Contributors, Tom Sheehan

Tom Sheehan

Tom Sheehan, a Pushcart Prize nominee, writes in several different genres and makes it a point to create every day. He has published 28 books with more in process. His short story works—A Collection of Friends, From the Quickening, In the Garden of Long Shadows, Epic Cures, and Brief Cases, Short Spans—all include a very special character, his hometown of Saugus, Massachusetts. You can learn more about his work from his author’s page on Amazon. Tom served in the 31st Infantry, Korea in 1951-1952, graduated from Boston College in 1956, and retired from Raytheon in 1991. He’s seen every Patriots game since first year, from the stands or via TV, and was inducted into the Saugus High School Sports Hall of Fame.

View Tom’s writing on New England Memories:

Creative Nonfiction, Tom Sheehan

Talk from the Back of Tim’s Barn

by Tom Sheehan

These were more than echoes, the soft sounds I was hearing from the rear of the barn sitting back from Route 182 in Franklin, Maine, half a dozen fat pigs to one side, corn as deep as Iowa on the other side, and the terrain across the road flush with blueberry bushes until a slow rise tipped the landscape in its favor…and in mine. In my son Tim’s favor, too. He lives by this barn. Perhaps I had lived waiting for its sassy voices.

There, in his barn, I was a listener as well as a watcher. Maine mornings, even on summer days, are placid and huge as glaciers, and crawl into the mind through more than one sense. But there you have it: Maine mornings are also like Maine barns, always having something to say to you, shaking you awake as if the scruff of your neck is in their hands, leaving a bit of dust for memory’s sake. These wooden memorials to sweat and old time crept into my notes years ago, promising poetry. Now they creep out again, reasserting their observations, touching memory as I look at old journals of trips through Maine.

I’ve seen northern barns announced by Bull Durham signs, or knotted, vertical boards twisting their long signatures, saying how long they’ve been at the job. At another glance, usually from some rise in the road, a ridgepole shows its tendency to sag, to bend under duress. A ridgepole draws down into itself in the manner of implosion. Maine barns have their own signatures. They leap at me from Kittery to Fort Kent, from Eastport to Westford, from Calais to Kezar Falls.

My son Tim’s barn was once a schoolhouse. In fact, it was once the schoolhouse in Franklin; and was called the Ryefield School. Is that name so simply conceived? Can I really see the waving grain? I would grant that it is, and after one final graduation of sorts, and gentled by the slow, steady, plodding rough draft of 100 oxen, it was dragged from its first setting to the land he now farms there, just below the Little League Field. Now it houses a home-made 50-gallon-drum stove, a tractor for all purposes, a Harley motorcycle past its prime, tools an inveterate collector would love because the labor expended with them is almost visible to a keen eye. And leather goods have hung so long on one wall their legends are inscribed like vertical signboards. On one wide-planked bench taking up one wall, sits a Jonsered chainsaw I used for twenty years in the Topsfield State Forest fighting the cost of oil; my gift to Maine winters and a warm hearth. Tim says it still operates with a vengeance. I’ve passed my former strengths on to him.

One would also be keen to know how many McGuffey Readers had passed through this old barn on the way to intelligence, awareness, imagination, above and beyond ‘ritin, and ‘rithmetic. That revelation would take the highest art of contemplation.

Yet it is not the only barn he has. Here, they come in twins. Just across the yard, closer to the road, over a slab board fence we erected one day a few years ago to keep the corn in and the horses out, past the 40-50 foot long, 4-foot high walls of logs set for the next winter, sits another barn. Which one predates the other, I have no idea, but this second barn has housed Tony the pony, sheep, goats, ducks, chickens, and mice to be sure, and perhaps a small army of termites, dust beetles, unusual mandible-carrying critters intent on destruction. It is sure that such creatures come the same way and at the same speed that erosion hits Mother Earth herself, a slow onslaught and assault you may not be able to see, but you sure have to fix, “once the weather gits good enough for toolin’,” as Tim might now say in adoptive speech.

