People of Kindness (artist’s note to The Stardust Highway)

What follows is the Artist’s Note for the story The Stardust Highway, from my book WHAT HAPPENED TO VICKY LEE? A COLLECTION OF STORIES (2013).

There are people of kindness all over; they live or work in homes and stores and offices. I’m sure you know of one right now who’s perhaps sitting alone, reading or thinking or knitting; or maybe they’re with someone, talking or laughing or reminiscing. They are in your physical world, and it feels good.

Maybe your person of kindness has been at that home or office or store for a long time, and you count on them to be there when you call or visit. Because you’ve always known them to be there.

I had a person of kindness in my life. Perhaps you knew him. His name was Dick Dauphinee and he was the owner of Triple A Hobbies, formerly on Albion Street, Wakefield Massachusetts.

Dick drove a US Army supply truck in Europe in WWII. He sat on an un-cushioned driver’s seat for thousands of miles of bumpy rides, virtually breaking his ass to help free the world of tyranny. He came back to his pop’s Massachusetts laundry and hobby shop in 1946 and never left. He was the sole proprietor in the 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s—that’s the decade I met him—right through the 1980’s, the 1990’s, up to 2008. He spent sixty-two years alone in that tiny store, which was not much more than a twenty-foot by five-foot corridor of trinkets and dry-cleaning.

Today Triple A Hobbies is a paved driveway, and the man is a memory.

But I can see him. It’s sunny and business is a little slow today, so he’s going to sit outside for awhile. He keeps a narrow wooden bench inside the front of the shop, and, whistling a drab three-note tune, he’s pulled the bench out to the sidewalk. The seat is well-painted but the paint’s covered with bumper stickers, including several promoting his own business. He’s watching the Albion Street traffic with a creaky old buddy who’s managed the walk downtown, just for the company. They’re talking politics, the old days, and town news. They’re nodding to the ladies passing by, and voicing everlasting can-you-tell-me-whys.

I only have him in memory. Only in imagination. That’s all I have left. That’s all that he is.

Can you imagine a store that hasn’t changed much in over six decades in this country? Place a man in there, a man who counted on the world to come to him. And so we came. Because Dick’s life was one chair, one corridor of scale models and gag gifts, one phone, one cat, no credit cards and a sparse room to live in out back.

He had no wife, no family—except for Misty, his black domestic longhair cat. No internet. No vacations. No sick days, unless it was bad enough to have the store closed that day. No lunch hours. He counted on friends to connect with the world. I ask again: Can you imagine?

He had a regular crew of visitors. They would stand and chat at the counter and talk cars, tanks, ships, and airplanes. He’d often spring for coffee and donut deliveries for these gentlemanly gatherings. He was the host, and he listened, well.

Sometimes there’d be four guys, guys with names like Gus, Charlie, Dave, and Ed, providing good company for a few hours on late afternoons. Others would drift in and out. Sometimes it would be a group of three, or two.

But mostly it was just a man and his cat, alone in a dark hobby shop, and to offer another voice he had the ever-present police scanner. And that was just enough.

Some men can draw things out of others in the purest ways. In his last few years of life, if his arm was resting on the counter I had no problem putting my hand on his hand as we talked. A man in his eighties is precious; that man in particular was very precious to me.

On a given December, if I was visiting his store, he’d see me and disappear out back for a moment. Then he’d emerge with a gift with my name on it. What was he giving?

Despite its appearance, despite what the gift physically looked like, he wasn’t giving me a Panzer II book, or a scale model M29 Amphibious Weasel, or a harmonica made in occupied Japan, or a nice box of ribbon candy.

He was saying: You are something to me. That was his gift. So when I look at the Stardust Highway photograph, and its gentle trail of stars, I see him.

*

In the early 1970’s I knew an older lady who owned a beach house not too far from where my family lived in the summertime. Her name was Mrs. Webster, of Wingaersheek Beach, Gloucester, Massachusetts. She must have been about seventy years old, which means she was born at the turn of the century.

