There are eight million artist stories in the city. This one is mine. This is called “Taffy”.
I wonder if everyone can say that their home town has changed a lot? Or really a lot? Not to the point where it is unrecognizable, because how could that be. They can’t change the shape of the river as it curls under Main Street and heads north toward the old nail factory. They can’t change the fact that Route 6 runs smack through the middle of town, on it’s merry way from Provincetown, MA to Long Beach, CA. Or that there are beaches all over: Little Harbor; Briarwood; Pinehurst; Indian Mound; Onset; Parkwood; Swifts. They can change a lot of the houses – more bigs ones, less cottages – and remove the old corner neighborhood stores and put up more “private” signs and make streets one way and charge more for parking. And they can say goodbye to old bowling alleys and movie houses and say hello to another bank and another bank and another bank. But they can’t change the way the river swoops into the harbor from the bay, and kisses three or four different beach communties along it’s way under Route 6 and off toward Oakdale and Mayflower Ridge and, if it could climb the steps, up into Mill Pond and beyond.
But I will tell you about one part of my old hometown that changed, changed from when I was a kid, 11 and 12 years old, back when I would ride my bike all over town, often with a fishing pole dangling behind, joking with my friend Donnie on our way to another day of few fish and priceless memory. The place that changed so much was in back of Donnie’s house, just off Gibbs Ave next to the Everett School, because that’s where the woods were, unending and unbroken, an old fire road a half mile in, scrub pines and taller pines and oaks crowding together, pine needles on the ground like a golden rusty blanket. There are houses now and streets and lots of activity and action. But back in the day, our day, it was just the woods. And it was just Donnie and me and my dog Taffy.
I believe that every small town has at least one haunted house. I can’t speak for cities, but that is my thought. At least one. In my hometown I was aware of two. One was on Fearing Hill Road, in West Wareham, just before it crossed County Road into the town of Rochester. Light grayish blue clapboards, windows that reflected the sun but never let you look in as we drove by on the way to the farm Royal Davis’s family owned in Rochester. And it seemed like we would be in a car with his parents driving by one way or the other and it was always twilight. That place was spooky. The other haunted house was different. This one was deep in the woods behind Donnie’s house, way past the fire road, following on a smaller, less traveled dirt and pine-needle road about as wide as one car. Maybe I shouldn’t call it a haunted house because people lived in it. Maybe a scary house. People that lived way back in the woods. Major creepiness for an 11 year old.
Donnie and I had seen that house once before on one of our afternoon excursions into the woods, but on this particular day it was our destination. We decided we were going to sneak up on that house, get as close as we could, and see what we could see. So the two of us, with Taffy running on ahead, entered the woods after school. It was a cool, late fall day, as we made our way back from his house, across the fire road, and down the smaller road until we could see the house in the distance. Then we got into stealth mode and snuck up as close as we dared, hiding behind trees (pine trees not providing much hiding space), until we got spooked by something and ran back down the road and then into the woods to escape whatever was or wasn’t there that was spooking us. And that is when we got lost.
You would think that it would be easy to figure out from which way you had come and just turn around. The truth is that once you make a couple of mis turns – you zig here to go around this clump of trees or down into this gulley for a ways – losing any sense of direction is easy. Stephen King describes this wonderfully in “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon”. And we got lost and wandered back and forth and knew we were now going the right way, we had to be, and then knew we didn’t recognize anything. And at 4:30 on a late fall weekday afternoon in woods populated by no one other than two kids and a dog (except, of course, for the people back in that house), the sun falling out of the sky, crying became an option, bordering on a requirement.
But, oh to be a dog. Taffy, through all of this, ran and jumped and came back and wagged her tail, then ran some more and looked like this was dog heaven. I guess it was. At one point Taffy ran low through some thick brush and disappeared. I called and called and no answer so Donnie and I had no choice but to push our scratchy way through the thick brush. And when we got through, there was the fire road, all the way down at Bodfish Ave, way off course, but safe. Taffy had shown us the way.
We couldn’t have that adventure today because things have changed. The town has grown up. Maybe, depending on your point of view. I don’t know if either of those haunted houses are still there. Probably not. But it sure was fun to be a kid with a dog and a friend and slip every once in a while into another world – generally friendly, occasionally creepy, always inviting. And I’m here to tell about it.
Thanks to Taffy.