It is not regression or something maudlin to reminisce. All of your past is part of you. As Anne Lamott said, “I am all the ages I’ve ever been.” [Grace (Eventually), Riverhead Books] I am constantly surprised that the child, the teen, the new father, and the man I am today coexist. We don’t move from one age to the next, we just add new ages year by year. When I sat and looked, I saw all of these stories with me in my current experience.
Mine is a fractured story, but I remain whole. That is partly the work of a community that knew and guided me with many hands. I think my community was amazing. Let me share my experiences with you in this book, and I hope you will share your stories, too. The discussion here continues on AuthorMichael.com.
I grew up on the Shoreline of Connecticut. My mother and father grew up here, too. Pop is from Branford and my mother from Old Saybrook, and the first twenty years of my life I spent traveling and living between those two towns. New Haven on the west and Mystic on the east bounded our daily life. Hartford, Cape Cod, and New York City were occasional destinations for vacation, visiting relatives, or shopping.
Some of my earliest memories happened in Westbrook. My parents were artists, but my father made his living in restaurants as assistant manager and cook. So we lived in small apartments like Foxwood and the old A-frames out by exit 64. My first school was Goodwin in Old Saybrook. I finished out elementary school at Pearson in Clinton and later went to The Country School and Hammonasset School in Madison. Mom’s parents owned a home and business on Main Street in Old Saybrook, while my father’s folks had a small home on the Farm River in Short Beach.
I give this litany of simple facts to set boundaries so that you will see the confines and expanse of my sphere. I understand the privilege that I grew up in, even though my parents were poor. But the biggest privilege was to be part of the Shoreline community for so many years.
If you are familiar with the Shoreline, that’s perfect. If you are not, a map might help, but not much. Maps make it look open. But the Shoreline is about boundaries. The water’s edge is a hard boundary named Long Island Sound. Another boundary is Route 1, often called Boston Post Road in Connecticut. The Post Road is the Main Street of many towns, or their Main Street branches off of it. Another line is the railroad tracks, usually running parallel with Route One.
The other boundaries are in-shore water. Rivers, both large and small, and bays and marshes make travel a challenge over land near the Shoreline. And those are only the lines you can see. There are many other boundaries, most having to do with how much money you have or your religion, but seldom to do with race or where you came from before you landed in Connecticut.
This is a book of Shoreline stories. Fifty vignettes of life from a child’s perspective in the 1960s and 70s. They are about formative events, the little things that make us who we are. Each can stand on its own as an anecdote or lesson of sorts, but taken together they formed me into who I am. Many others shared similar experiences and the acquaintance of the same people.
Sometimes a place is enough to give us a similar experience as the next person, but more often it is the people you encounter, either as individuals or types. Some people I knew on the Shoreline were pillars of their community. Others were just characters in the landscape. And then there was me, a child walking through on my way to everywhere else.
I hope you will walk through it with me. If you are from here, you may see yourself in passing. If you came here later, these stories may seem like ghosts from a bygone place and time. If you are from elsewhere in New England, these stories may remind you of your own. Embrace that. Relive it with me.