Friday, June 14, 2002
Women at the Mosquito share their thoughts on Father's Day
Long-time members of the Mosquito staff remember thier fathers and the inspiration they continue to derive from their memories.
Publisher Sam Kent lived his dream
Born in 1895 in Concord, Samuel Goddard Kent belonged to the generation that molded Tom Brokaw's "Greatest" one, a fact that causes me to question that journalist's superlative. My father and his contemporaries served in World War I, gave women the vote, weathered the Great Depression, backed the establishment of Social Security, sent their sons to fight in World War II, financed the G.I. Bill that educated the next generation, and saved democracy in Europe with the Marshall Plan. In many ways "Sam," as he was known to friends and fellow townspeople, was typical of the times. He attended Concord schools, was quarterback and captain of the high school football team and president of his senior class in 1914. He went off to college, majoring in landscape architecture at Cornell University until the United States entered World War I in 1917. Along with most of his classmates he enlisted, was commissioned an ensign in the Navy and put in command of a submarine chaser patrolling the Atlantic seaboard for German submarines.
Far from a glory seeker, although impressive in a family photo of the young officer perched in his vessel's crow's nest, binoculars in hand, he readily admitted that he and his shipmates never saw or heard from an enemy sub. Rather, his scariest war experience was trying to steer a barely seaworthy navy craft through the Cape Cod Canal with the tide running several knots faster than his engines could match.
Although not a regular church-goer, my father had a strong code of right and wrong, and lived it. At the depth of the depression, as a salesman working six days a week for Firestone Tire and Rubber, he took issue with company management over a policy he considered detrimental to his customers, most of whom were struggling, first-generation retailers and garage owners who trusted his business advice. Losing the argument with headquarters, he resigned rather than comply with orders.
The admittedly untimely decision to quit was fortuitous in the long run. Now approaching his fortieth birthday, the successful salesman welcomed the opportunity to take stock and reconsider priorities. A natural writer, he had always been the engaging chronicler of family activities, with a decided talent for devising humorous verse 'a la Ogden Nash. Also, after family and friends, Father's greatest love was the town his ancestors had helped found in 1635, defended in 1775 and cherished through the incredible century that produced Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorn and the Alcotts.
The outcome of his self-appraisal seems fore-ordained. Sam Kent wanted to run a newspaper, and he wanted to run it in Concord, Massachusetts. There was just one catch the town already had two and a half newspapers, the owners of which had no intention to fold or sell.
Undaunted, the publisher-in-waiting started a small print shop and leased an under-performing weekly sheet that up to that time had been a bit of an afterthought in a chain of five papers centered in Marlborough. Thus he managed to keep food on the table while he gained experience and attracted a loyal following among readers and advertisers in town. Finally, in 1938, he got the break he had been waiting for, when the elderly owner of the Concord Journal decided it was time to retire and sell his business.
The Concord Journal that my father bought and edited for the next 34 years was more like today's Carlisle Mosquito than its own present namesake. Although definitely a for-profit enterprise, it soon became the voice of the community, written and published for that community by a man who knew and cared about his town.
During World War II, the Journal was sent free of charge to all men and women in the service,
many of whom reciprocated with riveting accounts of their own experiences on distant shores and islands. Two years ago, the Concord Museum had an exhibit covering the war years and featuring that two-way correspondence.
My father wrote editorials sparingly, husbanding his influence for issues he considered critical. To irate citizens urging him to write an editorial, he often responded, "You're the one who's mad. Why don't you write it.?" To his staff he would explain with a grin, "A good controversy sells newspapers." However, I can remember several occasions when I heard him call an over-wrought correspondent and ask, "Are you sure you want to say it that way? I think you may regret it."
In place of the compulsory editorial the editor produced a weekly column of humor and commentary, often enlivened with his own light verse and titled "Odditorials." Always popular were his stories and pictures of the antics of animals, domesticated and wild, like the mallard duck with frozen feet that showed up on the steps of Dr. Russell's veterinary office (saying, of course, "quack, quack"). Not insulted, the good doctor obliged by thawing out his pedal extremities in a bowl of cool, not warm, water, offering him a nutritious meal and sending him waddling back to the river.
As Sam Kent's daughter and only child, I am most grateful for two gifts of inestimable value that he bestowed. Ahead of his time, he brought me up to believe that a girl could and should dream as loftily as any boy. (Perhaps my suffragette mother had something to do with that). Above all he gave me the freedom to explore, make mistakes and achieve, always under a dependable umbrella of love.
At his death in 1974 the flag in the town center and on other public buildings like 51 Walden Street flew at half staff, and the Saturday high school football game began with a moment of silence. He would have been pleased.
A self-made, and re-made, man
I'm the very youngest in the family, and I lost both of my parents when I was in my early twenties, so much of this book proved a revelation to me. I felt that, in a way, I was meeting my parents all over again, this time as an adult. Perhaps most of all, I was struck by how much of my father's life was comprised of fresh starts. As a mother of grown kids, I often find myself wondering what, if anything, is next for me. My dad has helped to point the way.
