I will occasionally wax nostalgic in these pages, from time to time reminiscing of my childhood in comparison to events occurring now, most specifically regarding my children, but last night I received a phone call from my sister. She was calling to give me a "heads up" concerning a tragic event that occurred near our old stomping grounds in Brentwood, NH.
We grew up in the seventies and it was a very different world. I may sound like an old man when I say this, but it doesn't make it any less so. My children will sadly never know that kind of world, that freedom or innocence. Even in the tumultuous upheaval of the Viet Nam War, with all the societal and political unrest, our little corner of the world kept us blissfully secluded and unaware. Surrounded by woods, trails and a meandering river that bordered the subdivision, there were endless distractions and entertainment for the neighborhoods younger inhabitants. No sooner would we return from school, shed our clothes, grab a snack, then we were gone again. All variety of activities and play would occur. Of course, being in New England we had the added benefits of "seasons", unlike the two our kids have here, cold and unbearably hot.
Yes, it was very much like the ideal Norman Rockwell existence, at least that was how it seemed to a kid. Our neighborhood sported all types of families from middle to upper, upper class. Every year, the neighborhood all gathered at the local bankers palatial home for a Christmas Party, where he would dress as Santa, take pictures with the children and hand out little gifts. All the neighborhood parents knew each other (which was not always a good thing) and regardless of what corner or nook or cranny the kids played in, there was someone watching, and quick to step in with parental fervor should a child get hurt or out of line. Yes, I was usually the one getting hurt, falling out of trees, crashing on my bike, taking the dare to take my sled down the hill through the tree line. "Heh" ask me about "birch tree Bungie" some time! HILARIOUS!
There were all types of kids in that neighborhood as well. My sister, the boss, would control the play she was involved in, regardless of who was there. Of course, I realize she would have preferred a younger sister, as she would occasionally convince me to let her dress me up as a sister. Oh yes, not my proudest moments but it sure does explain Owen's penchant for wearing dresses! There was the neighborhood bully, as is always the case, but oddly enough in that tight knit neighborhood the majority of his activities were relegated to cruel practical jokes and the occasional "Hurts Donut", not the aggressive beat down. He of course had his occasional cronies, but they were only lackluster followers. One of the memories, I had all but forgotten about, my sister reminded me of last night. The Arkell's lived in a spacious Ranch House, one of the first you saw when you came into the neighborhood, close to the turn off into the "sand pits" (optimum spot for sledding come first snow fall). They had a large open porch in the front of the house and hanging from it, near the front door was an old fashion Western Dinner Bell. Every night Mrs. Arkell would come out around six pm and clang the hell out of it. At that point, as the four Arkell brothers, alerted to the time it was, would bolt for home and dinner. Everyone else knew, at this point, it was time to go home for the evening. Stephen Arkell, two years my senior but closest to my age, was a constant in my life at that time. Not a close friend, but a staple in the neighborhood. Not a week would pass that we didn't do something together, as was true for all the kids in our little world. We left the comfort of our Cul-de-sac when I was twelve, and acquaintances like his faded to memory.
Until last night. Stephen Arkell grew up, married had two children and was an officer for the Brentwood Police Department. For all accounts he was a good and dedicated officer and performed his job admirably. Yesterday afternoon while responding to a "domestic dispute" and entering the home, he was shot and killed. Information is sketchy, but shortly thereafter the assailant's home was engulfed in flame and exploded.
Now this event, while tragic, holds a somewhat surreal element to me. Not just the fact that the victim was one from my most impressionable years but that the assailant was also someone we had gone to school with!
I wish I could offer poetic conjecture about what it all means, but the words escape me. It's sad, and tragic and in the end no words or platitudes would give the emotions justice.
My thoughts and prayers go out to his family. God rest.