Back in January of 2019 I received word that Butch was close to his last breath. He was still coherent, and his wife, Deb, was asking anyone who knew him to write down any fond or memorable thoughts so she could read them to him before he passed. It had been years since I saw him, but all of my memories from the 70’s are just as clear as if they had happened 10 minutes ago. From 1976-78, I worked in his auto body shop, Precision Auto. I sat down and wrote a tribute to the man who had a great impact on my life, then sent it off on facebook messenger to his wife. The response brought tears to my eyes, as she told me that it was the best thing anyone could have written to him. I immediately regretted all the years that had passed where I had not gone to see him. I was warmed knowing that he left this earth knowing that he had made positive impacts on not only me, but those I have taught along the way. I wonder if I cross the minds of others, in the same way that those I remember, some on a daily basis, remember me, and how that memory is perceived. It pains me that the time sweeps by like the countless grains of sand washed out on Weekapaug. My memories are as recurring as the waves lapping on the shore. My emotions swell like the tide…
In a blink, he was gone. Just like so many others I’ve known along the way.
2019 was a tough year. I received a cancer diagnosis. My psyche was at an all time low. I had been wanting out of Kentucky for at least 14 of the 16 years that I was there. It was high time to make the move, but surgery and a long recovery time halted the plan.
By December of 2019 I was given the A-OK to resume normal activity. I had to build a log cabin before I left the farm. It was a bucket list item, and a way to stake my claim back into my manhood. That might sound odd to you, but it was something I had to do. The cabin was finished in April. I called a realtor and put the farm in Kentucky on the market.
Searching for a place in New England was frustrating. I was land rich but cash poor. Most places were on and off the market within a few days. Anything with land was selling like wildfire. I had to be close to my old stomping grounds.
I had remembered that Deb often talked of their place on Ekonk Hill. I did some research and saw it was largely an agricultural community. I wrote to her and asked if she knew of any farms for sale somewhere close to the border, either in RI or CT. She wrote back in a heartbeat and told me that I had to buy her place on Ekonk Hill. I had no clue what the place was. She and Butch were snowbirds in Florida. They had not been at the residence on the hill often, as it became too difficult for Butch to travel.
She sent pictures and descriptions, and we talked needs and price. The house had been rented for the past four years and the entire place had been neglected for decades. It has property in both Sterling and Plainfield, CT, but the mailing address is Moosup. Go figure?
I had set the farm in Kentucky at a hefty selling price. It sold, much to my surprise in a matter of weeks. Though the farm on Ekonk Hill had never been listed for sale, in a miraculous move it quickly became my home. I was finally back in New England.
The people, landscape and waterways, all tributaries to the great Atlantic, are all so fondly familiar. Kentucky is already so far back in my rear-view mirror, that I can hardly see it anymore. Old friends and family have come in great support, to help straighten out the mess in which the house and land were left. Besides the 120 gallons of waste oil, 30 plus tires, and other miscellaneous junk which has been left on the farm, there is natures attempt to reclaim the land, overtaken by briars, bittersweet, and grapevines. Yes, grapevines, the like you probably have never seen before. The largest ones are close to a foot in diameter, stretching more than 70 feet up into the trees, leaping from one to another, tying several together in knots at the very top. Many of the trees have broken at the top and died. The vines stand out in the winter forest, as they are dark and have a deep purple hue. It is a task to clear one tree, without having to cut one or two others beside it, to let it fall. The grape vines remind me of the times in my youth when my cousin and I would take my boat out on the Pawcatuck River. The vines were thick along the shore and we would scale them to fetch the clusters of tangy grapes, which we tossed to the bottom of the old aluminum boat. The vines in this forest, along with bittersweet which is well over an inch in diameter, has given the opportunity for my younger nephews to play Tarzan, as they catch huge amounts of air as they swing out and around the mighty trees.
Stone walls are knitted throughout the young forest, showing that not too long ago, they were the rocky fencing for cattle and other livestock. They are found running everywhere on this property. I get lost in my thoughts as I imagine the men and their animals which dragged and lifted these stones into place. I wonder if and what kind of machine was used to lift some of the boulders. They are so massively huge and were put in place with intention. How??? How would I do it? What, if any, remnants of the past are buried beneath my feet?
The forest is filled with cedar trees which for some reason have died. Many are leaning against other trees. Many more are lying on the forest floor. It is in my head that I will build another log cabin. I wonder if these were left here for me. The first cabin in Kentucky was built from cedar. I like being covered in the scent of cedar. It reminds me of a familiar poem, which I treasure, though it breaks my heart… I am drawn to the forest. I am drawn to the ocean. I am drawn to my past. It feels as though it is catching up to me, Drawing closer in some mysterious way. There are events which simply will never escape my mind. I don’t want them to. I want to hold them close. I want to breathe her in. I wish to her know again so intimately, that we become one… and time ticks on.
