This place is, perhaps, where I will end my days. Or so I
Well do I know my own character negatives - bossy, impatient,
reclusively shy, short-tempered, single-minded. The good parts
are harder to see, but I suppose a fair dose of sympathy and
even compassion is there, a by-product of the writer's imagination.
I can and do put myself in others' shoes constantly.
Observational skills, quick decisions (not a few bad ones), and a
tendency to overreach, to stretch comprehension and try difficult
things are part of who I am. History seized me a long time
ago. I am like Luigi Pirandello's character Dr. Fileno,
who thought he had found an efficacious remedy for all
human ills, an infallible recipe capable of bringing solace to
himself and all mankind in case of any calamity whatever, public
Actually it was more than a remedy or a recipe that Doctor
Fileno had discovered; it was a method consisting in reading
history books from morning till night and practicing looking
at the present as though it were an event already buried in the
archives of the past. By this method he had cured himself of
all suffering and of all worry, and without having to die had
found a stern, serene peace, imbued with that particular sadness
which cemeteries would still preserve even if all men on
earth were dead.4
That attitude may have something to do with building a
house suited to one's interests, needs and character. Basically I
live alone, although summers are a constant stream of visitors
and friends. I need room for thousands of books and big worktables
where I can heap manuscripts, research material, where
I can spread out maps. Books are very important to me. I wish
I could think of them as some publishers do - as "product" -
but I can't. I have lived in many houses, most inadequate and
chopped into awkward spaces, none with enough book space.
When I was a child we moved often, sometimes every year. My
father worked in New England's textile mills, trying hard to
overcome his French Canadian background by switching jobs,
always moving up the various ladders of his ambition: "bigger
and better jobs and more money," he said.
The first house I can remember vividly was a tiny place in
northeastern Connecticut, not far from Willimantic, a house
which my parents rented during the late 1930s from a Polish
family named Wozniak. I liked that name, Wozniak. I can draw
that house from memory although I was two to three years old
when we lived there.
I have a keen memory of dizziness as I tried to climb the
stairs, of being held fast when my sweater snagged on a nail. I
was coming down with some illness, the dizzy sensation and
the relentless nail still vivid after seventy years. When I was
sick I was moved from my bed upstairs to a cot by the kitchen
window. My mother gave me a box of Chiclets chewing gum,
the first I had ever seen. One by one I licked the smooth candy
coating off each square and lined the grey lumps up on the
windowsill. How ugly and completely inedible they looked.
Another time I took the eye of a halibut my mother was
preparing for dinner (in those days one bought whole fish)
and brought it upstairs to the training potty, dropping it into
the puddle of urine and calling my mother to see what I had
wrought. She was horrified, not seeing a halibut eye but think-
ing I had lost some bizarre interior part. I recognized her vulnerability as a warning to be more secretive about what I did,
an impression that carried into adult life.
My mother, who loved the outdoors, and whose favorite
book was Gene Stratton-Porter's Girl of the Limberlost, took
me for a walk in a swamp. It was necessary to jump from one
hummock of swamp grass to another. I was terrified of the
dark water distance between these hummocks and finally stood
marooned and bawling on a quivering clump, unable to make
it to the next one.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...