Thursday, August 8, 2013

Andrew Jarvis

I learned something about the town I grew up in today so I'm going to see how quickly I can summarize it.

Every weekday from Late August to Mid June I walked out my back door, usually forgetting to lock the door, and walked or jogged to school. The high school was about a one mile walk for me. Maybe a bit more. 2 miles tops. "You'll be late," my father would inform me through dream cotton ears...and I paid him as much heed as I did to Nancy Reagan. My father left slightly earlier in the morning but it was a rare day I could get up in time to get a ride with him. I'll tell you why: normally, I would lay awake at night listening to the radio with headphones attached to my Sony Walkman. WHEB would play Dead or Alive and Pet Shop Boys over and over until 4 am. Then I'd get 2.5 hours of sleep and in attempting to make it 2.75 I would oversleep and miss home room. I could listen to the radio all night long in 1988. Faced with a choice between listening to Madonna's "Material Girl" or eating breakfast, I chose Madonna.

"Home Room" that phrase seems very unfamiliar to me now that I have been out of that artificial/codified world. I'd have to walk up South Street hill and endure the jeers of students who honked at me in their cars. Sometimes they'd stop and let me run up almost to the door and then take off fast, honking and flipping me the finger, calling me faggot. They were real heroes, laughing at me as they would arrive at school exactly on time and knew that I'd never beat the bell. Rain and sleet would lash my face and they'd always laugh and drive away. Real winners, those guys. (I'll add that one morning a kid let me catch up and get in. He was drinking vodka, playing Def Leppard wicked loud, laughing. He took a left turn in front of a speeding car and it smashed into us, glass covering our faces, flipping the car over and around. I got out and he forced the bottle into my backpack and said, "Get rid of this." and I limped away from the carnage, having injured my hip and neck. I tossed the empty bottle into a garbage can...and was still late for Home Room. When the Vice Principle asked for my excuse I said "It was my destiny." and was given an extra day in detention.)

So, I'd normally jog a little bit to get to school, taking a short cut through the woods by the old age home where old paper skin women would claw at the glass door, arriving at school by a sprawling paper birch tree, scurrying to class without even pausing at my graffiti covered locker to put away my rain and sweat soaked Red Sox least before first period. People thought I was skinny because I was built that way but really, I didn't eat more than one slice of pizza a day for 4 years, and I had to jog to school, and I couldn't properly reach deep REM sleep until I heard Mr. Carlson yammer about an electron equation. "Add the neutrons to the electrons and then subtract the Protons..." and I was out like a light...but not before the vice principle would sign me up for detention the following afternoon. Stress is what prohibited me from gaining weight.

Now, because I forever associate my path to High School with South Street, and the Edgewood Manor woods, I never paid much attention to the address of the school. It's not like I was writing letters to my teachers. Well, the address I learned today, was and is Andrew Jarvis Drive.

I imagine one teacher or another tried to educate me on the namesake of the drive but I have no memory of that lesson taking place. I'm sure I was asleep. But what they would've told me is that Andrew Jarvis was a Greek immigrant to NH, who opened a cafeteria and ice cream stores in the area and eventually became Mayor of Portsmouth probably around the time the high school was built. He was a classic small town success, instrumental in the incremental evolution of a town into a larger town. He made no revolutionary changes but quietly participated in the governance of the people as he saw was in their best interest. He was a member of the Masonic lodge and like my Aunt was on the NH Executive Council. Like my grandfather, Jarvis died shortly before he turned 100. Lacking a proper name for the road to the High School someone nominated Jarvis...and that's the name that stands...honoring the contributions of one man.

It's odd, because I never questioned why the Greek Temple was also on the same street as the High School. Maybe Jarvis' roots were a part of that choice (His given name was Andreus Giavis.) I don't know. But his humble beginnings and Yankee determination are a reminder of what is possible. Jarvis was partly responsible for many arguable improvements to Portsmouth..and being "partly responsible" is about all that any of us can hope for in terms of governance. Me? I prefer to whine and bitch about everything. Oggy Bleacher Drive will exist solely in my mind.

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.