Canaan, My Personal History

Canaan, My Personal History

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Larry

Listen to “Canaan” by Carol King while you read-

CANAAN – THE EARLY YEARS

FROM THE LAND – TO THE PURPOSE

I am a firm believer that each one of us has a purpose in this life. Indeed, we may have many purposes, however there seems to be a central theme in each of our lives that continues throughout the life. While I also believe that once we determine what that purpose is we can modify it to some degree, it appears to me that fulfilling that purpose is somehow meaningful and necessary if we are to lead a successful life. It is also possible that somewhere deep in our inner recesses we know that purpose as if it were part of our contract in entering this lifetime. Whether that is true or not, I believe that it is incumbent on each of us to recognize what that purpose is so that we can add meaning to our existence and so that we can improve upon it or modify it if we so desire.

It did not become aware to my conscious mind what my purpose was here, until I suffered excruciating emotional pain from some of the early life decisions that I made. The lesson of these decisions led me to a primary guiding principle: Always check with yourself about the correctness of any decision that you are about to make – and never violate you, by doing the opposite or by going against what you know is best for you following that personal inventory. This principle is extremely difficult to follow in your early life when we are raised to consider everyone else’s feelings over our own. The earlier in your life that you understand and implement this principle, the more successful and serene your life will be.

It all began in 1934 when I was born into a small town in Connecticut. The hospital in this town of 2,500 people had already seen the birth of a girl the week before and for a couple of days we were squalling roommates. I was my mother’s first born and a year and ten months later my brother was born in that same hospital. This was an inauspicious occurrence for the small town and it came at a financially difficult time within the throes of a major depression.

Growing up in a small town was great. There was little or no anonymity and walking down the street was full of warmth and greetings from all the shopkeepers. They all knew “Loretta’s boys” and we gradually came to know all of them. My father had purchased the Chevy dealership sometime in the mid or late 1930′s (I’m sure with the help of his family) and we must have been doing quite well under the circumstances.

My early memories were of living in New Haven for a short time but always spending summers at the “Big Cottage” a tree covered hill that was not high enough during the summer to see the lake. During the fall it became visible from the front porch and if the tree tops were trimmed we could see a speck of it during the leafing seasons. The cottage was a two-story home with barn wood lined walls in the living room around the great rock fireplace. Upstairs were three bedrooms and a bath and this small door that opened into a crawl space that was filled with old National Geographic, Life magazines and other treasures. This was a summer cottage and was not insulated for the winter. As such each fall we had to unhook the water pipes that went to the well and in the spring they had to be re-connected. This task was not an easy one as the winter frosts heaved the pipes and made everything not fit by at least a half an inch. Since the wellhead was 150 feet from the house and the pipes laid on top of the ground, it became a formidable task to reconnect each spring.

Below the “Big Cottage” , somewhat out of sight, was the “Little Cottage”. This was originally a boat storage house that had a small kitchen and two tiny bedrooms along with a screened porch and very small living room. The bedrooms were added on to the boat house sometime when we were little and I never remember storing anything but oars in the building during the winter. As we grew, each fall we would beg Mom to stay at the cottage as long as we possibly could. Some falls we were there after the first frost and it would be terribly cold as we walked up the dirt road to catch the bus to school in Salisbury.

The Northwestern part of Connecticut, next to the New York State line on the West and to the Massachusetts line on the North was the highest part of the state and had a wonderful history of iron ore mining, smelting, and making the chain that went across the Hudson River to blockade ships during the Revolutionary War. There were seven towns in that little part of Heaven: North Canaan, Salisbury, Lakeville, West Cornwall, Falls Village, Cornwall, Kent, and Goshen. Just to the East of Canaan was Norfolk, the highest point in the state. Somehow, living in these towns, our sociological and geographical focus was always to the West and South. Perhaps it was because the first Regional High School was built there in the late 30′s.

Each of the seven towns sent their high school students to the regional high school – Housatonic Regional High School – sitting on the banks of the Housatonic River just below Falls Village. The two furthest towns that attended the school were Canaan and Kent, about thirty miles apart, on Route 7 along the Housatonic as it winded its way from Massachusetts to Long Island Sound. This was a land of hills, brooks, farms, small villages and towns. It was a land where competition was introduced to me though 7th and 8th grade sports, especially baseball and basketball. It was an area where elementary schools played each other beginning lasting friendships that matured when you all went to the same regional high school. It was a land of education and promise as academics meant that the public school had to compete with some of the nations finest private boarding prep schools – Hotchkiss, Kent, Salisbury, Millbrook, Berkshire – all within a 50 mile radius of the high school. Of course there was little or no interactions between the Prep schools and the public schools until you went to College in New England were the differences were continued in fraternities and social standing.

