Tuesday, September 22, 2009

National Johnny Blake Day

I recently found and scanned a very old Polaroid picture – which obviously did not get “fixed” properly – of one of the important people in my early and rather unorthodox childhood. And I decided to share it with you.



John Shelley Blake

From 2nd grade through high school, he was almost like an additional parent. He lived in a house he had built on my grandparents’ land on the shore of Lake Pearl in Wrentham, Massachusetts. His existence in my life also says a lot about the kind of people my grandparents were.

Before I was born, my grandfather was working in the yard when Johnny came walking along South Street, his life’s belongings in a sack on his back, a 1940’s hobo, who had previously worked for the circus. He asked my grandfather if he could sleep in the barn for the night if he helped with the work. The deal was made but they offered him dinner as well and talked late into the night and forming a friendship. So Johnny lived in the barn for awhile, working on the land.

Eventually, my grandfather let him build a small shack down on Lake Pearl. Over the years, Johnny added beautifully crafted rooms to the lake cottage and somewhere along the line my grandparents sold him the land for $1.00.

Johnny was an inventor, a mystic, a collector of old esoteric books, and a jack-of-all trades. He never needed much money and made a meager living by selling predictions of which horses would win at a nearby harness racing track. Predictions he made by doing astrological charts of the horses.

But mostly I remember almost every day during the summertime, running down the 50 or 60 wooden steps to his brightly colored shack he had named “Polaris” and when he caught sight of me he’d call out in his unbelievably gravelly voice, “Hey, Maxxy!” I never knew why he called me “Maxxy,” but I loved it. He taught me to fish and canoe. If weather was bad, around the glowing wood-burning pot-bellied stove in his small kitchen we’d talk about ghosts, foreign lands, black magic and the circus. And he always had some complicated Rube Goldberg invention or Mr. Wizard science experiment he was working on.

When it came to adopting hoboes and giving away prime lakefront property, my grandparents had wonderful judgment. I have no memory of when his birthday was and it’s quite probable that he didn’t know himself…so I’ve decided to make an executive decision to proclaim September 22nd as National Johnny Blake Day.

19 comments:

  1. You should write a book!

    REALLY!

    xxx

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  2. I love it! You do tell a wonderful tale and Johnny came alive! How marvelous of your grandfather! And what a wonderful person to have a place in your childhood memories! You do write a good story, Mark. Thanks for sharing. I shall celebrate National Johnny Blake day tomorrow -- it's 11:30 here in WA!

    Great!

    Sylvia

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  3. What a wonderful story! I also will celebrate National Johnny Blake Day tomorrow. Hope he doesn't mind sharing with Blue September, tomorrow is the day dedicated to Prostate Cancer and I will be dying my hair blue to work on a stall to raise money for the cause. I think, somehow, he would approve.

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  4. Thanks, Pauline for reminding me about Prostate Cancer Day. I will have myself a moment of silence for my own prostate which currently rests in peace in some medical waste dump. I realize that sounds kind of depressing, but I'm not sad for it...it had a good life.

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  5. Happy Johnny Blake Day! I'll have to mark in on our calendar to remember for next year!

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  6. I always thought we needed another holiday! Wonderful story!

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  7. Oh yes Johnny Blake. I have a Mr. Bob in my life story too. I will blog about him some time. I guess this means your puter is up and running? Do you like coffee? My son has a new blog. He grinds his own coffee. You might enjoy. http://pugmonk.blogspot.com. Don't know how to link you, just have to do it yourself.
    QMM

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  8. September the 22nd is a good day to celebrate happiness! It is amazing when a guy like Johnny Blake comes into your life and "wonderfulness" transpires. Our little corner of blog land is blessed to share the ramblings of B&B, brilliant author and weaver of tall tales. Thank you for adding sparkle to my morning coffee today.

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  9. I think that's a wonderful picture--made more lovely by the imperfections. Great story.

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  10. Wow, what a seriosly cool childhood you had!

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  11. Wow, what a story! Happy Johnny Blake Day - lovely photo, too.

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  12. What a lovely story and tribute. How lucky you were to have such good parents, and such an interesting 3rd adult to nurture your growing spirit. Imagine if he knew there were all these people saying "happy Johnny Blake Day", because of you!

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  13. I love the photo -- I think it's way more interesting in its current form that it would have been if it had developed as intended. And the story of Johnny B is fascinating, as is your grandparents' example of kindness and curiosity.

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  14. I love this story. Do you have any photos of the shack or of his creative endeavors? Your grandparents were very trusting and generous. so cool.

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  15. Happy Birthday John Shelley Blake!

    What happened to him?

    You know I love that photo, don't you? It "fixed" in all the right places.

    If anyone has any land to give away for a dollar, give me a call.

    We should be working on a My Town Friday Shootout Calender. I have thought about it before but it passed me by. We could pick the best of the best photos and have people vote on cool dates to remember. Blake's birthday would certainly make the cut.

    Wonderful post.

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  16. I think there's a book AND a movie in this story - it's wonderful. Tell'em you want Ron Howard to direct the movie and all of us "Our Towners" will show up for the premiere!

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  17. Happy Johnny Blake day!!! He sounds like a great individual and a great character. Any pictures of the cabin he built?

    Astrological charts for horses? Maybe I'll try that, been thinking of going to the local race track...

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