Mr. Kirtland

Hide and Seek with Pencil Proxies

My grandfather was a businessman. He started his career as a lineman for Connecticut Light and Power, but moved naturally into sales. During the Rural Electrification project prior to World War II, he would demonstrate electric appliances to people who didn’t have electricity. Selling a refrigerator meant signing people up for electricity, as well.

After the war, my grandfather went into the insurance business, opening his own independent agency. By the 1950s he lived on Main Street in Old Saybrook and ran the agency out of his home. Although there had been false starts and setbacks over the years, he was successful in Old Saybrook.

Next door to my grandparents lived a real estate broker, Mr. Kirtland. By the time I met him, about 1967, he was retired and widowed. I think he was a little older than my grandfather, perhaps in his early 70s. Unfortunately, my grandfather died that same year, but Mr. Kirtland made an excellent occasional stand in.

My visits to his house next door were frequent, sometimes accompanied by my mother, most often not. Mr. Kirtland enjoyed listening to me chatter about everything and nothing. I enjoyed playing any game that included using the words “hot” and “cold”.

We invented a game that took the place of hide-and-seek, which would have been a silly game for an old man and a five-year-old to play. I would get a pencil from his desk and give it to him. Then I would leave the room and count to ten. When I returned the pencil was hiding and the search was on.

There were few places an old man could hide a pencil. On a windowsill, behind a radiator, under the chair, or on a low bookshelf. But it is easy to entertain a boy of five. As I would move around the living room, he would tell me whether I was warm or cold or hot. As I got closer to the pencil Mr. Kirtland made up better ways of saying warm, warmer, or almost hot.

There were other simple games we played, but none that I remember. I can remember helping him with small chores and drawing pictures for him. I can also remember going to his house first on Halloween. And I can remember when he was no longer at his house next door.

It wasn’t until the age of the internet that I tried to find a trace of him. It was a long shot because he died so long before the web was a thing. But I found one reference to him in reference to Old Saybrook and a fund that he and another man set up to benefit the children of police and firemen in the town.

The purpose of the fund was to afford outings for the children, such as a Christmas party and amusement park trips for their enrichment and entertainment. Oddly, two or three years after his death my mother married an Old Saybrook cop. In that strange twist of fate, Mr. Kirtland was again a playmate and benefactor of my childhood.

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