Sunday, November 18, 2007

Portsmouth Vignettes

(The names in this post are all real names).
  • While I was in grammar school (Wentworth Acres, Portsmouth, New Hampshire), my parents were friends with a couple their age, Barb and Glen (Glenn?) Harvey.

    They played cards together (mostly kitty whist, the men against the women) and socialized together. The Harveys had three children, all boys, the oldest being my age and named Tommy.

    Glen liked to tease. I remember one summer Sunday when the four had agreed to have a card game and my mother was still in bed. Glen grew impatient, went back to his house, and returned with a ladder. He turned our garden hose on, carried it up the ladder with him, raised the second floor bedroom window screen, and turned the hose on my mother.

    Her voice still rings in my ear: "Goddamn you, Glen Harvey!"

  • One spring afternoon Glen snuck into our house and left a plastic fishbowl with three goldfish in it. The bowl had an arch that went from side to side, and with a long, flexible straw you could suck the air out of it, filling it with water so the goldfish could swim up and over the bowl.

    There were two small gold-colored fish and one larger fish, as much white as gold. Knowing who had done this, my father named the fish Whitey, Goldie, and Hungry Barbara. Incidentally, Glen had also bought goldfish for his children.

    By way of retaliation, Dad picked up a couple of baby ducks at the Pic 'n' Pay supermarket. On the way home he parked a block or so away from the Harveys, snuck into the kitchen through the back door, and found Tommy at the kitchen table. He plunked one duckling down on the table and said, "Tommy, here's your Easter duck. Don't let your mother and father give it away."

    (Glen tried to escalate this little war by entering my father's name in a raffle for a goat, but nothing came of that.)

    Their duck was named Donald and ours was named Daisy. We later determined that ours was no Daisy, but by then it was too late. He would answer to no other name.

    After a few weeks Daisy was too big to live in the house, and my brother and I, with the help of some playmates, built a small house and a more or less circular wooden fence in the back yard, enclosing perhaps a hundred square feet in all. Daisy was content, and I don't recall him "escaping," although I'm sure today that he could have half jumped, half flown over that fence. He spent much of his time in his house, but would come to anyone who called. We had a rubber kids' pool on the front lawn, and would pick him up and carry him to it.

    Glen used to sit on his back steps and have a beer, and he would put a bowl of it down for Donald. The duck would sip it, shake his head frantically from side to side, and make half-quacking noises of a sort. Enough of it and he would actually get drunk and stagger. He and Glen became best friends.

    One day Barb roasted something or other, took it out of the oven, and left the oven door open. Donald managed to fly up onto the door and walk into the oven. He flew right back out, shrieking. Glen and Barb ran into the kitchen and soon figured out what had happened.

    Vinnie, a next door neighbor, was a medical intern. Glen pounded on his door and shouted, "Vinnie, grab your bag and come quickly." Vinnie assumed one of the kids had been hurt, grabbed his bag, and ran into the kitchen next door.

    The first thing he saw was that the kitchen table was covered with a white sheet. Barb was holding Donald near the center of the "operating table." There wasn't much Vinnie could do for Donald other than to cut away the burned webbing on one foot. I believe Glen got Donald drunk to help with the pain.

    The Harveys also had a small rubber pool, and from that time on Donald would swim in a very small circle, pretty much in one place.

    Fall came, and the time was approaching when it would be too cold to leave Daisy outside. Alas, he was too big to return to the house. My father took him to Clayton, a man with whom he worked. Clayton also owned a small poultry farm.

    In their only miscalculation regarding us that I can recall, my parents told my brother and me that we would get Daisy back in the spring, when it was warm enough. But my dad told Clayton, "Eat this duck as soon as you can." And Clayton did.

    Came the spring and my parents were surprised and horrified that my brother and I asked when Daisy would come home. There were profuse apologies and reiterated statements that "We were sure you would forget."

    Donald suffered the same fate.

  • Not long ago I was at a yard sale being conducted by three generations of women, with the fourth generation being represented by a girl perhaps eight years old.

    As I looked over the offerings I heard the older women asking the youngest what sort of games she played with her friends. Hardly giving her a chance to respond, they began reminiscing about the games they had played when they were her age. When hopscotch was mentioned, I had a flashback.

    I don't know about you, but when I was a child boys played hopscotch too, at least up to the age of perhaps seven or eight. It wasn't unusual to see a half dozen or so boys and girls in one game.

    It was immediately after the end of one such game that one of childhood's little humiliations occurred - four girls jumped me, and three of them pinned me to the ground while the fourth one kissed me!


    Where were we? Oh yes, the yard sale. Being somewhat gregarious by nature, I told the story to the group. The women laughed enthusiastically and the girl looked at me with a smile - I swear - that said that she understood the situation perfectly and empathized with the girls involved.

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