Thursday, November 10, 2016

Deja Vu From Holyoke

Several Aprils ago I visited Boston's Museum of Fine Arts for the first time in decades. My sister, her husband, and daughter slowly inspected each and every painting, while I sought out Northeast favorites such as Fitz Hugh Lane's Owl's Head, Winslow Homer's The Fog, and Childe Hassam's Boston Common at Twilight.

Viewing these landscapes was as comforting as was seeing my family members out of the corner of my eye, for familiarity breeds more familiarity and I am a native New Englander.

Most people spend seventeen seconds looking at a painting, however Thomas Cole's THE OXBOX stopped me my tracks.

A shattered tree in the foreground.

Thunderclouds dominating the sky.

An idyllic farming valley.


"A beautiful painting."

"I get a feeling of déjà vu."

Scientists don't believe in déjà vu."

"Non-believers in magic."

They reject prophecy or precognition, saying that people probably saw something like what they are seeing while experiencing déjà vu."

"Somehow I think Dad took us there." My father loved weekend excursions with his family of six kids.

"I don't remember ever going to Mount Holyoke."

"Neither do I, although we once drove out to Springfield."

"Springfield?" asked Pam with incredulity.

That old city was infamously renown for being the trans-shipment depot of the heroin trade.

"I'm going there next week."

"To do what?"

"Help a movie friend move cameras."

My sister laughed. She thought I worked for the CIA.

"Be careful of the Latin Kings." The gang's leader was dedicated to establishing an Incan State on the Connecticut River.

"I'll avoid them like the plague."

We walked away from the painting hand in hand.

It was good to be in Boston and even better to be with family, since Tony's on Wollaston beach was open and that little clam shack had the best fried clams on the South Shore.

The following weekend my producer and I traveled from New York in his battered van. The back was packed to the roof with old film equipment. The rear wheels rode low. We were hauling a heavy load, but the sky was clear blue to all points of the compass.

After exiting I-95 onto I-91 I pointed to a basalt traprock promontory north of New Haven.

"Have you ever been to that park? I think it's called East Rock."

"No, but I've driven by it hundreds of times."

"Me too."

Seems like a good occasion to do something new."

"I'm game."

Neither of us had any pressing obligations and we left the interstate to climb the highest point on the Eastern Seaboard between Mount Desert and the Arthur Kill garage dump in Staten Island

Eric and I got out of the van in the parking lot. The southern view was dominated by the Long Island Sound. Everything around us had been created by the Ice Age.

A tall stele topped the park. One side of the base was dedicated to the American victories against Mexico in the 1840s. Most of the families celebrating the sunny weather were from South of the Border. That war was fought almost two centuries ago.

"See that bump on the far horizon?" Eric pointed to a blue rise to the north.

"Yes?" I could barely make it out.

"That's Mount Holyoke."

"I saw a painting from the top of that mountain at the Museum of Fine Art."

"Thomas Cole's THE OXBOW."

That's the one."

"It's only a half-hour from my house.

"So we can go there."

"Yes, We can. Once we finish uploading the truck. No way this old beast will make it to the top."

Eric motioned for me to get back in the van.

"Could we stop for some food?"

I had eaten a bagel in the early morning

"We could get something on the road, but there's a great family restaurant in my hometown and Jake's has great fried clams."

"I doubt it. The best in New England are from Tony's on Wollaston Beach.

"I tell you you're in for a treat and it's only an hour away." Eric was a true believer in Springfield.

We were both hometown boys in the best way.

"We'll see."

The two of us jumped in the van and followed the Connecticut River into Massachusetts, listening the the news about the Red Sox on the radio.

West Springfield was a shell of a city. The streets looked mean. "Springfield fell apart after the armory shut. 30,000 jobs gone in one year."

"What about food?" I was starving.

"Ten minutes."

He wasn't lying and Eric pulled into the Jake's parking lot a little after noon. A pretty high school girl waited on us. Her name was Cheryl. We ordered two plates of fried clams and drinks.

"Half the ice. Twice the vodka." We had Cape Codders.

They complimented the delicious meal of fat succulent clam bellies.

"What you think?"

