On this day before New Year's, I am reminded of a time the clan lived in a town in central Connecticut called Simsbury, a then-sleepy little community over the mountain from where Mark Twain penned his wise social commentary in the city of Hartford. We settled in a house on a hill, the road out front perfect for skateboarding, the young people's rage that began way back then in the 60s. It was a place where I let the rather eccentric lady neighbor who lived across the street borrow my skateboard, and watched helplessly as she careened out of control down that wonderful hill, fell off and broke her leg. I can still hear my mother yelling at me, all the way from heaven, about that one.
The trains still ran back then, and you could hear the comfort of their whistles as you walked to town without fearing abduction. The local drugstore was dubbed "St. Doyle's" by the kids who told their parents they were going to Mass and instead ditched holiness for the sweetness of a cola at the emporium's lunch counter.
We also had a bassett hound named Napoleon, a sad-looking yet jolly tri-colored emperor who always slept with his right paw tucked to his chest. Nap was a valiant long-earred soul, always up for a jaunt around the neighborhood, in search of newness while contained in familiar.
It was in the early morning on a New Year's Day that Nap and I encountered an alien. The neighborhood was sleeping off its New Year's Eve celebration, and all was quiet.
As the hound and I walked along the road, we heard the sound of hoofbeats. Up the street came a large white horse, carrying a man who held a Confederate flag. It was Mr. Parsons, an emigrant from a far-away place called Charleston, South Carolina. He had moved his family to New England and opened an industrial diamond business in a small shop on the outskirts of town, and was rumored to be doing very well. Seems to me he had a "III" at the end of his name, and some of his children were called Bradford and Clayton.
"The South will rise again!" he yelled to us as he galloped by, a southern, methinks still-somewhat-inebriated-from-the-night-before Don Quixote.
Nap did what he always did when he was confused. He sat. We watched Mr. Parsons gallop around the corner and down the skateboarding hill, yelling his southern tiding astride the back of the gallant white beast.
I convinced Nap to get up, and we did not encounter Mr. Parsons and his steed again as we finished our saunter. When we returned to the house, my mother was awake, and making coffee in the kitchen. I reported what we had seen, and she responded, as she usually did when confronted with the odd slice of human behavior, "The man is a NUT. Stay away from him."
But I didn't. I ended up babysitting his three little boys at certain times that new year. They were nice lads, but, when grouped together, their blondness reminded one of the movie "Village of the Damned." And I learned more about the anatomy of man thanks to a "family life manual" found on Mr. Parson's book shelf, a place I could not help perusing and a book my innocence would not let me ignore as his young children slept safely upstairs.
I learned a lot from Mr. Parsons that New Year's Day. I already knew bigotry in any form was wrong, so that was a not a lesson I needed to understand. But what I liked about him was that he had the guts to be himself in a strange place. He wasn't afraid to shake things up, even if it was only witnessed by a clumsy teenaged girl and a droopy dog. I always liked that about him, and always will.
So here's hoping you, accompanied by human or canine pal, witness weird things in 2006. It makes life so much more interesting.
Image: A White Horse, Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez, (b. 1599, Sevilla, d. 1660, Madrid)