Settling In

In early June, 1948 I went to New Hampshire with my new parents and new sister in the family Studebaker. The welcome note is right there in the family guest log for Windleblo Road, June 2, 1948: ¨Donny´s first trip.¨ I wonder what Kenny felt about that.  In 1979, when my oldest boy, David, was two years old, I used to watch him play with his Star Wars Millennium Falcon Spaceship on the floor of our den. I thought to myself: ¨What if, poof, we changed your name to, say, Han Solo, or maybe Chewbacca.¨ It was inconceivable, of course. I had no idea why my parents chose to change my name just before my second birthday, and I did not ask them until years later. There was an aura in my house that the chosen baby story (punched-your-father-in-the nose-then-we-burned-your-dirty-clothes) was the sum total of all the information about my past, that there was nothing more to tell (though there was). Whatever the reason  (I know now), one morning I woke up as Kenny from Boston and by the afternoon I was Donny from Needham. In many ways I was better off, but that somehow misses the mark. I once got (can’t bring myself to say adopted) a beautiful black Lab from the dog pound. About a year old, his name was Max. Once a Max, always a Max. No way I was changing his pedigree, however limited.

In 1948, the car ride from Paul Revere Road to Wolfeboro, New Hampshire took substantially longer than the 2 1/2 hours it takes today. It took more than 12 hours in 1912 (the year the Titanic sank), when my father was 2. By 1948 the Everett Turnpike did not yet exist. On the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border, at Tyngsboro (the ¨Gateway to the White Mountains¨), we  turned off Route 3, blasting through a gigantic granite outcropping (for years littered in red graffiti announcing the latest amorous proclivities of the local teenage population). Slicing over to the Daniel Webster Highway (which in New Hampshire’s unique way of doing things, was also Route 3), we sometimes stopped at the Greenridge Turkey Farm for dinner, though there was no evidence of either a green ridge or a turkey farm. My father’s stomach always growled when he ate turkey, but the Greenridge apparently made a mean Manhattan.

In 1948, of course, I was just along for the ride. According to my parents I neither spoke nor cried for the ensuing 6 months. Shortly before Christmas I asked for a glass of water, like the Australian koalas in January, 2010, pleading their plight with humans in 120 degree heat: ¨Listen, I know this is a bit out of the norm, but could you spare a little water, mate?¨ (www.hornbill-hornbill.blogspot.com/2010/01/koalas-asking-for-waterin-victoria.html). I have some ideas about why I was not talking or crying. Each of my 4 boys was blabbering by the time they reached age 2. In trying to reconstruct what was happening with me, what I was feeling, I use whatever I can – old family photos (the one of me standing in a playpen, outside alone in the yard on Paul Revere Road, curly blond hair, holding onto the rail; the one of my sister and me on a homemade pine-seat swing in New Hampshire, our parents behind – a family shot with the rope descending from someplace out of view); family stories (you didn’t talk or cry); the family mood (sedate, not touchy feely – polite, with a cocktail); what was going on in the world at the time (music, movies, news). You can read too much into a photo, a story, an event, but it also offers an image, a feeling, a fantasy, that becomes your truth, like watching the mimes play an imaginary game of tennis in Michelangelo Antonioni‘s Blow-Up (one of my favorite movies) while hearing the sound of the nonexistent ball smacked back and forth (www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blowup).

