Chapter 1 - The disturbing eccentricity of the amateur biographer

Three Plus Lives - Spoiled rotten in Woodbury

The sixteen room home I was raised in still looks down on Main Street and St. Teresa's across the way. That giant sycamore tree to the right was enormous sixty years ago and larger still today.

There is something disturbingly eccentric about anyone wishing to inflect his or her life story on an unsuspecting public - unless one is a Gandhi or a Christ, but people that sane seldom do so.

But I assure you I am only doing it for your own good, and I promise it will be short, if not sweet although this is mainly due to a bad memory of my youth, and the weird reasons for it.

I was the first male Brooks born off the family apple orchards in Cheshire, Connecticut, a village my forebear Henry had help found in the late-1600s. There is an area of that town named Brooksvale in his honor we assume because he fell to his death helping to build that area's first Congregational Church, an affliction which affected my family until I fled organized religion at age 18.

I was the third Brooks male forced to attend the world named Walter. My father had left Cheshire in 1917 to go fight in the first World War as a muleskinner driving a mule train to bring ammunition to the front lines for the 102 Regiment of the Yankee Division. When he was discharged he went to a business college and upon graduation got a job as a reporter for the Waterbury CT Republican and American, two daily newspapers, where he rose to be the political columnist covering the State Legislature until his death in the newsroom thirty-two years later.

The world was much smaller the year I left my mother's womb, America's population was but 123 million, it's two and a half times that today at 305 million, and a political columnist back then knew and was pandered to by most prominent citizens of central Connecticut.

I can't count the number of times my father got tickets squelched, and twice got me appointments to West Point which I turned down

Walter Sr. was a Republican, a Son of the American Revolution, and since my natal day was also election day in 1930, he received a congratulatory telegram from the Republican candidate for Governor which read,

"Congratulations on the birth of your son -STOP -
This must bode well for the party - STOP"

Needless to say the GOP lost that election and didn't get back into the Governor's mansion until I had left the state 16 years later to go to Culver Military Academy in Indiana which turned me into a pacifist and the reason I wouldn't attend West Point when offered the chance for a free, four-year college education.

That should have given my father pause, but he hoped for the best and got me instead.

The reason I remember so little of my youth in Woodbury CT is due to its absolute serenity. We recall best those great calamities of life, and since I had none, my youth is a honey-coated, happy blur until both my parents died within a year when I was twenty-one.

I assumed that all kids lived as I did - in a sixteen room house with maids and doting, supportive relatives.

My parents had lost a blue-eyed blond daughter named Muriel to pneumonia three years before I was whelped, and my subsequent existence was one pleasure after another as an only child who was spoiled rotten and given one new toy after another. There were no road bumps to remind me of growing up.

Woodbury's First Congo Church is the county's oldest, and I was the youngest ever member to join. I later become its soloist. This old photo shows the church in 1870 when is was already two hundred years old.

Woodbury Connecticut was, and probably still remains, a picture postcard, lily white enclave of well-off Yankees. With a population of 1,998 back then, it had five churches and two drugstores.

Egomaniac that I was, I managed as a boy soprano, to be vocalist in two of them - my own First Congregational Church (there were two Congo churches in this tiny town), and for one month each summer than my minister vacationed, I sang a different, Latin repertoire at Roman Catholic St. Teresa's church across the street from my mother's restaurant.

My mother, Evelyn Mae Brooks who was born in Skaneateles NY of Dutch-Irish stock, had opened a tea room before I was born to assuage her sorrow at my sister's death, and by the time I was in the local elementary school a block away, the restaurant, Mrs. Brooks' Green Acre Grill, had grown quite large and included a full sized ice cream soda shop of the era.

I never realized how my position as a "soda jerk" enhanced by popularity, and often brought a school mate to the restaurant for lunch where I ate every meal of my young life by simply sitting at a table and ordering from the menu.

My school chum and I would grab a half pint of Hood's ice cream to eat on our walk back to afternoon classes.

On our yearly visit to NYC, we stayed at The Forest Hotel, a sister hotel next to The Algonquin Hotel on  West 44th. Street.

I don't recall more than a couple meals, probably Thanksgiving or Christmas, which were served in our large dining room in the big house up the hill behind the restaurant.

Every Fall mom would take me to New York City for a week. We stayed at the Forest Hotel next to the famed Algonquin Hotel, and went to a half dozen of that season's top Broadway productions.

Between shows she would bring me the the Best & Company, a classy but long-gone, high-end department store of the era, where I was left with the toy department manager on the sixth floor for an hour to choose my Christmas presents.

I came home with armies of hand-painted little toy soldiers which would be worth a mint today if I hadn't blown them up every July Fourth.

In my early teens she decided I needed to "see" America.

She bought an open ticket on the railroad system of the day, and we spent six weeks touring across the continent ending on Vancouver Island, BC after stops in Chicago (the stock yards) and Lake Louise (the Canadian Rockies).

We swung south stopping in San Frabncisco and L.A., and one to the Grand Canyon and New Orleans and back home.

Thirty years later I followed her parental example and took six weeks off from work to make the same trip with my wife Patricia and sons Todd and Jay when they were the same age as I had been.

Opulence and pleasure were my constant companions, and as powerful a drug as any other.

COMING: To Miami's South Beach for a cure, and two terrible prep schools.

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