Darby Depot

I wouldn't call the region in New Hampshire that I live in poor, but it does have pockets of poverty. In fact, I grew up in the presence of that poverty. My parents were what sometimes have been called working poor, though I can't say we ever felt poor and they would have resented being lumped in with poor people. We got by and after my uncle died and left my mother his small cottage on Granite Lake we thought ourselves quite well off. The poverty I am talking about, the poverty that I've felt if not experienced, started with my boyhood observations of some of our neighbors. I'm thinking now as I write this poverty of spirit, poverty of love, poverty of initiative, poverty of knowledge, as well as poverty of possessions and prospects.

One particular house was as as rundown as one can imagine and still be habitable. It was covered with drab brown asphalt shingles. There were perpetually broken windows, crumbling front steps, sagging roof rafters. Any wood showing had rot and peeling paint, or the paint had gone away completely. The inhabitants dressed in rags and to my eye as a boy seemed brain-damaged or perhaps a different species of human being that was not taught in the books. The half dozen or so children in the family (I never did learn the number) seemed to wander in a daze unconcerned with the machinations of the planet. In my school was a similar family. For all I know they were related. I never knew details about these pitiful people, because they were not discussed within my family or by my peer group. They might as well have been visiting Martians invisible to all but me.

In the house next to the Hebert residence were a mother and a daughter about twenty years old, who were also very poor, but they were friendly and kind and I considered them friends. It was their house that left me with a love of wood heat. There was no furnace in the house, or if there was it was never turned on because when you entered it was cold in the hallway and I could feel the cold from other rooms, but the kitchen, the only warm room in the house, was very warm and had a nice smell that I cannot define to this day. It's the smell of a wood stove. My only memory of the kitchen was that black kitchen stove and plain wide boards walls that I don't think ever saw a coat of paint or wallpaper. Every once in a while a son, who was older than the daughter, showed up. Even as a child I could read the anger on his face. One day he got mad at his car and spent a hour destroying it as best he could with a sledge hammer. Very entertaining for the children in the neighborhood.

Decades later after my mother's death and after my dad moved in with my family I put my parents' house up for sale. It languished on the market for six months. We kept lowering the price. Connie Joyce, a friend and my real estate agent told me, "Ernie, this is the cheapest house in Keene. Nobody wants to live in this neighborhood, especially women."

These two families in my boyhood in my crummy neighborhood, which never felt crummy to me at the time, gave rise to the Jordan clan, which appears throughout the Darby Chronicles. I asked myself where the Jordans would live, and with that question I invented a part of Darby that I call Darby Depot. It's where the poor people live, and it's a decision that makes me vaguely uneasy because it suggests that poor people are the criminal class. In some ways that's true, but the crimes of the poor tend to be the result of poverty and do not greatly impact middle class and rich people (unless of course the poor people rebel). It's the crimes of the rich (which are often legal because of the way the rich manipulate laws) that impoverish everybody else.

Every section of Darby has a signature structure. In Center Darby it's the town hall; in Upper Darby it's the Salmon mansion; in River Darby it's the Hillary Farm; in Darby Depot it's Ike's Auction Barn.