I was born with a right branch bundle block in my heart, and a part of my large intestine was protruding from my lower groin about the size of a robin’s egg. All this happened during the evening of August 8, 1913 in the Newton Hospital near Boston.
Even though I started to walk at age one, my only memory is a brother arriving when I was 15 months old. Soon after that event, I began to realize that my world was expanding.
My father owned one of the few autos on the road at that time. It was a Buick Roadster with a cranky roof that could be put up during the winter or when it looked like rain was imminent. Speaking of cranks, all cars of that time had no electric starters, so a lot of cusswords were uttered when an engine became flooded and required cranking for about 5 to 10 minutes with the choke turned off. One memorable day we were driving from our home in Newton Centre to Waban to visit my father’s older sister Marion when we noticed a yellow blinking light in the center of the road ahead. My father called it a dummy policeman, but it was the beginning of the millions of traffic lights that we have today. When my brother Richard had grown too heavy for my mother to hold in her lap, my father bolted a small chair on the right hand fender of his single seated Buick. I only rode on it for a few times with a couple of falls into the gutter. We had no seat belts in cars until many years later. He finally bought a double-seated touring car which was the first in a line of many cars to come every 2 years or so.
We lived on Avondale Road which branched off Ward Street and ran down a rather steep hill for a few hundred feet before stopping at a huge dump for concrete and tar scraps from road building. To the rear of our house was a grove of skinny alder trees about 3 inches in diameter, and they were about 30 feet in height. Rich and I used to shinny up to the top and swing large arcs back and fourth for up to an hour at a time.
I remember the day that Rich got stuck in the crotch of a tree, and we couldn't get him out of it. I ran in to tell my grandmother Hart of the predicament. She at once phoned the fire department that immediately sent a hook and ladder at full throttle with siren and horns blasting out. All of our neighbors came running out to see what was happening. The firemen could not back the hook and ladder truck far enough into the woods so they grabbed a long regular ladder and set it up on Rich’s tree. They lifted him out in a jiffy and soon drove away.
When I was 4 years old, I happened to find out that there is no Santa Klaus. Just before Christmas I was getting my overcoat out of the front closet, when I noticed many packages wrapped in bright colored paper with red ribbons. I opened one and found it was a children’s bible instead of a toy. I looked no farther, but re-wrapped the bible as well as I could. On Christmas morning early I found that the bible was left to me by Santa. I immediately told Richie that Santa did not exist. Later, Richie asked my mother if Santa was dead, and I got a severe scolding for telling something that was really true, I think.
The next Christmas I received a real sled. I took it to the top of our hill and thought I could stop it by dragging my feet to keep from running into the grove of alder trees. When I started coasting down I quickly saw that I had miscalculated in stopping ability.
There was a thin layer of ice on top of the snow, and my feet could not penetrate this ice at all. In a jiffy I was in the alders and my head bumped into one of the larger trees. I must have been knocked out for a minute or so, because I woke to find myself screaming at this tree which got in my way. At this time a figure emerged from the mist. I thought it was the Virgin Mary, She had a scarf covering her hair and she had very nice brown eyes. She picked me up and asked me where I lived. She took my arm and pulled my sled until we got within eyesight of my house, She gave me a hug and disappeared as quickly as she arrived, I never saw her again.
When spring arrived that year when I was 5 another adventure was in the making. I was walking in the dump when I noticed a beat-up doll’s baby carriage somebody had left there. The wheels and springs were intact so I wheeled it home and bolted a medium sized soapbox where the body used to be. I found that I could steer this contraption with an oak branch hanging out in the rear. In spite of the scarcity of autos on the road it was a dangerous ride down the slope of Ward Street. One trip down the hill was enough for me.
I must mention the Boston Marathon. Just across the dump from where we lived was Commonwealth Avenue. On April 19 every year the 6o or more marathoners would pass by one at a time with intervals of a minute or more between them. At my first sight it seemed that they were all running in their summer underwear. Each one was accompanied by a bicyclist who had a pail of water hanging from his handle bar. The pail contained a large ladle used to pour water on the top of the runner’s head from time to time. I never saw one of them drinking from this ladle.
Up the hill on Ward Street there was a row of Maple trees whose lower branches were just right for climbing and chinning and other calisthenics. After school a group of about a dozen boys and girls would stop for some exercise Some of the older boys could chin themselves a dozen times without stopping, but none of them could climb higher than I because I weighed less than 50 lbs, and could climb like a monkey to the thinnest branches. I practiced hanging from my knees, later from my heels and toes. No one could do as well. When I had to urinate, going behind the nearest bush was enough for me. One day as I was relieving myself, one of the older girls caught me in the act. She asked me what was that pointing to my penis. I said it was my wetter, just like her brother’s or her father’s. She said that she had no brothers, and she was sure that her father did not have one. She then became very quiet and thoughtful, and I could almost see her putting two and two together. Abruptly she turned about face and hurried off. I could almost see her asking her mother a few pointed questions about anatomy.
Later that summer, before I was 6, we moved to Long Island where we were to spend 12 years, going all the way through grammar and high schools.