Old friends come back at me in many ways in the spell of time, often special in their wrapping or in their expression.
Don Junkins and Bart Brady-Ciampa and Tim Churchard and Jim Smith (RIP) corresponded by letter or book or poem, CD or tape. All are Saugonians who had to go away to come home, now my mouth waters at correspondence and is full of Don’s words, (“Where have I been all these years?” from one of his recent book, and Buster’s Book being his spectacular newest one, 624 pages, and they say Saugus to me, all the way from the bull ring he writes about, all the way from a sweetened Iberia, all the way from the back of his head, and all his Lynnhurst folks caught up in a century’s wars.
What a cast! Don Junkins is in Deerfield, MA, retired but writing strong as ever, the metaphor saddled and ready. Bart Ciampa makes music in Vancouver and puts it on CD’s and sends them my way where they curl into soft and aging nights, as does the music and poetry of Tim Churchard in West Lebanon, ME, where he teaches and coaches, the Irish drum and the guitar loose in the night. (From far off Waldwick, NJ, Jim Smith, before we lost him, wrote letters full of music and intelligence and first choices of a select mind. They came five and six pages at a time, robust, explosive, wandering his tastes, sorting them out for me with gunfire delivery.)
Now I read Don Junkins’ newest book, Buster’s Book, as I am surrounded by Bart Brady-Ciampa’s exquisite trumpet on his own CD from Vancouver way, hearing his Latinas Reflexiones, and he does all the instruments, one atop the other, pretending it’s about the Southern Desert, and all the time it’s all about Saugus.
Bart and Don, what a pair! What a pair! And they level out with Tim Churchard in cool West Lebanon, Maine and his music, and their long ties, and how they graced the same field as Tim and I did. And we all, to a man, love Saugus for what she is and what she has been in our lives.
My son Timmy (RIP) said, “So you and your pals wrote a book about Saugus in this past century.” (A Gathering of Memories, Saugus 1900-2000.) “For example,” he continued, “tell me about the ‘40s. What were they like? Why do some football players from those times write poetry? Or what in East Saugus made such music in the beginning that it now comes out of your computer, all the way from the West Coast? Or how do you hibernate for half the night with an old teammate’s book of poems, or another’s sheaf of letters?”
It was not smugness on his part. But I did not know if that choice of his was spontaneous or specifically directed, as if he had in mind a period related to his own age, young, impression-able, bursting, a place where we have been.
It was a catch in the throat, I said. I tried to explain it to him, from my memory’s point of view.
There was that time in the high school corridor a girl turned away from me and walked elegantly off to her lifetime, smiling to this day, a raving beauty yet, mother-proud, bearing regal in her skirts just cut so, the perfect edge of temperament. It was the time when I slyly tore open my brother’s fragile V-mail letter from the wild Pacific before anybody else could get to it, its onionskin quality like a manuscript marked up by an editor serious at life. It was hearing my cousin’s telephone voice from a Port of Embarkation hidden somewhere on the East Coast, for the lone single last time, remembering how he’d call with that falsetto air to his brother while skating in the swamp near Siaglo’s piggery on Longwood Avenue, sounding like Richie and Sumner Sears’ mother, the night late, the cold stealing down atop us mindless except for small joys.
Or it was seeing a neighbor’s son heading home with one olive drab pant leg sewn much higher than the other one. It was watching newsreels, like Pathe News, at the State Theater on Friday nights, not really knowing what the gunfire and sudden combustion was all about, that gray mass of exploding sand or snow up there on the screen, now and then body parts in the mix, or hearing the high screech of shells or a plane diving off the clouds as if those sounds had been artificially appended to the film. Wondering if those sounds could be real. It would be early in the ‘50s I’d come to know them for my own for what they were.
It all came down eventually in a poem about my brother, locked up forever in my mind, in a page or two of a book: I never really knew about him/ until he came home/ and I saw his sea bag/ decorated with his wife’s picture/ and the map/ and the names/ Saipan/ Iwo Jima/ Kwajalein/ the war! That was a catch in the throat, a first order of breathlessness I still remember behind my eyes with a clarity that could disturb some minds.