My cousin, Mike, stopped by out of the blue yesterday. I was eating a late lunch when he knocked on the front door. “Hey, cuz, you’re not going to believe what I have for you!” I grabbed my coat and followed him to his truck. In the back of his truck, much to my surprise, was my old boat. The very one my father gave to me when I turned 13. The same one we took up and down the Pawcatuck a million times! This is the boat I took out alone as I struggled with my maker. Screaming out loud as I mourned the loss of Mike’s dad. Again, when my grandfather passed away. The time when I took it out in tears and burned her letters on a sandy runoff on the bank. The boat is part of me. A deeply emotional part, which holds my greatest sorrows and joys. That place of escape, where I can be free to be me, and try to get some clarity about who I am. Mike was right. I couldn’t believe it! But there it was. And now it is in my shop! Home again!
We unloaded the boat, and I took him for a walk to Ekonk Brook which borders close on the back of this property. It is a mile walk down the paths we are clearing. Mike and I have not seen each other in decades, and we did a lot of catching up. We talked as though we were best friends which had never lost touch. It was refreshing and pleasing to my soul. He is a nature guy. Loves the outdoors. An avid fisherman and hunter. A good steward of the land. He lives less than 5 miles from me, now.
And the past keeps coming back. Going around, coming around. Things and people that I never thought I’d see again… appearing in one way or another. It is good I think, to press on, keeping one eye towards the future, while one looks back. I wonder, while deep in the woods and the fragrance of my dad comes upon me while he was not even on my mind.
I reckon it’s my time to chime in with my thoughts about the reactions I’ve seen during this Covid 19 pandemic.
I am shocked, honestly, by the number of people, especially young moms with children who claim that they and their children are bored out of their minds. I’ve even heard some say that they would rather be at work than spending time with their kids. Really? Why did you bother to have them? Are we in such a modern time that the kids are a novelty? No more a part of the family unit than a dog… or the phone? Good god it’s been less than a few weeks and I’ve heard one mom say that her 5-year-old claimed he was homesick. “What do you mean, homesick” his reply, “I’m sick of home!” This is a sad situation, my friends. Can you see that commercialism has rewired the heart and soul of Americans and most have bought into the need for things? Kids are flooded with the newest innovations in toys and gadgets. Well, so are adults! The family herd has been influenced by fear and has been led into the corrals of organized sports to a point that if the family isn’t running late, or running at all, that they feel they aren’t doing something right. Wow. I see it everywhere. I’m shocked, quite frankly, by all who’ve bought into it. Whether both heads of family are working or not, there is always the need for more. People are running forward, so they think, with no consideration for the ground they are treading on the way.
I grew up on less than a half-acre of land. Mom was home and dad earned a meager wage working at a silica mine on Lantern Hill, and then a mill job as a maintenance man. They bought the land with $500.00 that my great grandfather gifted them. Dad and mom built the house with the help of their friends. I was the first born and have a brother and a sister. Dad tinkered with old cars and they scraped together enough to buy a new Rambler station wagon in 1968. Mom cooked the meals with what she could afford. I never realized how good food could taste until I moved out, but I never complained about what was in front of me while growing up, and now, with mom gone, I miss the meals that I would go back home for.
As kids we were never bored. Never!
We used our back yard. We had a sandbox in the early years. A tree with a swing in it. A few trees in the woods, as we called it. We dug holes. I’m talking about big holes…up to our neck deep holes. We played with Tonka trucks, made mud pies, shot cap guns, caught an assortment of reptiles and bugs. We’d go out and pick wild raspberries and let our imaginations run wild. In our little spot we built forts with our cousins. We walked to the neighbors, through the woods and to the river.
Oh, but times have changed! Have they, really? If so, why? Who put the fear in you? Did you ever stop to think about it? You may not even realize that you’re afraid, because you have been told that you are part of a cause. Yes, a cause – a cause against strangers, bullying, some type of control idea. A cause to do better than your parents did for you. Honestly, what was so bad about that? These next generations have been made to fear the things I grew up with and had to learn how to handle.
