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The American West was a far away place to a young girl, only ten years old, living in a small town in Massachusetts in 1947. She had no idea of the changes to her life that would happen after her parents sold all they possessed and turned their old Chevy in the direction of the setting sun.
Watching from her backseat window, this child witnessed not only the unfolding of scenery across the United States, east coast to west coast, but slowly developed awareness of the struggle her family faced to provide daily needs in a world of strangers where newcomers were viewed with suspicion. With no work or prospect of it, knowing no one in the far west, her mother and father became, in effect, like the pioneers of a previous era, searching for a place to settle that would satisfy them.
A coming-of-age story told through vivid memories of her experiences and the persons she encountered along the way, Cricket in the Grass relates a child's learning of self-reliance.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.44(d)|
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CRICKET in the GrassMemories of Chasing a Dream
By BEVERLY PAIK
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Beverly Paik
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFirst I must tell you about Zane Grey. My father had read all of the books written by this writer of popular western novels. For this boy growing up in a village of eastern Massachusetts in the early decades of the twentieth century he drew portraits of an idealized western frontier, a world more exciting than any to be found in New England during the Depression years. Grey's tales inspired the desire, a driving, burning, all-consuming desire within that young man to head out west, to see it for himself.
Arizona was the general destination because that's where most of Grey's tales took place. All my father knew came from descriptions of those arid spaces that served as setting for most of the adventure stories he avidly consumed. Although I had no choice in the matter I'm still happy to give credit to Mr. Grey for my eventual settling in the west.
My father's adolescent dream was continually being postponed, first by the tight economic conditions of the thirties but compounded by the death of his father and his need to provide support for his mother, and next by the restrictions of World War II and the responsibility for his young family.
He'd already made the first break shortly after war began in 1941, leaving his boyhood home in Hopkinton. He took a defense job soon after Pearl Harbor, helping to build battleships, and we moved to a rental house in a town closer to the shipyard located in Hingham. A couple of years later he made that separation permanent by selling his mother's only legacy to him, the house at 53 Ash Street in Hopkinton. In its place he bought an old farmhouse in Hanson, a small town on the way to Cape Cod. This rambling two-story structure had been built before the Civil War. The two-story barn attached to the house on the kitchen side still had some horse stalls in the back so I think once it may have been a carriage house. His new property was surrounded by ten acres of woodland and orchards, with land enough to plant a big garden and space for chickens, lots of chickens.
Hanson was about thirty miles south of Boston. Most people who lived there worked for the cranberry cannery. Even today, so many years later, whenever I see the label on a can of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce I remember riding in the school bus, passing those water-filled bogs where the berries grew.
When better times returned in the months following the end of war with Germany and Japan, my father polished up his long-held vision of the west and made it shine, despite the fact that he now had a wife and three children, one a newborn. Having responsibility for a family didn't stop him from leaving. When he made up his mind to go west he had to sell all he owned to finance his dream. Mother and we children just tagged along without an idea of what our future would be.
I turned nine in that autumn when the preparations started, first arranging for selling the house and nearly all we owned, and next looking for a car and trailer. My brother, Nils, was four and Hans was only an infant. I remember how curious I was about all of the trailers on that sales lot, not even imagining then that I would have to live in one of those little boxes with four other persons for months and months. How could I? I'd always had a room of my own, spacious and private.
Chapter TwoLooking back, I have a sense now that Mother didn't mind our leaving. The one ambition she had always shared with my father was to get as far away as possible from the town where they'd both grown up. What sort of place was this that she would want so desperately to leave?
Hopkinton was an early Massachusetts settlement, dating back to l710, but in her time the Irish mill workers dominated it and it was not a comfortable place for the children of Swedish immigrants to live. Her schoolmates often warned her, she so often told me, that she'd go to hell when she died because she was a Protestant. In addition, it was similar to most small towns where everyone knew you and your family and all about you, or if they didn't they could always make up wild rumors and gossip.
To me Hopkinton is still a wonderful place, the hometown I left behind, perhaps because I found another side to it. When I visited it was a delightful change for me from our somewhat isolated farmhouse in Hanson. There were real sidewalks around my grandparents' house on the corner of Pleasant and Maple Streets where I could ride a tricycle and play hopscotch with the children of the neighborhood. I loved the shaded arcade of the tall maple trees in summer. A sense of permanence emanated from the large old houses, most of them set back from the street and surrounded by vast green lawns that were always kept neatly mowed. It didn't matter to me that my best friend in that town went to the Catholic church. Since my own home was out in the country and our few neighbors were all elderly, visiting Hopkinton meant, more than anything else to me, a chance for fun and companionship.
