the where the memory ends.  I don’t recall anything about the movie, whether Harry spent the night or Leslie dropped him off at the Carleton’s house after the movie.  The next day William and I spent the day together as usual.  I did not apologize.  I have never apologized.  That stunning moment of selfishness, insensitivity, and deliberate cruelty festers in my mind.  It pops up at the damnedest times for no apparent reason, and I wonder if William remembers it, too.

© To avoid confusion, I shall remind the reader that Williams (full name Boykin Williams)  was the groom.  William (full name William Trowbridge) was my friend.

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | June 3, 2020

Summer Friends – Part IV

Summer Friends – Part IV

After lunch came…. The Hour. “Children,” we had been told, told, and told. “You have to wait an hour before you go swimming. If you go into the water before waiting an hour, you’ll get cramps and sink to the bottom of the pool before anyone notices. And won’t that be too bad.” Mother meant that as a statement, not a question. She had a way of saying too bad that put emphasis on too so as to say, such and such will not only be bad, it will be worse than bad. No one was excused from that obligation, not even William and me. You know what, though? You know what we never noticed? No one, not once, ever noticed that when we asked for and were given permission to go swimming after supper, we didn’t have to wait for an hour. Maybe swimming is only dangerous after eating when the sun is up?
Waiting, watching watches and clocks trudge their way from 12:30 to 1:30 was uncommunicatably tortuous. Nothing, we thought, could be worse.
But, my oh my, we were so young, so innocent, ignorant, and wrong.

Summer, 1957, first lunch of the summer. “Children, I have news. You will no longer be bored during the hour after lunch. From now on, everyone will read.” We were gob smacked; there were no protestations. Our faith was gone. The meaning of summer was, we were certain, forever marred. That day we learned, nothing is ever so bad, it cannot be made worse. The only part of the day, of the summer, really, that was truly boring: the hour we had to wait until we could go swimming at the pool, the only predictably horrible part of summer, was forever more to be something good about being young that we were now too old to for. If Mother had told us the regime was penance paid in advance for the worst sins we might ever commit, that would have made sense.

We older ones attended schools devoted to the axiom that reading good books during the summer was in and of itself good. Summer Reading book lists had been sent home, helpfully identifying which book stores were making titles available, in quantity. Mother, bless her heart, had bought the books. That explained the two boxes on the truck. Try as she might, though, she could not convince us of the upside to this new regimen. Those still too young for such punishment or not yet in school, took naps. Mother read to the middle ones. And when William, Susie, or David stayed for lunch, they had to read, too. It’s a wonder they didn’t stop accepting invitation from then on.

One summer my school required me to read one book, The Once and Future King. Their claim that The Once and Future King is only one book was a cheat, a fraud, since as soon as you open the book, you see it is four books lumped together: The Sword in the Stone, The Queen or Air and Darkness, The Ill-Made Knight, and The Candle in the Wind.

Well into the first book, two knights destined to join the Round Table once it is invented, namely King Pellinore and Sir Grummore meet by happenstance on a well traveled road. King Pellinore is, as usual, hunting the Questing Beast (too complicated to explain). Sir Grummore, however, is looking for a joust. After being introduced and having made their knightly greetings, they decide – both being Knights, you see – to joust. That was a fundamental of the rules of knighthood, to wit:

Leges Equitibus in Via (Rules for Knights on the Road)
Capitulum IV, codex vii

Any knight, when on a quest or mission to save a damsel or widow in distress, who meets another knight similarly occupied, must either challenge to a joust the contrarily traveling knight, or immediately accept such a challenge when extended by the contrarily traveling knight before the initial knight utters such a challenge himself. (Standard, tournament jousting rules apply and are strictly to be followed as circumstances and geography allow.)

Before settling down to the jousting, the two knights got to know each other a bit. It was in that vein that Pellinore offered Gummore his fewmets, which he kept in a small sack tied at this waist, for examination. The fewmets, in case you don’t know, are the Questing Beast’s scat. At that moment, I began to find the dialogue hilariously funny, perhaps because of fewmets, a word I had not before encountered. I backed up, got Williams’s attention, and read the entire episode aloud.

Most of that hour went by very quickly because William and I laughed so much and so hard. Once started, of course, we laughed even harder because the fact we were laughing almost without breathing we found uproariously funny. I give all credit to T. H. White.

Our friendship, William’s and mine, was anchored by our identical senses of humor and fun. I quoted my brother John elsewhere in this memoir. I had asked him what he recalled of our Sharon summers. In his response, he mentioned permission to play, having fun, and the vital, indispensable value of fun and play to children. William and I played together and had fun doing it. We gave ourselves permission to play and thereby find the fun and humor in practically anything. I think of summer and William, and I remember laughing, giggling, and laughing. We regularly gave ourselves laughter hiccups, impossible to cure without ceasing to laugh. Good luck with that.

Here’s an example of what William and I did that we found fun and sometimes funny. See what you think. At least once a summer, probably more, we each bought ourselves a case of .22 caliber long rifle cartridges, fifty per box, ten boxes per case. 500 times two equals 1,000 cartridges. (I know, hardly believable that twelve year-olds would be allowed to do that. Certainly today they would not, but we did, and nobody gave it a second thought.)
So now we have more ammunition than we could ordinarily shoot up in a year, maybe longer. Think creatively. What would be fun to do with all that? Shoot targets? Go up to Sharon Mountain to shoot woodchucks in the farmers’ fields? Well, yes those would be fun, but for the targets, maybe a hundred or possibly one hundred, fifty rounds would suffice, for the woodchucks, probably no more than ten.

See? With that many cartridges – because, what good was having that many if you couldn’t find a reason to shoot lots of them, a reason, or maybe purpose is a better way of putting it – you needed to think of something that was more good than bad, and – this is the hardest part – could only be done with bullets, many of them. Oh, and it couldn’t be something make-believe like pretending you were at the Little Big Horn or the Alamo. It had to be real.

Not so easy, is it. Here’s how we came up with the solution. We’d do this all the time when we were stumped for something to do, but this was obviously different because of the ammunition. We each thought up three things, then we told tell each other what they were and then picked the one we liked the sound of best. I’d tell you to try to guess what the winning idea was, but you’d never come up with it.

Ready? Cut a tree limb by shooting it. It, the limb not the tree, had to be about four or five inches in diameter. Plus, to satisfy the more good than bad condition, being without the targeted limb would make the tree happier and healthier. It’s one of those pruning things. You can look it up.

We took our rifles and ammunition up into the woods at the top of the hill behind Great Elm. We’d follow the bridle path for a little way, but then strike off into the woods proper to find a tree with just the right limb, not so easy as you might think. We looked carefully at three or four, discussed the merits of each, and focused on which tree would benefit the most from the pruning. Eventually, we made a decision although sometimes we needed to employ one potato, two potato, or odds-or-evens. Never eeny-meeny. With eeny-meeny, when you get to only two, the one you start with is always the one that is out.

The proper shooting position for this kind of work is slouching, your back against an adjacent tree, left ankle resting on right knee (unless you’re left handed, then the other way round). Steady your rifle on the crossed leg. You will find with your leg as a rest, you can adjust your aim fractionally by moving one leg or the other just the tiniest bit. Commence firing: aiming point, the middle of the branch. Fire at will. Soon the middle will be frayed. At that point, right hand shooter adjusts aim to the right, shooter on the left adjusts left. Continue to adjust aim according to the degree of fraying.