Heck, in the ninth grade it was nothing to carry a Buck folding hunter knife strapped to my belt. The teachers saw it. The principal saw it. Everyone saw it and was not afraid. And yes, even then boys would be boys and get into a scrap, but it would never have dawned on us to pull the knife in defense. Oh, and to be politically correct, the girls got into plenty of scraps too. There was a different respect. Everyone wasn’t out taking karate classes so they could defend themselves. Why are you so afraid? Why does everyone suddenly have to be so, right? So busy? Because being right is the way you fight; in politics, religion, and morels as you understand them. It’s easy to argue. It’s easy to justify the pursuit of wealth. It’s easy to run with your herd, rather than against it; all the while dragging your children like an innertube being dragged by a speedboat, thrown into the trees on the shoreline as you round the curve to success. The ride may be a thrill, but when the boat is out of gas and has settled dead in the water, what are you going to do? I hope you have a set of oars so you can slowly paddle around. I hope you notice the turtles on the log, the dragonflies flitting about, the slight ripple left by a bluegill snatching a fly from the water’s surface, and the sound of the wind beneath the wings of swans and they take off in flight from the water. More so, I hope you take the time to show your children. To heal them. Teach them about nature, and you will have taught them about life. Remember to bring them back. Teach them over and over again, because there are predators who you have loved, that want them back in the worldly herd. Don’t worry about your manicured lawn. Let them dig and explore all that is living there – provided you haven’t killed everything with chemicals. If you don’t know these things, learn them. Pass them along. Remember where you came from. Back when the basics were everything, and basics were enough.
On Friday, I had a virtual doctor’s appointment to meet and get set up with a new General Practitioner.
I’m always hesitant to see the doctors in Somerset, as it seems to be a revolving door of residents, and I feel that by the time one gets to know me, they leave to start their own practice in another part of the state.
This doctor is well established and came recommended by folks that I trust. He doesn’t run a pill mill and is good to send a client off to a specialist if need be.
At any rate, I’m not the most technologically equipped kind of guy, so meeting in a chat room and face time along with living in the sticks where internet connection is always sketchy, depending on which side of the driveway you are on, made me somewhat apprehensive. Knowing that he would be able to see me, I decided to forego the aluminum foil hat and sat down on the porch swing while I waited for the doctor to enter the virtual room.
Upon meeting him I quite quickly felt at ease. He detected my unique accent and asked where I was from originally. When I told him, Ashaway, RI, he looked surprised. It turns out that he is a tennis buff and goes to Newport, RI to attend the U.S Open and Tennis Hall of Fame. He admitted being a clam chowder snob and I immediately liked him. He went on to say that he collects vintage tennis memorabilia and has antiques from the Ashaway Line and Twine.
Our conversation went on, and we will see each other when this whole virus thing has moved on. After I hung up, my mind reeled with flashbacks of my experiences at the Line and Twine.
Though I never worked there, I recalled the mournful whistle that blew every morning and evening. I remember when the post office was in the same building, and even the mailbox number. I’ll bet if I had it in front of me, that I might even remember the combination to open it.
The water tower, the old foot bridge and dam; even the canal behind it where Huck Finn day was held. The Westerly Sun actually caught me and my cousin Mike on film and had our picture in the paper. Even though it was taken from our backsides, we knew it was us in the photo.
The lazy days of summer where we would fish from that old footbridge; or walk along the bottom of the dam to angle out a trout.
Opening day would have that bridge and the one along the road shoulder to shoulder with folks waiting to catch their first fish of the year…or maybe their first fish ever. When I was older, I would go on opening day. Sometimes the eyelets of the pole would be coated with ice from the water I reeled in from the river. Once my fingers were sufficiently frozen, I would pack my gear and take a drive to the Boy Scout Cabin or the Alton Fire Department for a Fisherman’s Breakfast.
When my son was old enough, the Line and Twine was one of the first places we’d hit on opening day. It was always a good time, watching a young lad cast his line across almost every other line hanging off the bridge. Thank goodness for understanding Dads. It was almost inevitable that while I was untangling his line, my pole would bend towards the water and he would pick it up and reel in a trout. Good times! I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
The first time we took our daughter on opening day, I was on the bridge with my son. My wife had a life jacket and a rope tied around our little girl. My wife barely understood the fun I was having untangling lines and replacing lost hooks. It was just part of it. That was opening day for me, and I loved it. I never wanted to discourage my kids from the joy of fishing. Every opportunity was a good one.
One day when my daughter was in her teens, we fished below the bridge at the Line and Twine. My wife was set up with a chair and a book. That was her happy place – fishing, not so much. My daughter and I decided to try our luck a little further down the river, so we took a couple of poles and some bait with us and left one pole with a worm in the water next to my wife. I should mention at this point that my wife did not have a fishing license and had no interest in watching the tip of the rod.
That day, my daughter caught the smallest, most beautiful little fingerling rainbow I had ever seen. It was absolutely brilliant in color. How it managed to get on the hook, I’ll never know. It was just perfect. We admired it for a moment and set it on its way. We fished a little bit longer when suddenly a ranger approached us. He asked to see my license, which I happily showed him. Then he asked about my wife’s… to make a long story short, he showed us some grace and did not confiscate the rod that was next to my wife…and to this day we still bust her about doing anything to meet a man in uniform. It’s a lot funnier to her now than it was that particular day, however.
