Illustrated cap: One Christmas was quite like the others, in those years in our town well outside of Boston, our town that was much like the other towns outside of Boston.
Behind the houses were expanses of land—in front, nothing; in back, everything—and back there we had, in warmer weather, forest, poison ivy, grapes that one year we harvested and drained in cheesecloth sacks, dripping, to make grape jelly, and, once, a bobcat.
Full page illustration to cover the six paragraphs that start with “In the West Chelmsford house, and particularly in the bedroom that Kevin and I shared, everything was angles,” and end with, “Not too very much.”
Well, I remember that one night, the phone rang. This is among my most distinct memories of West Chelmsford: the night the phone rang. The phone never rang.
The match was that toaster.
One of Chelmsford’s very few fire trucks arrived on our dusty street and doused the house with water.
Dad had been a master sergeant and platoon leader in World War II, and on this December evening, with the holiday drawing close, one of his men, who lived in Texas, of all places, felt the need to talk with Sergeant Sullivan. This man had figured out how to place a long-distance call to a phone on the wall by the bottom of the stairs in an old, rebuilt house in West Chelmsford, Massachusetts. Remarkable.
Other than the one phone call and the one bobcat, the nights were very, very quiet in those years. Imagining the wind in the trees to be the sounds of reindeer on the roof still allowed, and perhaps even encouraged, a young boy to sleep soundly.