Thursday, June 14, 2012

Back Story: Not a tall tale

I was reminded of this story at our Nonprofit Network meeting earlier this week. Top staff of local NPs that actually have staff meet bimonthly in an effort to foster the sharing of resources and other collaborations. Meetings are informal and frequently go off without an agenda, mostly because we spend so much time talking about what's been going on in our various shops that, by the time we have made it around the conference table, we don't have time for other business.

At this particular meeting, it was suggested that with the impending arrival of summer, in addition to shop talk, we throw in some memories from a favorite summer vacation. I was fortunate to be one of the last people to speak so, by the time it was my turn, I had armed myself with the following episode from my youth, expanded here because I have the time and space to do so:

In 1953, when I was eight years old and living in the Borough of Queens in New York City, there was an epidemic of polio. With summer coming on, the city was in near panic. The thinking was that with the heat and the kids out of school and being exposed to one another in typical summer activities, there was an increased risk of contracting the crippling and sometimes fatal disease.

My parents were desperate to get my two sisters and me out of the city for the summer. Fortunately, my father had a friend who summered in Vermont and knew of a cottage on Lake Champlain that was available for a summer rental. This turned out to be the first in a long line of such summer vacations, mostly on eastern Long Island, and later when I would marry and have kids of my own, in Kennebunkport, Maine, always on the water. (I also did a four-year hitch in the Coast Guard. But that's another story.)

It was a wonderful place for a kid my age: I had a rowboat with an outboard motor; we fished and swam; played in the woods; and there were plenty of boys my age to hang out with. One of them lived in the house next door and became my best friend for the summer. He was a local nine-year-old named Billy Kidd, a nonstop talker and a teller of tall tales.

One day my old man took the family on a day trip to Mount Mansfield in Stowe. Even then, it was a major ski area and they ran the main chairlift in the summer to take tourists to the top where they would have an excellent view of the Green Mountains. We took Billy along for the ride,

As we were ascending in the lift, he kept pointing out to me all the different trails where he had allegedly skied. "I ski over there, and I ski over there, and I ski over there," he said pointing to what seemed to me to be sheer cliffs that would be impossible for even an adult to ski down. Billy had told me some big ones over the summer, but this really took the prize.

1953 was the only year we summered in Vermont. Eight and nine-year-old boys don't really stay in touch. The next time I heard Billy's name was in 1964 when he won a silver medal in the men's Olympic slalom, becoming the first American to win an Olympic medal in Alpine Skiing. He would go on to win a World Cup title and win on the professional ski circuit. He has lived most of his life as a ski bum in Colorado. This is no tall tale...

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