The hot movie in 1948 was Treasure of the Sierra Madre (we don’t need no badges), but my parents were not movie people. In January of that year a plane crash at Los Gatos, California killed 4 named U.S. citizens and 29 unnamed deportees, leading to Woody Guthrie‘s commemorative song  (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) – but Woody Guthrie’s music did not strike a chord for my parents. In January, Mahatma Gandhi began his fast-unto-death, and then was assassinated by Nathuram Godse on January 30. If my parents knew of Gandhi, we never discussed it. The Hell’s Angels were founded in California, surely not news of interest in my house (maybe for my Harley-riding sister). The Summer Olympics, the first since Hitler’s 1936 Games, got underway in London (the Austerity Games). American Bob Mathias (decathlon)  became the youngest ever gold medalist, and Fanny Blankers-Koen, a 30-year-old mother of 2 (the ¨Flying Housewife¨) won 4 gold medals.  My parents were not sports people, at least not my father. And in August, the House of Representatives Committee on Unamerican Activities held its first televised hearings, called Confrontation Day (between Alger Hiss and Whitaker Chambers). I don’t know for certain, but I imagine my parents watched. If they did not watch, they at least knew of it. Both were card-carrying Republicans. Like many people then, they trusted their government. In the fall of 1948, Truman defeated Dewey, no matter what the Chicago Tribune thought. That news could not have made my parents happy, who had cocktail parties on election nights to cheer on the local and national Republican candidates. I remember listening from my bed, in 1956, to the clatter of cocktail glasses and the clink of ice as radio reports, in the background, broadcast Eisenhower’s defeat of Stevenson. Radio was preferred to television because it did not get in the way of the party. When Watergate leaked in 1972, it led to the only real fight I ever had with my father. We had disagreements before and after, but nothing like the screaming, bourbon-induced invectives he threw my way for questioning President Nixon. He felt H. R. Haldeman, Nixon’s flat-topped Chief of Staff, and John D. Erlichman, the White House Counsel called the ¨Berlin Wall¨ by staffers, were the guilty ones for not protecting ¨their boss.¨ Nevermind the boss was a crook. My father stormed from the New Hampshire lake house on Barber Pole Road. My mother hugged me in an ¨I’m sorry¨ sort of way. The fight and the hug were both unusual, and we all learned from that. Times were changing, as Dylan already noted. We needed to find a way to get along, as Rodney King would later note. And I also learned not to start an argument with my father after he’d had a few Manhattans, something which I should have already known. It never happened again, the fight or the hug, at least not that one.

Each year, once school was out, my mother would drive Carol and me up to the ¨camp¨ on Windleblo Road for the summer. My father commuted back and forth from Needham on weekends. The camp was on Tuftonboro Neck, which jutted out onto the main portion of Lake Winnipesaukee. In a tongue-in-cheek display of New Hampshire-speak, this widest expanse of the lake is called ¨the broads.¨ The camp was a small 2 bedroom cottage, stained brown with midnight blue shutters. The land, ravaged by the Hurricane of ’38 (the Great New England Hurricane, the worst storm since 1869 and the costliest and deadliest in New England history), was given to my father by his uncle. My parents used the downed pine trees to build the camp – at least that’s how the story goes. I wasn’t around, biologically or otherwise. We got our water from a well, the casing stained brown and the pump painted blue to match the camp. The living room had a floor to ceiling stone fireplace (shaped like a chimney and in which we used a black metal tin popper to roast popcorn). The living room opened onto a large screened porch overlooking a granite covered hill which was smothered with 80 foot tall pine trees. The lake was several hundred yards below, down a brown needle path. At times I hopped from granite rock to granite rock, avoiding any contact with the ground. When I was older, I sometimes slept on the porch. To fall asleep, instead of sheep I counted the empty bottles of exotic liquors my father displayed in the porch rafters.

My father, born in Portland, Maine and raised in Needham, began going to Wolfeboro himself when he was 2 years old, visiting the uncle (Gorham B. Humphrey) after which he was named, the same uncle that gave him the Windleblo Road land. Uncle Gorham, who had a few bucks, owned a beautiful Victorian house called Grey Rock in Winter Harbor (on land now owned by Piping Rock Lodges). When my wife was pregnant with David, one day my father took me aside. In a lowered voice, he intoned: ¨I only have one request (about David’s name). Please don’t name him Gorham.¨ It was never under consideration, but in that moment I felt for him. He always wanted to change his name. I did not yet realize he had already changed mine. David does share my father’s middle name, and my youngest, Ryan (born after the death of mother and just before my father’s), shares my original  birth-middle name. My father spent a good part of his life in New Hampshire and retired there in the mid-1970’s (as much as you could ever say he retired). He was always the first to say he would never be considered more than an outsider in Wolfeboro. Which got me to thinking….. if his coming to Wolfeboro at age 2 meant he would never truly be considered a member of the community, what did my coming to the family at age 2 mean? Neither he nor my mother felt that way. I am sure of it. Since I was, in  effect, the outsider, what is important is how I felt. The answer, maybe,  is much like my father’s ¨outsider¨ feelings about Wolfeboro and New Hampshire. After my adoptive mother passed away, in 1989, the following winter friends invited my father to Tampa, Florida to visit. He went, reluctantly. There is a priceless photo of him standing in the Florida sunshine, looking like a duck out of water, maybe a Lake Winnipesaukee loon. He could not wait to get back to his New Hampshire, where he truly belonged, no matter what the natives said or did.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. hello!This was a really marvelous subject!
    I come from milan, I was luck to look for your theme in google
    Also I get a lot in your theme really thanks very much i will come later

    • Thanks! I am very glad you found me. Feedback welcome!


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