By the time we were sixteen, had driver’s license, access to cars, and an interest in girls, we had become expert at rifle pruning.

That interminable book reading hour was over only when Mother said it was over. I’m certain she cheated more often than not. As may be, once released from improving our minds, we were free to go to the pool. My younger siblings, from Perky on down, would go en masse. Juju with the youngest on one arm, and the basket of towels, sun lotion, clean diapers, baby oil, insect repellent, and a blanket, on the other. Mary Kupchunis brought everything the baby would need, including a fold up playpen.

Juju, Julia Toth, was from Hungary. As I said, she came to us in 1950 as a cook, and was still working for the family the year she was killed by a car on Albany Avenue in West Hartford, twenty some years later. She was then living at St. Mary Home across Albany Avenue from Colony Road where we all had grown up. My father and his wife had moved Juju to St. Mary. They permitted her to spend the day at Colony Road, but sent her back mid-afternoon. She would rise and dress, and be waiting at the front door a 6:00.  But the last morning of her life, January 15th, she was perhaps confused and arrived at 5:00.  When no one let her in, she rang the bell.  Our father’s wife, unhappy at being awakened, sent her back to St, Mary, in the dark.  The driver said he didn’t see her until it was too late.

I don’t mean this in a disparaging way, but Juju was like a dog in her loyalty and love for our mother. There was nothing she wouldn’t do or try to do if Mother asked it of her. After Mother died, Juju knew instinctively that only she could look after us as Mother wanted us looked after. She did not understand why she had been cut off from her charges.

At the pool, Juju settled herself and her bag in the shade under what we called the money trees because if you plucked a leaf, held it underwater, and turned it sideways, the sides looked like shiny, bright silver. In the middle of that shaded spot was a joggling board, sixteen feet long, eighteen inches wide, about two inches thick, sanded chair-seat smooth, stained, and sanded again. The joggling board was strong enough to hold six or so children older than two but younger than ten. The board was suspended between two stands. The ends of the board slid through a space near the top of each stand, with six or more inches protruding out the other side. When children (or adults, too, but not as many) sat on it, the board would bend, alarmingly so depending on the number of its passengers. The point was to sit on it and joggle, which is to say, oh so gently bounce – but joggle is really the correct term. Imagine a glider chair that glides up and down instead of back and forth, and has neither back nor arms.

After Juju had spread the blanket on the semi-grassy area next to the joggling board, lathered legs, arms, backs, and faces with sun lotion, put on life jackets for the littles ones, added air to the tubes for the next older ones, she would sit in a folding chair, four or five of which were folded and leaning against a money tree. There Juju she remained, watching and fussing, while the Heaths played and splashed and screamed and laughed, doing what they liked best and could, if allowed, do for hours and hours well on into the evening.

William and I made our way to the pool circuitously and slowly. We did not want to be part of the arrival of grandchildren. We wanted to ease into the goings on, to decide how much or how little we’d participate. That changed from summer to summer. We often had projects and plans that needed attention elsewhere on Great Elm or somewhere else entirely. One summer we played golf several times a week for two or three weeks in a row. One summer we devoted a great deal of time to eradicating the woodchuck population of Sharon Mountain. You know about the yellow roses climbing on the tennis court fence and how it was our sworn duty to protect and defend them. And honestly, when non-Heaths showed up, the pool was just too crowded with babies, little ones, and small children.

Four other families lived or had houses close by, the Jim Buckleys, the Smiths (Aunt Jane), the Charltons (Aunt Carol), and the John Buckleys. Uncle John, as I mentioned, lived in Lakeville, the Jim Buckleys and the Smiths in Sharon, and Aunt Carol, then married to Ray Learsy, had a house in Sharon to which they drove each weekend. There might also be Bozell cousins visiting from Alexandria, VA, (Aunt Patricia), O’Reilly cousins from Scarsdale, NY, (Aunt Maureen), Uncle Bill’s son from Stamford, CT, and, rarely because they lived in Spain, Uncle Reid’s children. In all there could be, although I’m sure there never was, forty-four children, plus William, David, and Susie at the pool at the same time, plus a handful of uncles, aunts, and other adults. Some of those families came with their own version of JuJu. Corgi belonged to the Jims, Mary to the Johns, and Ellen to the O’Reillys. They would sit and chat on the folding chairs, occasionally interrupting themselves to manage a child or two.

Going to the pool, going swimming, had almost nothing to do with swimming, even if you couldn’t swim (recall the life jackets and tubes). Once it was clear to our grandparents that there would be small children at the pool each summer for the foreseeable future, the shallow end was remodeled. The last ten feet of the pool was filled in and given a new bottom 2 ½ feet deep. A wall was added ten feet from the end of the pool creating a wading pool 10 x 20 feet. Most of the summer it was filled with small children in life jackets and tubes. Bigger children would come and go to pester or play with younger siblings and cousins. Even William and I sometimes visited the baby pool, but most of the time we had contests: underwater swimming, diving, and cannonballing. By the end of the summer, we could swim the length of the pool up, back and up again without surfacing for air. Our diving never lasted long. Our repertoire was limited: length (distance from the board to wherever you hit the water, height (didn’t matter how you entered the water), jack-knife, and the forward splash dive, our own invention. That last was both long and high, but as you entered the water, you curled the torso so your legs whipped into the water, sending a directed splash forward. Length of splash was the sole criterion for winning. William learned to do a flip eventually, but he had a number of painful landings smack on his back. That was lesson enough for me.

The cannonball contests were of two types. One, our favorite, only happened if mothers were no longer at the pool, almost always by mid-afternoon. That contest was more like bombing raids. We cannonballed younger children dumb enough to lie on the flagstones next to the pool trying to dry off and get warm before jumping back in for yet another round of Marco Polo. The closer we entered the water to where they lay, the wetter they got. If the mothers were still around, we pressed a sibling or cousin, rarely an aunt or uncle, less rarely Mother, into being our judge. Siblings and cousins who liked me said I won. Those that didn’t, chose William, no matter what I offered or threatened them with. The grown-ups were fair, they said.

At quarter to six each day, the Episcopal church across the road from Great Elm, played recordings of bells tolling hymns, the good, easy to sing-along Protestant hymns, not the Catholic ones which are pitched so high only girls and young boys can hope to sing them. Plus, Catholic hymns don’t have tunes that make you want to sing. Come to think of it though, back in those days, there wasn’t any singing going on in Catholic churches, except for high mass, and then only the priest and the choir sang. Years and years later, when I lived in Norfolk, the northwestern most town in Connecticut’s Northwest Corner, after mass one day, a dear friend of ours explained to our priest what was wrong with the church choir. “Father,” he said, “you know, our Lord is not tone deaf.” It’s a true fact. The only good hymns are Protestant hymns, and it is only good hymns that can be sung tolerably well by amateur singers. Just think of a few you might have heard – Rock of Ages, Fairest Lord Jesus, Oh, God, Our Help in Ages Past, Mighty Fortress. Tell me those don’t get your toe tapping.

