I first moved to Morton in August of 1984 along with my wife Linda and our 11 year old son Jason. We bought a small cape style house on five acres of land located on Arlington Road. Around here, the major town roads are usually named after the places they go to. Arlington Road led to Arlington, about three miles north of us to the town line. There, naturally enough, it became Morton Road for the next four miles into town. Back then, it was just a straight stretch of road, though some farmland has been sold as residential lots since then.
We arrived at the house and were met by the moving van. A few of our immediate neighbors stopped by to introduce themselves and to make the usual kind offers of help. A few actually did stay to help us get moved in enough to have a place to sleep that night, and Jason was delighted to meet a 12 year old boy, Jon Williams, who lived right next door. Once Jason's room had a bed made up and most of his boxes stashed in it, he and Jon disappeared to explore the area.
Lin and I finally got to a point where we decided we'd done enough for one day. I drove to the liquor store and picked up a case of beer, a bottle of gin and a bottle of tonic, plus a bag of ice. I figured the freezer hadn't produced any yet, as it just got plugged in a few hours earlier.
When I got back, Lin was talking to two men. I thought they were probably father and son but they introduced themselves as Bob Surdiak and Joe Waters. They lived near each other about a mile up the road, and both families were natives of the area. Bob was older than me by some years and Joe was quite a bit younger. Bob had five kids of his own, ranging in age from fifteen to twenty-six. Joe had one two year old son, but plans for a larger family. They'd stopped by because someone told them we were moving in, and that there was going to be a street picnic at the Surdiak's house the next Saturday. It was an annual event and sounded like a lot of fun. Every family brought their own meats to grill, a dish to share, and five bucks to go towards everything else.
Lin and I liked both of these guys right away. They were outgoing and talkative, and anxious for us to feel welcome in the neighborhood, where the two big events were the picnic and a Carol sing at Christmas time. We guys shared several beers while Lin sipped her gin and tonic. When they left, Lin and I felt happy about our decision to move here. We sat on the porch enjoying the view up to the hills and sipping our drinks. We listened to the birds and occasionally Jason's excited voice coming from somewhere not too far distant.
We settled in during the week and went to the picnic the following Saturday. It was a real family affair with organized games and prizes for the kids, volley ball for anyone who wanted, and horseshoes for the men. We got acquainted with a lot of people from the neighborhood, trying to remember which house each one said they lived in. When we got introduced to new people we were always the ones who had bought the Michalak house. To this day it's the Michalak's house. I don't think it becomes the Stark house until after we sell it.
Although he wasn't the oldest person there by any stretch, it became clear that Bob Surdiak was sort of the neighborhood grandfather. He knew everybody's kids by name, and he liked and respected each one of them for their own specialness. His wife Karen was like him in that respect, and they always seemed to have a yard full of kids. As time passed, we became friends with them.
We also became good friends with Joe and Lucille Waters and their little boy, Raymond. Joe and I seemed to bond right away even though we didn't have too many things in common. I ran a computer system and he worked in a print shop. He was confident that fishing was a legitimate religion, closely followed in sanctity by golf.
I got my exercise creating a vegetable garden and landscaping the yard. I goofed off with my reading, and recreation was mostly riding dirt bikes with Jason. Our connection came from the things we did agree on. We came to truly like each other and enjoy keeping company together. Over the next several years we became close friends, enjoying the mutual trust and respect that implies.
When little Mikey Waters was born fourteen years ago we were genuinely honored and pleased that they asked us to be his Godparents. We had asked friends of ours to be Jason's Godparents, but shortly after the ceremony they began to drift, then finally move, away. He didn't even know them.
We promised ourselves that we'd be as active as we could be in seeing that Mike got whatever he needed from us as he grew up. Mike's birth was followed by Melissa's barely a year later, then Angela a year after that. Joe and Lucy declared their family complete, and a happy, loving family it was.
Mike was an absolute delight to watch growing up. He had a sunny disposition and an insatiable curiosity. As he got old enough to roam the neighborhood by himself he learned everything about everybody. If Bob Surdiak was the neighborhood grandfather, Mike was the neighborhood kid. I began to wonder how he ever got anywhere he was heading. He was a genius at distracting himself. He stopped to talk to anyone and everyone he saw. He stopped to play with other people's dogs and to pet their cats. He stopped to look any time there was a new car or bike in a driveway. You always saw him going a mile a minute on his bike, but if he spotted you he'd come screeching (sometimes crashing) to a halt just to see what was going on.
Mike was funny to talk to because he always tried to hold his smile while he spoke. Even in his rare quiet moments he'd break out laughing to himself when he had a funny thought. Like, are there any male lady bugs? He shared his father's religious belief in fishing and the two of them were always slipping away before daybreak to try new spots in the many streams, rivers, and ponds around here. They'd sneak away sometimes after dinner to just spend a few hours getting their lines wet and enjoying each other's company. I thought at the time that I'd never seen a better father/son team, even though I'd immensely enjoyed the time I spent with my own son before them.
About a year and a half ago, Mikey began to change. He wasn't really less friendly - just less visible. People saw less and less of him, and he was not often inclined to stop and talk like he used to. Everyone put it down to the fact that he was growing up and developing new interests. After all, he was twelve going on thirteen. Boys do start to become men around that age. Nobody sensed anything wrong. Nothing at all.
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