Most of the time my grandfather was at home in those years I remember, although he did still occasionally go back "on the water", back to the ships and the oceans he sailed since he ran away to sea as a boy of fourteen. The romance of the great white sails lured him from his home in Helsingborg on the Swedish coast of the Baltic Sea and he turned his back on the education his father planned for him. When I was young I read John Masefield's poem, "Sea Fever," and I thought these words might have been written to describe him.
"I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky ... And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by."
My mother's father made first mate but was never a captain, for he had a terrible temper and would usually end each voyage with a huge blowup that curtailed his advancement. Now he sat at home most of the day drinking coffee, until it was time to walk down to the thread mill and meet my grandmother.
When I visited in Hopkinton he and I would set out about four-thirty in the afternoon, strolling past the wood frame houses on Maple Street, stopping to chat with someone mowing a lawn, waving to another friend rocking on a front porch, until we finally came to the corner of Church and Maple and stood outside waiting for the whistle to blow and the big black gates to open. The mill took up most of the block, a long wooden building, dark red in color and several stories high, surrounded by black gravel; a huge factory set right in the middle of this pleasant neighborhood, with family homes on all sides of it. Yet the air was rank with its acrid, metallic, oily combination of odors. When that whistle shrilled at five o'clock sharp the women filed out, plump and housewifely-looking in their cotton dresses, but with faces drained of life after working a ten hour shift, and half a day on Saturday, as well. We slowed our pace going home to match the footsteps of my grandmother. She'd worked there since she came to Hopkinton about twenty-five years earlier, not able to speak much English. By now she was a supervisor but the bills and coins she put into her little purse on payday still didn't amount to much.
The owner's name was Mr. Wilson and I remember that I thought he was some kind of god from the respect that his name carried among my grandmother's co-workers. A few years after the Second World War ended he closed the mill, however, putting everyone out of work, taking his giant spools and machines south to North Carolina, where he could pay lower wages. It's difficult to imagine how anyone could work for less than he paid my grandmother but at least the mill had never closed, even during the worst of the Depression, and for that everyone in town held a sense of loyalty to it. When the whistle blew for the last time they all shared the sense of its desertion.
So that's the kind of town it was in the forties, a combination of old-time families living in the large homes that dated back to the Eighteenth century, and the workers, successive waves of immigrants from Ireland and Italy mostly, who lived in immaculate smaller houses lining the narrow side streets. Change happened slowly. It was always a quiet place where everyone worked and lived and nothing much disturbed the routine pace of the day.
I suppose that is one of the reasons that my parents, like many young persons, were desperate to escape from it. Mother abhorred the long winters when each fresh snowfall meant only that the driveway must be shoveled before anyone could go to work in the morning. That I don't recall. New snow only meant a school holiday for me.
I do remember listening to the frog chorus croaking on summer evenings when I was very young and we still lived in the Hopkinton house on Ash Street. Darkness lay on me like a fluffy blanket and the stars overhead were bright and distinct. In the summer we picked small wild blueberries in the cow pastures, dropping them one by one into the two-pound coffee cans that hung by a string from our necks, keeping a lookout for a mean-tempered bull we'd been warned of that somehow never did appear. Mother remembered the mosquitoes buzzing and biting on a sultry night but I recalled the twilight games of hide and seek with my cousins when my heart thumped in the semi-darkness as I fancied in every shrub and shadow a terrifying shape that filled me with insensible, delicious fear.
Hanson also loomed rich in my memory. Especially, I loved the springtime when trees long bare burst into green and flowers bloomed with a sweet smelling fragrance. The branches of the ancient lilac bush by our front porch hung to the ground, weighted with perfumed lavender blossoms that I clipped and carried to my teacher by the armload. On some mornings, if I woke early, I raced in the dewy sunlight past the row of chicken houses where our hens were making early morning clucking sounds, on through the ancient orchard of gnarled and fruitless trees. I skirted past the shore of the duck pond where I believed a giant snapping turtle paddled around, just waiting for a child to slip in from the spongy bank, then threw a wary glance at the twin mounds of earth partly enclosed by a stone parapet. Indian graves. I firmly believed that's what those were, and believed also that the spirits of those natives still hovered nearby. But my destination was worth the chance of raising them.
Just before reaching the patch of woods that bordered the muddy shores of our Town Pond, in a low and swampy field hidden from all eyes but mine, bloomed like magic, untended, a field of narcissus, hundreds and hundreds of blossoms, each perfect head framed by five creamy petals, the golden center oozing a heady fragrance. I snipped their long stems by the dozen until I held an enormous bouquet to place in the arms of my teacher.
