From an 8-man tent to a hilltop cape ...

... the saga of some 14 homes

from Don Norris

Living quarters:

The middle years, Don in Melrose, Lorry in Maplewood, NJ.

Funny, it's hard to remember all the places I've lived in, over the past 83 years. Trying hard, the pieces of my puzzle start to reform, shaking my memory bank pretty hard to get the names and locales of all those places. At last count, there were 14 places I could call home, ranging from two houses in Melrose, a tent for six months in Vieques, Puerto Rico, apartments in Ohio, a back-room in my aunt's place in Miami, and even a Boy Scout bunkhouse for a month one summer.

Do you count really short-term places, like my folks were living in Braintree, Massachusetts, when I was born, but they moved within a couple of months down to New Jersey -- Pa was a minor wheel in a big New York holding company. The first house I can remember was a small 1915 house perched at the top of a long, steep hill that, if you were on roller skates, would launch you onto the fairway of Glen Ridge golf course -- trouble was, one had to cross busy Board Street to land on the soft grass of the adjoining fairway. This was Bloomfield, New Jersey.

Pa moved up in Stone and Webster, and we moved some three miles away to Brookdale, a better class of neighborhood. The house he bought was at the very end of Lindburgh Boulevard, and our back yard backed up to the 16th fairway of Upper Montclair golf course. So I grew up sneaking onto 27 holes of carefully manicured golf course, at my back door.

Lorry started in Maplewood,N.J., and Don 16 miles away in Bloomfield. They met in Boston.

We lived in that 'castle' (the neighbors called it) for 14 years, when, in 1947, Pa was transferred to Boston. It was then he bought a beautiful barn-red traditional New England garrison colonial on Cochrane Street -- in time for me to finish two years at MHS. Then I moved to Tufts, living at a fraternity house for some three years. Life was good.

There was a six-month interlude, around 1950, when I left school and lived with and aunt and uncle in Miami. Uncle Carl got me a job as a mason's helper -- really muscle-oriented physical labor. Count this as really good times, but I did decide it was best to go back to Tufts.

Of all things, the good life was interrupted when the Melrose Draft Board picked me to go into the army, which meant leaving my studies as a sophomore and going to fight a war in Korea. Grasping at straws, I found a Marine Corps major at Tufts whose job it was to recruit college boys into an officers-training program. His pitch sounded really good, and I became a Marine recruit -- and encouraged to finish my college education. Nice work and I went to boot camp at Paris Island that summer, then returned to my studies and parties in September.

It was in my sophomore year that Wally Hayward, my Melrose buddy, fixed me up with a blind date, a New Jersey looker who was studying at Simmons in Boston. Life really got good at that point and Lorry and I were married three years later. She's still here, beside me.

Their first home: A 300-year-old cook house. Next was officers' quarters at Camp Lejeune.

Our first home was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, while I went through six months officers' training at Quantico. My first duty assignment was as an engineer officer. I worked part time at college with a survey crew, and, because my major at Tufts was Government and International Law, I was given the duty as battalion legal officer. Frankly I knew little about engineering and less about the law, especially military law. In this case, I learned both those jobs and ran a platoon of Marines all at the same time.

Our first home together was a three-hundred year old cook-house on a hilltop plantation, overlooking Fredericksburg in Virginia. It was a heavenly place, the Mansion occupied by a lovely aging matron who owned 40 acres -- just enough for me and Bob Mathias -- the two-time decathalon champion -- to hunt, all by ourselves. The Rapahonuck River ran by our place, cutting deep gorge in our hilltop plantation# Mathias, by the way, lived in what had been the slave quarters.

While we were in the same training battalion, two-time decathalon champion Mathias was gussied-up in Marine Corps blues and given the job of meet-and-greet the people at the U.S. embassies around the world. But our home on top
of Fredericksburg was delightful. We plainly lucked out.

Six months later the Marines shipped me to Camp LeJeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina -- to serve as an engineer officer, with huge bulldozers, graders, diggers, bridge-builders -- about which I knew nothing. I had worked part-time in college on a survey crew, becoming proficient with a telescope and hundred-foot steel tape. But the colonel immediately appointed me as his legal officer because my major at Tufts was government and international law. Man, I was really out of place, but I did adapt --

At one time, Firefighter Paul Lamb and I bought a chunk of land on the side of Sunapee Ski Resort, and together, physically built a lovely A-frame vscation cottage. It was a decent investment, and we sold it before we had a chance to move in.

Lorry and I had three homes during those two on-duty years. First at Quantico in nearby Fredericksburg, then in Jacksonville, North Carolina in a downtown apartment, then in a nice place in an officers' complex at Camp Lejeune. I got itchy running the courts martial at LeJeune, and volunteered as executive officer (now promoted to first lieutenant) at the Corps' island training place, located about 12 miles east of Eastern Puerto Rico.

Me and another lieutenant (a mustang) ran the company of Marines on Vieques for six months -- it was good duty, for Bob and I were the only on-ground officers. We owned about two-thirds of the island, and used the small mountain range for, first, invasion movements by the regiment back at Camp LeJeune, and second, as a target area for the Navy's big 12 and 16-inch guns.

My "home" on Vieques was a tent, for six months. It was an eight-person-sized tent that I shared with Bob Verden. Our locale was in the ruins of old sugarcane mill. In other words, me and Verden and a company of Marines were there all by ourselves -- until the regiment decided to give the troops the experience of hitting the beaches# Then, for about six weeks, Verden and I had to go to work.

So count the tent as a home for six months. It was a good experience. We got to know the mayor of Isabel Segunda, we had wild horses to ride, and if we were careful, could hunt in areas adjacent to the Navy's impact areas. What the hell, we owned the place. Some twenty years ago, the federal government was forced to give back its ownership of land on Vieques, to the government of Puerto Rico.

Home on the hill for the past six decades.

First job out of the marines was as a foreman in a rubber factory in Akron, Ohio. It was not a likeable place, and much of the new staff was dismissed six months later, thank goodness. Lorry and I (and little Nancy) decided to move back to New England. We gladly gave up our apartment in Akron and moved back to Cochrane Street, in Melrose. Temporarily.

By the age of 25, I had lived in nine different homes, ranging from a canvas tent in Puerto Rico to "the Castle" on the 16th hole of Upper Montclair Golf Club. My decision for a livelihood, at this point, was to be a writer, and thanks to an interview with the chief editor of the Boston Herald, I got a job as a cub-reporter -- at the Melrose Free Press.

And we bought a new home. It was a small Cape Cod style house that sat upon an outcropping of granite some 150 feet above the floor of the Melrose valley. It took us time to realize the value of being on top of the hill -- the view, the beautiful sunsets, the breezes. We've been here for some 55 years now, raised our three kids here, and have retired here.

All in all, I can call "home" some dozen places in the United States, ranging from New England, to New Jersey, west to Ohio, south to North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. It has been a good life for Lorry and me. And I treasure these memories.

March 7, 2014

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