Day 30: Haydenville Days

June 18th, 2015

Joslyn Hamilton, freelance editor and writer, Salt Lake City, Utah

One of the hottest things about me is that I have a lazy eye.

I’m taking part in a 30-day writing experiment. See Kale & Cigarettes for details and the Facebook Group to read stories by other 500-words-ers. 

The Haydenville of my childhood was a once-charming historic New England town with a Sycamore-lined main street bounded by rolling hills on one side and the Mill River on the other. When my father got a deal on a dilapidated old two-story colonial that a woman had recently died in, I think the town probably heaved a collective sigh of relief that here, finally, was a young, spry carpenter to restore this historic treasure back to its former glory. They were to be very disappointed in my father and to embark on decades of discord and disapproval.

The town and I had that in common.

An artist and a bohemian at heart, Curt had his own aesthetic sense and very strong convictions about it. He was not one for the classic white colonials with matching pillars that lined the main avenue his new house anchored. Before long he had painted the house bright turquoise and the double-decker front porch a garish red to offset the blue. To Curt, this represented a perfect complement on the color wheel. To the owners of all the classic white colonials, it was a visual travesty.

They tried in vain to get Curt to repaint his house. They railed against his other unneighborly behaviors as well. Soon enough, the property was filled with car chassis, mechanical parts rescued from the junkyard, and a dirty old used trailer that sat in a prominent position in the front yard for many years. 

To capitalize on his investment, Curt began to renovate the house in order to subdivide it into unzoned income-generating apartments. He migrated his own residency through the building as he renovated each apartment—sans building permits or permissions of any kind—and then quietly interviewed tenants until the house was a bustling metropolis of foolish young hippies living under the radar in this quiet New England town.

Spending the weekends in Haydenville was something I dreaded, but for my mother, who made ends meet by waitressing nights, shipping the kids off to spend weekends with their father was an imperative that probably kept her sane. For Curt, who didn’t know what to do with children—being himself still one—the role of weekend dad was beset with a grisly level of responsibility he was not cut out for. Cooking, cleaning, coaxing kids through homework—these were not pastimes that came naturally to him.

Curt was very good, on the other hand, at throwing lively parties where all manner of characters paraded through, drank cheap blackberry brandy, played a little bluegrass music, and dabbled heartily in cocaine. As children, we were allowed to run around at the parties as long as we never complained. As soon as we complained—about the parties, the state of the house, the lack of food or structure—we were shuffled outside.

My brother and I were self-sufficient from the earliest possible age. Elia was a real boy. He liked trucks and dirt and adventures. He led a Tom Sawyer life. He scavenged for treasures in the dirty river that ran behind Curt’s house. He made friends with the neighborhood castoffs, and they ran around getting into whatever trouble they could.

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It wasn’t always easy to get in trouble growing up in Western Mass in the ’70s, however, because there simply weren’t a lot of rules. We didn’t have curfews, and we weren’t told where we could go or what was appropriate or expected behavior. We were set loose and made our own adventures.

But, not being a real boy or even a very good tomboy (to Curt’s dismay), my adventures were usually to be found in the pages of the books I checked out of the tiny, one-room Haydenville town library. My entire childhood was defined by libraries and bookstores and shelves of books in houses where I often had nowhere else to turn.

This is how I became a reader.

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2 Responses to “Day 30: Haydenville Days”

  1. Tom says:

    Please don’t stop.

  2. [...] woods, alone, all the time. When I was a kid, I wasn’t so much the playground type, but I would spend hours on end at the library five blocks from my dad’s house, reading, alone. He never had any idea I was there, but probably [...]

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