The playing of the hymns from the belfry of the Episcopal church signaled the end of the day. Here and there, damp, torso sized spots fading from the flagstones showed where children now gone had lain. Those were the little ones who had to be stripped out of wet bathing suits and helped into dry clothes. Tired and cranky, they made whiny protests which Juju either ignored, or answered with her ultimate threat, “Betsey, you van piff-pouf?” There was no chance whatsoever of staying one moment longer at the pool. They all had been gathered and taken away almost an hour ago. Those still at the pool were the older ones: William and me, Pam and maybe Susie, John and certainly David. Chairs had been folded and put away, again leaning against the money tree. The joggling board was still. The wet spots where wet children had joggled took a while to dry and would be there still, long after the bells ceased. The last bong sat in the air. You waited for the next hymn to begin, which it didn’t and wouldn’t, not until the next day.

Now I visit Great Elm once about every three years. The hymns, the same selection, still put the benedicite on the day, and I am filled with melancholy. I recognize it. As August comes to a close, the daylight is different. The sun is lower at five forty-five and farther north. It no longer goes down behind the Big House. Instead it sinks behind Amenia, almost bisecting the lawn between the Big House and the Trowbridge house. The shadows each tree casts are long and forlorn. They reach toward the grape vines growing at the bottom of the orchard below the vegetable garden, and on up the hill to the woods where William and I hunted tree limbs. Summer had only a handful of days left.

By Labor Day, The Trowbridges were already back in New Britain; we were still in Sharon. Our school would not begin for another week. Those days were lonely. In West Hartford I had no friend like William. Packing was the focus then, packing and organizing the trip back to West Hartford. Ten children and four adults, a dog, a hamster, interesting stones, an abandoned bees nest, six two wheeled bikes, three tricycles, and one bike with training wheels, one football, assorted baseball and softball gloves – mostly untouched since June – hula hoops, jump ropes, jars and jars of grape and crabapple jelly, JuJu’s end of summer tradition. Everyone and everything had to be packed and readied. Same as in June, things would ride in the truck, people in a station wagon, either my mother’s or the station wagon that belonged to Great Elm. Leslie would drive that one, drop off his passengers on Colony Road, and then return to Sharon. All that activity I did my very best to absent myself from. It only reminded me of the eternity that would have to pass before we were back at Great Elm I was desperately sad and empty.

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | June 1, 2020

Summer Friends – Part III

Summer Friends – Part III

The trip from West Hartford to Sharon followed CT Route 4 all the way, but when we arrived at Rt. 4’s intersection with Rt. 128, and made the  90º turn to the left, it was time to get excited.  My mother in her station wagon led our small caravan.  Another followed her.  Mimi had sent Leslie with the Great Elm station wagon to help with our move.  Following Leslie was a rented truck which carried bicycles, trunks, suitcases, assorted toys one or another of us believed he or she was unable to get through an entire day without, never mind the entire summer, and, mysteriously, two boxes of books.  Why the books will be clearer later on.

            Once past the gates of Great Elm, as the caravan made its way passed the front and back drives to the Big House, past the stables and Ella’s cottage, took the right hand fork above the pool, tennis court, and weeping willows, we all craned and looked for our particular landmark, the one that spoke most intensely of Great Elm.  For me it was the Stables, not because of the horses and being able to ride. The Stables were Great Elm’s center.  From them, any direction took me somewhere I wanted to be.

At the Barn, as the truck backed up to the front door steps, the station wagons parked and we emerged.  No one said much of anything.  I think we were making sure the views from the Barn were still the same;  The Barn, itself, the Office, the Big House, the pool and tennis court, the stables, or at least what part we could see,  Mr. Bristol’s house,  the hunt ring in the field above the Barn, the orchard on the other side of the dirt road that went up as far as the woods. 

Up there just past the end of the road, a track led off to the right another few yards.  It was there that Williams, and grooms before him, dumped the old hay from the stables in an unshaded corner of the field above the hunt ring where it would ripen to mulch to be spread on the garden beds, around each tree in the orchard, and at the base of the grapevines.  But that was not all the pile was good for.  At any time of day, armed with a pitchfork to move the top layers of hay and an empty coffee, in no time at all, you could expose as many nightcrawlers as your can would hold.  The hay pile was home to hundreds, maybe thousands, and it was Jeff’s secret nightcrawler farm. 

Assured that all Great Elm’s parts were where they were last September, we came to life.  “Can we go visit Mimi?”  Can we go to the pool?”  “Are we going to Hatch’s tomorrow?”  John and Pam and I knew the answers to those questions.  We’d heard them before.  “No. No. We’ll see.  Right now everyone has to help unpack. No one goes anywhere until that is done.”

The truth was, neither our mother nor Juju wanted help.  If the little children helped, the task took  longer.  John, Pam, and I took the wicker trunks with our clothes into our rooms – John and I shared, Pam was by herself until Perky got old enough to be her roommate –  and put everything away in no time at all.  We brought the empty trunks into the hallway, sat on the octagonal bench in the middle of the room, and waited.  Before long, Mother would come by and ask if were finished.  We would say yes.  Then she would ask if we had put away the trunks even though they were almost next to her.  We would say no. She would tell us to store them in the linen closet – the closet was huge, by the way;  it was one of the places we could hide when we played hide and seek on rainy days.  We would take the trunks to the linen closet, and I would put them away on the left most top shelf where they always went.  We would go back to the hallway to wait.  Before long Mother came out from one wing of bedrooms on her way to another.  She would pause and look at us. “Did you put the trunks away?”  We said we had. “Would it be too much to ask you to help your brothers and sisters?”  We would say it was not.  She’d say, “ Pam, you help Betsey, Alison, and Ja-Jay.  Jim, you and John help Buckley and Tim.” 

Pam went straight away.  Her sisters would rather go to the dentist than have Pam mad at them.  She’d be back in the hall in no time.  John started to say it wasn’t fair, but I poked him.  Our mother cared not a twig about fair and unfair.  We went to find Buckley who was not putting anything away but making life hard for Juju and awful for Tim.  We’d drag him into the room he’d sleep in, tell him he had three minutes to put everything away or else.  My wife always chooses “or else.”  Buckley knew better.  He’d experienced any number of or-elses. He took longer than three minutes, but not much. Meantime we looked in on Tim.  Juju was helping him so all we had to do was wait for Buckley. 

Soon everyone was in the hall waiting for Mother to make her next appearance.  When she did, the little ones asked about visiting Mimi and going to the pool.  Mother had, of course, already called Mimi to alert her, so the answer to part one was yes this time.  The answer to part two was no still.  It was too late in the day.  We’d be having supper soon, and then need to get a good night’s sleep if we were going to ready to go to Hatch’s tomorrow.  Mother had a way of giving bad news and good at the same time. 

At that,  Perky, Buckley, and Alison, and anyone else who’d been alive long enough to be able to move independently raced down to the Big House.  Pam did nothing undignified She went into the phone closet, closed the door, and called Susie.  John and I knew the Trowbridges weren’t in Sharon yet because the Heaths always arrived two or three days before they did.  John went his way, I went mine.  I went to visit all the places I liked most beginning with the stables, the hay loft, the top floor of the Big House, the room that was still referred to as the nursery, and before I left, Mimi.  Then I headed back to the Barn with a stop at the pool and the bathing cabins. 

I’ve never thought about that last stop before. The bathing cabins were unremarkable.  They were the right side of a small structure.  The other side, which looked exactly the same from the outside – white clapboard, green shutters –  was for the machinery that kept the water circulating in the pool.  It was always on and when you opened the door to that side, the noise was much louder.  With the door shut, the noise of the pumps and water and filters joined the background, just another of the pool sounds.

