A Book for the Century Past
By: Tom Sheehan
In time much of what we know fades away, moves away, continually moves around us, blinking and scattering, but with a breath of air touches back. It’s a face, a name, a childhood haunt in momentary dispose, each waiting to be identified or merely given the solace of place. Though we cannot name it at first, cannot frame it visually clean or bring it to contoured image, we yet strike out for it. Our hometown of Saugus kept touching back at us like this. We wanted to hold tight to all that came our way, had come our way.
The word then had gone out nationwide: we were looking for articles, vignettes, pictures, graphics, anything that would lend both resonance and nostalgia to a book we had dreamed up, a book on Things Saugus in the 20th Century. Out of nowhere Adrienne Linstrom-Young came suddenly into being again. I had not seen her in thirty years or more. Yet John Burns, my co-editor and co-dreamer for this book, a fixture in the Saugus High School scheme of things for more almost seventy years, who commands wide respect, had spoken. That word, as much a dictate as could be, was out. Adrienne, like so many others, had heard of John Burns’ needs for the book that was to be titled, at his suggestion, A Gathering of Memories, Saugus 1900-2000.
She responded quickly, repeatedly, with an affluence of memorable pictures of her father, studies of a man and his time. He was a man obviously revered by his daughter, and remembered in a special collection of photos she said had come from different caches within the family.; four places in four states.
Leon Young, her father, had been the sub-master at SHS during all my school years, and was now a sort of beloved specter of the past, a man of many faces, many uniforms, as if he were on stage all the time, playing out again his own life’s drama. The pictures, all black and white, are of great contrast, some of them almost revealing the inner man and his wide interests. No longer is he a stern figure decidedly bent on detention, social improvements, and behavioral rudiments.
I remembered him in detention rooms as well as in and about the high school hallways in the bustling and relentless ‘40s, a time for all times, our football teams doing well, but the world itself going badly even from a poor start. Joe Pace, we were told, was the first of ours to fall in the madness of the early part of the decade; at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese planes from Yamamoto’s aircraft carriers dipping in over the fleet that quiet and peaceful Sunday morning none of us should ever forget.
From her innumerable sources she brought forth an exquisite selection of pictures: her father in seafarer’s garb; on a fishing trip (inland) with Buzz Harvey, then our high school football coach; in his Arthur Treacher get-up, complete with vest (and spats, we were willing to bet). In cadet uniform he stood on the deck of an unnamed ship, his arms folded in a pose, the world out there beyond his gaze, the horizon promising and open. Fifty years later he has another look and is on another plane. Now he graces the pages of our book.
Adrienne Linstrom-Young’s infusion into our book was but one of the many pleasantries and minor excitements which had come our way in the two years doggedly spent on this project, from the day in October, 1998 when the idea first burst forth. That day, coming off a six-mile walk around our town, I paid one of my numerous late-day social calls on an old friend at his school office. It was here where we had generally discussed our past in this town we so dearly love, which has been so good to us. But for that matter, names of people and places often eluded our memories, slipping into some unconfined space of the mind where retrieval was hesitant, unsure. John once mentioned Charlie’s Pond. To me it had been “lost” for more than fifty years. In turn I cited Cinder Path as a place of endless winter excitement where we steered our old Flexible Flyer sleds down the long and twisting run from the site of the old Stand Pipe on top of Baker Hill. That ride, so clearly impressed on my mind to this day, the wind wild and cold on my face, the careening like electricity running the whole gamut of my body, went clear down to Cliftondale Square. It was an exhilarating and headless ride, now and then under a splash of weekend moonlight or brittle starlight.
He had forgotten the place, it seems, or had not been there. Perhaps those years so memorable to me he had spent in the South Pacific creating other memories.
Other names and places came and then went flitting away in a number our meetings, like meager and endangered moths caught up in late October. They were like air around us, barely touching, but being known, having names, a place to hold onto, a corner of the mind.
The past we wanted to respect, to remember, was surely slipping away from us. Pieces came and went in the relentless tumble, some of them crying for recognition. Muckles Brown, at length and only after some eventful prodding, came back to life as he was, enormous across the chest, shoulders like Atlas, but faint Anna Parker was just about gone forever, her and the first electric car in town. And The Pigeon Plucker and Hoag’s Castle had also done their dance. The names and faces of memorialized heroes were more surely cemented in place. The Kasabuski brothers (killed within two weeks of each other in the Italian Campaign), for whom our hockey rink is named and where I had spent more than ten years with my sons, are linked forever in my mind. The VFW Post bears the name of a Baker Hill boy, Arthur DeFranzo, who was decorated posthumously with the Medal of Honor for his heroics not long after D-Day. Arthur, of course, is not forgotten. But other names too quickly failed at the tip of the tongue, a host of them from all corners of our town (Lick, Skink, Doggie, Big Syd, Paints Brown, Sinagna, Tarzan Doyle, Crazy Albert, Leonard the Blind Man, The Indian). A face would come back mysteriously in a fleck of light and leap away, on a silent ride into complete darkness. Sometimes a place that was, a favorite place of youthful years … disrupted, dug out, filled in, carried off … no longer existed. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. Doubts, we knew, did exist. About ourselves. About our memories. About our ability to muster a true respect for the past. About duty and what it calls for.
