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Leaving Darien--August 24, 1967
Almost everyone who grows up in Darien ends up leaving sooner or later, even if only for a few years. My departure would be a decisive break for me, though I always have felt that Darien has a claim on me that far exceeds the time I spent there. I left in the Summer of 1967.
I finished (did we "graduate" from Junior High in those years?) Middlesex Junior High in June 1967. That summer I was already working out with the high school football team. We were already mowing the lawn at our new home on Old Parish Lane in Darien, near the high school. School would start in two weeks; I could hardly wait to see my friends and walk the halls of the high school where my mother had graduated in 1946 (though at a different location). But then came the news that my father would be transferred from the Data Processing division of Metropolitan Life (NYC) to head up that division in San Francisco. We left quickly, with few if any good-byes.
From New England Chill to San Francisco "Cool"
So our family of six (four boys, aged 7-17) packed into our 1967 Ford Fairlane Station Wagon, CT plates 603.909, and headed West. It was an epic journey; when I visited my mother thirty years later while she was still in CA, I talked about the trip with her. She quickly excused herself and returned with a box of receipts from the trip, starting with the $44 bill for two rooms at the Darien Howard Johnson's the night before we left. We recounted the details of that story like a pioneer family crossing the plains.
We arrived in California the day before school was to begin. Our family had bought a house in Atherton, the tony suburb of San Francisco, but the house wasn't ready for us, and so we stayed a week at a local motel until it was ready. I will always recall doing my first week of Algebra II homework with my feet dangling in a motel pool in neighboring Menlo Park, while the Bee Gees' recently released hit "Holiday" was playing in the background.
Though Menlo-Atherton High School was highly-ranked in CA, it was nothing like the world of Darien. I knew that, if I wanted, I could just start my own holiday, singing along with the Bee Gees. It was so different. The school was recently integrated, and we had race riots the first week of school; the school was closed for a few days; I had no idea what was going on.
I met kids who just seemed to be different from my Darien friends. Many of the guys were jeans-wearing, flower-festooned, reefer-smoking hipsters that I had never previously experienced. After all, the "Summer of Love" had just happened in San Francisco the previous two months, and people were still in the glow of those events. I, who still wore a jacket and tie to Church on Sundays, was ill-equipped to deal with this world. A few years later sociologist Alvin Toffler would coin the term "future shock" to describe the dissonance felt by people who were overwhelmed by the new impinging on the old; I didn't have the word, but I still remember the feeling.
On one occasion a guy came up to me and, in what I felt was a slightly menacing tone, asked if I had some grass. Nervous and overwhelmed, I just mumbled, "I cut it in the summer time." The word started to get around that I must be from some hick place--perhaps Nebraska. It took me a full year, making all-league in football and setting the sophomore shot put record for the school, to start to earn some status for myself. As with Middlesex Junior High, I became student body treasurer of my high school my final year.
A New Life
I returned East for college (Brown University) in Fall 1970; I completed all my education in the East and in Europe before embarking on two careers over the years: one in the history of religions (mostly teaching) and one in law (practice and teaching). As my 50th high school reunions for both schools impend, I find myself, perhaps not so strangely, thinking of Darien as my high school, even though I never attended one class in the high school. It is people like I mentioned in the previous essay, and the deep memories of family and friends from that place that have convinced me, in my 68th year, that Darien is my home.