From its stalls, its storage bins, its freezer against one wall standing like a foreign icon, has often come the entire meal at his table. Squash stuffed with sausage, sweet and regular Maine spuds, green beans so thick they could choke you, tomatoes red as Old Glory, ham in slices so sweet and so thick they seem without end, and salty enough to have been dragged through the surf a few miles away. I think now of rhubarb pie, apple pie, blueberry pie or blueberry muffins with a thickly spun heavy cream taking your breath away. If there was one thing that exists now and one thing existing back when the Ryefield School was first built, the meals are the same; “They stick,” as my mother used to say about oatmeal, “to the very backbone that carries your day.”

Some barns know how to kneel in their slow absorption; Tim’s barns do, looking over their shoulders, sighing and whispering in these Maine-gray mornings. They tolerate what is happening to them, host squadrons gnawing at time, creatures busy as downtown Saturday nights, ceding fathoms to dark hungers. The twist of checked timbers sit silent as skulls and implant another night of survival upon the landscape. It is why I love old Maine barns.

Even in the summer lofts, there are dreams to rediscover, re-awake. Barns have a right to keep their odors, their signatures, and silence in the mows.

A poet friend says his barn accepts the graces of early October evening. He swears that miniature shadows stroll cautious as kittens out of hay-golden eaves. The mow is night itself, a spectral darkness inflated against hazardous roofing where a dozen knot holes pinpoint a constellation and long against morning light reveal the truth of north. Wall nails and spikes are crucial with their evidence. Old leather traces, bridles, other gear that bays or roans sweat into, hang limp as bookmarks marking a thousand journeys one man has taken into town and back.

Friend says his father’s great gray horse, Humboldt by name, froze standing up in ’38. That magnificent creature, leg broken, heart-heaving, brought the gentleman safely to his final bed. Only the barn remains, October light fissuring through checked walls. Even the photographs are gone. Fire, pasture and old age have captured everything, except the barn that revolved axially above his father’s eyes, stabs of light drifting through this dark planetarium. Oh, how I envy his memories, the tales he might have spilled if they were his calling.

For all the standing still, there’s action, warming, aging, the bowing of an old Maine barn, the ultimate genuflection we might miss if we don’t pause on the road, take a breath, smell the old barn itself beside beds of roses.

You can bet those barns talk to me, their voices thick, hoarse, Scot and Irish in the making, wind-blown off mountains, lonely for the listening.

~

Creative Nonfiction, Tom Sheehan

The Catch of the Day

by Tom Sheehan

Three of us were tight as a fist, and Eddie’s call came at 4:00 in the morning. His whisper, not wanting to wake his wife, said “Great storm at sea last night. Want to check the beach?” I knew he had called Ray already. Eddie knew false dawn practically every day of his adult life, his internal clock telling him not to miss anything the dawn brought along behind it. An awakening grace on my end also told me it was Saturday. That’s all it took in the darkness beside my wife, turning, stretching, eyes blinking, rolling over, going back to sleep. She knew it was Saturday too.

Once before, after a storm out on the Atlantic, we had found a dozen quahogs at Nahant Beach, picked them off the sands with an assortment of sea clams on the mile of curving beach along the causeway linking islanded and insular Nahant to the City of Lynn. For years we swam at Nahant Beach, celebrated with evening cookouts, and watched the girls on long summer days.

In silence, in darkness until I reached the kitchen, I left a note for my wife: “Storm at sea last night. Will be at Nahant looking for quahogs to stuff and bake. Eddie called. Ray and I are going.”

The morning was special. A summer nip climbed in the air, saying, as ever, that Saturdays are full of expectations—all you have to do is keep your eyes on the faintest line of the horizon where sky and sea make their ocular mix.

We did not bring baskets or bags (that would call for too much organization), but hurried to view the scene, not to be left out of the treasure yield the storm and Father Atlantic might have tossed onto the beach. On the way, in Ray’s car, an old green Studebaker that smoked and made strange noises, we talked about grinding them up for baked stuffed quahogs for munching during TV hockey games, or for freezing them, after being ground up, to use in Thanksgiving turkey stuffing. Some would be earmarked for adding to the menu of a corn and lobster clambake classic in one yard or another, and large copper pots loaded with seaweed sitting atop several joined camp stoves.

