Memories of Horse Mountain
Another year has come and gone and one wonders where the time goes. It languishes or speeds past with little regard to our notions of importance to our own insulated lives, but regardless we must nevertheless live within its trapped confines.
Every now and then, however, we can escape these parameters and bring to life some long lost memories that keep us connected to the present. For me, that connection would be North Farms Road, Florence, Massachusetts-a small hamlet considered part of that larger metropolis, Northampton.
Florence exemplified the best in small town America and North Farms was the best that a country setting could offer. There were only three more houses between ours and the Haydenville town line and since there were no children within those households sent to Annunciation Grammer School, I was the last stop for the bus. I remember the bus turning around in our dirt driveway and stopping to let me embark on the journey to school.
I can imagine how the other children must have thought it unnecessary to travel this distance for one passenger. The time it took to travel the winding country road would have taken ages for a young mind to comprehend. Such a great distance then for a child would be but a short hop for the seasoned adult.
My brothers were all much older than me when I arrived in 1947. Bernard, Ed and Art Jr. were more used to the flourishing settings of Hamp and Florence than they could be to the pristine country of Horse Mountain. Before the family could be comfortable in the house that my father and mother bought in 1946 there was the small detail of finishing the second floor--the bedrooms had yet to be walled off and the stairway not yet installed. Eventually such small matters were taken care off with the help of my grandfather, Pierre (whose name I have proudy inherited). I can remember my father remarking how Pepe would stop for lunch to eat his sandwich, which took all of ten minutes, and then proclaim to my father that it was time to get back to work. Granpa was a skilled carpenter, a wiry little French-Canadian to whom sitting was simply objectionable. And so it was that a man of 82 would push a man half his age in providing a roof for a grandchild just born.
And so it is that I recollect those memories either passed on to me, or remembered directly--
--My mother recounting how Bernard flew a plane low over the house when she took me home from Cooley Dickinson Hospital. Bern was 16 at the time, soon to be off to Holy Cross for his educational adventure.
--Mom remembering watching the smoke rise in the distance from the steam engines on the rail line heading north to Canada.
--Kindergarten at Lilly Library where we would take our afternoon naps after cleaning the glass milk bottles.
--Riding my tricycle around the dining room table while my mother read a letter from Eddie fighting a war in some far away land called Korea.
--My very first day in 1st grade at Annunciation school and realizing that I wasn't prepared to start my lessons since I had no pencil.
--Being saved by Mr. Dunphy, the custodian, who generously gave me his pencil. A kindness shone in his face that I shall never forget.
--Having my tonsils removed when I was five and the terror of being straped helpless to a table before the operation. The good part? lots of creme de glas.
--One day in the spring of 53' when I realized I didn't want to go to school after the lunch break. So, I walked home--4 miles and found a worried look on the faces of my parents as I sauntered up the road and received some very stern admonitions with the promise never to do it again. (but it sure was fun)
--Being covered on numerous occasions with poison ivy and missing a full week of school during third grade. The Sister informing me that this was not a good reason to miss school and my mother telling me that next time I would go with my festering sores and see if the nun could take the sight of it. (bleach was my mothers prime healing agent and she applied it copiously to my dripping, scarred arms and to this day I cannot stand the smell of this foul liquid)
--Playing Little League Farm League(the minors of the minors, if you will). There's a picture of me with my new, used Schwinn with a basket for my dog, Cleo that is forever etched in time and mind. (Cleo would inexplicably disappear soon afterwords. She had given birth to seven puppies and it had not gone well. I would learn from my mother years later that my father had taken her up the mountain in the back of our house and shot my dog to put her out of her misery. I would forgive him, but would never forget my little friend)
--The beebee gun that my brother Eddie gave me for Christmas in 1955 and the joy I had in target shooting.
--The horror I felt when my neighbor snatched the weapon from my hands and promptly shot a bird perched on a wire near our home. A life destroyed for no reason. This act alone brought me a great reverance for nature and all that inhabits its wonderful panoply of life.
--My mother shepherding me upstairs to my bedroom one day in February, 1958 when my neighbor stopped at our house to tell her that he had found his wife murdered in their home. I did my best to listen to the conversation through the floor heating grate, but couldn't quite make out the details. As it turned out, he had killed his wife and came to our house just after he did it. (My mother would inform my father, working a night shift at this time, that she was no longer happy living an isolated life on Horse Mountain--by the fall of that year we would be living in the center of Florence)
And so it was that North Farms Road, affectionately known as Horse Mountain, would become a memory placed in a part of my mind that could be recalled with wonder and a longing as if from another century. My wife would remind me that it is from another century; any replication impossible and incomplete. She is right. Perhaps I bring from that time, that era, my individualism and my belief in self-reliance. I simply don't know any other way. Freedom and memories are too important to lose.