There were two bathing cabins, one for boys, one for girls.  Each had a toilet,  one changing booth with a door, and three others there were open.  All the booths had a bench and clothes  hooks on each side.  The bathing cabins were cool almost to the point of being cold, and of course, damp.  A raised wooden slat flooring to keep your feet dry covered the cement floor. I’d look into each side, first boys, then girls.  One side was almost no different from the other except the girls’ had a mirror, and the toilet was at the far end;  ours was the first door on the left, across from the booth with the door, theirs was also on the left but opposite the sink.  Our sink was also at the far end, but in the middle, under the window, between the last booth and an open closet of shelves.  Almost nothing was ever on those shelves –  once in a while a life jacket – except when the bathing cabins were cleaned.  Then any clothing left behind, usually underwear, was picked up and put on one of the shelves.  Oh, and the booths on the girls’ side had curtains instead of just being open. Both sides felt the same and smelled the same.  I can’t say what the smell was like, but what it felt like was summer was almost here.  Only a couple of days until William arrived, and then real summer would start.

One morning you wake up, June is almost over, and it’s been summer for so long, every day is almost the same.  Get up, have breakfast, go riding or visit Mimi, play around till maybe about ten.  Then, time to go to Hatch’s Pond. 

All the little ones are in bathing suits (Pam, John, David, William, and I will change when we get there), and everybody squeezes into Mother’s car.  Who’s everybody?  Me, Pam, John, and our siblings – each year, one more and one more and one more… First Priscilla – we call her Perky – then a year later, Buckley, a year later, Alison, then Betsey, then Jennifer – called Jay-Jay – then Tim, and finally Janet, the only one born in Sharon, two days after Labor Day, 1959, before we moved back to West Hartford.  Also in the car are William, David (and sometimes, Susie), Juju, who was from Hungary and first worked for us as a cook but then became a nurse when the nurse we had whose name was Maria got tuberculosis and wasn’t allowed to be around children anymore.  And Mary Kuptchunis, whom we called the baby nurse because she only worked for us when we had a new brother or sister.  She stayed until they were around two.  Some years she never left or was gone for only a short time. 

If you were keeping count, by the time Janet was part of the family, the station wagon was very crowded – including Mother, sixteen people of different sizes and ages could have been in that car.  Of course, cars didn’t have bucket seats, just straight across bench seats, so four or five children could fit in the back seat, one on Juju’s lap, sometimes two if they were little ones, and one on Mary’s lap.  Mother didn’t mind having two or even three others in the front. Pam and I were big enough to have a little ones on our laps, too.  Usually David would be on William’s lap, and if Susie was with us, someone could sit on her lap.  Most of the time it was Pam because she’s on the small side and doesn’t weigh much. Susie was quite big for her age.  In the way back, which didn’t have seats and was supposed to be where you put only things, if we needed to, we stuffed little ones in and padded them with towels or life vests. Sometimes Mother left the tailgate down, with David and John sitting on it for the whole way, and William and I right behind them holding them around their shoulders so they wouldn’t fall out.  There were probably laws about that kind of crowding, but no one ever seemed to think anything about it. Besides, Hatch’s Pond was only three miles away.

Hatches’ Pond was so special not because it was better than any other pond – I can’t think of another pond we ever went to – but because it was different from what was usual, from our West Hartford routine.

In West Hartford, we went to school during the week and got through the weekends.  On weekends, our father was there from his week in New York, and he wasn’t happy about that.  Our mother was on edge because our father spent most of the weekend wishing he were in New York, not saying so, just acting like it.  School vacations meant only that, in addition to managing the weekends, management of a different sort was required  for this newly unstructured weeks.  We were ever on guard during vacations not to let our mother see us bored.  As often as not, her cures were worse than the boredom itself: puzzles, board games, fresh air, a good book – no disparagement to any of those, but they are enjoyable when the partaking is your idea, not on demand.  Sure, once a week, she might take everyone to the park to skate on the frozen ponds, if they were frozen, and occasionally, every other year or so, there would be a snow storm, a novelty without school to get in the way, and certainly to be made use of.  Then, vacation was over and back to our former routine.

Sharon and summer on the other hand:  Mimi, the Stables, Walsh’s Drugstore, the Singing Hollow Shop, Jeff, the remains of iron manufactories which Mother told us were tombs for Indian chiefs, riding, Dakin’s Department Store in Millerton, NY, with its wooden floors, bubble gum machines, toy department, and looking then as it had looked for fifty or more years which is what Mother told us, woodchuck hunting, Bash Bish Falls, just the other side of the state line from Copake, NY into Massachusetts, fishing, the Catskill Game Farm in Catskill, NY,  now an official historical place known as The Old Catskill Game Farm, supper at the Big House, picnic lunches  at the pool.  Not one thing about Sharon and summer was usual except for the appearance of our father on weekends, but at a place as big as Great Elm, he was easy to avoid.

And all of that started with Hatch’s Pond.  Somehow our morning visits to Hatch’s always held the possibilities of any of the others, which we would seldom know were coming.  Mother might tell us he night before, but most of the time, not until breakfast on the day of.

 Other families came to Hatch’s as well, a small number who, like us, were invited by Mr. and Mrs. Hatch to use the pond to swim in the morning.  Those families did not come often whereas we went practically every day.  Secretly, we considered the pond to be ours, the Heath’s that is. Maybe the other families didn’t go so much because we were always there, noisily and vigorously taking up space.  That’s a thought, anyway.

People who went to Hatch’s parked their cars on the back side of a small circle, oval really. Three tall pine trees grew between the circle and the pond and provided shade.  From there to the wet sand,  called the beach, the grass was kept mowed to lawn length.  The beach was small, maybe ten feet wide and twenty or so long. If you’ve ever noticed, sand on the edge of ponds and lakes never completely dries out the way it does by an ocean.  This sand was hard packed, good for making small castle and things, but not comfortable to sit on or lie on.  That didn’t matter since we weren’t at Hatch’s to rest.

Adjacent to the beach area, to the right, was a boat house, well, a half boat house.  The first half was two changing rooms, one for girls, one for boys. The boat house half was mysterious. The only way to get in as far as we could tell was from the water.  Farther than you could reach from the bank was a sort of half barn door – half the long way top to bottom, not the wide way, side to side. To door could only be gotten to from the water. You had to row your boat through a wide area of Lily pads. Then, even if you got there and were brave enough to open the door, there was no light on the inside. You could never know what was in where you couldn’t see without a flashlight which we never remembered to bring.

Maybe fifty feet from shore, a float,  big enough for several children to be on at the same time, was anchored by four chains hooked or tied to something way down in the weeds where you couldn’t see.  The float was covered with burlap to help you not to slip.  There was a diving board at one corner, and it, too, was covered with burlap.  By the end of each summer, the burlap had gotten frazzled, but sure enough, next June, there it would be again, all fresh and new. Each summer, another sibling was a good enough swimmer to make it out to the float and back.  I guess that was meaningful to them; I never noticed. Pam, John, and I were always a good swimmers.

Play at Hatch’s was individual.  Heath children teamed with other Heath children, but the team membership shifted depending on where and when.  William and I had no idea what John and David were up to.  We could see them, obviously busy, but we could not tell at what.  Buckley and Perky would sometimes be in the water, clinging to one of the float’s anchoring chains, talking in low, inaudible voices, occasionally ducking underwater and surfacing at a different chain.  Alison and Betsey stayed on the beach, digging and poking at the sand, not building anything particularly, more making designs that had no plan, that weren’t really designs.  Tim was alone.  Jay-jay might play with him for a while, but she wanted to be with Betsey and Alison who would sometimes let her join them.  But Tim could always count on Juju for companionship, and Mother if this were one of her days.

