Derek Gentile: The start of a long journey



The first time I ever realized that there was a world beyond Adams that would contain things of principal interest to me was when I was 17.

It was the summer between my junior and senior high school years. It was a lovely sunny day, and I was walking home from my summer job at the Adams Highway Department. As I walked down Park Street toward my house on Commercial Street, I came upon a young woman, probably mid-20s, sitting alone on one of the benches in front of what is now the Adams Town Hall.

She was terrific looking, wearing a crisp white V-neck tee shirt and cutoff blue jeans. She had short reddish-brown hair. She was reading a book.

As I got closer, I saw the title: "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea."

Yikes. I didn’t know any girls that liked reading science fiction on their own. I figured only nerds like me read it. This was totally fascinating.

I stopped in front of her. She looked up and smiled. I would have swooned but it would have belied my smooth reputation.

"He’s all about numbers, isn’t he?" I said. "Verne. ‘20,000 Leagues,’ ‘Five Weeks In A Balloon,’ ‘Around the World in 80 days.’ "

She laughed.

"Sort of," she said. "There are also other books, like ‘Mysterious Island,’ ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth.’ Some others I can’t recall."
She pointed at my pants, which were heavily grass-stained from that day’s work cutting weeds all day for the AHD.

"Are you a gardener?" she asked.

"Municipal gardening," I said, even then unafraid to exaggerate my credentials for a pretty girl.

We chatted, and I learned more about Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells and Robert Heinlein. My new friend was very, very bright.

Finally, I had to say goodbye, as my mom would have worried if I got home late. I was completely convinced I’d never see my lovely science-fiction reader again. And that I’d have her only in my dreams.

That night, though, I hitched to North Adams for the annual summer carnival. This was a traveling show, a little more R-rated than the family-friendly shows we see around the county now.

Among the attractions, for instance, was a tent inside of which young women unclothed themselves to recorded trumpet music.

Frankly, I had no interest in paying $4 to go in. There was a narrow, slit-like opening in the tent around the back which would suffice.

You can probably anticipate the ending to this. I peeked into the opening and saw, of course, my sci-fi girl as one of the featured dancers. Wearing a blonde wig. Well, that explained why I hadn’t seen her around town before.

I wasn’t saddened or angry. It gave me pause. It rocked me actually. My stereotype for these disrobing women, built on a massive foundation of Christian guilt, was less than generous.

Yet only hours before, she and I had spoken about literature and authors and municipal gardening.

I realized, as I was hitchhiking home that night, finishing up a hot dog with mustard, that there was a wider, more interesting world out there than I had previously surmised. And also, that things were not always as they seemed. And finally, that regardless of her profession, she was a sweet person.

That was all good and I still appreciate her for showing me that. And, of course, I never did see her again.

To reach Derek Gentile:,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile


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