Friday, August 24, 2012

Secret Life of a Town Bum

 Back then, everybody in town knew that Jesse and Marshall Truman were recluses and that Jesse was the town's drunken bum. Sure, Marshall had caught polio from one of those homeless kids he was always taking in back in the 1930's. Since he had to struggle getting around on his crutches, no one thought one thing of his staying down on the family homestead on that old back road into town.

 But Jesse was another matter. He wasn't crippled, just in the head. Plenty of young fellows had fought in World War I and came back home, taking up their lives again as best they could. Not Jesse, he came home nutty as a fruitcake. Some folks around town blamed his behavior on all those battles he'd fought in, one after the other. Still, that was not excusing his bad behavior like the time he took his family's old Model T and drove it down the railroad tracks singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" at the top of his lungs. A few fellows got Jesse and the car back home where Marshall was waiting for him, worried. He'd been standing there, leaning on his crutches for quite some time and his fatigue showed plainly on his face.

  Or the time Jesse took it upon himself to march in the Memorial Day Parade as it made its way down Main Street. Only problem was that Jesse had draped himself in the town hall flag and was waving wildly to people on the sidelines. The town sheriff was called and got Jesse home to Marshall who was waiting patiently as usual.

  Then there was the time that Madge Bingham had fixed a fancy lunch for her bridge ladies and was looking out on her back patio where she'd set up two tables with nice linens and her best china.  What she saw was Jesse Truman, sitting at one of the places, sound asleep, his head on one of Madge's lovely old luncheon plates.Of course, the sheriff was called and Jesse was driven back home once again.

 Marshall died in the 1950's and so Jesse had to live alone. One of his neighbors used to take Jesse up to town for groceries and, yes, his Jim Beam. The neighbor confessed to having to wash his jeep down with strong soap and warm water afterwards. People around town laughed at Jesse but they pitied him, too. His family all dead and gone, there was no one to keep him company on the holidays or Sundays. Another neighbor went to visit Jesse once a week or so to give him a shave and then heat hot water so he could bathe himself in the old kitchen copper tub. One day he had to call for the local social service worker when he found Jesse slumped at his kitchen table, unable to move around or even talk. Jesse died two days later in the county nursing home where he'd been placed.

 Some distant cousins quickly sold the Truman homestead to folks from Long Island who had great plans of renovating. Jesse's neighbor, the one who'd taken him food shopping in town, went walking along the Truman back acres with his daughter before the new owners moved in and began their changes. In a wooded area near the house, they found the old Model T that Jesse had driven down the railroad tracks. All that was left of it was its metal frame.

  Then, the man took his daughter and they crossed over the railroad tracks and looked down on a pond that they never knew existed. A small rowboat was tied up to a well-kept dock.
  "Daddy is that Jesse's boat?"

  The neighbor smiled at his daughter, put her and their dog into the boat and rowed across the pond to a clearing where a wicker chair nestled against some wild lilacs. Nearby, wooden bird feeders, a salk lick and a feeding trough were still somewhat filled. As the neighbor and his daughter looked around while their dog sniffed here and there, birds gathered at the feeders and a doe and her fawn watched quietly from the woods.

  The neighbor filled the feeders and trough with grain he'd brought from his own house, and then he looked down at his daughter.

  "This is where Jesse Truman really lived, dear. Birds and wildlife don't laugh at a person's foibles".

Alice DiNizo's resume may include entire decades spent as a children's librarian, but the recent retiree's rookie effort as a novelist is anything but PG-rated.

The former South Plainfield resident and ex-Plainfield Public Library librarian is the author of "Imperfect Past," a recently published novel that treads over dark ground such as childhood abuse, racial tension and serial murder. But DiNizo, who goes by the pen name J.B., said her story, at its heart, is a tale of survival and perseverance.
"I survived a very great deal in my life," said DiNizo, 64, "and I think out of that survival came the gift of writing."
According to the author, inspiration for some of the book's first few chapters came from her own experiences of being physically abused as a child growing up in Vermont, during an era in which "they called child abuse "discipline.' "
The novel goes on to chronicle the life of protagonist Annie Phillips Murray, a white woman who falls in love with a black police officer during World War II in a town called North Hadley — which she said city residents instantly will recognize as Plainfield. DiNizo, also a former librarian at Washington Community School on Darrow Avenue, said the choice of setting was easy.
"I've tied everything in the book into Plainfield," she said, citing buildings and street names that only have been altered slightly in the text, if at all. "When I came to this area and first saw Plainfield, I fell in love."
DiNizo said the novel's plot includes three narratives bound together — one detailing the protagonist's checkered youth, one detailing a series of gruesome crimes being investigated by her love interest, and a third detailing the stubborn persistence of the characters' relationship in an era of intolerance.
After writing recreationally for more than 20 years, DiNizo, of Toms River, said she is warming up to the idea of having more novels published during her retirement years. With four more works already completed, DiNizo said she plans on seeing if Eloquent Books, the publisher of "Imperfect Past," is interested in seconds.
As for Plainfield Public Library director Joe Da Rold, he was pleasantly surprised to hear a former employee he said had a connection with the local community now is a published author.
"I had no idea that she was doing some writing," said Da Rold, who added that DiNizo will participate in a December book signing at the library along with a group of other local autho