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  • As Jean Sheppard used to say as he unrolled a story, I was this kid once. Like him, I had no particular ambition, but being aimless didn’t mean that I was lazy and shiftless. With a little encouragement, in turns I devoted myself to collecting fluorescent rocks, model railroading, cannibalizing and building electronic gear, mixing dangerous chemicals for suspect purposes, and taking and printing photographs. I also enjoyed making engineering and architectural drawings, reading adventure and science fiction novels, and collecting comic books. On and off, I also painted mushy watercolors, made awkward models of cars, boats and planes, and wrote bad science fiction stories.

    Most afternoons I worked and saved my earnings from mowing lawns, delivering newspapers, and selling greeting cards door-to-door to buy audio and other electronic gear. Eventually, I had a pretty good hi-fi system in my bedroom that featured a woofer and tweeter embedded in a closet door. My father helped me construct a cabinet of my own design to house my Rek-o-Kut turntable, Heathkit FM tuner and preamp, Dynaco power amp and Viking tape deck. Assembling the vacuum tubes, condensers, resisters and transformers into a working whole gave me satisfaction. I got good enough at it to make a few bucks by putting together audio kits for my parents’ friends.

    I was lucky to have an attentive and supportive old man who had many interests and pushed me to take up hobbies. We built furniture together, created a carbide cannon, and spent hours crafting radio-controlled balsa-wood boats. He was, for most of that time, a quality inspector at a recording instrument company and was fairly handy with tools, but not in a refined way. I treasured my time with my father for lots of reasons. For one thing, he was a great teacher who almost always had something of value to share. For another, he was a kind and loving man with a good sense of humor who liked to tell shaggy dog stories.

    He passed away in 1982, too soon. His name was Charles Odard Dutton, son of Charles Judson Dutton. Some people called him Charlie, most called him Dutt, but his mother usually called him Odard, much to his chagrin. (Odard is an old Norman name his parents chose from the family genealogy book.) He had a Masters in Psychology, and had been an English teacher, but that couldn’t support his family so he turned to industry. After he lost his inspectorship, he found work selling language laboratory systems to secondary schools around Connecticut. One summer I worked for the company as an installer. Dad came to help the crew when he could spare the time. Traveling to schools around our region plus a second job pumping gas at night kept him away quite a bit, at the expense of our hobbies and my mother’s happiness. But I always looked forward to his Friday evening shift when he would take me with him and let me pump gas, check oil and wipe windshields.

    Much more than I, dad loved sports. He coaxed me into taking up his games, golf and tennis. He had been a tennis coach at a prep school. I figured that he must have been a pretty good player too, and he was still pretty decent. So, for three or four summers he sent me to take lessons in both sports with pros. I was decent in tennis and erratic in golf. Even though I played nine holes two or three times a week, I never felt happy golfing, just tense. After several annoying years of making duffs, hooks and slices, I realized I didn’t need this self-flagellation. So, at 16, I gave up golf for good. Dad continued to play until he was 70, but I avoided heading to the links with him.

    Dutt urged me to play neighborhood sports after school, which was tough for me because I wasn’t a jock and the boys down the street knew it. These guys had a four-season line up of basketball (spring), softball (summer), football (fall) and hockey (winter), all of which bored and intimidated me. Nevertheless, I hung out and played because it was what was happening. We played both flag and tackle football – with helmets, pads and spikes, which kids don’t do unsupervised any more. I also did Little League, tasked as a catcher and center fielder. Being a lefty made playing catcher painful. He couldn’t find a left-handed catcher's mitt, so dad packed my fielder’s glove with handkerchiefs. Eventually I managed to catch Butch White’s fastballs without wincing. Baseball wasn’t very good to me, so I begged to leave the league after two seasons of mediocre performances and peer ridicule. I got my wish, and never played team sports again, unless you count bowling leagues.

    Here's the sporting part I liked. When I was around 12, dad rustled up an old Brunswick regulation pool table, which I helped him set up in the basement, slates and all. Finally I had a physical activity I enjoyed, except for the annoying closeness of several walls. Dad and I played in the cellar several times a week, and I got good enough at pool to skunk guys when I went to college. One more thing Dutt did right by me.

    @image: Charlie Dutton with homemade plane-launching box kite (named for my mother), Madison CT, 194?, with our Boxer Honey
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