Tuesday, September 22, 2009
National Johnny Blake Day
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.