William and I dove and cannonballed, swam underwater, thought about swimming all the way across the pond to the other side, would get pretty far from shore, notice how much farther we had to go, and decide it wasn’t something we really wanted to do after all.  Once in a while, we’d take one of the rowboats out, row down to the other end of the pond, and explore the edges, or give the little ones rides, two at a time. 

At eleven-thirty, more or less, toys and tubes, towels, life vests and children were gathered up and stuffed back into the station wagon. Back at the Barn, everyone changed, or was changed, from wet swimming suits back into summer clothing for lunch at noon.

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | May 25, 2020

Summer Friends – Part II

Summer Friends – Part II

Every once in a while, fishing moved up as our favorite thing to do. At any time I loved going fishing early in the morning with Jeff, but Jeff couldn’t always go, too much, it depended on whether or not he thought he was going to be too tired, and that depended on how many people Mimi invited for dinner at the Big House, or whether the day before (Thursday or Sunday) he and everyone else had the day off beginning after lunch or brunch which was earlier but only on Sundays, so never Friday morning or Monday morning.

William and I fished in the late afternoon (Ask anyone who knows about fishing, and they’ll tell you fish don’t bite in the middle of the day). Every once in a while we’d ride our bikes to Hatch’s Pond, but that wasn’t easy at all. Besides fishing poles, we needed our tackle boxes and something to bring the fish home in. Neither of us had a basket or anything like that on our bikes. When we rode to the Club, all we needed were our tennis rackets and those we could lay across the handlebars and hold with our thumbs. We could do that with our fishing rods, too, and use the rest of the fingers on your left hand to carry one of the tackleboxes – William put some of his lures and hooks and stuff into mine – and use the other fingers on your right hand to steer the bike and put on the brake. William carried the bucket or a regular creel for the fish, which was easy on the way there, but not on the way back if we’d caught a lot of fish. Most times, though, my mother would take us there and pick us up about 6:30 just before she went to the Big House for dinner. She’d park in the same place as in the morning, and blow the car horn. We’d hear it and row back. If I had rowed first, then William rowed us back, or the other way around. If Mother went to dinner early, or we wanted to stay later, she’d ask Leslie to pick us up. When we had a ride there, we always brought our BB guns in case the fish weren’t biting.

Fishing was usually fun because you could at least almost always find a couple of places where the Bluegills and Crappie were hanging out. They were suckers for worms, of course, but they also liked this little lure that was supposed to look like a minnow. It came in different colors and patterns, and it had a propeller on the front that spun around while you reeled it in. Sometimes one color worked, sometimes another. William and I each had about five different ones. I don’t know what the fish thought that lure was, but it must have been something that tasted pretty good. That kind of fish – people call them pan fish – are shaped like an egg, except they were flat. When you hook one, it turns sideways to your line which makes it seem like a much bigger, heavier fish. Sometimes, though, you’d get surprised when the fish you were reeling in turned out to be really a bigger and heavier fish, like a Large-mouth Bass or a big Yellow Perch. The largest Bass I ever caught, right up until it came up to the side of the boat, I’d thought it was a Bluegill. At Hatch’s, you never could be absolutely sure what you were going to catch when you were fishing underwater instead of on top.

Early in the summer, the pan fish mated. You’d be rowing along, and suddenly a whole school of them came right up to the top of the water. You could see their backs as they churned around in an area five or six feet square. We’d cast directly over the school and then reel the lure through then. You could be pretty sure one of them would bite, probably not because it was hungry, though. I think the lures we dragged through their school annoyed them. Every once and while, the lure’s hooks would snag a fish by the tail. That is a very interesting way to catch a fish. Later, toward the middle of August, the Bluegills and Crappie got bumps all over them. It was some infection or something that looked like chicken pox. Fish with the bumps, we didn’t want to touch which made taking them off the hook kind of tricky. We had to hold them down with a foot just hard enough so they couldn’t flap away. We weren’t sure whether or not we should put them back in the water because maybe they were contagious and other fish would get infected from them, so unless there were only a couple of bumps, we’d knock them on the head, keep them in one part of the boat, and then throw them away before we left.

Large-mouth Bass were the most fun to catch because of the way they go after a surface lure. They grab it and shake it, spraying water all over, and, boy, are they ever mad when they find out the thing they tried to munch on has hooks. Jeff taught me to fish, and one time when he was bring lunch to the pool and I was there, I asked him to tell Uncle John about the fish we’d caught that morning. So Jeff did, but he also said what a good fisherman I was getting to be. Then all of sudden in the mail Uncle John sent me a spinning rod, my first one. He got it at Abercrombie & Fitch which used to be a store that sold mostly hunting and fishing stuff, like hunting clothes, fishing vests, duck calls, and all kinds of guns and fishing rods and reels. (The store is still in the same place on Madison Avenue in New York, but now it sells fancy clothing. Makes me sad.)

Along with the spinning rod, Uncle John picked out a dozen different lures; half floated on top of the water, the other half for under, like that little minnow plug. One of the surface lures was a red and white popper called a Big Boy. It had a narrow white body, a red head and red open mouth; its tail was white and red feathers. The open mouth made a popping noise when you jerked the line.

The first time I cast that lure, almost as soon as it hit the water, a Bass grabbed it the way I just said. Guess what. The Bass in Hatch’s were crazy for that lure. I caught so many the first couple of weeks, the lure got scratched up and a couple of its feathers came off. I asked my father to get me another one because he also worked in New York and knew about Abercrombie and Fitch. His office was on 37th Street and Park Avenue, which is only maybe five blocks from where Abercrombie and Fitch is, so going there wasn’t much trouble. The beginning of the next summer, he got me two, but next summer after that, they stopped making Big Boys. The salesman at Abercrombie’s told my father that another lure called a Hula Popper came in many different colors, and one of those was red and white the same as the Big Boy. The problem was, the Hula Popper tried really hard to look like a frog, but the Big Boy was just a piece of wood, maybe a half-inch wide and two inches long. It didn’t pretend to be anything except what it was. The Hula Popper’s mouth was much wider and rounded and the head was whole different shape from the body. The tail was red and white, but it wasn’t made of feathers. It had rubber strips that looked like thin rubber bands someone had cut in two. Plus, the Hula Popper didn’t sit on the water the same way Big Boy did, and it never worked even a little bit as well.

Fishing was not fun when the fish weren’t biting, which happened. When it did, there was nothing you could do. If we’d ridden bikes, we’d just ride home, otherwise all we could do is wait there until my mother or Leslie came to get us. That’s why we brought our BB guns along, in case of the fish not biting.

Once a summer, William and I went to Walsh’s Drugstore for breakfast. Walsh’s is as far away from Great Elm as you can get and still be in the main part of Sharon, just to the left of the end of the Town Green, across the street from the Methodist Church and Community Service. Admiral Hart’s house is right across the street facing down the Green, and the Sharon Cemetery, where Admiral Hart is buried, is behind the house. One, I think, we had breakfast there twice, but the second time wasn’t as much fun.
Of course we got up a little earlier than usual when we decided to go there because we wanted to be first. We were always sitting on the drugstore’s steps before Mr. Walsh or Betty arrived. Betty was still at a teenager, I think, but an old one. She worked for Mr. Walsh, mostly taking care of the soda fountain. That meant Betty would cook our breakfast. Betty walked to work because her house wasn’t far away, but Mr. Walsh drove. He and Mrs. Walsh lived on Sharon Mountain. Year and years later, my sister Betsey married Mr. Walsh’s grandson, Rob. They had four children.