It was suddenly finding someone whose ear, like mine, could turn quickly to a cool jazz musician right after hearing Puccini at his very best. (that in New Jersey Jimmy Smith heard the trumpet and flugelhorn I’m tending on right this minute). Or knowing what Auden had to say about another poet, “In the nightmare of the dark/All the dogs of Europe bark,” the words on the porch on Main Street falling from my grandfather’s lips as if he were reading from an Old World cairn, the Red Fergus put away or one more of the warring O’Sheehaughns, the words blessed and lovely, the words full of a music I vaguely could begin to hear, to recognize as my own, and a massive war about to begin that would change everything we knew or could feel, the measurements of that war forever at hand.
The catch in the throat became the names in thick black type in the local newspaper pages: Basil Parker, Larry Daniels, Tommy Atkins, boys who would never again make the walk along Summer Street or Appleton Street to Stackpole Field, a walk that I would make for four years in the same ‘40s they trod it, a walk that teammate Don Junkins would write about, the catch again in the throat like a barbed hook had set, clutching what was soul.
The list of names came growing and running through the streets of the town; the Kasabuski brothers almost in one pained but exhilarate breath (them together forever), Vitold Glinski and his pal Alexander Chojnowski from East Saugus practically together again, Walter Barrett missing in the Pacific, Charlie Lenox killed in France, Al DeStuben wounded in Germany, the list growing and growing, the catch in the throat thicker, heavier, a weight coming with it, like measurement taking place, hand spans, arms’ length of things.
My heart is forever locked into this town whose streets I walk the way I might one day walk another paradise, if there is one like this, if it is one I can earn my way to, where the river comes pale and palpable in its touch at East Saugus, where you can look across to Lynn, where old pilings and boats worn out by muscle and devotion continue their journey back into the earth, where the marsh turns suddenly brown, then white, and where friends, the old and the new, the lost and the forlorn, herald every corner I turn, telling me they love what I still have.
Yes, Timmy, here is part of it, the ‘40s, the pain, the grace, the recall, the sound of another’s words, another’s music, coming to me at the same time. The images sound out. Bart Ciampa’s trumpet or Tim Churchard’s banjo plays like one of Don Junkins’ or one of Jimmy Smith’s metaphors. There is no mouth, no voice, but a place…Saugus! God, I am still here, smack dab in the middle of it all.
Remarkable, Donny. Remarkable, Bart. Remarkable, Tim. Remarkable, Jim. Ah, yes, Timmy, remarkable, the ‘40s. For two years now, those ‘40s and all the years since and before ran through our minds as we set them down in our book, A Gathering of Memories, Saugus 1900- 2000. For two years we garnered and gathered and placed them in order and ordered them in place, scribing a pass at a collection of memories. And now it is completed, after this total and consuming labor of love, this endless poke at the imagination, and Saugonians from 47 states and places outside our borders ordered the book. And those illustrious co-editors have moved on too … John Burns and Bob Wentworth and Neil Howland, but prepared before they left us, true feasts for the memories, as Of Time and the River followed thereafter. By the way, gents, we sold out in four months, all 2,000 copies including the last five damaged copies, after doing our own warehousing, packaging, mailing for the four months of pure excitement. Then we printed 500 more copies and sold them all. Now people are trying to find them on eBay and other sites. We have heard of some successful searches so far.
Off course, Of Time and the River, Saugus 1900-2005 went off too, all 2000 copies.
I’m sure we’ll not do a third book, but somebody might. It’s Saugus!
Tom Sheehan , in his 92nd year, has published 42 books, latest being Alone, with the Good Graces, and Jock Poems and Reflections for Proper Bostonians (Pocol Press) and Small Victories for the Soul VII, Wilderness House Literary Review. In production layout is The Grand Royal Stand-off at Darby's Creek and Other Stories. In submission process are Beneath My Feet this Rare Earth Slips into the Far-end of Another's Telescope, Back Home in Saugus, and Valor's Commission. He has multiple works in Rosebud, Literally Stories, Linnet's Wings, Serving House Journal, Rope and Wire Magazine, Copperfield Review, Literary Orphans, etc. He has 16 Pushcart nominations, 6 Best of Net nominations with one winner, and other awards., He graduated from Marianapolis in 1948, Boston College in 1956, served in Korea 1950-52 and retired from Raytheon Company in 1991.