"Pretty damned good and that's a big compliment coming from a man raised on Ipswich clams."

"I told you so."

"Yes, eating these reminded me of Wollaston Beach."

My inner eyes scanned the bay from the indian burial mounds at Squantum to sewage treatment plant on Hough's Neck.

"Don't know Wollaston." Jake signaled for the check and two more drinks. His house was only a minute away from Jake's. After unloading the van, I circled the house. A lake lay at the bottom of the hill. The backyard was overrun by knee-high dandelion and I pulled weeds from the front lawn. Eric mowed the grass and after an hour of landscaping we had tamed nature to an acceptable level.

"How about that trip to Mount Holyoke?" I threw the weeds into the woods.

"I have a few things to do on the internet." His video production company was a non-stop enterprise. "We'll go around 4."

"Fine with me." I went outside to chop down a tree limb shattered by a winter storm. The ax was dull, but the heavy swing hewed a gut in the log and within a half-hour I shouted 'timber' to the bugs. The limb fell several feet from me with a threatening thud. Sweat stained my shirt and I dragged the branch to the wood pile, ready for a beer.

"What was that noise?" Eric didn't lift his head from the computer.

"Chopped down that hanging branch." A real woodsman could have accomplish the task within five minutes, still I was proud of my effort, since I hadn't lost any fingers and toes nor hadn't thrown out my back.

"Give me another ten minutes and we'll head over to Mount Holyoke."

You ready to go?"


"Yes, now."


Eric drove through the verdant green woods of Western Massachusetts recounting tales of his youth. Every turn of the road belonged to his youth. He drove through the park gates and spoke to the van, as it labored up the winding road to the summit teased by ever-scenic vistas of the Connecticut River Valley. Eric parked the van beneath the mountain house surrounded by a chain-link fence for renovation. A path led to the northern side of the summit and we climbed to granite slab.

"That's the oxbow." Eric pointed to a gentle loop in the river.

"Not much has changed since he painted it."

"Life is always the same out here."

"Deja vu." Thomas Cole's perspective was farther to the east, but recognizable from our vantage. "For a second I thought it was a déjà vu, but I've never been here before. Only seen the painting."

"I've been up here too many times to remember." He recounted an LSD trip and making love with a girlfriend.

"I don't think I've ever had a real déjà vu."

"I had a one in the South of France."

"Where?" Eric's father had met his mother in Normandy a week after D-Day. He was as much French as he was American.

"Perpignon. I spent the summer of 1989 on the Cote Vermillon, writing a collection of short stories. My cousin and I drank in various towns up and down the coast. We gambled in Spain and ate great meals in Sete. One afternoon Jacques said that he had a favor to ask me. I asked, "What?" and he replied that his wife wanted us to attend a classical quartet concert in a mountain monastery. I hated that type of music. Jacques felt the same way, but begged for me to accompany him. I agreed and that evening we drove up into the Pyrenees . Turning a corner I spotted the monastery atop a hill and was staggered by a tidal wave of a déjà vu. I had been here before. Jacques asked what was wrong and I told him about my reincarnation. He laughed and explained to everyone in the car about my deja vu before saying that half this monastery had been sold to an American, who planted the twin at the end of Manhattan."

"The Cloisters." The renaissance edifice was a highlight to everyone driving up the Hudson.

"One in the same."

"So no déjà vu."

"No and I guess none today." I couldn't recall the last time that I had experienced that mystical sensation. Maybe I've seen too much over these last six decades to be surprised by déjà vu trop, but I doubt it and my eyes stripped away the trees and the laces on roads to time-travel back to the view of Mount Holyoke seen by Thomas Cole. It was easy once I took off my glasses.

Do you think the jobs will ever come back to Springfield?"


"So only jobs with the Latin Kings?"

"They pay there people good."

"And they don't have to pay health care." Employees died from guns not old age.

"It's the New America."

"Sadly yes, but there are bright spots."



"Shall we déjà vu?"

Cape Codders?.

"Half the ice. Twice the vodka."

"Let's go see Cheryl."

Eric got no argument from me, because I was a bigger believer in déjà bu than déjà vu.

We hurried to the van, knowing



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