Skip to main content

Shane’s Father

April 2023
2min read

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.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Stories published from "December 1989"

Authored by: John Steele Gordon

In 1820 their daily existence was practically medieval; thirty years later many of them were living the modern life

Authored by: John F. Mariani

A restaurant critic who’s a food historian and the fortunate recipient of an Italian grandmother’s cooking follows the course of America’s favorite ethnic fare in its rise from spaghetti and a red checked tablecloth to carpaccio and fine bone china

Authored by: The Editors

A Biography

Authored by: The Editors

The Pride

Authored by: Stephen Shields

An American soldier would never forget encountering the German with an icy smile. He would later discover that the blood of innocent millions dripped from Eichman's manicured hands

Featured Articles

The world’s most prominent actress risked her career by standing up to one of Hollywood’s mega-studios, proving that behind the beauty was also a very savvy businesswoman. 

Rarely has the full story been told about how a famed botanist, a pioneering female journalist, and First Lady Helen Taft battled reluctant bureaucrats to bring Japanese cherry trees to Washington. 

Often thought to have been a weak president, Carter was strong-willed in doing what he thought was right, regardless of expediency or the political fallout.

Why have thousands of U.S. banks failed over the years? The answers are in our history and politics.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.