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. The first ten years were years of new experiences, growth, war, moves and divorce. They did not constitute a feeling of permanence or security and yet they were filled with excitement and adventure. What seemed customary and usual actually turned out to be quite unusual as an adult looking back on a variety of experience. Some of my earliest memories were of two or three annual trips to Florida from Connecticut. Each of these occurred before the age of seven. In the winter, my mother and brother and cousins and their mother headed south to the warm climate to spend the winter months. Hollywood, Florida and West Palm Beach were our destinations. Pictures of us on the beach are the most striking memories – except for two incidents.

When I was four at the Big Cottage, in the fall, we had a fire in the great fireplace. I recall taking the inner package of cereal, I think it was Puff Wheat, a liner that then was coated with wax to preserve the contents, and placing it in the fireplace. It flared quicker than I could remove my hand and I ended up with blisters on the inside of my hand which were very painful. This happened a day or two prior to leaving for Florida. Upon arriving in Florida, I had just punctured the blisters and I went into the ocean. The shock and pain of the salt water on the open wounds left a memory that I still remember. The resultant healing that occurred, left no scars on my hand . I vaguely remember the drives to Florida in my mother’s ’38 Chevy. Those trips with my cousins and Mother and Aunt were reportedly loud and argumentative enough to drive both sets of parents senseless. In hindsight, it was a period of plenty in the middle of the depression. The trips had to have occurred between 1937 and 1941, a time when the country was really struggling. My father never accompanied us on these trips.

The second distinct memory was on December 7, 1941 in the late morning. A neighbor who lived a block away came riding down the street on his bicycle to announce that the Japanese had bomber Pearl Harbor. As a child of seven this was a brand new experience to me. I was frightened because I didn’t know who or where or whether we were next. We had heard earlier rumors that shipping off the Florida coast was in jeopardy from German U Boats and now the new threat from the air. It wasn’t long before we were packed up and heading North cutting our usual winter trip short. I recall the declaration of war on Germany on December 11th and the drive North reaching Washington D.C. in a rain storm and later Hastings-on the Hudson in an ice storm. We spent the night there at my fathers’ mothers home after he had refused to let us stay with him in Washington (come to find out later that he had a girl friend there).

Both sets of grandparents were very special to me for totally different reasons . On my father’s side were the Steinschneiders and in my mothers side, the Donsbough . They would be come the New York and Massachusetts families. William Steinschneider was my grandmothers second husband and a prince of a person. He was mayor of Hastings in the forties and fifties and had this wonderfully deep bass voice that was warm and definitive. My grandmother Isabel, was the granddaughter of the Hudson River School American Artist Jasper Cropsey. Their home in Hastings was the old studio of Jasper Cropsey and held many of his original oil paintings. Following the divorce of my mother and father in the early 1940′s, we would spend the Christmas Holidays in Hastings where there was an enormous Christmas tree in the studio of the house. Elsie, the cook and compatriot of my grandparents had favorite meals which became part of the ritual during the holidays. The first cut of chuck off the rib end was the roast along with Yorkshire Pudding. Sometime while we were there we would be treated to two other wonderful deserts, Baked Alaska which to my wondrous eyes and youthful scientific brain was an impossibility, and secondly, Plum Pudding which was also an equally dangerous and impossible desert. Who would ever think of eating something that was burning with blue and yellow flames jumping at least a foot into the air. (In reality it was only an inch or two).

Grandma Isabel had an elegance and properness about her that was quite intimidating to this country boy from Connecticut. Yet she was warm and loving in a way that removed all the thoughts of intimidation. Those visits were always looked forward to and cherished.

