a time of great exploration in my life, I decided to journey to the East
had traversed parts of the United States a number of times, but always
through the South and Southwest, once from Calexico to Monterey on the
"Shaky Coast" - but that's a different story.
This time I was going to get the feel of the oldest settled part
of our country. It was in the 70's, when hitch-hiking was relatively
safe, that I set out. I had no true game plan at the moment, just get
rides east and see what happens.
I knew eventually that I would run out of land, and wind up at
the Atlantic Ocean.
Traveling through Ohio in an 18-wheeler, I remembered that I had an Aunt that lived in Randolph, a southern suburb of Boston, MA. This Aunt was shrouded in mystery, and had been absent from my life as I was growing up. She was my father's older sister, and his only sibling. Something had happened that caused her banishment from the fold before I was born. That she bore a child to a Greek fellow (out of wedlock, but whom she later married) was secondary to the secret that went to the grave with my father and grandparents. The only memory that I had of her was of her visiting us when we lived in Chicago. I remember coming home from school as a child of 7 or 8, and having her jump out of the front hall closet at me, screaming and scaring me as I opened it to put my coat away. (Oddly enough, a good memory of that same closet, around that same age period, is of an unknown cousin in his 40's from Nome, Alaska, dressed up in full fur winter Eskimo Regalia, lunging out of the closet growling like a Polar Bear. He swept me up, scraped my cheek raw with his whiskers, and kept growling till dinnertime. He told me stories of Caribou hunts, gave me a book on the history of Alaska and a hunting knife, and I remember him warmly to this day. It's a magical closet that serves me malevolent and benevolent memories.)
I had met her eldest son once. He was on his way back to Boston from an army base out west, returning from a tour of duty with the Marines over in "Nam," and he stopped by our house in Lowell for a few days. He gave me the impression of someone who was ready to blow at any moment, and being close to his age I was put in charge of entertaining him. He had a souped-up pickup truck, and he lost any respect I had for him when he spun his tires out inside the 150 year old Covered Bridge just north of our town. The sign on the bridge says "No driving or riding horses faster than a walk."
late when I finally arrived in Boston and I had no idea of where I was
at. It's an
enormous town. I
found a pay phone and called my Grandma for my Aunt's husband's name,
(a phone scene ensued) then found a phone book and looked up my Aunts
phone number. A
man with an accent I couldn't understand answered the phone, and I tried
as well as I could to explain who I was, and what it was I wanted.
finally told him to tell my Aunt, when she arrived, that I would call in
the morning, and I found a ride out of town in the direction of
spending a very comfortable night in a tree house I found in the woods,
I headed into town.
It didn't take me long to find my Aunt's house, and soon I was
meeting my younger cousins, two boys 4 and 5 years younger than me, and
her husband, a big Greek guy with bushy eyebrows and lots of hair
growing out of his ears. It was a Sunday
morning and she was cooking up a large breakfast for everyone.
We all sat down to the table and I was catching her up on the
news of her mom and brother, when in walks a very old man resembling her
husband. Indeed, it was her husband's father, and everyone called him
Pa. He had
arrived as an immigrant to the U.S. many years before, but had never
really learned to speak the language.
I had noticed there was a vacant chair to the right of me, and the table
had a place setting on it, and now I knew why.
As he walked towards me I sensed something asymmetrical about
this man-- a shift of balance, of something lacking. He sat down, and
then I realized what was missing was his left ear, the one on my side of
his head. I
found myself gawking at the hole in the side of his head.
Of course, this had to be my first question to my Aunt after breakfast.
As it happened, Pa was riding in an elevator in a tall building
in the 1920's when the cable snapped and the car did its gravitational
thing, picked up speed, and headed down.
Mr. Otis (of Otis Elevators fame) fixed this problem by inventing
elevator brakes in the 1940's, (if only Pa could have waited to take his
elevators were not equipped with doors, only a sliding grate that was to
be pulled back in order to admit, or to disgorge passengers. Greeks are known for
their inbred sense of curiosity, and Pa was no exception to the rule.
his elevator hurtled towards a sudden stop, he opened the sliding grate
to see what was going on, and promptly had his ear snatched off of the
side of his head by a passing floor. A brief moment later, to add insult
to injury, the inevitable abrupt halt occurred and both legs folded and
broke under him. The
legs mended and never gave him further problems, but he was forever left
with a vacancy on the side of his head.
This was the start of an adventure that would leave me living
in a small cottage on the beach on
Cape Cod, on a shark-infested beach, working as a handyman at a small
resort owned by a 90 year old Italian
woman named Gina, but... another time.