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Old 11-05-2013, 01:18 AM
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Location: Sarzana,Italy
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Default Chapter 5

The Seeds Were Planted
Summer vacation came to an end and I entered the seventh grade .It was at school that the teacher explained to me how to I could take salt and clean the green film that covered my teeth away. I started brushing my teeth regularly and washing my ears, neck and hands. I bought some Old Spice cologne which masked the smell of my bed wetting urine and began to smell better. Even though I was one of the shortest kids I got on the basketball team. Took part in the school plays, and learned to play the flute from music lessons. My report cards even started to look better. I was an A student in Math and History but received a straight D in deportment. When I turned thirteen I got my social security number and soon had it committed to memory.
I found a job pushing a lawn mower and trimming hedges for a man who lived on Pingree Hill. It provided me with several hours of work a week. The man had cut a long stretch of field and watered it regularly, and then I mowed the grass very short.
In the mornings he would stand behind his house and hit golf balls all over the place while I mowed and cleaned the front yard. It was the first time I had seen anyone doing this and I thought it was silly. He would dress in black and white shoes, long plaid stockings, knickerbockers pants, a nice sweater and a short billed hat. He looked like he was readying himself for church. He would take a tin bucket of little white balls, put them on a small peg and start whacking away.
I asked him about it and he said one day we would go to the country club and I could be his caddy. I had no idea what caddying was all about but when he said he would pay me $2 to carry his bag of clubs around and watch where the ball he hit would go. This sounded better than mowing, raking and trimming hedges so I agreed to go. We drove to Manchester which was about 20 miles away and I got my first look at a country club.
People were walking around in twos and threes, all dressed up, and all hitting golf balls. Mr. Goldstein would tell me to give him a certain club; I would dig it out of his bag, hand it to him, stand to one side and watch where the ball landed. After a while I got bored with it and the bag got heavy as the morning turned into noon. At one point he had to hit the ball over a small pond. When I asked what would happen if he missed and the ball went into the pond, he yelled I should be quiet and just carry his bag. So I shut my mouth and carried his bag. By the time we returned to his house it was late afternoon. I was tired and hungry. He paid me my two dollars and I went home to eat. I decided then and there that I did not like being a caddy or playing golf.
One day while mowing the lawn, Mr. Goldstein started quizzing me about his next door neighbors who had just moved into a new house. I said I didn’t know anything about them, but my mother told me they were tight as Jews. He looked at me for a minute and then he told me to go home, that I no longer was to set foot on his property, that my job was terminated. I went home and told my mother I had lost my job. I never figured out why for many years.
Between my house and the woods and the Goldstein’s on the hill, there was a bog. It had several beaver dams and a brook that ran through it. It was my best friend Donald and my favorite places for fishing. We spent many hours there following the brook, catching small spotted brook trout. We also discovered where the ducks nested and a big patch of wild cranberries, we would eat the bright red tart berries we found there.
Alone, one day I decided to follow the brook downstream to see what kind of fishing holes there might be. I came to a gated dirt driveway where the brook crossed the dirt road that lead to my home. Ignoring the “keep out” sign I slipped between the posts and continued to, follow the brook.
I had not gone far when I came upon a large cabin clad in brown cedar shingles with a neat fenced lawn that nestled up to the edge of the brook. There I found a small log dam and a good swimming hole with a white sandy bottom. I stopped and sat, watching the water to see if any trout were feeding on the insects that floated by. I had not been sitting a few minutes when a very fat man walked up to me and asked me what I was doing there. “Fishing” I said... He asked me where I lived and how old I was and what my name was. I answered all of his queries. He said that this was private property and he liked his peace and quiet. “I am an artist and need my peace and you are disturbing it.” I had never met an artist so I asked the man what he did.”Think, draw and paint son.”He answered.
Mr. Cary, Don’s dad, had been giving me his old Field & Stream magazines, which I read with great enthusiasm. Robert Bourke’s stories of the Old Man and The Boy were my favorites. I had taken to drawing the paintings that decorated the magazine covers. Mostly I liked to draw the fishes, the Muskie splashing through the water with a big red and white lure embedded in his jaw, the rainbow trout catching mayflies in mid-air. I told this man that I liked to draw and wanted to be an artist. He suddenly smiled at me and asked me if I would bring some of my sketches the next time I came down to his swimming hole. I decided to quit fishing and told him that I would be right back. I left my pole and my Prince Albert can full of night crawlers next to the rock and set out jogging for home.
If you cut across the woods and under the high-tension wires that hung buzzing high up in the air, went across the corner of Mr. Bisbee’s hay field, one could get to Ernest’s house in ten minutes. Thirty minutes later I was back beside my fishing pole with my drawing book...I went to the house and found the fat man “Here sir,” I said. “Here’s my stuff,” holding up the dirty dog-eared notebook with all my drawings.
“My name is not ‘Sir,’” he replied as he took the book from me. “It’s George Goodwin, and if I were to become friends with you, I should expect that you call me George.”