Agnes and Fred Donsbough, my spoiling grandparents from Ashley Falls were a sharp contrast to the New York grandparents. Grandpa ran a small store and gas station in town and always had the goodies that every kid liked. Penny candy, ice cream, potato chips were but a few of the treats. Above the store was their home. Chickens were raised in the back yard chicken coop and an annual garden provided vegetables for the summer and fall. Watching a chicken being butchered in the back yard and seeing it run around without a head was a traumatic memory for me and in my tender-hearted soul further deepened a respect for life for all creatures. Grandpa enjoyed spending some evenings at “The Lantern”, a local tavern where he played cards and had his share of beer. This angered my Grandmother who frequently let him know about her unhappiness. Grandma was a shopper and movie-goer . Since she didn’t drive she was bound by the schedules of her youngest son Donnie who was seven years older than me, and her husband. We spent many evenings on the weekends at their home listening to the radio and having our share of potato chips, cream soda and ice cream. On fight night Grandpa would join us around the Philco and we would cheer for the hero Joe Lewis.

Grandma and Donnie fought. I remember many meals that ended with severe yelling and occasional thrown food as the two of them went at it. Donnie lived at home until he was at least 20 and as the youngest by several years, he was very spoiled and seemed to get whatever he wanted. He got one of the first new cars off the production line in 1946 after the war. It was a gray Chevrolet coupe. Donnie was my teacher about women, sex and freedom. There was always a seamy side to the things that he taught and while it was exciting, it was always a little off color. He was quite a rounder early on and wasn’t known for being very responsible. He had the•opportunity for the best New England education at Berkshire School but for reasons unknown to me, never lasted there for more than a semester or two. As the years went on Donnie taught me basketball and took great pride in always being able to best me in his shooting. He also played baseball for the local town team and I remember going to his games and watching him hit home runs over the left field fence.

Some of the best memories of food were Grandma’s milk gravy and salt pork, pot roast and boiled potatoes, vegetables from the garden and the pickle jar which remained on the steps of the back staircase always preparing new crisp dills to be eaten whenever . Her kitchen cabinet always had a treat which we headed for every time that we visited. Usually this candy jar contained some left over bridge candy from her weekly game that she and the “ladies” played.

An annual ritual was replayed on Thanksgiving when the whole family would go to Sheffield to my grandfathers sisters house for the feast of the year. Aunt Jenny lived on a dairy farm which was run by her daughter and son-in-law Bessie and Art. We would get our annual tour of the cow barn and get squirted with fresh mi lk which was milked by hand by Art. The Thanksgiving feast included the traditional turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes , squash, turnips, cranberry sauce, assorted breads and vegetables. There was the usual pumpkin pie, mince meat pie, and ice cream for desert. Following the food all of the cousins and big kids would go out in the yard to play football. This ritual was repeated each year followed by a brief quiet time between Aunt Jenny and my mother which culminated in her secretive gift of money for the struggling divorcee and her two boys. It seemed that no one else received this gift and so it had to remain quietly appreciated and humbly accepted.

My brother Peter, was one year and ten months younger than me. Being the oldest allows one to go through the early years leading but not always considering the younger sibling. While we did many things together, there was a separateness between us that consisted mostly of his competition with me. I seemed to be oblivious to it until well into high school or college. It was mostly exemplified by the fact that all of the things that I did, Peter choose something different. My basketball , skiing, French language and other interests were never shared by him. Indeed, he choose baseball, tennis, German , Swedish, and Italian. While we did attend the same college, Trinity in Hartford, he majored in English and History while I in Psychology.

We also shared the joys of Boy Scouts and Camp life during the summers, but always separately. Our friends were different and social life seemed to be unconnected. We both were Alter Boys in the Episcopal Church in Canaan for a short while and we both ended up Eagle Scouts which was probably a function of Albert Van Vlack the local Scout Master with whom we lived for a year. But more of that later.

Following the turmoil of the beginning of the War and the divorce of my parents in the early 40′s was a year of many schools. In the second grade I attended school in Salisbury, Florida, Massachusetts, and finally Canaan. I remember passing “conditionally” to the third grade because the teacher didn’t know me well enough to know if ! had learned what was necessary for success in the third grade.

That year was also punctuated by my mothers move to Hartford where she worked at Pratt and Whitney to help the war effort. My brother and myself were taken in by this wonderful family who had a marked affect on both of our lives. Aunt Millie and Uncle Albert had two boys Bud and Milt, who were one and three years older than me. No longer the oldest, I had to make some major adjustments. Mom would come see us on some of the weekends and take us to Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Ashley Falls only to return us to Canaan Valley and the Van Vlacks Sunday evenings. After the first month of two we all seemed to settle in to what was the first experience of another family what we had. They were wonderful. Warm loving parents who truly cared for us and showed it. They gave us the guidance and home life that we hadn’t experienced before.