That giant of a day finally came. I walked into John’s office, my six mile trek behind me, a few faces and a few names remembered in my course about town, down the Turnpike, easterly on Essex Street, through Cliftondale Square, down Central Street past the new Senior Center, to Saugus Center. My quick searches down side streets collected a few names and faces, lost others. I did not find a host of that which was once known.
John, his face as red as mine, his eyes like relays, looked up at me as I walked into his office. He has a way of smiling an announcement, perhaps the teacher pleasantly at his work, the corners of his mouth like punctuation. For a moment I saw it, then heard it. On the edge of his chair, as if he had been the long day waiting for me, he said, “Let’s write a book.” The blue eyes zapped electric again. They went into a further spectrum; his usual excitement and keenness for every day was hyper, and then some.
“Before it’s all gone,” he added. “Before we forget what we’re supposed to remember.” He was doing what I had so often done, measuring time. It had crept quite often into my poetry, like a Jersey barrier on the loose in my stream of thought.
John, it was easy to see, was there. And if there’s anything in this world that he can lay claim to, it’s a sense of justice, a sense of honesty, a sense of duty. And his spirit and energy are compelling. In mere moments, after a minor and unspoken assessment of where such a decision might take us, a kind of nostalgic Limbo possibly being our destination or assignment, we were off and running.
Of course, we knew we could not do it by ourselves. That would have been fatal, would have been incomplete, would have been parochial to our mind-set.
Slowly a committee came into being. And another eventful day came into focus. Early on, a hesitant member of our committee asked, “Where are we going to get the pros to write this book?” He seemed serious about it. So were we. Both published and unpublished writers and poets quickly came into the fold. Teachers and historians and artists and cartoonists and illustrators came along with them. Neil Howland, a classmate and teammate of mine, and a lawyer with offices in the town, became our legal man and a valuable contributor. We had also attracted some young blood, to go along with our old blood; we crossed the century in our make-up. Clayton Trefry, who had been through a hundred town campaigns, brought with him his long love for the town, and his memories. A recent SHS graduate, now at Yale, made a contribution. Vicariously we were underway.
The pros, as it turned out, were gracious and many and varied. A former SHS football player and teammate, with sixteen books to his credit as well as the UMASS career interception record still in his back pocket, came from the western part of the state with his offerings. An SHS Sports Hall of Famer, currently coaching in Division 1 hockey and recently in the NCAA Finals, who writes poetry and his own music, made a number of contributions. We found, in our musings and wanderings, that Elizabeth Bishop, Pulitzer Prize poet, had spent her freshman year at SHS. We saw her report card, a signal of things to come, and found in her poems places that surely must have been parts of Saugus urging her roots at poetry. A local and active historian, loving Saugus and trains, brought from his files a host of excellent transportation photos. A cartoonist and an illustrator contributed an exceptional array of material to grace our pages, to line our inner covers. Renowned artist Bill Maloney, once of our Hull Drive, revisited Saugus Center, the Town Hall and the Soldiers Monument with a most nostalgic oil painting, making it the cover of our book. We found that Saugonians had graced the fields with the likes of Bob Waterfield, Johnny Unitas, and Doug Flutie; that friends had found each other on the sands of South Pacific islands in moments of abject silence, on Kwajalein and Iwo Jima and Okinawa, before they were parted forever. We kept seeing that happiness and loneliness and pain had not left our town untouched, not by a long shot. But it still was Saugus.
We had, it proved, marshaled the pros from our community … no matter where they were, no matter where this life had taken them, Saugonians moved on: Wilsonville, Oregon; Berwick, Maine; Orlando, Florida; small rural corners of New Hampshire and Vermont, we found them, or they found us. And the material came on.
Anthony Scire, who for years has been studying various parts of Saugus history, who years earlier had already done a major paper on the Saugus Marshes, tipped open his treasure house of collectible histories, spilled his memories, and wet his pen again. We found out he could crank things wide open with his energy.