“Yes, sir,” I replied. Mr. Goodwin sat down on the porch step and began looking at my pictures. I stood not knowing what to do because I had never shown them to anyone but Donald and he didn’t think my fish looked right. Mr. Goodwin finished looking at them and handed me back my book. He asked if I would like to see his house, meet his wife Mary and look at his art. “Yes, sir,” I replied.
“It’s George,” he said. “C’mon.”
“Mary!” He yelled to the log cabin and a pretty blonde lady dressed in the same coveralls that I always hated so much came out on the porch and walked towards us. George said, “Joe, this is my wife, Mary. She’s an artist also. Mary this is my new artist friend Joe.”
“So nice to meet you,” she said and patted me on the top of my head. I had never been patted on the head before and didn’t know what to make of it, but I liked it. “Come in, I was just making tea and would like you to have some.”
They led me into the home and my eyes could hardly swallow all the things inside that neat cabin. There were more books than I had ever seen. The only other person I knew who had a lot of books was the hermit Chet who lived by the farm I grew up on. But his were all piled all over the place. Here in George and Mary Goodwin’s home they were neatly placed in shelves that lined the walls around the stone fireplace. Above the fireplace was a big painted picture of a cougar fighting with two black and tan hound dogs. There were many other paintings on the wall and stacked on the floor and one with a flock of half painted ducks on a frame next to a big window that overlooked the lawn and the pool. I felt as if I had gotten lost and found myself in a different country. Maybe even a different world.
Mrs. Goodwin said, “Tea’s ready.” And we sat down on the little sofa together and drank our tea with milk and honey and blueberry muffins... After tea was over, George took my drawings and showed them to Mrs. Goodwin and then asked me more questions mostly about school. What grade was I in? I said that I had just started the seventh grade and that I mostly liked school and that my favorite subjects were Mathematics and History. My least favorite was English language. I had never taken drawing lessons I just copied the covers of Outdoor Life and sometimes from Field & Stream.
We then talked for a little while about fishing. Did I know how to fly fish? I said that I had read about it, and had made some flies with chicken’s feathers and squirrel’s tail hair and that I had caught a big trout by dangling it on the top of the water off the Beaver Lake bridge. Then we started talking about drawing. “Would I like some lessons? Could I come over once a week for an hour or two?” I said “yes sir” to both questions then Mr. Goodwin got a box of pencils from a shelf and a sheet of clean white paper from a drawer and then had me sit at his drawing table.
It looked like a very tall school desk with a top that tilted. Instead of a seat it had a high stool in front of it. He arranged the paper on the table and taped it in place, asked me to climb up on the stool to see how I felt. Sitting on that stool with that sheet of pure white paper on the table I felt very grown up and pleased with myself. He said that my first lesson would be to learn about pencils and paper. I thought pencils were pencils and paper was paper. He began to explain pencils to me. He explained the “B’s” and “H’s” of pencils and that paper for artwork was different than notebook paper. It was much thicker and had a texture that allowed pencils to leave better marks. Some paper was made by hand. There were papers for watercolors, for pen and ink and papers for print work. We talked about paper and pencils for the better part of the afternoon. Then he said I should go home before my parents worried about me.
I never put a mark on the paper. I just sat there on the stool and learned about pencils and paper. I asked when he would give me a lesson in drawing and he replied that if I came next Saturday, at about ten o’clock he would get me started. With that, I got off his stool and went to fetch my fishing pole and can of worms. I never mentioned the visit to the Goodwin’s, to either my mother or my stepfather Ernest that day.
The only thing I could think about was pencils and paper the next day of school. All I did was spouting off to everyone in the class what I knew about pencils and paper.
Finally Saturday morning came. I gathered my drawing book and my new pencil the teacher had given me. I told my mother where I was going and before she could say a word I was out the door and heading across Bisbee’s hay field. Taking the shortcut, I arrived a little before 10:00. I went up to the porch and knocked on the door and waited until Mrs. Goodwin opened it.
She smiled and invited me in. She again patted me on the head and said “George and I were wondering if you would show up today.”
“Yes ma’am,” I replied. “I’ve been thinking about pencils and paper all week .and the teacher gave me this” I pulled my new 2B pencil out from my pocket. George had gotten up from the sofa and put down the book that he had been reading.
“Well now that you’ve got yourself a good pencil, let´s get started with it and see what you can do.”
The same piece of paper was taken out of the drawer and set on the drawing table. “Get up on the stool and tape it to where it feels comfortable to you, Joe.”
Soon I was again sitting high in the air. I had no sooner got up on the stool when George told me to get down. I thought he was going to send me home so I just sat and looked at him no longer feeling like a grown-up. I must’ve looked pretty disappointed because he laughed and said, “The very first lesson today is that you must treat paper with great respect. You must keep it clean and white and you can’t do that with hands as dirty as yours. So before we start a drawing lesson, you have to wash up.”