In our five mile ride to Nahant there was little traffic, the sun just burping over the horizon, all of Europe halfway through its day. We hit the beach, and were stunned; in front of us was the mother lode from Father Atlantic. As far as we could see, along the strand stretching away from us in a long curve, the beach was littered with quahogs and sea clams, all sizes, tossed like stars, fragments of an inordinate explosion. In joy and surprise we screamed at each other for not bringing baskets or plastic bags to carry off the loot. Hunger tantrums made way on us. The forgotten taste of baked stuffed quahogs came back in a hurry. Tabasco sauce, a glass of wine or a glass of beer, a kiss from the wild Atlantic. Wives would bustle, demanding condiments as varied as kitchen wallpaper, tastes born of hunger, experience, aromas brought back from mothers off on the long forever ride.

Scrambling for anything to carry them in the trunk of the car, we found an old pair of wading boots and two old work jackets. We rushed up and down the beach, filling all the limbs of those boots and the jackets, lugging them to the car. We filled the trunk and then the back seat. It was exhausting work, running back and fro, waiting for the hungry crowd to come over the horizon, to get their share.

We thought the morning was as complete as it ever could be, the three of us, Pine River fisherman, trout fisherman, who were mesmerized by sea food…lobster, clams, shrimp, the catch of the day stuffed and baked, broiled in the back yard over an open fire and matched with August treasures taken from our own gardens.

But, in another wake-up call, along the paved walk of the strand, on an old-fashioned skinny-tire bicycle, which might be next seen in the Antique Roadshow, going slow, studying the beach, came an elderly gent. He wore a shirt and tie, on a Saturday, and a blazer. His shoes shined like a car bumper just out of the car wash. Clean, creased, neat as rows of peas in the garden, he appeared as if he was ready to perform a ceremony, judge a criminal case, present the future to any audience looking over its shoulder. He was thin and wiry, but not squirrely. Something told me this straight-standing man was on the same hunt that we were, but likely it was more of a mission, a command he had accepted. The neatness came from long habit.

We asked him if this was his regular morning constitutional from Nahant, to pedal the causeway out and back, to keep fit what was an 80-year-old body, at least.

“Not really,” he said with a soft smile. “My wife Mirabel, she’s sitting at home waiting for me, we’ve been married almost 60 years, sent me out to see if I could find a couple of quahogs she could stuff and bake tonight. She knows her weather patterns, the tide climbing and leaving the rocks of Nahant, what happens out at sea that she can read sitting back here in a house she’s lived in for more than 60 years; I’m not sure how many years. I know if I’m successful on my search, she’ll pull like magic out of her hat a nice bottle of wine from some place in the house, and we’ll have ourselves a grand evening. Rich salt air, a little wine, music from a favorite old opera, and baked stuffed quahogs.”

The lip-smacking was in order. “It can’t get any better than that.” He smiled the soft smile again.

He was not out to beat anybody. The old man, we believed, at that moment between the tides and forever after, had found Nirvana and Utopia.

Ray, quick to spread his wealth, opened the trunk of the car. Quahogs, like huge coins, spilled onto the pavement. We filled the little basket sitting across the handlebars of the old gent’s bike. A dozen quahogs, loaded with promise, sat like the riches of the Orient. The air was special. Saturday was special.

Eddie said, “Do you want us to follow you home and make a special delivery, a big delivery.”

“Oh, dear, no,” the old gent said. “That would only spoil it.”

To a man we knew what he meant.

We never saw him again. We never saw the beach littered like that again. We never made that trip again, time having its way, and mortality. But I think about it often, and all the players on that special Saturday.

~

Poetry, Tom Sheehan

Night Forgery

by Tom Sheehan

Just before dawn
a shadow makes tracks
in the dew‑lit grass.

Later, a whisper
and a scent follow
the forsaken imprints

Not a leaf stirs,
but if I watch closely,
blades of grass ease upright,

a loam granule
is released to airs
staggering under stars,

and the whisper, vague,
is familiar, perhaps stripped
from gists of old conversations.

Years ago
at a Red Sox game I
became separated from my father.

All the goblins
of young creation hung over
my hysteria, poked at my terror.

When he found me,
pawed, frayed, diminished,
he said he’d never leave me again.

This soft forging
in the night grass
is a kept word, a vow.