Walsh’s Drugstore didn’t sell much food because it really was a drugstore. People went there for prescriptions, cough medicine, calamine lotion, alcohol – not the kind you drink, the kind you clean cuts with – sun lotion, baby oil, band aids, cotton balls, cough drops, mercurochrome, iodine – also stuff for cuts – candy bars, that kind of thing. At the soda fountain, Mr. Walsh had ice cream which you could either have in a cone or small bowl, milk shakes, ice cream sodas, ice cream sundaes, Coca-Cola, root beer, root beer floats, and maybe ice cream sandwiches; but also hamburgers and Grote and Weigel hot dogs. That’s what William and I had for breakfast, one of each, plus a glass of orange juice first.

I don’t know why, but Mr. Walsh kept the hamburgers and hot dogs frozen overnight, so it took a while before they were cookable, which we didn’t really mind. The point was, we were having something for breakfast that no one else would even think about having. And having breakfast at the Drugstore was different not just because of the food. It was completely different. For instance, think about this: when you get up early enough, the grass is wet from the dew. When you walk uptown all the way, a lot of the walking is on grass because that’s what the Town Green is made of. You start across from the Episcopal Church and walk up to the four corners where the Town Clock is. You cross the road there, get back on the Green, and head up town. (If you went left, that would take you to Amenia, New York; right was the way to Sharon Mountain, Cornwall Bridge, Kent, or Goshen and Torrington.) Going straight on up the Green the whole way, you’d pass the Presbyterian Church, the Hotchkiss Library, the Sharon Clinic, the Sharon Post Office (which now is the Town Hall but it looks just the same), and the Bartrum Inn which is now the Bartram Apartments and doesn’t look the same at all. By the time we got to Walsh’s Drugstore, our sneakers were soggy. See? That is a completely different way to start a day off.
After our orange juice but before the hot dogs and hamburgers were thawed, we would go walk around the Sharon Cemetery. Since our sneakers were already soaked, a little more dew didn’t matter. We recognized lots of the names on the grave stones; they were same ones of people we knew or knew about: Warner, Hatch, Hart, Bartram, Barstow, Calkins, Wardwell. Some of the dates of when people died go back to the early 1700s, from when Sharon first became an official town. There were a lot of Herricks, Susie’s last name. But you know what name you wouldn’t find? Buckley, my grandparents’ name.

I thought it was because none of the Buckleys were dead yet. Obviously, that wasn’t the reason, but I didn’t find that out until I was older. Buckleys weren’t Protestant. We we’re Catholic. The Catholics had their cemetery in Sharon Valley which was back then the poor part of Sharon. They did let the church of the Catholics be in the real Sharon, but not on the main street like the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians. St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church is on Lower Road, the road that turns into the back way to Millerton, New York if you don’t turn right first to go to Mudge Pond, also another one of the names in the cemetery.

By the time we got back from the cemetery, the hot dogs were in their machine that kept them hot turning around on a skewer until somebody wanted one. We ate our hotdogs first while the hamburgers cooked. We both liked them with mustard and relish, but for the hamburgers, only ketchup. Then we’d go home and figure out what to do with the rest of the day.

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | May 21, 2020

Summer Friends – Part I

My sister Pam, brother John, and I are the three eldest of the third generation of the William F. Buckley family.  They themselves, the first generation, my mother’s parents and nine of their ten children are gone. If my count is correct, there are forty-seven other members of my generation, all younger than my sister, brother, and I.  That, of course, includes our seven younger siblings.  Growing up, we three did not have friends among our cousins simply because of the age difference.  Today, of course, four or five years makes no difference, but among children, such a difference is meaningful.  For instance, when I was five, I had no cousins, and when I was ten, my only two cousins, twins, were only five.  Although Madame de Pompadour meant something else entirely, I can nevertheless accurately say, après nous, le deluge.

We three had particular non-cousin, Sharon friends, the same ones each Sharon summer through 1966. In 1967, our mother died  We never went back as a family again.

  I am as sure as I can be that beginning with my first summer, age five months, until my twenty-first, I was resident in Sharon for all or most of every summer, every year.  I cannot say I remember much of anything for my first, say, five years, but my memories do include no summer without my friend being the signal part.  I believe the same is true for Pam, and John. 

John’s friend, David, was the third son and youngest child of Eunice and Tom Trowbridge.  Pam’s was Susie Herrick, cousin of the Trowbridge children.  My friend, William, was the second son and third child of the Trowbridges.  His two older siblings, Tom and Emily, we were not much aware of; they had their own friends.

The Trowbridges lived within shouting distance of the Barn and the Big House. Their house was large and imposing, not as large as the Big House, but still more than enough for the Trowbridge family. William and I didn’t spend much time there.  The downstairs was dark and felt unfriendly. The floors were uncarpeted, a handful of area rugs scattered here and there. The rugs were never flat or centered.  They always appeared to have been flung by a sleeping dog that had been suddenly awakened. Not much of the house felt homey, even second-homey.  I thought it empty and hollow. Every sound echoed – music, conversation, footsteps, even the ticking of the grandfather clock set in a corner of the foyer.  Nothing looked comfy, no space inviting.

The formal front door of their house opened into the grandfather clock’s foyer.  As far as I know, the Trowbridges never used it. They didn’t have people for dinner or cocktails. They treated their house as you might a lake cabin. Basic needs were provided for, but nothing was particularly hospitable or inviting; nothing looked comfortable. A short, unpaved loop added on to the right side of the driveway allowed for a car or carriage’s passengers to debark at the bottom of a full flight of stairs leading to the porch and front door. I never entered William’s house that way.  On the few occasions when we met there, prior to starting our day,  I waited for him in the kitchen.  Most of the time, William came up to the Barn after breakfast, and we set out from there.  Today William’s older brother Tom keeps the house as his second home.  Having met Tom’s wife a few times, I’d bet anything the inside of the house no longer looks as it did.

I think the fair and polite way to put it is, Mr. and Mrs. Trowbridge were eccentric.  Mr. Trowbridge’s summer outfit was the same every day: baggy, knee-length, khaki shorts held up with a length of laundry line  (or maybe I’m just remembering the time he’d misplaced his belt) and an unironed, white button-down shirt, sleeves rolled up to the elbow. His hair was a gray steaked, dark, dark brown, and wavy stiff.  It looked a little different every day, depending on how he had slept. The Trowbridges lived with the tacit assumption that Great Elm’s pool was theirs to use whenever the spirit moved them.  I don’t count William and David in that simply because if I were there, William was there, and if David, then John.  In fact, that assumption was only noticeable when any of the other Trowbridges appeared.  Mr. Trowbridge’s preferred time was after five, sometimes Tom and Emily came with him. If I Mrs. Trowbridge came for a swim more than two or three times a summer, that would have been unusual.  Late in the afternoon she’d come, her bathing cap already in place, slide into the water from the baby pool, and then swim up and down a few times.  She’d slide back out the way she came, pick up her towel, wrap it around her shoulders and go home.