The male figure of Uncle Albert who played with us, guided us, taught us Boy Scouts, showed us how to raise Bantam chickens, was an incredible experience. Aunt Millie, who was the gardener of the family and a wonderful cook of all that was raised in the summers in the garden and all that was preserved by canning for the winter, taught us how to love and live off the land at a time when there was rationing because of the war. Victory Gardens were not just during the war for the Van Vlacks but a way of life for them.

That year we lived in the country. We got up early to get milk from the farm up on the hill, we had a pony to ride and a barn to keep him in. We had to walk a mile and a half to get the school bus and to get home after school. (In fact we usually got a ride to the bus but had to walk or hitchhike home after school). Can you imagine four boys with their books and lunch boxes trudging home hoping for a ride from some neighbor who had enough room for all of us. We were a first grader, a third grader, a fourth grader and a sixth grader struggling thru the apple orchards, the com fields which were a short cut but might mean we would miss the sought after ride, and in the spring the maple sugar boiling pots a little off the beaten path. Going home was an adventure in each of the seasons. We followed the brooks and found tadpoles, frogs and small fish which we learned to catch. We picked up butternuts and tried to crack them on the road, a feat in itself. We hid in the tepis of the corn stalks when it snowed were we took turns watching for a ride. That fall one of the daughters of one of the farmers on the way home caught polio which was the AIDS of the time. The thought of catching some unknown disease by being around people was itself very frightening.

On the weekends during the war there were air raid warnings in the schools, observation towers in the fields of New England where volunteer neighbors took their turns “Spotting” for enemy aircraft. We all had to learn the different silhouettes of the enemy and friendly planes. Going to the tower was another treat and experience what was shared by families during the war. Several times we went with my grandfather and Uncle Donnie to Spot. for a couple of hours until we were relieved by other families whose turn it became. During the summer when Mom came home and we went to the Lakes (Twin Lakes about five miles from Canaan and two from Salisbury), we collected milkweed pods in the fall for life-preserver for the military effort. I also remember saving tin foil from gum wrappers and cigarette packs that the military use to make chaff to throw off the enemy radar.

The Navy often used the Lakes to practice diving and straffing missions. It wasn’t unusual to have Navy Hellcats or dive bombers buzz the lake. My brother and I would go out fishing quite often and on more than one occasion we became the make-believe targets of the Navy pilots. At that time there were no height restrictions for aircraft in the country and we could see the pilot as he pulled up over us after scaring us to death. During the war we all became homebodies because of the shortage of gas and the rationing of gas.

The day of August 14, 1945 was incredibly exciting. World War II was finally over when the Japanese declared an unconditional surrender. To a ten-year old this meant celebration. The family went over to Bob’s and Hazel’s house in Taconic. Mom was a friend of theirs and I use to baby sit for the two children Molly and Bobbie. I had taken a lot of responsibility at a very early age. For a 9 or 10 year old to baby sit for an infant and her brother is unheard of now. In the rural areas of Connecticut in the 1940′s it was a way of making a little spending money and was done without incident. On VJ Day we all went into the garden which was surrounded by trees and fields and shot off shot-gun shells. This was my first experience with a 12 gauge and boy what a kick as it sent its shot into the blue. As an about-to-be 6th grader, the memories of this celebration locked themselves into my memory bank, never to be forgotten.

This too was the ”war to end all wars.” Little did I know then that it was only to be the beginning of world tension and disharmony which rages even today with renewed vigor. The new state of Jerusalem was formed the next year and Communism became the dividing ideology of the world.

I think that it is important to add that none of my immediate relatives fought in the Second World War. My father had polio when he was little and was not physically fit to fight. One of his legs was longer than the other. My uncles Donnie and Fred were exempt for physical reasons as well. Donnie has asthma that was debilitating at times and Fred was exempt for unknown reasons. Somewhere down the line, it occurred to me that being born in the mid 1930′s would exempt me from all combat as well.

What appeared to me to fit my purpose was that I would never be exposed to the violence of war. It struck
me that this was not quite by happenstance but by some kind of preordained decision. Whether or not this is true I may never know unless this was just not my reason for being in this world this time. While I wanted to fly very badly in the Korean era, that too was not in the cards. More of this later.

