3. Visiting Dad
I have few memories of my father actually living with my mother and brother and me, although he did so, off and on, for almost five of my first seven years. I remember my father as someone Den and I visited when we were children, with occasional day trips in winter and a live-in stay of up to two months in the summer.
These visits occasioned the few good memories I have of my father. During the cooler months, we visited him in New York, where he worked for the family business. My mother would deliver us from Connecticut, and he would usually take us to places near the executive offices of the Shea theater chain at 132 West 43rd Street. He chose wonderful places for kids. There was a private 20 seat screening theater on the first floor of his office building, where we would sit in deep armchairs like moguls, watching new films before their public release dates. When he was sobering up, he would take us to the old Luxor Baths, with its sauna, steam, and oak leaf scrub rooms, and its huge marble and tile pool where the men walked about draped like Roman Senators. Another favorite was Hubert's Flea Circus on West 42nd Street. Professor Hubert, a gaunt, avuncular gentlemen in impeccable dark suit and tie, would remove his tiny charges from cotton lined boxes, roll up his sleeve, and let them feed upon his arm, after which he would demonstrate how he had trained them to kick tiny footballs and pull tiny chariots and dance in tiny dresses to the tinkling tones of a miniature jeweled music box. Our father would stand behind Den and me, an arm around each of our shoulders, as we watched in complete amazement.
Our childhood summers were spent at my father's sprawling family compound of houses and barns in the sleepy resort hamlet of
South Wolfeboro, and this continued after our parent's divorce. The season began in May, when my grandmother traveled up from New York to open the house.
After my grandfather's death in 1940, she and her manservant, Arthur Jarvis, would take the State Of Maine from Grand Central Station to Dover, New Hampshire.
There, they would be met by Earl Willand, her winter caretaker, who would drive them the remaining distance to Wolfeboro. Uncles, aunts, and cousins arrived
with the warm weather and often stayed the season. My father drove us up from New York or Connecticut in June — those years he had a green Oldsmobile
station wagon with a varnished wood exterior. In the 1940's the trip took an entire day, and was punctuated by incessant questions from Den and me:
'How far to go now? How much longer?'
Surrounded by fruit orchards and with a clear lake for swimming, I was seduced as a child by the small town summer sweetness of the place. Apple trees bloomed behind the barns. Berry bushes lined the path to the lake. Under the pine trees by the shore my late grandfather had carved out and built a soft, sandy beach. On the left of the clearing was a pine bathhouse for changing. On the right, an open brick fireplace and cast iron cauldron for boiling picnic corn and hot dogs stood next to a lead lined ice chest containing iced tea, brown ribbed bottles of Orange Crush, and thick green bottles of Coca Cola. About twenty-five yards from shore, a wooden sunbathing float drifted serenely on four empty oil drums.
When I was six and seven and eight, my father would wake Den and me in the cool summer mornings before dawn, and we would tip toe down to the pine paneled pantry, where we would all break the rules. He would have his "eye openers" and Den and I would breakfast on crusty slabs of pie made by Jarvis from the tiny, tart sweet blackberries and blueberries picked from our bushes. Happy conspirators. Sugar thieves, all. Then the three of us would race each other to the lake, strip off our shorts, and plunge naked and laughing into the pristine water just as the sun was painting a fire on the treetops lining the opposite shore.