My father had the good fortune to play football at Notre Dame under the coaching of Knute Rockne during the early 1920s. As a member of the Seven Mules, he and his teammates supported the Four Horsemen through a fabled season at Notre Dame that ended with a win at the Rose Bowl. After graduation, he coached football himself, primarily the Tarheels at the University of North Carolina, where he met my mother. As they started a family, my dad decided coaching was not secure enough, so he returned to Notre Dame for his law degree. However, somehow he ended up in the shipping business and never used that degree at least not for a long while.
Years went by and the shipping business was good to my father and he was raising his three sons (all of whom went to Notre Dame, of course) with pride, and then, when he was 50 years old, he found he was to be a father again. (My mother was 47 when she received this earth-shaking news, but hers is a story for another time.) Though common now, in 1953 very few men became fathers at the same time they entered their fifties. My father took on the adventure with humor, facing my arrival as a second chance at fatherhood. If you ask my brothers, they will describe a father who could be distant, but by the time I came along, he was a warm, laughing man who doted on the daughter who often bemused him.
I was reminded, as I paged through the scrapbook, that my father was transferred to New Jersey from Oak Park, Illinois, where he was born, when he was 53 years old. Probably not an unusual event, even by 1956 standards, but I was pleasantly surprised, and more than a little proud, to find out from old newspaper articles that he ran for town commissioner within three years of moving to Ridgewood. This commitment to town government played a big part in his later years, I knew, but what I never realized was how quickly he plunged in once he arrived east.
When most men are looking forward to retirement, my dad took another right-hand turn. At 63, he left his job as executive vice-president for Universal Carloading, deciding instead to open a small-town law office in our hometown. To do this, he became the oldest man in New Jersey history to take the bar exam. The scrapbook features an article from our local paper, detailing how my dad took the bar exam not once, but twice (having failed a section the first year) and there is a picture of him, beaming at the camera from in front of a bookcase filled with his law books. The photo shows not just his pride, but I also catch a sense of adventure in his eyes. He went on to serve the town as its appointed village attorney for years, working closely with the board of commissioners and several mayors. At the same time, he set up a law practice that included two of his sons, and that still exists today.
Looking at my dad's legacy, I realize that it has something to inspire me in all the phases of my life. Right now, it speaks not of endings but beginnings, of shutting doors and opening windows. My father has been gone for 25 years now, but a life led by good example can speak across the distance of years. He's still teaching me.
Dad bought only Chrysler products except once. He worked his way up the line Dodge, Plymouth, DeSoto, and Imperial. Whether he discussed each new purchase with my mom is unclear, but usually he would just come home with a new model and enjoy surprising us. When I was in junior high, Dad picked me up in a shiny new green DeSoto with lots of chrome. I was surprised, and embarrassed, too, at my dad's extravagance, since my friends' parents kept their cars until parts started falling away on the highway.
That DeSoto soon became my love, too. It was the car my dad taught me to drive when I was only fourteen. This was his idea and I was ecstatic. One fall, Dad and I spent most Sunday afternoons on quiet country roads where, under the uncurious gaze of cows and a few sheep, I learned to drive illegally.
Dad was an excellent driver and teacher. There was the time I nicked a parked car a block from our house and vowed dramatically that I would never drive again. After we left a note for the unsuspecting owner, I started to walk home, but Dad persuaded me to get back in the car and drive. By the time I got my learner's permit and took driver's ed. in high school, I was a pretty competent and cautious driver.
Those driving lessons weren't all about shifting gears and parallel parking. This was my special time with my father, when we talked and talked. Probably I talked and talked about my teenage problems boys, friends, homework, parties and he listened. Those golden afternoons amid cornfields and cows are my most precious memories of my dad. His sound judgment, wisdom, integrity, sensitivity, and sense of humor transformed driving lessons into lessons on life for a fourteen-year-old girl, but of course I didn't know it then.
Now, the exception to the Chrysler brand. In my senior year, Dad showed up at school in a champagne-colored Cadillac his own personal cream puff that undoubtedly proclaimed that he had made it in the New World. Two weeks later, it was in the auto shop for some minor repair. A mechanic with a propane torch was working on the car next to my dad's and got a bit too close to the Caddy's exhaust pipe. The Caddy went up in flames. The mechanic survived, and my dad mourned his lost dream. Then, having realized the error of his ways, he slunk back to the Chrysler dealer and with the insurance money bought an elegant gray Imperial. It was followed, predictably, three years later by another one. The "Impy" was the last car my dad would own before he died. My mom drove it for many more years, breaking the three-year cycle.
Last month I went back to my hometown to visit friends. Inevitably, one afternoon I drove along one of those narrow, deserted back roads where long ago I had learned about driving and about life. Somewhere, amid the pastures and the woods and the cows, my dad was close by.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito