Yesterday my oldest and dearest friend asked me to write something about our youth and the citizens of the sheltered seaside town where we lived. She made her request during a conversation we were having about the generous acceptance and tolerance for idiosyncrasies that the adult population afforded one another at that time. Our perception of the adult experience back then is vastly different from our reality as adults now.
Both of us moved from elsewhere to live “in town”, on the easterly side of the hill, at the end of the peninsula that was home to several fish processing operations. We were free to roam pretty much wherever our feet or bikes would take us. I have a very clear memory of her stopped at the intersection at the end of the street I lived on, waiting to cross the street on her blue bike, happy to be alive, off on a 10 year old’s adventure.
Most homes were open to all and sundry, anyone who cared to drop in was welcome. At her house, it was as common to find the parish priest sitting at the kitchen table having a glass of wine, perhaps singing (he had a lovely voice), as it was to see Roger and Annie (hilariously astute, treasured friends of the family) visiting and laughing. A captivating cast of characters frequented her home. There was a developmentally disabled man, who must have been in his late 50’s or early 60’s, often stopping in to ask, “Got a cigarette, Pal?” Her mother kept his cigarettes safe for him. We took them once, at the urging of some very mischievous, twin neighbor boys, and found ourselves in terrible trouble. Her dad was gone during the week, returning home from his job on Friday nights. During the summer, the adults sat on the porch overlooking the bay, enjoying drinks, watching the world going up and down the hill.
At my house activities were similar. We moved to town after my parents had “parted company” as Mum described it. It was a time of great social upheaval. Mum was a strong person, with unorthodox beliefs. Her kitchen table was a gathering place for a variety of interesting women. There were two progressive, unmarried, sisters; each owned a one room cottage on the beach. One of my favorite women had been widowed by the Viet Nam conflict, and had the subsequent bad luck to fall in love with a man, whose wife was bed-ridden. Mum would call her Stella Dallas Back Stage Wife and they’d share a rueful laugh. It irked me that they refused to explain what was so funny- NOW I get it.
My mother was involved for 25 years in a domestic partnership with a reticent man, who wasn’t fully assimilated into our boisterous household. It was a sensitive situation. He was divorced with three children. His kids were our friends and they lived around the corner, 4 houses from us. While I loved him, I did not expect him to parent us. I was content that my mother was happy with him. Each afternoon he returned from work at 4 and sat at the kitchen table reading the paper, smoking cigarettes, drinking a Bud while he waited for Mum to come home. When she arrived, she’d get the rundown on where we were, see that we ate, then go for a ride with him to his mother’s, where they would smoke cigarettes, drink beer and visit. They returned home between 7 & 8, moving their routine to the dining room table. In the summer they sat on the back deck, overlooking the channel, where they watched the world go back and forth along the street.
I fondly recall another resident; an intelligent gentleman with a maritime background. He lived in a quintessential, weathered, grey shingled, seaside shack, adjacent to the break-wall, where he carved and read. He was a tall man with shoulder length white hair, a full white beard, and gold rimmed glasses. He was typically outfitted in a distinctly nautical blue jacket with epaulets, a white shirt and a tie, a coordinating plaid or solid blue pleated skirt, hose, and sensible buckled pumps. He is best described as courtly. Our parents did not have the slightest worry for our safety with him but we were told not to pester him. It is very hard for a child not to pester a person living in such an appealing and accessible house.
I am ashamed to report that there were other people who did not receive the same respect from us kids. One man, in particular, was emotionally passionate. Often he would find himself disturbed by the politics in our community which would somehow feed into an untreated and uncontrolled paranoia causing him to rant and rave, at a very high decibel, through the streets of town. In adolescence, I developed compassion and initiated a pleasant rapport with him. I don’t know how or why that happened but I’m glad it did. He was often at my oldest and dearest friend’s house so maybe that was part of it.
The adults accepted each other’s differences. They were respectful in disagreement so there was very little lingering animosity. It was common for them to acknowledge a well made point, in an argument, without compromising their own beliefs. We were taught by example to live and let live, to extend empathy to our neighbors, and to share what we had. Courtesy was expected.
www.humjournal.com/kindness Encouraging audio stories of kindness.