The Writer at Home(s)

Published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette Feb 4 2022

Northampton’s Forbes Library is inviting all Western Mass creatives to send in work for a Virtual Exhibit this spring. Its theme is every aspect of ‘Home.’ A fine winter challenge for homebound artists and writers to send in online submissions. Deadline: February 11th, 2022.

The city of Northampton, Massachusetts has a reputation for warm hospitality. Recent letters to the editor compare societal failures to his or her hopes for a city that, seen broadly, is our common home. That bodes well because where are we without fair standards and high goals? Good luck to the city’s new mayor and council.

In 1939, America was coming out of the depression, allowing dad and mom to buy a real house with room for a family. We moved to South Street from a rented house on Glendale Avenue. On moving day my new Flexible Flyer sled was stolen off our porch, but I’m ok, okay!

Johnny Mercer’s “Any place I hang my hat is home,” is an American song of endless possibilities. Men and women took it to heart. To come of age after WWII was to dream big. In time, the itch to travel faded. Homes went from youthful dreams into necessities. Today, a  half-dozen or more homely scenes are flooding my memory.

Six children were raised on lower South Street.. Our new house came with a gas station next door, making two for dad to operate. A gallon of gas sold for 19 cents, or $3.53 today. Our home phone rang with business calls. More than once, during our teen years, innocent friends were shaken when dad loudly answered his kids’ one-too-many calls: “Police Station!”

My 1950 high school graduation matched the onset of the Korean War. Single, I volunteered for the Air Force. A duffle bag held my worldly goods. I relocated to Texas, Wyoming, South Dakota and, finally, England. Home as concept and moveable feast.

Fast forward ten years to the early sixties. I was married with three children and a fourth in transit. It was time for us to leave 4B Hampshire Heights, get a mortgage, and blow seventeen-grand on a four-bedroom cape. Moving our stuff across Northampton nearly did me in! We stayed put for thirty-three years. 

In those days, five-child families were not unique. Our once-roomy house was full of fun but shrinking. We added a family room with wood paneling because four boys and their sister were bouncing off the walls.

A whole lot of growing up was going on. St. Michael’s Grammar and High Schools were a mile away. Weekday mornings meant a bus run. Morning Pro Musica featured the ‘warm fudge’ voice of Robert J. Lurtsema playing classical music to the dismay of all but the driver. 

Television became a necessity. Experts advised parents to limit its use with children. High-brow folks claimed not to have one. Reception was terrible. Put to the question, I was outvoted. Ergo, good old dad bought a 21-inch console with an antenna rotator. In the fullness of time, all five children survived our learned on-the-job parenting and flew the coop. When that house emptied out, the two of us imagined anew. A country home became more than a dream; I fashioned musings into verse:

 My love’s dream for too many years
 Has been a country home before the tears
 Of age and children take their sure toll
 A place for two upon a distant knoll.

“Home,” said Robert Frost is “the place that “when you go there, they have to take you in” We remember all the better days, birthdays, holidays, even school days. I identified with the overly-tired ten-year-old, shoveling his sidewalk, and telling a TV interviewer, “I wish I was in school.”

I met my future wife dancing. Maureen just graduated from Notre Dame High School in Northampton, England. We had a traditional two-year courtship. I spent off time in my girlfriend’s home. Maureen’s mother fed me; her dad condoned his lone daughter’s Catholic boyfriend. Since 1628, Common Law says that an Englishman’s home is his castle. Eddie Stone, therefore, could have refused entry to the King or Queen, not to mention me.

During the war, he and Evelyn rented a room to a couple escaping London. When Maureen’s grandmother was bombed out of her Bristol home, she found refuge in Swindon.

One foggy night, in 1954, my bus to base was canceled. I returned to knock on the door of a sleeping house. Eddie came downstairs, saw me, and rearranged beds. Maureen slept with her Mum, and I with Eddie. 

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. In 1980, we marked two anniversaries here in Northampton: Eddie and Evelyn’s 50th, and our 25th. Father Jim Cronin of St. Mary’s celebrated Mass in our garden. 

Do you believe in miracles?

Forty-two years later, in Williamsburg, our kitchen wall quotes Ratty inside Moley’s humble home, after they evaded a snowstorm. He exclaims like the true friend he is: “What a capital little house this is!”

If you inquired, I might expound about walking through the English village of Bishop’s Canning. The gate to a handsome cottage had a plaque mis-reading, “Mole’s End.” In “The Wind in the Willows” Moley’s entry says “Mole End, like ours. Contemplating a final move, I found words of gratitude for a homestretch abode, and answered prayers.

Dulce Domum

 Sing out, sing out, grasp and hold today
Oft blind to blessings within morning’s ray:
Sun room, study room, garden room, bed:
Each a conservatory of life now, life led.
God bless this house and all within,
May love here reside, faith banish sin

P.S. Dulce Domum = Home Sweet Home!

Jim and Maureen moved to Williamsburg in February, 1995. The Wind in the Willows is by Kenneth Grahame, (1909). Forbes’ Panel on Affordable Housing is set for February 9th. Contact: Faith Kaufman.

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