Mr. Trowbridge called his children home to supper by yodeling their name. No, I don’t mean his calling sounded like a yodel.  He could yodel. He knew how to yodel, and he had a different yodel for each of his children. Each call began the same – odel-odel-odel-odel – that part went on for a long time, but finally he’d get to the name:  odel-Willodel-odel-Yum or odel-Dayyy-odel-odel-Vid. Emily’s followed the same pattern, but Tom’s ended abruptly: odel-odel-odel-Tom.  I couldn’t tell the difference between one sibling yodel and another for the first couple of years so when Mr. Trowbridge yodeled at all,  I’d have to ask William if he had to go home. 

Mrs. Trowbridge was deeply tanned.  She apparently had a close relationship with the sun, but the odd thing was, I almost never saw her outside, except for maybe at the Country Club or maybe a cocktail party at Great Elm.  (Mimi had one very big cocktail party each summer.  Practically all the old Sharon families did.)  Oh, and whatever Mrs. Trowbridge said was stained with a vague whine.  I don’t mean she whined; it was her voice, it sounded whiny, but not, I think on purpose.  Also Mrs. Trowbridge was an artist.  I have in my home a drawing she did of me with a fishing rod, apparently reeling something in.  I recall the photo I think she used to draw that. I was standing on the side of the pool, practicing casting.  My father gave me that drawing a few years before he died.  It was hanging in his office, and I had no idea he had it.

In the summer, my family ate our big, meaning hot, meal in the middle of the day.  None of us children liked it much, but that made no difference to anyone who counted.  Our mother did not eat that or any other meal with us, but she did often sit at the table while we ate.  William and David ate with us, noon meal or supper or both, more than once a week.

Mother took all her meals at the Big House with Mimi and Father, our grandparents  until Father died in 1957.  Then only Mimi and Mother dined, except for when I managed to get myself invited.  Weekends were different because most of the uncles and aunts who worked in New York spent the weekends either in their own houses or Great Elm if they didn’t have a house of their own yet.  Also some aunts and uncles lived too far away.  When they came it was for longer visits like a week.  Our father was part of that group – we called him Daddy which he disliked but Father was already taken.  Daddy didn’t come straight from New York.  Instead he took a train to Hartford, and then drove to Sharon.  He could just as easily have driven with Uncle Jim or Uncle John or Aunt Priscilla. He worked with both uncles.  I guess it was because he wanted to have his own car.

Susie didn’t eat with us too much.  She didn’t live as close as William and David.  Sometimes, though, she’d come and spend the afternoon at the pool, or else Pam might go to her house. They liked to have sleep-overs, either at the Barn or at Susie’s house.

I sit now thinking what it was William and I did together.  You’d think our activities must have been unusual, intriguing, especially exciting, to maintain our friendship all those years.  I’m disappointed that nothing particular stands out.  On the other hand, I guess what we did was not remarkable except for we did it together. There, that must be the key. 

We were the same age.  The lessons our parents signed us up for – golf and tennis –started happening the same summer.  We’d ride our bicycles together to the Country Club, which was about a half mile beyond the turn off for Hatch’s Pond.  I’d have my golf lesson while William had tennis, then we’d switch.  After we’d play one or the other, but never both, I think. 

We roamed the grounds of Great Elm with our BB guns, terrorizing birds, chipmunks, and Japanese beetles.  Later in our lives, when we were older and traded our BB guns for .22 rifles, we terrorized woodchucks in the farm fields of Sharon Mountain.  All but one of the farmers were happy for our visits.  See, cows that stepped into the holes woodchucks dug in the fields would break a leg.  Cows aren’t really too careful about where they step.  You can tell because they always walk right through other cows’ patties.  How dumb would you have to be to do that without noticing?

On the Fourth of July, when everybody had fire crackers, we’d walk up to the Singing Hollow Shop next door to the Post Office.  Each of us bought ten balsa wood gliders  – they were ten cents apiece.  The movies we saw were mostly either Westerns or ones with US planes (good guys) having dog fights with Japanese, German, Russian, or Chinese planes (bad guys).  We used a magic marker to draw on the wings of our gliders a swastika, rising sun or hammer and sickle which worked for both Russia as well as China.  Then, scotch tape a fire cracker onto the fuselage of a glider, throw it into the air, and cheer at how perfectly the fire cracker blew up the plane in mid- air.  Once in a while, the fire cracker’s fuse burned too quickly, and the explosion would happen before the glider left your hand. That hurt about the same as having a mouse trap snapped closed on your finger when you’re trying to set it and put it down carefully so it won’t snap closed on your finger. Plus you couldn’t hear very well out of the ear on that side for a while. Another year, we used the gliders as clay pigeons and shot them with shotguns.  The job got done, but it wasn’t as dramatic or as much fun as using fire crackers.

I mentioned shooting beetles with our BB guns.  I better explain that.  You probably haven’t heard of that before.  We had decided the beetles were the enemy of the yellow roses that grew on the tennis court fence.  That made them Mimi’s enemy because she loved roses and liked to use the petals from one of those roses for her finger bowls, one petal per bowl, floating in the middle.  So the roses needed protection.

The tennis court was next to the pool.  The beetles took a bite or two from the leaves, but their favorite part were the roses themselves. To avoid shooting a rose, we had to hit the beetles while they were having a leaf hors d’oeuvre or were crawling on a stem with designs on a particular bud. We did give them a sporting chance.  We backed away fifteen feet or so which could have been too far except that Japanese beetles are so colorful. They shine bright green and copper when the sun hits them making them stand out. We could pick them off pretty well.

One Saturday after lunch at the Barn, we went to the court to see if the roses needed help. On Saturdays Mimi arranged for lunch – hamburgers, cheeseburgers, salad, and melon balls for dessert – to be served at the pool because there were lots of grown-ups at Great Elm on weekends.  It was sort of  like a picnic.  If they wanted anything, they had to take a plate and put food on it themselves.  Except somebody always got Mimi what she wanted which was never very much.  Even though my Uncle John had his own house in Lakeville, a few miles north of Sharon, on Saturdays he ate lunch at Great Elm.  He and Uncle Jim had offices in of the downstairs of a small house almost exactly mid-way between the Barn and William’s house but a couple of hundred yards from the pool. It used to be owned by Carol Robinson. (You might remember her from a different chapter. Remember the pine tree that was just outside her bathroom window?  The one I set fire to, and then ran away?  I don’t know for sure, but maybe Mrs. Robinson thought living in that house anymore wasn’t a safe choice, so she sold it to Uncle John.)  Anyway, we called it the Office in those days, and Saturday mornings, both uncles worked there in the morning and came to the pool for lunch.  

William and I, as I said, were doing our best to save the roses.  That day Uncle John had been watching us.  Uncle John’s business was the same as my grandfather’s: oil, but after Father died, Uncle John took over as the leader of the business because he was the oldest.  What he liked a lot more than oil, though, was hunting and fishing. Everybody knew he would rather be shooting guns, hunting, or catching fish than anything else.  Anyway, he had been sitting on one of the chairs set up on a raised area of flagstones about the size of a living room, the whole thing shaded by an awning. 

