Posted by: johnhourihan | June 4, 2012

Sanity is relative

Sanity is relative.
This occurred to me as I was hydroplaning our Subaru WRX down Route 495 in last Saturday’s torrential downpour. I was the slowest driver on the road, in probably the fastest car.
Because I couldn’t see more than an eighth of a mile in front of me with the spray from 18-wheelers and the wall of water slamming against my windshield.
I wondered if it was possible that every other car had better visibility than I had. I wondered if I needed new wipers. I wondered if I was going blind.
I believe those people passing me at 80 were insane.

But I learned in the mid 1950s that sanity is relative.
It was on a June afternoon in 1957 or 58. I had just returned to my hometown after having been Greyhounded across the country and stayed in the desert for a few years to take care of my brother‘s asthma.
We were finally moved in and unpacked, we all found out which room was to be ours in the rented apartment across from the Elks building just  at the end of Main Street. I decided to take a walk toward the center of town. It was a short walk. Maybe a mile from one end of the stores to the other.
Milford at the time was a bustling large New England town of about 10,000 people. Our Main Street was busy with traffic, cars owned mostly by people my family knew or knew of.
I was happy to be home.

Only two weeks before, I had stepped out of the refrigerated grocery store on Broadway in South Phoenix. I swilled down a Dr Pepper as I sauntered sweating into the 110 degree stifling dry air I felt as if I had walked headlong into large oven and the door had been closed behind me. You needed a conscious effort to breath.

Slowly I walked the Main Street of Milford, Massachusetts. I was only 12 years old, but I remembered these streets and stores from as far back as 2 or 3 years old. I peeked into Louis Fashion where my mother once in awhile bought clothes, and smiled broadly as I saw a turquoise and white Plymouth passing by as a reflection in the window. It was Paul, who owned the doughnut shop we always stopped at after Sunday Mass.

Only  a few weeks before, a heat wave had hit Arizona. After it had stoked up for a week, I had been pitching our all star team to what we expected would be a win and a ticket to Tucson, and possibly the Little League World Series. Suddenly there seemed to be no air under the bill of my hat. I stepped back off the mound and took the hat off and fanned myself with it. It felt better. I stepped back to the pitching rubber and stared down the batter.

As I walked the Main Street glancing from the traffic to the window of Kennedy‘s Butter and Egg Store, or Cahill‘s stationery store, I hardly noticed it had begun to rain. In Milford in June rain was  comfortable and cooling, especially on an 80 degree day. While others ducked into doorways of Nealon’s Drug Store or the Soda Shoppe, or huddled in the doorways that had dark green and white awnings, I continued down the street unaffected by the downpour. Then it really let go, and the water poured from the sky as if it had been dammed up there by God and now He had decided to let it cover he earth.
Before I knew it my T-shirt and shorts were drenched. I loved the feeling of being home. I started to run down the sidewalk straight down the wide sidewalk of Main Street.

We were ahead in the game, 1-0, and it was the fifth inning. One more inning and we would be headed for the series. I stared down the tunnel to home plate. At the end the catcher wavered and seemed to get father away. I stepped again off the rubber to avoid the heat.

The rain pounded down in large summer drops. As it hit the sidewalk each drop bounced back up an inch or so. It was the hardest and most beautiful rain I had ever experienced. I felt it run down my back, under my T-shirt. It ran down my legs and into my shoes. My bald sneakers began to slide on the wet sidewalk. I hydroplaned more than few feet to a stop in front of Chez Vous to get a look at the doughnuts in the window. I bent and took the shoes off, tied the laces together, draped them over my shoulder, and ran barefoot, my feet slapping against the water now puddling on the sidewalk. The people I passed, most of whom were hiding in doorways or looking out from the store windows, shook their heads as I went by. Then as I got to the A&P,  a woman standing in the recessed entry way shouted, “Are you insane. Get in out of the rain.”

As the catcher disappeared and the tunnel began to close up I tired in vane to suck some air into my lungs from under my hat.

When I got to the end of Main Street, I crossed between raindrops and moving Buicks, Hudsons, Ramblers and Fords (I never liked Chevys so I didn‘t notice their existence) and I stared back down the other side of the street. It was an afternoon of heaven, nostalgia, hometown, beautiful weather and the relief of not being in a foreign place in a foreign time sweltering in the reality of discomfort. I stood on Main Street looked up, spread my arms, opened my mouth and took in the rain. I had never been so happy.

There was no air. The next thing I remember  I woke up in the shade of the dugout. Lying face up on the bench sucking for air. I had passed out from nothing but the heat. And we had lost the game.

A couple weeks later we boarded a bus for home.
Anyone in my hometown who saw me in the rain that day must have decided I was insane.
But sanity is relative, depending on what the thoughts are behind our actions.

I was sane, for sure, but those people on 495 who were hydroplaning from one lane to the other at 80 miles an hour with visibility less than an eighth of a mile couldn’t have been thinking anything that would make their actions sane.
They were (expletive deleted) nuts.



  1. Hope this was as good for you as it was for me???

  2. Hi John. Fellow Milford native here who stumbled across your post while trawling the web for any bits about the old Soda Shoppe. I enjoyed your writing immensely and thank you for sharing. I’m always left wondering what the kids growing up in Milford today are going to remember. Hanging out in the parking lot of a Dunkin’ just off the highway just doesn’t seem to hold the same significance as walking down the main street of a strong community with a thriving local economy. Today there’s simply no sense of identity or pride in the town. But, I digress. Keep up the great work!

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