Bob Wentworth, SHS ’48, retired, an old friend, was a volunteer. He was welcomed to the committee with open arms. Then a few days later, his mind playing with ideas, thinking himself short of writing talent, he asked to be relieved of any promise to contribute. John positioned him quickly, and from a minute suggestion Bob Wentworth spent hundreds of hours in the library looking at microfilm. His contribution became a major part of the book as he culled history and politics and town data from the microfilms of old newspapers. And when there appeared to be a breach in the committee structure, Bob volunteered to head the fundraising drive to get the money to print the book. His approach to John Dean, president of the Saugus Co-operative Bank, assured us of the necessary start-up and printing funds. $60,000 is not peanuts, not on the premise of selling an unwritten book.
On June 12th of the year 2000, somewhat spent from arduous and long hours, our eyes bleary from life in front of new screens, poring over photos and names we once thought might have been gone forever to a lot of people (oh where was Piggery Road and Little Sandy and Pick Hawkins’ Swamp and Poo Chak Road and The Old Rezzie and Shipwreck Eddie and Iron Mike?), we delivered our manuscript to the printer’s representative. Tom Keeley of Josten’s Company had guided us on our way, after being one of our original contacts. In that one moment of deliverance a weight had shifted, ballast moved, other obligations coming back into rightful play.
If we were to forget, we’d make sure others would remember.
Day of days this was, looking forward to Founders’ Day, the second Saturday in September when thousands gather in Saugus Center to celebrate who and what we are, as our target date for publication. That is a raucous, joyous day in town. Tables and booths are spread throughout the Center, odors rise rich and pungent from innumerable grills, runners flash by in the annual road race. Old friends are met,
relocated Saugonians coming back for the whole day; and lots of handshaking and backslapping welcomes are made, smiles going electric across the crowd as old classmates or teammates are spotted.
There was a major hole, though, in the finalizing of the book. Presentation to the printer had to be electronic, in the genre of the new order of things rising about us. Neither John nor I had the computer knowledge or expertise to undertake that massive task. Mine was recently meager with a system gift from my children, John’s just coming aboard with a most recent purchase of a computer, as a need for the final detail of the book, perhaps at some kind of insistence from others and myself that he write his memoirs.
But, as always, in some corner of Saugus, there is an energy waiting to be tapped. Eric Brown was that energy. And he had the expertise, the knowledge, to be the final hand in the formation of our book. Eric runs Saugus.net, his local entity. That is his baby. And it is Eric who laid out the book, scanned the hundreds of photographs, rejected some, found second sources with better density or clarity, spent hundreds of hours himself hunched over the machines of the new generation. Like John Burns, he is a man of detail, of uniformity, of clarity. Their imprint sweeps through our pages, letting others’ personal traits be known where they count, demanding some traits be corrected or brought into uniformity.
We know there are holes and vacuums in our thoughts, in our pages. That is what brought us to the book in the first place. It is most difficult to let go what is precious, even when it threatens to slide off by itself into a gray and uneventful place, as if something concrete can suddenly dissipate like a summer cloud at a fresh breeze. But everything mentioned, every single person named for one bright moment, becomes representative of each and every part of Saugus, all that which has had its way in helping to form our memories, letting us become what we have become.
On the 6th day of September, the year of our Lord 2000, the skids of book boxes came off the rear end of an 18-wheeler that had crossed half the country from Kansas. In print we were, glorious print, and setting about in our warehousing and packaging and mailing processes. For the shortest time we reveled in he-man Muckles Brown, poet Elizabeth Bishop, warrior Frank Parkinson the tanker and tiger of Tobruk, footballer Art Spinney out in front of Johnny Unitas in that 1958 game of the century, Sgt. Al de Steuben catching a round in the hedgerows of Europe, old storekeeper Jack Winters alone with his man-killer kerosene stove. Pictures leaped off our pages, poems gave rhythm, drawn lines etched a history, scored words moved the blood of a whole community. Work beckoned.
We had delivered.
Postscript to publication:
On September 6, 2000, we received the first 500 copies of our 2,000 copies ordered from the printer, off the back end of a truck from the printer in Kansas and right in my driveway. On Founders Day in Saugus Center, an annual gathering of townsfolk, we sold 400 copies. Four weeks later, doing our own warehousing, packaging, mailing by diverse methods, we paid the loan back to the Saugus Bank. The book went like hot cakes. Every copy was sold, including the last five copies that had been damaged in transport. An article made the back inside cover of The Boston College Magazine, John and me being old-time Eagles off the Chestnut Hill campus, John in ’38 and me in ‘56.
