IN THE summer of 1910 I became the acting head of the family and took my responsibility seriously when I remembered it. Mother for family reasons had elected to spend the summer in Elizabeth, and the four children, of which I was the eldest, and Mrs. Arfken, Mother’s stand-by, were packed off to the Ocean View House in Bay Head. Mrs. Arfken would keep things in order, but it was up to me, as Dad explained, to set an example.
The Ocean View House did not, as its name suggests, front the sea; actually it sat back on Main Street, two blocks away from the sand. It was a fat wooden rectangle, its three floors girdled with porches, each family having a section of the porch which could be partitioned off with bamboo screens. Erom your Gloucester hammock on the third floor you could see the glint of the ocean if your rooms faced east, or the more placid waters of the bay if your rooms faced west.
The dining room of the Ocean View House seemed as long as a football field. You entered through swinging screen doors, and as you made your way to your table you were aware of the slowly revolving fans overhead. The tables were long enough to seat several families, and their adornments were uniform. On the center of the white tablecloth was a vase of gladioli, and supporting it were two platters of limp saltines, tomato catsup and the cruets of oil and vinegar, and innumerable salts and peppers. The salt was encrusted by the sea air and wouldn’t work.
The meals came in a bevy of dishes, the vegetables in their separate little bird bathtubs, and t here were good days and bad days. The roasts were usually gray and tough, but the turkey came tender, the fresh lobster and crabmeat were as good as you would expect, and the chicken a la Maryland and corn fritters that went with it were really something. The elders raved about the fresh fish, the blues and the pompano, but, heck, fish was nothing in my life. It meant more to me that we never had French fried potatoes. The fun on the good days was in scanning that long purple handwritten menu and letting your mouth water as you made up your mind how many desserts to save for.
Now that I was acting head I felt it my duty to introduce all the Weekses and Mrs. Arfken to whatever stranger might be seated with us over weekends. I stood up to do this, and one Sunday dinner I stood up too soon. I saw the headwaitress piloting an elderly couple our way, so I took a quick swig of milk and then stood up meaning to say, “I am Teddy Weeks, and these are . . But the words never came out; what came out was t he milk. I had poured it down my Sunday throat, and now back it came out of my nose, mouth, and ears. I was wracked and speechless, and a fresh tablecloth had to be set. Embarrassment has a way of catching you unawares when you are twelve.
With our parents at home, we came naturally under the wing of the Brewsters, our cousins. Aunt Margaret kept a watchful eye on us and so did Katy, her loyal factotum. I was in and out of their cottage a dozen times a day, and on racing days I served as crew for Sid, my opposite number, in their cup-winning One-Design No. 3. Sixteen of those boats, identical with jib, mainsail, and spinnaker, had been built in Gloucester. The subscribers drew numbers from a hat when the new craft were unfreighted, and No. 3 went to the Brewsters; for the next five years it won all the silverware, ship’s clocks, and pennants to be had. This was regarded as a miracle, but the answer was a simple one, and I knew it. For years Uncle Jamie Brewster had been sailing the only sloop in these parts, a fat comfortable tub known as the Nan, and for years he had been the butt of all the smart boys in their cat boats or sneakboxes. “That’s Jamie Brewster, they would say as they went tearing by him. “Can’t imagine what fun he has with the old bucket.”Maybe so, but Uncle Jamie had trained his boys how to get the most out of a sloop rig, and what we did to the rest of the fleet with No. 3 was murder.
Uncle Jamie was the most considerate of men. From his office in New York he would telephone Mother to tell her how we were doing, and one Monday morning, being pressed by Mrs. Arfken, he even agreed to carry our family wash back home. It was sent down to us regularly in large cardboard containers, but on this particular Monday Uncle Jamie had forgotten that his commuters’ special did not stop at Elizabeth, and the truth only dawned on him as the train showed no sign of slowing down. On the impulse he rushed to the vestibule, waved to our stationmaster, Mr. Ryan, shouted, “The Weekses’ wash! The Weekses’ wash!” and pitched the two cases out. As it happened, they fell directly in the path of an incoming freight. Like an angry elephant, the locomotive tossed the two cases aloft. They burst. And Weeks underwear was not only scattered for yards along the PRR tracks, but a few choice bits, including Erederika’s panties, sailed over the high stone trestle and floated down upon the trolley and telephone wires above Broad Street, where they hung on until winter. It was humiliating.