He walked up behind us so quietly we didn’t hear him, and we didn’t know he even there until he said, “That’s some pretty good shooting you boys are doing.  May I try?”  I handed him my BB gun. He stepped even farther back  from where William and I had been, and began to pick off beetles one after another after another.  All my uncles and aunts knew how to shoot.  I have a photo of my mother when she was eighteen, standing next to a deer she’d shot, and Uncle Reid and Aunt Priscilla were hunters, but no one could shoot as well as Uncle John.  He wore glasses for everything except reading.  When he read something or needed to tie on a new fly for trout fishing, he pushed his glasses up onto his forehead.  I liked the way that looked, and I couldn’t wait until I needed to have glasses, too.

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | April 25, 2020

Back to Memoir, But First

I know all seven of my blog readers prefer when I write memoir.  I am getting back to that.  In fact I’ve been writing about my best Sharon friend.  But something is bothering me about the clarion call for testing everyone for CORONA – 19, so I have to step away from Sharon in the summer in the 1950s for just a little bit.

Play along here. Imagine imaginary person Griselda who lives in the imaginary state of Adelachute.  In Adelachute, just shy of two thousand people have tested positive for you know what, and of those, 101 have died.  Of those who have died, ninety-one percent also had pre-existing conditions, and all but four were seventy-one or older.

 Griselda is, of course, worried about contracting COVID – 19, and she should be.  By all accounts, a bout of COVID  can be the ultimate hard time, or not.  She also worries about her parents who are, as the designation goes these days, elderly (as am I and almost everyone I know), thus at greater risk.  Her mom is in her late seventies, and other than aging, she has no disease, but her dad, older than his wife by four years, has a pacemaker and a history of high cholesterol.  Put another way, her mom is vulnerable, he dad is dangerously so.

Griselda lives alone. She was married once, but no longer, and she had no children of her own.  She hasn’t had much to distract her lately.  She’s been baking her heart out for the neighborhood children, she’s been reading classical literature at least one hour a day, without fail.  She had thought to take up crocheting again – something she hadn’t done hardly at all since joining the workforce – but could not find the yarn and crochet hook she was certain she had put away in the bottom drawer of the bureau in the guestroom. Neither her supermarket nor pharmacy carry such things.

Given her pervasive anxiety about everything COVID – 19, she naturally makes it a point to watch almost all of President Trump’s Daily Briefing which she calls,  Everything You Need To Know about the Novel CORONA – 19 Virus, and More.  Lately it seems to Griselda, a briefing doesn’t go by without all sorts of information and questions about testing.  Griselda is beginning to think that, indeed, testing might very well be the answer to the problem.

And that was what Griselda was thinking about when she turned off the light that evening.

Next morning, Griselda woke up with a headache, a pretty bad one.  By noon she was coughing and hacking, and exhausted.  She was forever falling asleep, but her cough kept waking her. Griselda was certain she had the novel CORONA – 19 virus.

Following protocol, she called her primary care physician, Dr. Cares, as it happens.  She told him her symptoms and her suspicions.  Dr. Cares said, “Well, Griselda, it sounds as if you may well have the COVID – 19.  Have you taken anything for the headache?”

“No,” Griselda said.  “Do you think I should.”

“I do.  Do you have Tylenol?”

“Yes, I do, almost a whole bottle of it.  Is that what I should take?”

“Yes, Griselda, you should.  You can take two every four hours.  And do you have anything for that cough.  It sounds very uncomfortable.”

“Nyquil, but it’s the kind you take in the day time.  How’s that?”

“Sure, that should help some, but check the ingredients to see how much acetaminophen the Nyquil has.  That’s what Tylenol is, you know.  You shouldn’t take too much of that at one time.  And cough drops.  You can have as many of those as you want.  Oh, Griselda, you’re not having any trouble breathing, catching your breath, are you?”

Griselda took a deep breath, and then another, but the second started her coughing again.  She hadn’t felt out of breath, though.  “No, I’ve got plenty of breath.”

“Well, fine Griselda.  Tell you what, I’ll call you first thing in the morning to see how you’re doing.  How will that be?”

Griselda had been thinking about testing all the while they talked, and she was a bit surprised, and not pleasantly so, that Dr. Cares hadn’t suggested it.  “What?” she said, and then remembered what he’d asked.  “Oh, that’s fine, but, Doctor, there is one more thing I wanted to ask, if I may?”

“Of course.”

“Shouldn’t I be getting a test?  To see if I have it or not?”

Dr. Cares was not as enthused about testing as most of the people Griselda heard talking on TV.  He thought to himself, well, I could authorize Griselda to get tested.  Then she’d have to pull herself together and drive to the nearest testing sight, not as near as all that.  Then she’d have to drive home and wait maybe a day or so to get the result. She’d probably test positive, not a false positive, but a true one.  What do we do about that?  Griselda says she doesn’t have a breathing problem.  She’s young enough so she is not “vulnerable.”  What is best practice for a patient with a positive COVID result but no life threatening condition requiring the attention only available at a hospital.  Tylenol for the headache, cough suppressant for the cough, hot tea, chicken soup, plenty of water, plenty of rest.  And what if she doesn’t test positive?  What if this is a normal flu, or even a bad cold?  Would my prescription be different?  No.  Would Griselda still be susceptible to CORONA – 19?  Yes.  Would she need another test to prove her CORONA free?  She would.  And another two days later?  Of course.

“No, Griselda.  Without breathing difficulty, you need have no concern about whether you have it or not.  I wouldn’t tell you to do anything different no matter what.”

“Really, Dr. Cares?  That doesn’t seem to be what they’re saying on the news.”

So, you see?  If a person is tested, that person is discovered to be infected or not.  Now what?  And if everyone in the United States is tested next Monday and the results are improbably reported to the nation in time for supper, does that mean anyone who tested negative is less vulnerable to COVID – 19 on Tuesday?  So on Tuesday, everyone in the nation who doesn’t have COVID- 19, is tested again.  On which of the next days is the testing stopped?  Has there been a report that testing for the virus is a cure for the virus? 

What will stop the virus?  A vaccine, sort of.

 According to a Feb. 21 CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,( the current influenza vaccine has been 45% effective overall against 2019-2020 seasonal influenza A and B viruses. 

“Specifically, the flu vaccine has been 50% effective against influenza B/Victoria viruses and 37% effective against influenza A(H1N1)pdm09.”

When will a vaccine be available?  Eight months, a year, a year and a half, never?  All are possible answers, even never.  How do we know never? Look at MERS, which officially showed  up on the planet in September of 2012.  It is also a Corona Virus with a 34% fatality rate, far greater than CoV-19.  Well, the work on MERS is on-going and promising.  Scientists have achieved excellent results with mice, not as good with larger animals, and clinical trials are now being conducted, but no vaccine has yet to be approved for people. Then there’s AIDS. How’s the work on the HIV vaccine coming along? 

So I’m going out on a limb here and flatly saying, whether or not testing is widely and easily available will have no clinical effect on the eventual outcome of the epidemic of the novel CORONA – 19 Virus. 

I would be more than interested if any of you all can offer a reasoned argument that suggests I’m wrong.

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | April 25, 2020

Frances Cha Looks Back on a Babymoon Trip to Nashville — Musing

Today’s post is written by Frances Cha, author of the new novel If I Had Your Face. Several years ago, when I was working out of CNN’s Asia headquarters in Hong Kong, I had the idea of pitching a story on beautiful bookstores around the world. This was inspired by Ann Patchett’s essay “The Bookstore […]

Frances Cha Looks Back on a Babymoon Trip to Nashville — Musing

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