In winter I lived to skate. The Town Pond just beyond my home, in reality named Wampatuck, is more than two miles long but seemed to me no more than a puddle. By January it froze solid. Each afternoon I leapt from the school bus and grabbed my white leather skates, their laces knotted so they dangled from around my neck, the blades sparkling in the waning light, and nearly ran in my rush to reach its shores where I would skate with a school friend till nearly dark. She lived in a cabin near the shore with her parents and sister and I thought she was the luckiest girl in the world.
Sitting in the back seat of the Chevy on that hot day in July, I thought of those skates, left behind with all the memories and people I knew. Could my young cousin possibly have as much fun skating with them as I had?
Chapter ThreeI said we were heading west. That was true, but before turning in that direction we drove north, straight north, up the narrow, winding coast road to Maine because we had to say goodbye to my father's sister before we could set our course irretrievably for the west.
Aunt Hazel lived on an island. This would be my first sight of it. We had to pass through a good number of small towns along the way after we reached Portland. I read the signs as we drove past on each main street. Bath, Rockland, Camden, Belfast, and Ellsworth. Even today my ear vibrates with the rhythm of their names. After passing through Ellsworth, we turned away from Route l, to the southeast, toward Arcadia National Park and Bar Harbor, but veered south to a slip of a town perching on the edge of the American continent, looking straight out to three thousand miles of Atlantic Ocean. From this village, Northeast Harbor, we rode the ferryboat to my aunt's home on Islesford, the smaller of the Cranberry Isles that lay off the coast of Maine. It is sometimes called Little Cranberry.
I suppose we must have stopped somewhere along the way for the night before we arrived on the Maine coast. Driving was slower in those years and this journey took more than one day. I do remember the harbor and leaving the car and trailer near the dock where a small boat waited. It served as both mail boat and ferry. Ten or twelve persons squeezed onto the aft deck, finding space for their feet among the mailbags, boxes of groceries and other varied supplies, including gear for the lobstermen. It was a fair ride lasting nearly an hour. Weather warm, water smooth, air brisk, a few green mounds of islands in the distance. This was a rare and fine introduction to the sea.
Oh, the smell of that salt air! I'd never sniffed anything like it, never been to an island, or even on a boat before, but from the moment we left Massachusetts I'd begun to accept as commonplace each of these wondrous new experiences that happened to me almost every day.
Even before we reached Islesford, when we were still more than a hundred yards from the dock, I inhaled the aroma of the place: an incomparable blend of sea air, gasoline, rubber, fish bait, motor oil, and sunshine. It is an odor that at first whiff I thought too terrible to be endured. At first sniff I wanted to keep my distance and quickly. But if I should ever encounter it again, or even smell an odor faintly similar, I am overcome with an ache and longing to return to this small island.
Getting out of the boat entailed a precarious climb up a short ladder onto the weather-beaten boards of the dock. Midway up, I spotted some movement below, some creatures, looking shiny and black, were floating about sluggishly in the water.
"What could they be?"
I must see what was in that water. As soon as I stepped onto the dock I kneeled down and peered through the cracks between the boards. At that moment one of the island men raised a section of the dock. It came up like a trap door. He'd carried a big washtub in his brawny arms; it was filled with what looked to me like giant black insects, strange looking creatures with eyes bulging and antennae wiggling. He was picking them up one by one and tossing them down into the water beneath the trap door.
I crept over and looked down. Below the surface of the water I could see something that looked like a playpen with some of the ugly creatures in it, and though it appeared they couldn't go anywhere, they had considerable room to move about.
"It's a storeroom for the lobsters we catch," this stranger explained, pulling me back to prevent me from tumbling in with them. "This is my haul today. We keep them here until the boat from Boston takes them to market. Comes in here about twice a week."
"But how do you know which ones are yours?"
"By the colors. Each man has his own."
He showed me a tag, colored half red, half black, attached to the handle of the trap door he was now closing and then pointed to the wooden buoys that lay in the bottom of his boat nearby. Each one was painted half-red and half-black, just like the tag. I noticed some others in another boat, but those were green and white.
Seagulls wheeled over my head, swooping down to snatch a chance bit of stray bait, and I turned to have a good look at Islesford for the first time. This place was smaller than I'd expected. Not much to see in the way of buildings or people. The rocky beach curved away almost immediately to disappear around the bend in the coastline. Except for an old pickup truck there were no autos in sight and the only sounds were sporadic droning, chugging, sputtering and roaring of motors as more small fishing boats arrived and departed. Other men were bringing in their haul and dumping them into similar storage spaces under the wharf.
If one were searching for a place where time stands still, or at the very least, moves very slowly, surely it would be this island.
Excerpted from CRICKET in the Grass by BEVERLY PAIK Copyright © 2012 by Beverly Paik. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part One Heading West With No Prospects....................1
Part Two Discovering a Town Called Blue Lake....................65
Part Three Setting Course for My Future....................121