It has been a fascination of mine to take one’s life apart in decades. Looking at each decade to determine the part that decade had in the fulfillment of one’s life and in the understanding of one’s lifelong purposes, has been a great way for seeing how that decade led to the formulation of one’s later life. The first decade of my life was extremely influential in forming my personality and in creating my further life’s purposes but it never had a tenth of the impact as did the second decade. Depression, divorce, war, poverty, separation from family all were important aspects that helped me become a strong person . Somehow during this first decade, I began to see that I was quite different from the people and family around me but never did I realize the depth of these differences until the second decade. I believe that I was born with a very strong constitution. A constitution that environmental factors helped shape but that far surpassed the trauma of the environment. During the second decade the strength of my ego became apparent to me in ways that I was totally unaware of during the first decade. I cannot help ask though , why didn’t the incredible trauma of World Depression, divorce, World War, poverty and separation from my family have an impact on me that was more measurable and more devastating??? One of the obvious answers is that all of that ”bad” was balanced by the loving people around me.

My Mother, my brother, my mother’s parents, my two uncles, the Van Vlack family, all were positive and loving people. I do not remember any serious negativity emanating from any of these individuals. The alcohol problems that were present in my Grandfather and my two uncles and later my mother , did not seem to negatively affect me during this first decade. This was not true of the second decade.

The second decade began as the World War was winding down and ended with my marriage in 1955. The ten years in between clearly defined some of my purposes in this life. This was also the beginning of the hormonal effect. Sexuality was first discovered by me at the age of 11, strictly by accident. The remainder of the decade was a struggle to understand it and to direct it in morally appropriately ways. That was a tremendous undertaking. Somehow the sexuality was not nearly as influential as the beginning and power of my feelings.

I remember my first girlfriend in kindergarten. I was smitten by this child and gave her a little bottle of perfume for my first gift to a girl. She was such a sweetheart and ended up being the first girl that I ever kissed one moonlit night. That didn’t happen until the summer of my 14th year. Does one ever forget their first kiss? As summer residents of the lakes, as soon as we were old enough to become mobile, somewhere around the age of 10 or 11 when I got my first bike, we would spend a great deal of time at the Taconic Store. This country store had a pinball machine which took nickles. It also had music with a juke box and sold candy and ice cream. It became the hangout for the five or six kids that lived around there. Laura lived in one of the closest houses. Her mother was a friend of my mother and both were teachers.

That month, after working at a Boy Scout Camp all summer (eight weeks), during August, my strong feelings for Laura increased by learning more about her. Her favorite song was “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. She let me hold her hand during that summer, hardly knew what to do with the feelings that evoked. Just before the beginning of the school year which meant that we would move back to the house in Canaan, it came time to say good-by to her for the summer. Because she went to Salisbury Elementary and I went to Canaan Elementary, we would probably not see each other for another year.

The moon was full and the grass smelled warm and damp in the August night. It was but a short walk from the store to Laura’s house through the back field. As I took her hand and we sadly prepared to say good-by, we stopped in the middle or the field and looked up at the bright full moon. Now looking up also meant that we might face each other. A tender embrace led to the first sweet kiss of my life. As I walked her a little further and left her to enter her house, I turned around and relished the incredible feelings of this experience. Then came the terrible fear and guilt of what I had done without any discussion of it nor any sense of whether I had done the right thing or whether she would ever talk to me again. Even to my fifth and sixth decade, it is difficult to understand that my partner wants and enjoys the physical relationship that I have with her. So it was then, and not being able to talk to her for another year made the embarrassed first meeting very difficult.

The end of elementary school, high school, and most of college comprised the second decade. The time was from 1945 to 1955. This was a decade of stability. We lived at Greenacres in Canaan, in the same house for those years. I spent seven summers living in a tent. After my first year as a camper at the Boy Scout Camp – Camp Workcoeman, every other summer until I graduated from High School was spent as a staff member of the camp. Five summers from between the 7th and 8th grade until between the 11th and 12th grade, nine weeks were spent at the camp doing various jobs. From handyman to bugler to storekeeper to waterfront teacher of rowing, canoeing, and life saving the variety of summers taught me about self-sufficiency, independence and self-discipline. One summer I set the camp record for the most merit badges earned and soon became an Eagle Scout somewhere by my freshman or sophomore year.

