From The Pen Of Frank Jackman
It’s funny how working on something now, some sketch, or on one thing or another, will bring back those childhood hurts, those feelings sealed, or is it seared, so deep in memory that one does not expect them to resurface for love or money, although this little piece did not start out that way and probably won’t finish up that way either. This “dream” started off from seeing, a few months ago, an unexpected and fairly unusual surname of a fellow female elementary school classmate innocently listed in an off-hand, indirect North Adamsville Internet connection. The very sight of that name triggered a full-blown elementary school “romantic” daydream, from my days down at the old Adamsville “projects” where I came of age, that blossomed into a pining prose sonnet that would have made Shakespeare blush. I’ll tell you about that one sometime, but not now.
That flashback, in turn, got me into a fierce sea-faring dreaming, rolling-logged, oil-slicked, ocean water on three sides, stone-throwing “projects” mood that turned into a screed on the trials and tribulations of growing to manhood in the shadows of tepid old Adamsville Beach. And that, naturally enough, triggered a quick remembrance of too infrequent family barbecue outings as the old Treasure Island (now named after a fallen Marine, Cady, if I recall correctly). At least I think that Treasure Island was the name in those long ago days. That’s what we called it anyway, down at the Merrymount end of the beach (honoring the shades of Tommy Wollaston, his maypole, and his wild stockade-worthy boys and girls). If you were from the area you would know where I mean, and if you were you probably had your family memory barbecue outings there too, as least some of them. But enough of that background let me tell you what I really want to talk about, the tricks that parents used to use, and still do, to get their way. The story isn’t pretty or for the faint of heart.
I swear I knew, and I am pretty sure that I knew for certain early on when I was just a half-pint kid myself, that kids, especially younger kids, could be “bought off” by their parents and easily steered away from what they really wanted to do, or really wanted to have, by a mere trifle. Probably you got wise to the routine early too. Still, it’s ridiculous how easily we were “pieced off,” wise as we were, and I firmly believe that there should have been, and there should be now, something like the rules of engagement that govern civilized behavior in war time written out in the Geneva Conventions against that form of behavior by mothers and fathers. After all what is childhood, then or now, except one long, very long, battle between two very unevenly matched sides with kids, then and now, just trying to do the best they can in a world that they didn’t create, and that they didn’t get a say in creating.
I learned this little nugget of “wisdom” from battle-tested, many times losing, keep- in-there-swinging, never-say-die, first-hand experience, although I guess I might have been a little too thin-skinned and have been too quick to feel slighted about it at the time to really focus in on its meaning. I know that you learned this home truth this way as well whether you got onto the scam early on or no. Sure, I could be bought off, I am not any better than the rest of you on that score, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t nurse many a grievance to right those wrongs(and, incidentally, plotted many a feverish revenge, in my head at least, some of them, if impractical, pretty exquisitely drawn).
Sometimes it was just a word, sometimes literally just one word, usually a curt, cutting, razor-edged one from Ma that sent you reeling for cover ready to put up the white flag, if you ever even got that chance. Sometimes it was a certain look, a look that said “don’t go there”. And, maybe, depending how you were feeling, you did and maybe you didn’t, go there that is. Hell, sometimes it could even be a mere inside-the family-meaningful side-long glance, a glance from Ma, a thing from her eye, her left one usually, brow slightly arched, that said "case closed," and forget about the pretense behind the “don’t go there” look, which at least gave you the dignity of having the opportunity to put up a little fight no manner the predetermined ending. Sometimes though, and this is hard to “confess” fifty years later and ten thousand, thousand other experiences later, that lady switched up on us and "pieced" us off with some honey-coated little thing. That damn honey-coated thing, that “good” thing standing right in front of full-blown evil, or what passed for that brand of evil in those days, is what this dream fragment is all about.
Now don’t tell me you don’t know what I am talking about in the Ma wars, and don’t even try to tell me it wasn’t usually Ma who ran point on the “no” department when you went on the offensive for something you wanted to have, or some place you wanted to go, especially when “desperately” was attached to the "have" or to the "go" part. No, just don’t do it. Dad, Pa, Father, whatever you called him, was held in ready-reserve for when the action got hot and heavy. Maybe, in your family, your father was the point man but from what I have learned over the last couple of years about our parents from information that I have gathered from some of you that was a wasted strategy. We were that easy. No need for the big guns, because our ever-lovin’, hard-working, although maybe distant, fathers were doing what fathers do. Provide, or go to the depths in that struggle to provide. Ma was for mothering and running interference. That was that. Thems were the rules then, if not now. The main thing was the cards were stacked against us because what we really didn't know was they were really working as a team, one way or another. In any case, I don’t have time to dilly-dally over their strategies as I have got to move on here.
See, here is what you don’t know. Yet. Those family trips to old Treasure Island, whether they were taken from down in the projects or later, in North Adamsville, as they tapered off when we three boys (my two brothers, one a little younger one a little older, and me) got too big to pretend that we really wanted to go, were really the ‘booby prize’ for not going to places like Paragon Park down in Nantasket or down to Plymouth Rock or, Christ, any place that would be a change of scenery from claptrap projects. Of course, the excuse was always the same-dad was too tired to drive after working some killer hours at some dirty old dead-end job, or one of a succession of old, hand-me-down, barely running jalopies (and I am being kind here, believe me) wasn’t running, or running well enough to make the trip, or something else that meant we couldn’t go someplace.
Yah, that was all right for public consumption but here is the real reason; no dough, plain and simple. Why Ma and Dad just didn’t tell us that their circumstances were so tight that spending a couple of dollars on the roller coaster (which I didn’t care about anyway), or playing “Skees” (which I did care about), or getting cotton-candy stuck every which way (which I didn’t care about), or riding the Wild Mouse (cared about) would break the bank I will never know. Or the extra gas money. Or the extra expense of whatever. How do I know. All I knew is that we weren’t going. Period.
But, here, finally, is where the simple “bought off” comes in, although I really should have been more resolute in my anger at not going and held out for better terms. Such is the fate of young mortals, I guess. My mother, and this was strictly between me and my mother as most things were in those days, dangled the prospect of having some of Kennedy’s potato salad in front of my face. You remember Kennedy’s, right? If you don’t then the rest of this thing is going to come as less that the “Book of Revelation”. Or ask your parents, or grandparent. There was one in Adamsville Square about half way down Hancock Street on the old South Shore Bank side and there was one in Norfolk Downs almost to the corner of Hancock Street and Billings Road next to the old A&P. I am not sure, and someone can help me on this, whether it was called Kennedy’s Food Shop, or Deli, or whatever but it had the best potato salad around. And fresh ground peanut butter, and sweet fragrant coffee smells, and… But I will get to describing that that some other time. Right now I am deciding whether I can be bought off or not. Yes, shamefacedly, I can and here is the closer -I can even go to Kennedy's and get it myself. What do you think about that? From then on I became the “official” Kennedy’s boy of the family. Did I sell out too cheaply? No way.