An auspicious day…

As Frank Beach has pointed out for us in his excellent blog on Dylan, it was 60 years ago today that Dylan arrived in New York City and began to turn the world of music upside down…

Ironically, it seems that it was at this time that the world of my birth family was also turned upside down.

Maybe that is just a coincidence…

Let me explain…

My parents were both from South Dakota. My father, born a cowboy in a poor family in Yankton, became a metallurgist at the South Dakota School of Mines in Rapid City. My mother was from a small town near Huron. My mother was attending the Mines, as her family, forced to rent out their house in Ree Heights because of the Depression and live in their cabin in the Black Hills, went to school there for a year. They met there and fell in love, marrying a few years later.

My father’s first job was in Chicago. We lived on the South Side. I was born at Cook County Hospital.

When I was three my father was transferred to a plant in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in the New York City metropolitan area. I remember changing trains in New York City. We took a taxi from Penn Station to Grand Central. When I beheld it’s beauty and the glorious constellations on its ceiling, I tugged at my Mother’ hand and said, “I want to live here!”

My parents rented a floor of a Victorian house on Grove Street for a few years. It was near the railroad tracks, and easy for my Father to walk home for lunch. When I was seven we moved about seven miles away to more upscale Fairfield, near where friends of ours lived. The house seemed somehow ominous right from the start, as Hurricane Carol turned everything upside down. My Father was in New York City the day it hit. He had left our green two-tone Ford, nicknamed “Cabbage” at the foot of the steps to the Bridgeport train station. When he returned, he was shocked to find that water had covered it up to the steering wheel. He managed to find a cab ride back to Fairfield. Then he put on his galoshes and the two of us walked out to the back part of our lot, where there was a woodpile. We brought the soggy logs back to the house, to the back porch. They dripped water. My Mother twisted newspaper and lit it, to dry a couple of them out in the fireplace. We slept on mattresses in the living room. The basement flooded, the sump pump went out. No heat. No electricity. No mushroom soup. It was dismal.

A few years later my Father’s brother died unexpectedly. There were whispers that he had taken his own life, even though it could have been an accident. I was polishing a pair of red shoes for church the next day when the phone call came in. I still feel the helplessness.

There was another secret in our family. I was a part of it, though I did not understand it fully. I was being controlled and manipulated by my Mother to the point of being caused bodily harm. It was because of the Zauberflote. My younger sister, Angela, appeared to gloat at my distress. As I planned to go away to college it quickly became evident that my family wanted to keep me as far from New York City as possible. I went along with them, but ended up choosing the school anyhow. It was Bucknell U, in Lewisburg. Quite a hike from NYC. And a long bus ride.

But no sooner had I started my freshman year, I found myself one of two freshmen on the Homecoming Court. In the parade, our car was driven by a guy from New York. He had a gold Cadillac convertible. During Christmas break he offered to come up to Fairfield and take me out to dinner. When my Father opened the door and saw him I had a terrible feeling in my gut. He was also Jewish. My parents had forbidden me to have anything to do with Jews. But I loved the Jewish people and hoped they would come to as well.

A few days after that date my Father and I played ping pong in the basement. He couldn’t look me in the eye. He had the strangest look I had ever seen. I felt terribly helpless.

After I returned to Bucknell, a few weeks later, I received a letter telling me that my Father had almost died by his own hand and was in a hospital in New Haven. That was at the end of January, 1961.

That is the odd connection…


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