3/25/2007

Hector Patscot

When I was born, my parents and I lived either with or very near Hector Patscot. We moved far away when I was about five months old, so I don’t remember any details from that time.

Later, when I was nine, we moved back to Long Island, where Hector and his growing family had moved. As families do, we gravitated to a different branch of the family, and didn’t visit anyone very much.

Things had never been entirely smooth for my parents, and when I was eleven, they divorced. After a long and complicated swirl of events, the dust cleared and my mother was re-married in Wisconsin, my sister and I were with my single father on Long Island.

We made adjustments. I suppose nobody was really happy. My father’s parents lived with us for a while, and then they moved on to a new home.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I lived mostly in my own world, grudgingly and unenthusiastically doing whatever I couldn’t get out of doing in this world. I didn’t pay very much attention to anything anyone else was doing.

The Bible says not to worry, each day has its own problems, and that seemed exactly right to me. I could count on some undreamed of event occuring each day, and if God forgot to send a disaster today, He would make up for it tomorrow.

So it was no particular surprise to wake up one Saturday morning to hear strange voices in the house. ‘Uncle John’ (Hector) and Aunt Florence were standing around on the filthy rug in the living room, dressed like ‘Sunday-go-to-meeting’. My sister and I were told to get dressed, take what we needed, and get in the car.

My instant reaction was resentment that these people who I barely knew were coming in here and bossing us around. But then I noticed how they were acting. My Aunt was looking sad but determined. I didn’t know she was usually like that.

Hector was a different story. I don’t think he really wanted to be there. He had enough troubles of his own. The worst of them was his sense of duty, which is what he was there for. It would not have been possible for him to do anything else.

I lived in Hector’s house for about two years, trying to adjust to living with six or seven other people as part of a family. Needless to say, this wasn’t enough time to really learn how to cope with a family situation, but I made a lot of progress. ‘Uncle Daddy’ helped.

When I returned to my father’s house, I re-adjusted to the situation, but at a somewhat higher level. I learned to become part of and to exploit a larger community. Even though much of what I did then was not socially acceptable, I was participating in society. I was making choices, even if they were limited and often unwise. I was fourteen.

Then there was another crisis with the same solution. Hector Patscot.
Now living in Northport, the Patscot house was a buzz of activity, and I participated. I remained an individual, but I found respect for others and learned to cooperate more. I felt that the future might not be simply a numb repetition of the past, but might actually get better. I discovered hope.

In the spring of the first year I was instructed to help put the boat in shape for summer. I worked on it some, but without much enthusiasm. It was work, after all, and I had no feeling that I could gain any benefit from it. But after one summer of weekends and occasional evenings on the water, my perspective changed. Before the following spring arrived, as soon as it seemed to me that the snow was gone, I began sanding the boat.

I hadn’t believed I would be trusted to participate in boating activities. But Hector trusted me, responsibly, and so I trusted him. And I got my first lessons in the work/reward connection.

There was also a change in school. I had previously felt I was going to school to get my head filled with a required base of information. I felt no responsibility for it. But my changing attitude allowed me to think of education as acquiring knowledge for my future enjoyment. I still thought of this as a subversive idea rather than the actual goal of schooling, but that was an improvement.

And there WAS something I enjoyed. I got into music at school. At sixteen, there was clearly no hope of learning music as any kind of useful thing. It was, at best, recreation. There were skills to learn. Mastery was out of the question, but I could progress at a modest pace. I found joy in little victories. It was also another avenue for emotional expression.

I also became a better citizen. Don’t laugh! The anti-social behavior I exhibited prior to Northport was no longer acceptable to me because I believed there was someone at home who cared. And I cared, too. My reasons were probably a bit pragmatic, but I wanted to ‘not-harm’ my family. And I thought of it as my family.

When I was called away from Hector’s house, to go upstate where my father had moved, I was hurt. For three months I was treated as I had been in the past, but having recently felt loved, this was like going to hell. Worse, I didn’t understand it.

Then I was pushed into the service, which might have saved my life, but it gave me no joy. I managed to mostly stay out of trouble though I felt oppressed. I was, of course, but that comes with the territory.

When I got out of the service I went to Northport without a thought. I just went home. When Hector told me I was an adult and would have to pay rent, I was stopped for about fifteen seconds. By then I realized it the right thing to do.

I needed a job, so the obvious choice was to go to work with Hector at the machine shop. You can be a rookie anywhere. After a couple of weeks, Hector pointed out a car for sale down the street. I bought it and drove it to & from work every day until I got my license.

Once I had my license, it was only natural that I reached out to find the new limits of my world. I moved out of Hector’s house, and got a new job.

Through the years I often called on him for help, and he rarely needed mine. Now he's gone, and like it or not, I'm left to do for myself. That's OK, he prepared me.

It might seem strange to see a man described only in terms of someone else's life, but that's how I saw him.
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