So now we did a second printing of 500 copies, John having great difficulty in saying “sorry” to people or “there’s no more left.” When they were all gone, we started a sequel, Of Time and the River, Saugus 1900-2005, 2000 copies, all gone, at $40. a copy, all proceeds for the John Burns Millennium Book Associates Scholarship to honor John Burns, 61 years in the school system, 45 years as head of the English Department ( who passed on at 93, September 24, 2009.) Copies went to 47 states, 8 countries and three territories, and a copy online in the National Library in Paris. Nowadays people search for copies and find them on eBay, Craig’s List and an odd bookstores handling used books. When John Burns and Neil Howland died, Bob Wentworth arranged for all funds to be transferred to the Saugus High School Alumni Association to maintain the John Burns Scholarship.
Then Bob Wentworth passed on, the finance man, the mailman, the storekeeper, the one who said, after volunteering, “I don’t belong here. I don’t write.”
“Not so fast,” John said, “there are other jobs you can do.” Oh, how well he did those tasks.
The accolades keep coming; a glimpse of them are attached here:
I love America. I love Saugus. I love what you have done for our town.
-B. Merrithew, Saugus, MA
On advice, my wife and I purchased two copies, to prevent bloodshed at reading time. To date, our favorite line is, “I had a bad posture, a bad perm, and a soft-spoken voice.” It was great over our morning coffee and the book. The book is marvelous. Carol and I have enjoyed it tremendously. It makes you feel as though you know the characters as you are reading. It also prompts a recall of our own personal experiences and aside of making us aware how long ago some of these things occurred, it generates a lot of memorable joy.
Bill Jenkins, Orlando, FL (never been to Saugus)
The copy, the Book, arrived yesterday and I have been turning pages in wonderment ever since. Fantastic!! The work that went into it!! Kudos all around especially to you and John Burns and most flattered by your signing same. Much more to say later, but
for now, Congratulations! Big Time. –Like the Bible—can open the book at random and start a chain reaction of memories with almost any page or occasional photo. -So it goes—on and on—one memory after another, “Not docile, helpless objects, for indeed, they respond as they are being gathered and leave their marks on those who choose to gather them.”
_James Smith, Waldwick, NJ
A masterpiece. A classic. Must reading even for our carpetbaggers.
_Belden Bly, Honest Lawyer, Saugus, MA
I received my copy yesterday. It is a masterpiece. I sat to spend a few minutes thumbing through it and was entranced hours later. I love the way it’s organized and each vignette reaches out and touches the reader personally. I can hardly wait to spend a little time each day reading it and want the pleasure to last as long as possible. I think it is a magnificent job. It stands as tribute not only to Saugus but to all the hard work of John, Tom and the others.
_Bart Brady Ciampa, Vancouver, WA
My eagerly awaited book-of-the-year came on Friday at 9 P.M. and kept me up until the wee hours reading bits of memories of
the various contributors. We are mighty proud of you two and your committee.
_Bill Bright, Wilsonville, OR
I sit here, late into the night, cradling the book in my arms like a baby. It is riveting.
-Tim Churchard, West Lebanon, ME
What a piece of work you (John) and Tom and your gifted staff of historians and writers have wrought. What a monumental piece of work! I was first taken aback by the weight of the package that arrived at my door. Then I opened the box and found a beautifully jacketed tome, very much unlike the usual town histories I have seen in austere brown and green covers, housing pages of statistics and wax-museum people. It all started with “Saugus.” I love the sound of that word. It has a magnetic field around it. It draws in the jesters, the curious, the puzzled.
This is a book of people first, living, breathing, flesh and bone people—with all their distinctions and disparities, each with astory, each with a place – a few rogues among the many angels. The names are legion. They crowd the pages in unbelievable
numbers, but they retain their faces. This book supports my belief. How can such a small town house so many different places – so much beauty – so many landscapes. I feel as though I have been on a long trip to every neighborhood in town and have met nearly every person in town. As impressed as I find the magnitude and scope of this book, I find it even more impressive that you and Tom were able to attract so many writers with talent and memory to this project. How did one small town produce this abundance of literary talent?
Finally, thank you for dedicating this book “To all who were ever here in Saugus and to all who ever will be.” Those words give me boldness to say at last, “My Saugus too! Thank you for letting me in.”
-Miriam Kochakian, Methuen, MA
I can’t wait to read cover to cover and reflect on the memories contained this winter in my easy chair with a warm fire in the fireplace.
It was as if I were reliving my childhood and my early adult years.
-Jessie Halpin, NH
The whole book shouts “quality.”
-Paul Heffernan, Ipswich, MA
Now I know what you were talking about, some 60 years ago in Korea.
_Frank Mitman, Bethlehem, PA
They rest now, John and Bob and Neil, and so many others who gave their love and energy to these projects, allowing me to recreate some of their efforts, trying to find my own thank you, and finding myself bereft of that ability, but giving it my best shot.