Ah, the water tower, the footbridge, I think even the canal, are all gone now. Huck Finn Day hasn’t been held there in decades.
Oh yes, the Ashaway Line and Twine. So many memories stirred up from one conversation from a doctor who was familiar with it from Kentucky.
Ah, the art of story telling is one that I have long been exposed to. My Grandpa Buck was a master. I sat at his feet as a young lad and absorbed his musings like a sponge. An old Swamp Yankee, there was no such thing as making a long story short. But, then again, there’s a lot to be said for body language and a simple raising of an eyebrow for dramatic effect. I truly enjoy the art of the written word. I also love to use a pen. Quiet times are few and far between, and in those treasured moments I let my pen wisp through the pages. Sometimes I have to intentionally create that space and time in a place that isn’t always hospitable to my joy. Then again, a coffee shop does offer a coffee – another thing I truly enjoy. When I have my iced coffee all set, my readers on, pen in hand, and the journal open, I can go to the place I’ve been dreaming about. In a short time, all the clang and clatter, especially those noises from all the new-fangled fancy coffee makers, is gone. Before I know it, hours have passed, and I must close shop. My thoughts are outlined. Now I’m ready to sit down with the laptop and finalize my story.
Alas, there are many opportunities throughout the day where I cannot help but indulge my joy of extemporaneous story telling. The opportunities seem to be endless. I tend to get passionate when it comes to telling a tale. I often wonder if I should have pursued a career in acting, or at least taken the chance with amateur theater. I loved participating in plays while in High School. I tend to go beyond the eyebrow raise, however, when it comes to being animated.
Two weeks ago, I was working in the kitchen at a middle school. One of the cooks was looking for the small packages of apple sauce that we put in the bagged suppers for students participating in after school activities. Another cook, relatively new to our kitchen, handles the “grab and go” breakfast, mentioned that she had them on her cart. She said that some of the students didn’t like the apples they were offered and asked for apple sauce. I heard the conversation and piped in. Jesting, I told her that she was spoiling the kids. I held my hand as if I were holding an apple, raised it toward the ceiling and said, if they ask for apple sauce just throw the apple on the floor and give it a good stomp. With that, I slammed my foot on the tile floor and said, here’s your apple sauce, there’s a new lunch lady in town!
We all laughed, and I started to walk to the prep table. After the second step, the area behind my knee, and then my entire calf swelled, and I almost hit the floor. I couldn’t believe the pain I was in. I tried not to let on that I was hurting and thought for a brief second that I could walk it off. I stood at the prep table and worked on preparing the days lunch. I made a trip to the rest room and checked the swelling in my leg. The pain seemed to get a little better as I walked around. An hour later I sat down for lunch. The kitchen staff eats and then 20 minutes later the student mob us for their meal. When I went to stand up, I almost passed out from the pain. I was thinking that I had been doing a lot of clearing on my property. I’ve been cutting a grove of cedar trees, dragging the trees with my tractor to a place I have designated to delimb and throw all the brush on one of the fields edges. Then I drag the logs to the site where I intend to build a stage like platform with a cabin type room attached. I figured that all the getting on and off the tractor, combined with the sawing and stacking of logs, had already made my muscles tight. The hard strike of my foot to the floor must have been the final tweak to the banjo string, and probably snapped a ligament or muscle. I told my manager and some of the staff of my condition, and we all laughed about it, attributing it to my old age and self-inflicted stupidity…or maybe karma, as I was picking on the kids about something as silly as apple sauce.
As a stubborn old Swamp Yankee, myself, I tried not to let the pain, swelling, or the deep purple and green blotches that now covered my leg and most of my foot, hinder me from my logging project.
A week later, I googled my symptoms and saw that one of the possibilities could be a blood clot; especially after a major surgery such as the one I underwent in October. I started to get a bit more serious and drove to a Walk in Clinic in Lexington and asked them to check it out. The woman who took my information made me promise that if the doctor measured and thought it to be a blood clot, that I would go straight to the Emergency Room at the Hospital. I promised. Though I had no idea what measuring meant. When I asked them, they had no idea, either. In fact, I still don’t!
Alas, the doctor confirmed that it was not a blood clot. I had done some damage to the tendons and ligaments and she assured me that the vivid colored bruising was a sign of healing. Yes, my over animated story telling had gone a little too far. I don’t know why I felt the need to slam my foot to the floor with such force, when I could have pulled back right before impact. Maybe I’m not that good of an actor after all. Possibly, my passion overpowers my reasoning skills… or maybe, Karma – I just shouldn’t be such a hard ass and let the kids have apple sauce. Whatever the reason, you can rest assured that I will think twice before putting my foot down, again.