The rest of the summers were spent at the lake with my mother and brother. Water became a joy and the
sports around it were learned and mastered with a great sense of accomplishment. Swimming across Twin Lakes with my brother rowing the boat was a huge feat that seems nearly impossible as I look at the distance now in my older years. And this was done several times. Canoeing up the little streams and into the “second” lake and the Channel, rowing around the lake and fishing and finally being able to save enough money at age 12 to buy a used outboard motor to push the rowboat over to O’Hara’s where I could work for extra money all leaves me with good feelings of summers we spent.

The term “work” entered my life during the end of the first decade and the beginning of the second decade. My first job was selling magazine subscriptions door to door for a company that published the Saturday Evening Post, Curtis Publishing Company. The success of this venture produced my first bicycle at about the age of I0. It was a real old clunker that I think I paid 8 or 9 dollars for. It allowed me to ride the two and a half miles into town to go to the Saturday movie which was a series of serials.Tarzan was one of the weekly series that I remember.

The second job which I did about the same age, maybe a year earlier, was to sell sea shell jewelry made by one of the people who lived at the lakes. Mrs Ginnont made these fine shell earrings and necklaces which I gladly hawked to the neighborhood parents for a small cut of the price. Camp work followed each summer and then working at O’Hara’s after camp for the remainder of the summer. Work at the canteen at O’Hara’s opened the door to all the summer vacationers who spent time at the cottages on the hill. I sold Bingo cards and collected money from customers, rented boats, tended the boats when they were returned, sold worms for fishing and gas for outboard motors.

All of this was well and good until the second half of this decade when I became old enough to do ”real” work . That consisted mainly of working at one of the four or five gas stations in Canaan. This work was on the weekends and sometimes after school. I learned to pump gas, change oil, change tires, and do minor repairs under the watchful eye of the owner of one of the stations. Mr. Schriber and Mr. Rochelle were the owners of two stations that I worked in. One had a drinking problem and the other had three kids that lived close to me that I also baby sat for during high school. Work was always a way to financial independence as I was allowed to keep most of what I earned. I do remember lending money to Mom when things got scarce and for a time became the family banker.

Not only did the work allow me to have wheels to ride around on but by my sixteenth birthday I had saved enough to purchase my second car. My first car was bought at age 15 with two other classmates from Canaan, Ken Downing and Stuart Barrett. My neighbor in Greenacres had a 1919 Model Ford pickup truck with an oak frame and a crank to start it. The three of us pitched in $3.33 to buy this for $10 from Hawkey Pickert, the neighbor. Boy did this teach us about cars. None of us had licenses nor experience. Kenny was a natural mechanic and was the genius behind making this vehicle run and work. For awhile we kept the car in my mothers garage but once we ran it through the garage door this ended. It was moved to Ken’s house. We drove it through every dirt road that we could find. It broke down many times and walking home through the woods became a common task.

By the November of my 16th year however, my mother’s friend, Steve O’Hara, of the lakes O’Hara’s, had a 1933 Chevrolet that he parked in his back yard a couple of years before. He didn’t know if the car would run although it had run two years prior. The front spring seat was collapsed and torn, the grass was grown up around the tires and running board and it looked pretty pathetic. Steve was asking $15 for the Chevy. I had managed to save $12 from some of the work that I had done that fall. Steve, being the good man that he was, sold me the car for the $12 giving me the other $3 as a birthday gift. For over two years that vehicle provided me with transportation around northwestern Connecticut. The drive to the high school was sure easier than hitchhiking the seven miles after basketball practice my first two years at the school.

There are many tales about the Chevy. My first spin out on icy roads within a week of getting my license, staying home one day to pull the head in the garage to replace the leaky head gasket in order to have a car for the prom, leaky radiators that never held the Stop Leak which required running down to the Housatonic River to get a bucket of water and stop the overheating, and many other incidents. Double dating with Rebel and Marge was another common use of the Chevy.

The last two years of Canaan Elementary introduced me to a sport that I continue to play as I approach my seventh decade. The seven towns that attended Housatonic Valley Regional High School each had an elementary school and part of the farm system for the high school consisted of learning the sports during those last two years. By the time we reached high school, the coach pretty well knew who the better players were and freshmen teams were comprised of these players. This was a time of bonding with other guys who would be together for the next six years. At the time we didn’t know anything about bonding but sportsmanship, the meaning on team play, and competition all were firmly and solidly entrenched be the end of elementary school. Town rivalries sprung up then only to be quickly amalgamated once we all entered high school. All of these processes were never defined at the time but seemed to naturally coalesce as we grew.

