Thursday, May 26, 2011
All Stories End At Westford Center
My Dad was a great teller of jokes and stories, the perennial master-of-ceremonies and raconteur. He had been an excellent actor, both comic and straight, throughout most of his life, and retained an arsenal of noises, faces, and comic gestures nearly to the end.
As he aged - after too many drinks and cigarettes and bypass surgeries - the skills remained, but the nimbleness of thought required to keep his audience interested waned. His focus narrowed to the things he was primarily interested in, and that was increasingly nostalgia.
He lived in Westford, MA more than 55 of his 75 years, the gaps being his first few years - spent in Jamaica Plains and Leominster - before his father built a farm there during the Depression; a year plus in Japan after the war, four years at UNH, and the seven years of his first marriage, when he lived elsewhere in Massachusetts. After that, it was all Westford, all the time. The town had been rural - orchards, mostly, plus some dairy, and a quarry. Some early suburban spillage from Lowell, until the 1970's when it slowly started becoming a suburb of the 128 high tech firms and eventually, Boston itself. Very little farming now.
It's an interesting enough place, I suppose. There's the Westford Knight, for you enthusiasts of possible pre-columbian European arrivals in North America, with some Knights Templar thrown in for good measure. Paul Revere's son went to Westford Academy, and there is the usual collection of 17th-19th C artifacts, buildings, cannons, old turnpikes and such of all towns in eastern New England. Forge Village, Graniteville, Nabnassett, each with its own sub-history. You folks who live in other places would call it a lot of history, but it's small potatoes here. Still, it's something.
I had noticed that my Dad was repeating stories as he grew older, but I just figured "who doesn't?" Not until my younger brother, who spent much more time with him at the end, ruefully said "Yeah, all stories end at Westford Center" did I realise that in the last few years, there was that pattern. Still a very interesting guy, my Dad, and more fun to be with than just about anyone you'd happen upon, just...less interesting. Myself, I will gladly subject five people to a repeat if there are two present who haven't heard, and that has been true throughout my life. I don't think it has been increasing as I age. I expect it will, eventually. Here's the thing: I start from a lower skill level than my dad. I am very like him in speech, and I'm good in conversation, but a lesser son of greater sires, as Theoden said. And if even he eventually went into Grampa Simpson territory, what is there for the rest of us?
I might hold out longer, because I don't think there's a central theme that all my stories tend toward, and on that slender advantage I may beat the comedy-reaper yet. But that's mostly just a delay, I think.
My evil children, who love to hold my eventual deterioration before me with shared glee, should consider their own eventual following to the same fate. Go read Ozymandias or something, you bastards.