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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Legendary Places of a Personal Nature

I was a boy there. Forty years ago, when I was seven years old, my family moved away from Middleboro, Massachusetts. It was the town where I grew up. I learned to ride a bike there, I broke my collarbone there, and I saw my first ghost there. I don't remember much about the town, but the momries of things that happened back then are still vivid and clear, while other, more recent, parts of my life are a complete fog. Middleboro was a near legendary place to me my whole life and with Evelyn's encouragement, I visited there last week forty years after I left.


I went to school in a two-room schoolhouse called Flora M. Clark Elementary School. First grade was on the left and second grade on the right. Restrooms were down in the basement. Evelyn and I found the old schoolhouse and I was flooded with memories. I broke my collarbone here once after a really heavy snow. There was a huge snowdrift in the parking lot and we, as kids, decided that it would be fun to climb up and jump off. In my mind it is always eight feet tall, but it was probably three feet. At the top, a bully tried to cut in line, I wouldn't let him so he pushed me off backward. Pain in my shoulder sent me to the teacher, who told me I should go down to the little boy's room and put cold water on my shoulder. Later that night we discovered I'd broken my collarbone.


I kissed a girl for the very first time...or, if I am being completely honest, she kissed me. We had been spending alot of time together, playing at recess, talking in class...yes I know. I remember she had a Barbie lunchbox with a game on the back, sort of like Candyland, and when the weather was bad, we'd sit in a corner and play and laugh. One day at recess we decided to try holding hands and we would walk around the schoolyard like that all the time. One spring day, as we walked behind the school, she kissed me and, gathering my wits, I kissed her back. Forty years later I stood on those steps again.


My brother was born in a hospital right next to our house and I remember walking over all the time to look at him through that big aquarium window with all the other newborns. Evelyn and I found the hospital, which has seen better days. The hospital is abandoned and boarded up, and although there were 'No Trespassing' signs everywhere, I could not resist the urge to walk around a little. The sun was almost down so I only had a few minutes. It was a pretty creepy place. I wish I'd had more time to explore and photograph it!


Next door, we found the old house and I was thrust back forty years. It was yellow back then, without the addition in back, but it is still there. We lived on the ground floor and the girl who would become my childhood best friend lived on the third floor. Today it is a daycare. Between the house and the hospital was a large field where my sister and I once got stuck in the mud so bad we had to call for help. As usual, our father came running and pulled us from the mud, though I think my shoe is probably still buried there. There was a rear, indoor stairwell that ran up the back of the building, which was kept locked because it was dark and the stairs questionable. My friend, Denise, on the third floor once saw a pair of red eyes peering out from the darkness of that stairwell, and once, while we were playing at the base of those stairs, the overhead light, a bare bulb with a string attached, shut itself off, and then on, and then off again. We could see the string being pulled by somebody who wasn't there and we ran screaming out into the daylight. As far as I remember, we never played in there again.


Which brings me to Denise. We met when I was four years old. We were about the same age and instantly connected. Her older sister, Joanne, hung with my sister, Roxanne. Denise and I were best friends at a time in our lives when that truly meant something. Once, while we were playing outside, a horse ran full-speed through our front yard. Nobody was chasing it and nobody ever came around looking for it. It remains a mystery. Denise taught me to whistle and I taught her to snap her fingers. We were inseperable. Behind our house was a wood mill and there were always stacks of wood beams and 2x4's and scrap wood behind the building. Once, when I was five or six, as we sat atop a woodpile, we noticed barbed wire running across the top of the fence. We spent several minutes trying to decide if it was an electric fence, and I decided I would climb up and touch it. The type of decision that I would make time and again over my lifetime. I climbed the fence, and Denise climbed beside me. We wore bulky winter coats and as I reaached up to touch the barbed wire, my foot slipped and I dropped. But as I fell, my arm was punctured by the X at the top of the chain link fence. I never did touch the barbed wire. I hung there screaming and flailing trying to get my arm loose. Denise climbed up and yanked me free. Blood poured out of a huge hole in my arm and I ran crying and panicked toward home. My parents took one look and rushed me to the hospital where I got six stitches. I still have the scar. Denise cryed when they told her she couldn't come to the hopsital with me. Forty-two years later, that barbed wire is still there, though I didn't see any blood.


I hadn't seen Denise since I was twenty five or so, nearly a quarter of a century ago. But last week we had an easy conversation without any awkwardness. The way you do with the people who knew you when you were a kid.

I think Stephen King said it best: "Nobody knows you like those who knew you when you were young. I never had any friends later on like those I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"

Seeing Denise was a validation to me that those things I remember were real, that I really was that boy.


I will wrap up this trip down memory lane, which has turned out much longer than I expected, with this image. My father, who passed away a few years ago, moved us away from Middleboro in 1972. To his family and close friends he was known as Willy. When I saw this sign, it felt like he was right there with me visiting the old place. I miss you, Dad.


Thanks for indulging me my memories. If you followed along this far, I hope I didn't bore you too bad.