MY LIFE…..AND YOU CAN’T HAVE IT!”
by Jim Curran
Herbert Hoover was president in the year of my birth. I don't remember much about being born. My first memory on this planet was becoming lost and then being found. At the age of five I had wandered away from my grandfather's back yard accompanied by his white Spitz named Beauty. Two hours later I was found sitting under a tall pine tree a half mile away crying in unison with the dog's barking. It was hardly a notable debut on life's stage for one who was to scale the unusual heights of mediocrity.
My father worked as a machinist for the H.B. Smith factory in town that made furnaces. My mother was an elementary school teacher that became the town's Truant Officer. I had an older brother Jackie that died at age two from spinal meningitis and a sister Ann Marie six years younger who became a nurse educator and was an inspiration to all who knew her. She died at the age of 45 from pancreatic cancer.
My mother graduated Valedictorian of the Class of 1919 at Hopkins Academy in Hadley Massachusetts. She expected her children to excel academically…but the Curran genes I inherited were not so inclined. I had average high school grades but graduated Cum Laude from college. I didn't’t accomplish much in sports or academia in high school but in college was elected President of my Class, was active in my Fraternity and was a sports writer for the college newspaper. Westfield stifled me for I was always yearning to be at my grandfather’s tobacco farm in Hadley and mingle with my farming friends.
My mother insisted I take ‘Protocol’ lessons and be taught to play a musical instrument. I wasn't’t much for the former…but eager for the latter. She played piano and assumed I would want to follow this instrument. Wrong! I wanted to play Hawaiian guitar. Our family had an early Zenith television set and we watched the weekly “Arthur Godfrey And Friends” TV show. I liked Haleloke and the way she swayed and sang to the hula as Hawaiian guitars accompanied her performance.
A favorite cousin loaned me her husband’s Hawaiian guitar and my mother found a tutor who taught ‘Protocol’ as well as guitar. Her name was Miss Carroll. Eight months later she held a yearly recital to showcase her students’ accomplishments. The audience was generously sprinkled with aunts, cousins and friends and they gave me the clap as I walked out to center stage. I was to play “Aloha Oe” (one of Haleloke’s favorites). The audience became very quiet and as I was about to begin…the pick on my thumb fell into the hole. I panicked. I looked at the audience and smiled and began to perspire as I heard scattered giggling. I tried to reach into the hole to retrieve the pick…when a string broke with a loud twang. Loud laughter broke out and I hurried off the stage NEVER to pursue a Hawaiian guitar career. I also quit the Protocol class.
One milestone of my youth was in December of 1941. My parents were hosting a neighborhood party when the door suddenly opened and my Aunt Dot burst into the room screaming…”Leon’s been killed! Leon’s been killed! His head is missing!” Leon was another Aunt's husband who was a steel welder for Bethlehem Steel and they were completing a bridge across the Connecticut River in East Hartford Connecticut. They had but inches to go when the structure collapsed and sent twelve men plunging to their deaths. A few days later as we were exiting the cemetery after graveside services, an announcer interrupted the music on our car radio saying “BULLETIN!! The Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbor.”
It was December 7th 1941.
I have always disliked my hometown of Westfield Massachusetts. Eddies of political favoritism and cronyism have swirled in the city for as long as I can remember. With the exception of three mayors…Alice Burke, John Palcynski, and George Varelas…most have destroyed what could have become a progressive city in southern New England. Alice Burke was the first woman Mayor in New England. A bit quirky at times, she was the person who saved Westfield State College from leaving town. She and her sinister secretary, ‘Cookie’ Bresnahan, ruled Westfield…she being our Queen Victoria and he being her devoted servant Albert.
Westfield was definitely NOT the place for me. I wanted to heed the advice of Horace Greeley and ‘Go west…young man.” In November of 1959 I packed my belongings into my 1952 white Dodge convertible and headed for the southwest…stopping in Fairmount Indiana to pay homage to the gravesite of James Dean. I didn't’t know it then but twenty-eight years later I would be returning to Fairmount each September for his Memorial Service.
I crossed the Mississippi River at St. Louis and followed Route 66 eventually all the way to LA. My first stop was Joplin Missouri. Second stop was Shamrock Texas. As I entered New Mexico a large sign welcomed me. LAND OF ENCHANTMENT. It truly did enchant me. It still does. As I drove down through Tijeras Canyon and entered Albuquerque, a feeling of contentment settled over me. The sun was setting against the purple hued West Mesa in the distance across the Rio Grande and I felt then I had fallen in love. I visited friends and they urged me to apply for a job but I already had job interviews set up in Tucson and Anaheim. I did apply for a job as a quality control inspector/tech writer to a company that wrote manuals for the Atlas Missile Complex. With my undergraduate degree in history, I didn't’t think I would stand much of a chance for I had no idea what tracing a wiring diagram entailed. They offered me a job that I accepted in my heart but I still wanted to continue my quest to Tucson and Anaheim.
I went to Tucson and was offered a job for more money than I had been offered in Albuquerque and I continued to Anaheim where I was offered a job with an even better salary but I had left my heart in Albuquerque. While in Tucson I took a side trip to Tombstone and became immersed in the culture of the Old West. In Boot Hill I saw the name “Jim Hickey” on a wooden cross. I had a great-uncle named Jim Hickey who had left Massachusetts years before for the west and wondered if it might be him. Nearby was a smaller wooden cross with the name “hand of Jim Hickey’ scrawled on it. I guess he wasn't’t fast enough on the draw. I returned to Albuquerque and accepted the job and fell deeply in love with New Mexico.
For fifty of my seventy-six years I have fought arthritis. Rheumatoid Spondylitis…to be precise. The pain and deformity were difficult to accept at first but once my body had adapted to my rigid spine…life became a breeze. Well…maybe that’s pushing it a bit! I underwent bilateral hip replacement surgeries in a Boston Hospital and while I was in the recovery room, I was invited to convalesce in Monaco.
I then returned to college to obtain my Master’s Degree in Psychology and began work in Connecticut as a Rehabilitation Counselor for drug dependent individuals and later changed departments to become a Probation Officer. It became necessary for me to have my hips replaced a second time and following this ordeal, I retired and became a playwright on controversial, historical and sometimes comedic issues.
Illness struck a second time ten years ago when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer for which I am receiving treatment. I spend time these days in trying to market my plays or a novel or two and reflect back upon what has been a unique and I think inspirational life.