Meanderings of a Tsongas Brother-in-Law

Paul had a minor disagreement with a member of his satellite family that hastened his desire for a new home. He wanted to stay in Lowell, obviously, and was harried by the oft-mentioned rumor that he really lived in Chelmsford with his parents, despite the fact that he rented from his father and aunt the big house on Highland Street. He and Niki went house shopping and got a steal. For a relatively small mortgage, he bought on Fairmount Street. His new house, which consisted of something like four or five finished bedrooms and an unfinished attic, was purchased before the birth of his eldest daughter, Ashley.

Ashley was not, at the time, a common girl’s name. In fact, it was a common boy’s name but that did not deter he and Niki from naming their baby that marvelous name. The only Ashley that I had ever heard of was the British actor, Ashley Montague. I, of course, was the ripe old age of seventeen, a person who did not know polite manners and was thus often at their home, painting. If you did not want to paint the old fashioned way, with a brush and bucket of paint, you had very limited time to talk to Paul. Fortunately, I grew up painting my various houses (we lived in something like eighteen to twenty houses with my parents and siblings before I was twenty-one years of age), and I found painting an excellent way of heightening communication.

Danny Brosnan was at Merrimack College when we turned eighteen and I was at Lowell State. I still consider myself a LSC student more than a University of Lowell student but I missed the LSC moniker by one year. So I have a degree from a University of Lowell graduating class. The first class, but not an LSC class. We all have to live with our disappointments. I was a Political Science major and thoroughly convinced that Paul was a superb strategy aficionado. When I repeatedly asked him for his secret, he kept to the same answer.

“How do you explain your success?” I would ask.

“I was lucky.” he would answer.

“Obviously, but what tools did you use? How do you explain your success?” I would counter.

“I was lucky,” he would reply.

One aspect of Paul’s spirit of competition was that he would ask you to participate with him in some sport at Shedd Park. I played for entertainment and once, when I mentioned that to him, he said, maybe a bit prophetically, “I have to play to stay in shape.”

Little could we know how doggedly determined he was to be the best at whatever sport he participated in. One day it was a beautiful summer’s day and he asked me if I knew how to play tennis. I had learned from my father, I told him. “So do you want to play?” he asked.

“Certainly,” I said. “That would be fun.”

Little did I know that a game for Paul was not necessarily for fun. It was a life or death competition and I was about to be embroiled on the stakes of lascent maturity. First, we drove to the tennis courts, “zing” I heard a blur going by me. “Try it again,”
he yelled. “Zing” another ball passed me by.

“Just warming up!” I yelled jovially. “Zing” again and again. Finally, exasperated, he said, “You haven’t played much, have you.”

“Not like you,” I countered.

“Let’s try something else.” Anything would be an improvement.

“What do you have in mind?”

“Why don’t we run the track? Whoever comes in first wins.” I was an accomplished runner but I was not going to tell Paul that. So I looked at my watch and completed a fifty-five second 1/4 mile. I looked behind me for Paul but there was no one there. That was strange. I looked a little further behind me but there was no one there. Finally, I looked across the track and there was Paul, walking. I ran across the grass.

“You’ve done this before,” he said in an accusing manner.

“Yes.” I was elated. I had made up for the series of “zings” on the tennis courts.

“Let’s go home” was all that he said. He said nothing in his car on the way back. I picked up my bicycle at his house, was introduced to my wife, who did not care for me at all, and went home. The next day I was back painting again. Each window in the dining hall, and it was every bit a hall, had small shutters on the bottom half of the window. Each shutter had to be handpainted. And, it seemed like I was the one who showed up to do it. Paul’s mystique never left me, but his personality was becoming a little more understandable. And he really did believe it was just luck. I knew it also involved alot of hard work, which I never fully appreciated for years to come.