A Berkshire Boyhood … an interesting memoir by Bob Begiebing, founder of the SNHU MFA program. A 1946 baby boomer, young Robert hated both school and church, and often sought the comfort of the woods outside a later Begiebing home in Williamstown, Massachusetts (which I took a look-see at with Google Maps—cool place at Idle and Gayle Roads alongside the Taconic Golf Club). His dad, in the Navy during World War II, also played trumpet for both jazz and big bands. As so many musicians were (are?), he was also a ladies man who found comfort outside his marital bed, at least partly due to the sexual restrictions of his wife’s devotion to her religion. Somehow the two remained together and never divorced. Bob dedicated his memoir to his parents ... "Who found peace beyond this world."
I probably shouldn’t have been, but I was surprised to find so many similarities in Bob’s baby-boomer youth and my own (I was born ten years AB—After Bob). Mostly what I enjoyed was reading how the boys of Bob’s youth were being boys (desperate for girls and some of the wilder forms of excitement). Breaking up the home of a friend was even wilder than anything we did in my Brooklyn youth. How the boys were caught up in a frenzy was interesting (we’ve all done things we knew were wrong and did them anyway), but busting up a house was somewhat shocking. Those crazy country kids! I nicknamed Bob, Bobby Bada-Bing at my graduation a couple of years ago (2 already?) … but that was because I struggled pronouncing his last name. After reading about some of his escapades as a young man, I’d say he earned Bada-Bing at age fifteen.
Bob’s reflections on family and friends brought about some calm to this getting-up-there-way-too-fast-for-comfort middle-aged Brooklyn boy. I especially liked his reflection on Catholic confessions, citing Mary McCarthy’s Memoirs of a Catholic Girlhood. “… Like Mary McCarthy, I began to feel I could spend the rest of my life oscillating between guilt and forgiveness, damnation and salvation …” I do wonder if creative minds not only require mental space to roam and be inquisitive, but also view all forms of dogma as restrictive and more often harmful than helpful.
Falling in love as a kid was/is easy. Getting the girl you’re in love with to notice was/is something else. Bob found himself in close proximity to the girl he loved (Samantha), but their age difference (he was two years younger) precluded any real shot at landing the lass (and who hasn’t been there before?) Some of the hijinks of the Gale Road gang (Bob and his friends on his street) were pretty commonplace, but one can feel the angst in getting caught sneaking peeks through a wall with a view into a shower.
Bob was one of 4 Begiebings, brought up in Massachusetts and later in California. Bob opted for a life of literature after going through a bout with farm work when he was younger. Determined not to have to lift and haul the rest of his life, he began to take reading and writing seriously about the time he went to college. I remember working construction two summers and learning fast how inept I was at all things “construction” … it didn’t stop me from becoming a window cleaner first, but window cleaning sure pushed me back to college and a pursuit of something I suspect creative minds cannot live without—to be creative.
There’s a nice Q and A at the end of Bob’s memoir in which Bob explains to an anonymous colleague some of what moved him and the Gale Road gang. From comedians (Mort Sahl), to books and drama (Catcher in the Rye, Death of a Salesman, Salinger’s Glass family stories, etc.). There was something beneath the counter-revolutionary protests and other escapades of the 60’s ("the excesses and silliness") that was sparked during Bob’s 1950’s youth. I often wonder what lies ahead for my granddaughter and all the other kids her age. Further enlightenment or a grounding into dust of the human spirit. Me, I’m not so sure what comes next, but at this stage of my life, I’ll be glad not to have to bear witness to it.
A Berkshire Boyhood is a fun and an interesting read, whether you know the author or not. I only know Bob in a fairly cursory manner (he was the guy I spoke to when I first began the enrollment process to the SNHU MFA program he founded). We spoke just a very words to one another (with Bob saying something nice about my fiction submission—a short story I continue to write 3 years down the road), and I hoping to hell that my physical appearance didn’t make him think, “Oh, Jesus, now we did it. We let in one of the cretins.”
Robert J. Begiebing is the author of thirty articles and stories, a play, and six books, including an historical New England trilogy of novels spanning 1648-1850. His final novel in the trilogy Rebecca Wentworth’s Distraction (UPNE, 2003), won the Langum Prize for historical fiction in 2003. The first novel in the trilogy The Strange Death of Mistress Coffin (Algonquin, 1991, 1996) was chosen as a Main Selection for the Mystery and Literary Guild Book Clubs, has been optioned for a film, and is now available from the University Press of New England in a new 20th anniversary e-book and hardcopy edition. His novels, including a third book in the trilogy The Adventures of Allegra Fullerton (UPNE 1999, 2001), have been widely and favorably reviewed in The New York Times, The Times of London, The Los Angeles Times, Publisher’s Weekly, Yankee Magazine, and Library Journal, among many other national and regional periodicals. He is also the author of two critical books on twentieth-century fiction and an historical anthology of nature writing in English since the 18th century.
His fiction writing has been supported by grants from the Lila-Wallace Foundation and the New Hampshire Council for the Arts. In 2007, Governor John Lynch appointed Begiebing to the Council for the Arts. In 2009 he served as one of the inaugural faculty members at the Norman Mailer Writers’ Colony. He has been a finalist judge for the Langum Prize in historical fiction twice (2009-2010) and a member of the board of trustees for the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. He currently serves on the board of the Norman Mailer Society and on the editorial board of The Mailer Review.
He is Founding Director of the Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction at Southern NH University, where he has won three awards for excellence in teaching and is currently Professor of English Emeritus.
Season of the Witch … James Leo Herlihy, a look back at the wild and crazy late 60’s early 70’s through the eyes of a young woman (Gloria) and her gay friend (Roy) as they reject the bourgeois life and opt for tree-hugging in various urban cities, including New York and Toronto. They live the commune life amongst other hipsters, exploring drugs and sex while pursuing a search for Gloria’s father (which winds up a bit too close for comfort). It’s written in journalistic style, but is really a series of stream of consciousness Gloria can’t stop herself from writing. Interesting, but not as good as All Fall Down (last week’sreview). Midnight Cowboy just arrived at Casa Stella Friday afternoon so I’ll be on to that very soon. James Leo Herlihy was a GREAT writer and extremely creative soul I knew nothing about until I decided to explore some used books on amazon.
A fund raiser to an animal Sanctuary … and you’re ALL INVITED! James (The Diamond Collar) Giuliani and the entire cast of the show (Lena, Dr. Sal, Irene and Primo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) will be there. There will be two bands, raffles, celebrities, forgetaboutit … a beautiful thing!
Friday, May 2nd at 10:00 p.m. at the Cutting Room ...
Hey, I’m going … the Principessa Ann Marie will be there (dancing fools that we are) … and the last time I saw James, I was 355 … I could weigh in around 315 (give or take a few tons) … guess the weight and win a book (or a cookie). Not to worry, I’ll bring plenty of cookies.
The Bands that will perform at the Fund Raiser at The Cutting Room (Thursday, May 2nd, 10:00 p.m.) …
Erin Sax …
Brad Cole …