As I stood in front of the kitchen sink washing up with the cold spring water that flowed from the tap, I saw my hands for the first time. Fingernails chewed to the point of bleeding. My hands were calloused, rough and I had a bright red scar across the top of my left thumb where I had cut myself with a bucksaw. I had broken my left arm twice, once at school and once under a log. I had a large scar on the top of my head caused by a sledding accident. I had smashed my kneecap while cutting firewood in the back of the woods. It was so painful that I had left the axe and saw where they lay and crawled home. I had two broken toes, one disjointed finger, and a scar under my ear where I had gotten hit in a fight, and lastly a broken nose. I had never given these injuries much thought except for the pain of the moment. My teeth were starting to decay from lack of dental care. This was my physical condition when I entered my teenage years.
I washed and dried my hands and went back to the drawing table, got up on the stool and sat. “Mr. Goodwin,” I said. “I would like to draw a gray squirrel with an acorn in his front paws. I’ve been thinking about it all week and that’s what I would like to draw.” He looked to the bookshelf and withdrew three books, returned to the table and placed them beside me to look at. “Here, look through these and see if you can find something you like,” he said.
The first book I looked at had two gray squirrel drawings. The second one hand none. The last one was exactly what I wanted. It was drawn by a man named Bishop. After I had chosen my squirrel I showed it to George and he told me “Another thing an artist must respect is the work of another artist.” That it was not fair to copy another artist’s work line for line, but it was fine for ideas and references. Then after saying that, he got a sheet of tracing paper from the drawer, placed it over the top of Mr. Bishop’s squirrel and told me to trace the drawing as carefully as I could, line by line.
“Isn’t that cheating?” I asked.
“Oh, no,” he explained. “You aren’t going to use the tracing for your drawing. It´s just practice. To become an artist takes great dedication and much practice. Right now you see a squirrel with an acorn but you don’t see the lines that shape its body. Nor the forms that compose it. You know nothing about the masses that support the forms and you don’t see the way the hair on it grows nor the shape of its eyelids or how the drawing is shaded to give the squirrel life. That is why you want to trace. Now you must start,” he said as he put the other books back into the slots on the shelf. “You’re on your own now. I’ll check back on what you’ve done after a while.” And with that he left me to my own devises.
I started copying the drawing. After a few minutes I found myself being absorbed into the paper. It was as if time had stopped. I was in a different world from the one I knew. I was at peace. I felt fulfilled with a new type of happiness. Time passed so quickly at that drawing table surrounded by books neatly tucked into their places. Mrs. Goodwin sewing on her quilts that she would sell at the Rockingham county fair. George painting on a canvas bursting with wood ducks landing in the marsh that was across the road. No noise was to be heard but the sounds of the brook outside their window.
“We all affect someone by our deeds and words even though we may not realize it.” That day, that beautiful Indian summer day, in the last quarter of my thirteenth year on this planet was to be the most changing moment of my life. The seeds were planted, the desire instilled. They were ready to help me when the time was at hand.
I went to George and Mary’s home two more times. I never finished the drawing of the squirrel. I did two more tracings. Mr. Goodwin explained that we were going to draw the eye in complete detail. He said, “Every artist he knew, worried more about making the eye alive than the rest of the work, because the light of the eye is the light to the soul, and we would get the worst out of the way first and then the rest would be easy.”
He explained to me the iris and pupil and how dilates in low light and showed me how to leave a small patches of light within the pupils so that the eye would have a hint of life. With his help I finished the eye that last Saturday morning.
At noon I took my leave and said I would see him the following Saturday
However, my future had been decided that morning by Ernest and my mother. As I entered the kitchen prepared to have lunch, I was met by (The Look).
The look cannot be described. It is not a glower, nor a sympathetic stare, nor is it a fierce and angry glance. It’s a look that wordlessly transfers the thought: ‘We know what’s best for you and we’re not going to let you go on with your hare-brained artist idea.’
“What?” I asked in defense. “I haven’t done anything.”
“Your father and I have been talking about you.” My mother always insisted that I call Ernest my father, which I did if I could see no other option. “We think that it is for your own good, that you not visit them any longer.”
“Why?” I asked. The Goodwin´s were unknowns to the locals that lived along the road to Pingree hill. It was said they came from Boston. And anyone who came from Massachusetts was not to be welcomed or trusted. They were causing me to get on my high horse around home and therefore for my own sake, I was not to go there again and to forget all of this artist nonsense. And as winter was not far away, I had to start working on the woodpile.
As much as I liked the Goodwin´s, I had not made a bond with them and my parents were my parents, without wood for cooking and heat, it would be a very miserably cold New England winter. So I put the Squirrel and the Goodwin´s in a box in my mind. Put away but not forgotten.
Fall came and went. By November, the woodpile was split and stacked. The tomatoes and beans and carrots were canned and the walnuts sacked and drying in the basement. The sides of the well house filled with fresh sawdust to insulate it from the freezing cold, damp winter air. And, I had my first real job washing dishes and cutting up chickens at a road house called The Chanticleer.
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"What a large volume of adventures may be grasped within this little span of life by him who interests his heart in everything"-Lawrence Sterne
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