Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Three-Part September Jaunt

Part I - Worcester, Mass.

I started off for Worcester Sunday morning with plenty of time to make one of the hour-long tours of poet Stanley Kunitz's boyhood home. I love many of his poems; and I am moved by his seeringly-sad biography -- how about having your father commit suicide by ingesting carbolic acid in a park down the street just weeks before your birth, an event that might have forced Kunitz to poetry, for in what other form could such tragedy be dealt with?

And I'm fond of Carol, the woman who owns this home and graciously opens it to the pubic at least once a year. She and her husband, Greg (RIP), bought the place in 1979, and, over many years and with much sweat and expending of hard-earned money, lovingly restored it to the period --- the early 1900s -- when Stanley lived there, though when they set off on this project they had no idea that it had been the boyhood home of a man who would become Poet Laureate twice.

This would be my fourth or fifth visit.

So with that plenty of time, I went to and strolled around in the Worcester Museum of Art. My favorite thing may have been the rock-star-giant photo on the outside-wall advertising Fifty Centuries of Art. (It's a reproduction of a Joseph Rodefer De Camp painting called "Sally" from 1907.) Not that the place wasn't full of treasures ... I especially loved a room of exquisite 18th century furniture ... but I didn't have enough time to browse slowly; and the museum's current featured exhibit of arms and armor didn't interest me in the least.
When I stepped out of the museum the beautiful bronze steeple of Trinity Lutheran Church across Lancaster Street caught my eye.  (Note: The light blue RAV4 in lower left of photo will, later in this account, be lost.)

And then I arrived at the house where Stanley Kunitz lived as a boy; passing, on the way, the park in which his father had ingested that carbolic acid a few weeks before Stanley's birth. And it is the house where, later, his step-father (who is related somehow to the contemporary artist, Jim Dine) had a massive heart attack while hanging drapes in the living room, and died.

Above: The living room and dining room after Carol and Greg's restoration. So much which you see in the house will lead you directly to one of Kunitz's poems ... for instance, on the small grand piano in the living room, the sheet music for Warum rests. From "Three Floors":

Sister's doughboy on last leave
has robbed me of her hand;
downstairs at intervals she played
Warum on the baby grand.

After the day's last tour, there was "open mic" … I read a poem I'd written. People said nice things about it … a repeated comment was that I'm a good story teller. A woman I met at an earlier event has asked if she could publish this poem in a journal she edits; but still I don't have confidence in my poems; I never spend as much time as they need, and so on my drive home I tore that poem I'd read apart, threw some of it out, tightened it up some, and gave it a new name: "I Carry Melancholy in My Pockets" … now I need to put it back together.

And below is the house cat, the cat who gets to live where Stanley Kunitz once lived. On other visits to this house, she has been merely curled up on a bed, oblivious of the string of visitors tromping into and then out of the bedroom.

Part II - Saugus, Mass.

About ten years ago when I started reading The Huffington Post there was one of those stupid articles: "The Ten Best Glazed Doughnut Shops in America." Number one was a place called Kane's in a small town northeast of Boston. I googled map directions at the time, and have carried that sheet of paper in my satchel all these years. On Monday morning I left my motel near Worcester and drove to Saugus. The doughnuts were better than I'm used to, but not .. alas! .. anywhere near as good as those that were delivered from Fort Wayne (once a week I think) to Frank & Jerry's, one of Mentone's three small groceries.

Part III - Quincy, Mass.

I drove into downtown Quincy, following signs until I reached the Adams National Historical Park Visitor Center. I drove around the block, and then another block; all the parking garages seemed to be for the use only of medical centers or the community college. I finally found a parallel spot on the left side of a one-way street. There was no meter, but a sign indicated a one-hour limit. I supposed that would be plenty of time and headed to the Visitor Center.

 I learned that this modern facade was not shielding the homes of our 2nd and our 6th Presidents, but rather just the place where you board a trolley which takes you to their homes; the excursion lasts two hours. I got a ticket -- free, because I have a Senior Pass for the National Parks. I had 45 minutes to wait for the next tour. I told the young Visitor Use Assistant (as they are called, the Park Service having a penchant for senseless titles; i.e. a lifeguard is not a lifeguard but a Recreational Assistant) that I needed to move my car. He said I could move it into the garage behind where we were standing … a sign said it was for the use of Harvard-Something-Or-Other, but the 3rd floor was leased from them for National Park users. "I can validate your ticket," the young man said.  Free is always good.

So off I went to move my car.  Except I'd forgotten where it was! Downtown Quincy does not have a straight street to its name. Cowpaths! Where I thought my car should be it wasn't. I walked a block this way, another a different way, several in ways I didn't even know which way I was going. It was a hot day. I'm not a good walker anymore; my legs cramp up. I started to panic. Then I saw walking ahead of me a man dressed in dark blue pants and a light blue short-sleeved shirt. "Excuse me, sir!" I called. He stopped and turned around. A friendly smile. A handsome face. The most beautiful red hair you've ever seen. Badge. Name-tag. I told him I had lost my car. "Don't worry," he said, "we'll find it together!" "What's your name?" he asked, and we chatted away. He led us to different streets along which parking was allowed -- none too far away -- but had me describe my car, a light blue RAV4, and then insisted that I wait at the head of the block while he walked along it looking for my car.  Finally, after maybe three blocks, I remembered that I'd parked parallel on the left side of a one-way street, and the young patrolman knew immediately where it was. "I'll lead you to it!" And there it was. "Just leave it here, you don't need to move it. I'll make sure there's no problem."

Wow! What a nice guy! I was falling in love with him, with Quincy, and with the aspect of fate which guided my feet to him.

I had time for a Starbuck's latte, sitting in the lovely sun on a bench near where I'd be boarding the trolley.

I'm not going to say a lot about the Adams families except that they were, generation after generation, admirable beyond admirable. It made me wonder why I am reading a four-volumed (so far, and more volumes to come) novel (it's really an autobiography) by a Norwegian, when surely David McCullough's The Adams Family would be a much richer reading experience. Learning as much as I did about the Adams family from the National Park Interpreters (they were excellent) whetted my appetite for further knowledge of the greatness within this family.  I would say this: if you drive past Quincy 50 or a hundred or a couple hundred times as I have, be sure that you eventually stop for this fabulous National Park experience.

Above is the library of John Adams, built of stone, and fifteen feet or so away from the main house built of wood. This "fire-proof" library was built after Thomas Jefferson's library was destroyed by a fire.

Another view of the library.

Flowers along a garden path.

Front of the main house.

On the right, the main house; on the left, the library.

And, last, a picture of the beautifully shaped shrubbery
in front of the house across the street.
I did a google search for something to do with Kunitz and up popped a post I did about the 2011 visit to his boyhood home. It is a more attractive word-picture of the house. It's un-nerving and sad to think that just a few years ago I was a better writer than I am now.

1 comment:

  1. Oh that painting of Sally...am wondering about her accent...her interests...her thoughts there....G...enough with the "I was a better writer than I am now." ENOUGH!!!!!!! I say....I'll give you 'different' perhaps....'better'....I'll not give you that one! I hope you got the poem back together....any chance we might get to see it?????????? finger crossed...