Dad spent a weekend with us in August, and later that month something unexpected occurred. I got the news by megaphone. I had been racing in No. 3 with Sid at the tiller and Mouse and myself handling t he sheet and the sandbags. But the wind, which had been brisk, died down and finally we were becalmed right opposite Dale’s Point. We were in the lead, but everyone was simply creeping along. Suddenly from the direction of the yacht club, which we could see in the distance, I heard a voice calling, “Teddy Weeks, Teddy Weeks,”then some words I couldn’t understand. Whoever it was was using the big megaphone, the one Commodore Cattus used for the big races. Here it came again, “Teddy Weeks . . .” and then something unintelligible. Well, they kept it up, and gradually we came within range. “Teddy Weeks, you have a new Baby Bruh-uh-uh-ther!” Sid said I began to blush the moment we understood. Gosh, but why tell the world about it?
Boyhood in Battersea
For years England has produced a class of artisans and servants submissive, obedient, fiercely conservative, and fiercely loyal to the master or the institution they serve. Nothing quite like them is to be found on the Continent and certainly not in the United States, and since these people for the most part are inarticulate, they have seldom been presented save as minor characters in English fiction or theater. To characterize them as the lowest level of the English middle class is to give them a label without life. It takes a poet to mark them as individuals, to reveal their strength and limitations, and to evoke the warm and not always simple intimacies which band them together. The poet is Richard Church, who in his autobiography, Over the Bridge (Dutton, $8.75), has written of himself, his older brother Jack, and of their mother and father with an understanding as clear and as poignant as Chekhov’s. They lived in Battersea, in a row of houses as outwardly identical as the lives within them were different. This is the true story of the difference—the story of how a boy frail and easily upset, a boy more apprehensive of the beauty and zest of life than the other members of his family, finally emerged educated, attuned, and on his way to being the artist he is.
The boy’s entrance into maturity, the stages by which became to understand and gradually to care for his parents, the attachment and estrangement which he shared with his older brother, create an engrossing picture of the end of the Victorian era in England. The father, who was of illegitimate birth, had survived a brutal bringing-up; he emerged as buoyant as a cork, a handsome upright postman and letter sorter, loathing issues of any sort and joying in the open road as only an English cyclist can. The mother was the spark of the family, and her courage kept them secure until her last illness. Brother Jack, taciturn and practical, was the young realist who brought the temperamental youngster back to earth. Only a poet could have opened these inner doors of experience; only an artist could hav e recaptured so truly the people, the episodes, the love which gave ibis boy his impetus.
Freedom or fear
In The Blessings of Liberty (Lippincott, $5.00) Zechariah Chafee, Jr., once more rises to the defense of our civil liberties. “I hope to let readers see,” he writes, “how many sacrifices of freedom have taken place, and to set them questioning whether these sacrifices were all necessary to save the country.” Professor Chafee, who has been a beacon at the Harvard Law School for more than a quarter of a century, is well aware that these acts, committees, loyalty oaths, repeated investigations of the character and connections of government employees against whom nothing resembling a charge of misconduct has been brought, anonymous witnesses, and police spies have all come about through fear of Russia — a fear which he does not discount. The bear that walks like a man inspires no confidence in Professor Chafee. What troubles him deeply, as it troubles many others, is the question of what is being accomplished. Is all this red tape and uproar defending the country, or is it merely forcing a mindless acquiescence upon the citizens? The right to honest dissent is, in Chafee’s view, not only constitutional but valuable to the majority as well as to the dissenting minority.
The author’s analysis of the machinery by which a citizen’s legal rights are simply by-passed is lucid and frightening. His illustrations of use and misuse of powers by subordinate government officers are at once lively and infuriating; his arguments on the legal and ethical levels come to the reader with cracker-barrel common sense, and his gloomiest views of official absurdity are illuminated by familiarity with the Constitution, which he never permits the reader to forget. We need our Zechariah Chafees, our Elmer Davises, and our Gerald Johnsons to remind us that acquiescence is not the only duty of a citizen in a democracy.