2012 is here, the light’s getting longer every day, it’s time to get serious about putting motorcycle wheels on the ground. But this is not about motorcycles. Look for that report in a month or so. As we speak, the bottom end of my well-traveled, much-abused Twin Cam 88 is being trued, rebalanced for lighter rods and welded against scissoring. It was kindly worn out after rumbling through 47 states, crossing every American desert, roaming Canada coast-to-coast… Major progress is imminent, wait and see. (Sorry about the time lag in seeing your comments appear in these pages, but you wouldn’t believe how heavily this site gets bombed by spammers every day.)
What I’ve scribbled here is a family holiday report. It started 36 years ago this evening, when the bride and I exchanged vows in Bangor, Maine, as a heavy snow fell over the Penobscot Valley. When the family ran out of rice they threw snow at us, no lie.
Here’s the bride in that same Penobscot Valley a few summers ago. I met her there while headed home to Rhode Island after a solo 4,800-mile tour of the Canadian Maritimes.
Here she is at 21, in our third-floor walk-up in Philly, complete with Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. We lived there a few years while I finished up my degree at Villanova. Poor but happy, that was us. We had to skip lunch for a whole semester once because I had been laid off from my night job in a supermarket. As a full-time student I wasn’t eligible for unemployment, hence the dietary adjustment.
We were so hungry she threw stuff at me. She looks happy here but that’s deceptive, I think it was delirium setting in.
The rent was $90 a month for two rooms and a bath, came with a Center City view and occasional hot water. It was an easy half-mile jog to my new job driving a truck for an Italian bakery. I’d roll out of bed at 4 a.m. and crack three eggs in a glass, Rocky Balboa style. Salmonella? Pfft, I’ll take the ten extra minutes of sleep. By the time I jogged to the bakery on 66th Street the eggs were scrambled. Time to punch in and get to work.
So I graduate and we move to Maine, hauling everything we own in an open U-Haul trailer, 4 feet by 7 feet. She gets a job in a bank, I work multiple part-time jobs: ramp rat at the airport, freelance reporter, another supermarket job, shipping clerk, sports photographer… When I finally get my foot in the door at a daily newspaper (night shift), we buy an 1851 post & beam house in Orono, Maine. I gut the place and rebuild it over the next four years. While we live in it.
I tore down the old staircase when Pam was extremely pregnant with Daughter #1. She had to climb an aluminum ladder to get up into the second floor and our only bathroom. She was nervous about it so I’d climb up or down behind her, or at least foot the ladder and do commentary to break the tension as she climbed, “Babe, not your best angle in this condition,” etc. It always put her at ease.
The bride, awaiting child, happily reflecting on how lucky she was to marry a guy who’s loaded. I don’t say loaded with what. I snapped this pic in the barn. I mean, house.
I mean, barn.
Our living room. It snowed indoors on windy nights. I used to feed the cat on the woodpile hoping it would learn how to feed the stove overnight. Dumb idea.
Spring comes and here’s the bride, happy on a sunny June morn. And this is before she knows that Daughter #1 will arrive before the day is out. I get a call in the newsroom around 10:30 that night, Pam’s en route to the hospital. I meet her there, we fill out forms, we’re in the elevator by 11 and Little Miss Em arrives 54 minutes later. She’s 8 pounds, 15 ounces. Big for her age.
Time goes on and I make progress on interior walls. Not so much on floors.
Before long, another eight-pounder comes home to the little house on Main Street. Here’s Daughter #1 shoving lunch into her at a kitchen table I built. Made the top out of pine, trestle out of hemlock.
Also got around to building a new staircase. Made it out of beech.
The house was shaping up when this particular Christmas rolled around. A dear friend, Alix Williams, gave us that antique chair. It had been in her family forever, a handmade piece of Americana, wonderfully primitive. It has a place in our living room to this day.
I was working in the woods in a chilly spring rain. My gals brought lunch.
Fly fishing in a wet snow with my bud Tom Weber, another city boy lured north by a girl. Tom’s from Brooklyn, NY, home to the DePauls before we moved to Philly around 1910.
Before you know it, Daughter #3 is on the way.
Before D3 arrives at a whopping 10 pounds 4 ounces (Roger that, 10-4), Em goes off for her first day of preschool. Jenna held on to her tight at the front door. Don’t leave me!
I used two antique planes to build that pine storm door behind the gals: a jointer, for truing edges, and one for making up matched tongue & groove edges once the boards are trued. My old friend Larry Stanley is the master at that. In fact, he found me those planes at a tool auction.
I assembled my door parts with wrought iron nails, cinched the points over “dead as a door nail.” A rugged, old-fashioned construction technique. Stands the test of time.
The old planes are gathering dust now.
D2 was a good big sister, having had a good example at it. I like the look on D3 here. She still can’t get over her birth weight, apparently. Ten-four!? NOOOOOO!
Note the Mayan t-shirt on D2. With our family complete, I was off for the quickie gringo tour of the war that never quite happened between Honduras and Nicaragua. That particular exercise in tourist journalism was de rigueur for anybody in the news biz in those days. Go see the hell hole, get the dateline. Sandinistas, Contras, beggar kids by the swarm, bunkers on every street corner, trigger-happy guys sticking their chins at one another across the Rio Coco…
Daughter #1 made a little gift for me to carry in my backpack. She took the lid off a jar of strawberry jelly and scotch-taped her photo inside it. In the pic, she’s being a good big sister, minding the D3 baby. I never imagined then that little Em would go off to Central America herself one day, and at just 17. She went to help rebuild a remote Nicaraguan village decimated by a hurricane.
I still have that jelly jar lid.
Wish we still had that dog! Good old Blue, a stray dog from Philly, like me. This is after I got a job offer from the Providence Journal and we moved to our new home in Rhode Island, the humble manse.
A feat of strength at City Park, Warwick, Rhode Island.
Also in City Park.
Daughter #3 puts her all into making gingerbreadman cookies. We never knew what she might say next. Before her third birthday she was saying things like “Bye Bye Miss American Pie” to her mom, and to me, “Wait for me, Bumstead.”
I thought we were probably passing through on our way to somewhere else, but Rhode Island soon became home. The luster of the newspaper job wore off for me, but I put it in its proper context, a means to an end. And we were happy here.
The girls in the jelly jar lid, Thanksgiving Day, 2011. D3 (left) welcomes D1 home from New York.
Mere weeks later, double happiness strikes: Miss Em comes home again, for Christmas. Zuzu the girl cat is trying to hide from her on the stairs.
Daughter #2 was back home in Providence after nine weeks of 14-hour days in New York. She was working on a movie there. Later this year, go see “The English Teacher,” starring Julianne Moore, Greg Kinnear and Nathan Lane. Look for Jenna in the credits as a production executive.
Jenna and the bride of my youth. I might not have a family today if I hadn’t spotted Blondie sitting on a stone wall reading a book, in 1972. I didn’t grow up in the best of circumstances, and not the worst by any stretch, but family wasn’t high on my list of things to go chasing after in life. That changed when I found her. She’s been my guide on the best adventure I’ll ever have.
Funny how the gals often seem to line up in birth order. Emily, my artist, philosopher, thinker; Jenna, a force of nature; kind-hearted Laura, the queen of quirk, a laugh a minute. One day they’re babies and need all your attention; then suddenly they become these amazing adults who say things you never thought of, and you realize it’s your turn to learn from them now. It’s an honor to be their dad.
It all started 36 years ago. To the day.
Dig it, here’s a pic of my cup runneth-ing over.
Tony DePaul, January 3, 2012, Cranston, Rhode Island