Growing up as a small boy on a farm in Ridgefield, Connecticut, was for me a lonely experience. A brother four years older had his own world, in which there was no room for small fry. Living more than five miles from the village and three miles from my nearest schoolmates, I was isolated- except for Shane, a younger boy on the neighboring farm. In retrospect, I realized that he was as lonesome as I and that I was encouraged to come to Brook Farm, as it was called, to provide companionship for him.
I often crossed the back fields to his house, and we would spend many exciting hours together. He lived in a wonder world, with a large house to be explored when his parents were absent, an apple orchard with challenging tree trunks to climb, dark woods in which lurked unknown dangers, a mysterious pond, a great, friendly Irish wolfhound named Finn large enough to ride, and a galaxy of wonderful toys and illustrated books and magazines.
We discovered wild strawberries at the pond’s edge and learned about poison ivy the hard way, caught frogs and fish occasionally, and fought mock battles, taking turns being King Arthur or a favorite knight. I recall that one day when Shane’s parents were gone, or so we thought, we crept up the stairs to investigate the forbidden second floor, only to encounter his father sitting up in bed in his room, writing. Shane said that he did that all the time. His father’s glare was sufficient to make us hastily seek safety out of doors and far away. On another occasion, when investigating the attic, we discovered his grandfather’s trunk, filled with wondrous costumes and crowns and fabulous jewelry, all of which looked very real. Later, to my disappointment, I learned he had been an actor.
My visits did not always end in pleasure, of course. Several years younger than I, my friend invariably had to have his own way. If not, his loud screaming would bring his father, to me a fearsome figure. We were told he needed quiet and must never be disturbed under any circumstances. I remember seeing him on many occasions—tall and thin with black hair and mustache and a forbidding expression—and I never saw him smile. He was certain to appear when my young friend and I made too much noise, either engaged in one of our mock battles too near the house or chasing Finn, or when our friendship was about to end in mayhem. His sudden, silent materialization promptly resolved all conflicts, and we magically disappeared to undertake another adventure.
One day, engaged in the dangerous pursuit of destroying wasp nests, we ventured into the upper regions of the garage. In making our escape, we tumbled into a huge loft, and into serious trouble. There was his father sitting in a chair while another man was making a clay portrait bust that looked just like him. The bust tottered precariously from our onslaught but was saved in the nick of time.
It was not until many years later that I understood why my young friend’s father required so much quiet while writing in his room. My friend’s father was Eugene G. O’Neill.