Basketball was my love and I even managed to have an outside backboard at my home. It was on a hillside with dirt and tree roots on the floor and a stone wall about three feet high at the back side of my “court”. From the foul line to the basket the fall off was so great that the basket stood about 15 feet high instead of the 10 feet required. But under the basket it stood at the regulation height of 10 feet. Of course every time that the ball hit an emerged tree root it would fly down the hill with me chasing it before it reached the end of the front yard and another stone wall. Sometime during those six years I managed to set a foul shooting record for me. Nineteen out of twenty shots was the best that I could do. It was probably the equivalent of the same number of three-point shots in the NBA because of the terrain.

My mother began teaching elementary school in Falls Village towards the end of the war. She began teaching 7th and 8th grades and at one point moved to become the principal of the school. She abhorred this position and couldn’t wait to return to being a teacher only. Mom was the daughter of German parents who had been in the United States at least four or five generations. The German heritage was strong. Setting limits for her students and for my brother and myself was not difficult for her. Her school kids loved her and thrived under her tutelage. We were basically good kids. There were few instances of grounding or other discipline. However, we knew the rules and didn ‘t dare violate them. I seemed to have a strong sense of right and wrong. I have often wondered where that came from. While we attended the Episcopal Church and both of us became Alter Boys, I don’t have much of a memory of formal rules being taught. Boy Scouts was the source of some formal rules in the person of the twelve steps in the pledge. A Scout is honest, truthful, friendly, courteous, kind, helpful, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent (one missing). I remember trying to live up to these in this second decade. After that they became integrated into me as pretty much automatic behavior.

Mom worked hard and didn’t play. She dated maybe three of four men seriously over the years. None of them had a constant presence with us. None of them spent a night at the house that we were aware 0£ Since both my brother and I were away most of the summers it is possible that there were longer term relationships then but we never knew about it if there were. Vacations solely consisted of the summer break when she didn’t have to teach. They were all spent at the lakes or in the various work situations mentioned above. I do not remember any actual vacation trips but neither did I ever miss them at the time. The first two decades were not an era when vacations were commonly taken. The only play that I remember that mom did was to play solitaire and an occasional group of bridge with some friends. While movies were available, we, as a family never attended. Nor do I remember her ever going out by herself or with others. Play as an important part of life, seemed to be an unimportant item. To mom individualistic play was a part of her life. She loved crossword puzzles and as we got older an occasional game of Scrabble would be shared with us.

Growing up was so much fun to us that play didn’t seem like a separate entity. Weekends and after school ware fun. We played in the woods, we built forts, we built models of airplanes, we went to see the serials on Saturday afternoons, we played sandlot baseball, we played basketball, we rode bikes all over the countryside and surrounding towns and we spent summers at work-play at camps and at the lakes. Separate vacations just weren’t a part of our lives then.

Entering high school was the beginning of my self-awareness. Within the first few weeks two candidates were elected to the student council from the freshman class. To my astonishment and complete surprise I was one of them along with Lee Fuller another classmate from Canaan. I had never seen myself as a leader until this first showing. Even then I thought that it was a fluke. Little did I know that this was but the first of many roles to come. Junior class president elections were an important step in my growth. Two incidents happened then that took me past a step that many individuals never go beyond. The first was the realization that there were a group of students that did ‘t like me and that they wouldn’t support me. The realization that I could go on without that group and that I could not please them or effect them was a huge step for which I am eternally grateful. It was a maturing that allowed me to continue leading without feeling that I had to please everybody. To learn this at 16 was an incredible gift. The second incident occurred in the gym where candidates for the elections were chosen. After all the names were proposed, I looked around at them and I knew that I could do a better job than any of them. Perhaps this was a self-centered egotistical feeling that happens in adolescence but I saw it as a humbling expression of Knowing. It was an empowerment and almost a demand to do the job because I could do the job. Leadership is difficult to teach and difficult to learn. For me it emerged out of my innocence and without any needs of power, something that has been a problem for me to understand as I see others desiring power.

Dating began early in high school. It started with flirtations that began my freshman year. The first was a senior who took a liking to me to the point that the school counselor warned me that she was not “my type” and that she had a reputation that I didn’t know about. While all that I knew was that this was a girl who liked me, nothing else seemed to matter. The flattery of it for the first time was a bit overwhelming.