When I was very young, five, six, seven, and eight years old, Mrs. Webster would invite me and my two friends, Detlef and Lieschen, into her very nice house for a piece of candy. The cost to us for the sweets? Just a short visit, and to talk for awhile. Because there was no one else.

In all the words she said that I’ve forgotten, what’s lasted is her smile and her giving ways. Did she wait for us every morning, hoping we’d walk by? I don’t know. Did she keep her house just so, in case a certain trio braved her driveway’s little stones—and the splintery deck stairs—to knock at her door? I think she did.

We’d stand in her home that had a beautiful Gloucester beach view and she’d smile and hold out a bowl. It was always our choice: But what was she offering?

Little fingers reached into that bowl filled with bulls-eyes and really good lemon drops. What I took away did not come in a wrapper. The taste did not fade. I did not have to sit up straight to learn this lesson.

Kindness endures. Kindness is a presence, long after the body that gave it is gone.

###

THE STARDUST HIGHWAY story and photograph, with the above Artist’s Note, appears in the book WHAT HAPPENED TO VICKY LEE? A COLLECTION OF STORIES by Ara Hagopian. Available here: http://vickyleethebook.com/

The Stardust Highway by Ara Hagopian.

The Stardust Highway by Ara Hagopian.

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About Ara Hagopian's The LITERATE Show

For over thirty years, I have enjoyed drawing beautiful shapes and writing complementary stories. The imagery tends to focus on our place in the world—whomever or whatever we may be. I am influenced by Twentieth Century history—I read vintage magazines, books and letters. Inspiration comes from visualizing human achievement and personal interaction—derived from people, places and things which may be obscure, but never insignificant. My pen-and-ink THE MAGNIFICENT RECOVERY was selected by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for their 2008 summer art auction.
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12 Responses to People of Kindness (artist’s note to The Stardust Highway)

  1. Felicia says:

    So many memories of so many good people in my life- some old and some new. Some gone and some present. Thanks for making me take time to remember too.

  2. Thank you for making my day.
    It’s easier to focus on all the crazyness in the world, and then (if you’re lucky) you get to see something like this.
    Thank you for sharing, and for the reminder of what ought to be.

  3. Steve Turcotte says:

    I went here for many years too, found his obituary and want to share this both there and on my Facebook, thank you for remembering such a great man!

    Here is the link to his Obituary (Richard A. Dauphinee of Triple A Hobbies, Wakefield MA). The world be not be the same without him.
    http://www.tributes.com/show/96641193?active_tab=obituary

    • Thank you Steve. I am amazed you found my article, it’s not tagged with Dick’s name or Triple A Hobbies. I’ll have to fix that. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. Dick was a special man who lived in a very good time. I wish I had been with him in the end.

      • Pete Muise says:

        Richard “Dick” Dauphnee , awesome man !!!

      • Hi Pete, yes, he was. I told a fellow AAA’er yesterday, you stepped one foot in that doorway and if you knew where to look, you could see all the way down the store and Dick would be looking at you. He gave a look to everyone who stepped in that store. Had all the cases arranged so he had a direct view thru all the trinkets, he just wanted to see who was coming. When you were working there I was the kid who was looking for the 19 cent Pactra or Testor’s paint bottles on the 2×4 shelf he had running the length of the corridor. In those days most paints were marked 30 cents or 35 cents, but some of the old ones had 19 cents and I’d buy those. And his 10 cent paint brushes. All kits were 15% off and once a week I’d have a $3.60 treasure in my hands. When I’d gained his trust he let me out to the back room where I would fish thru a barrel of random kit parts, for free. In his last days, he discovered one of his tables (near his radio) was an old embalming table, with drawers. Had to trace back to 1930 or earlier. Great days. Thanks for commenting. Dick was a great friend.

  4. Pete Muise says:

    I grew up working in that hobby store from around 1976 thru the 80’s.I was the little fat kid that was always there.There was Mike and Pino before me.Dick was friends with my dad and mom.I really do miss those days.He’d send me to Gloria and Santoros for sandwiches.R.I.P. my friend.

    • Pete Muise says:

      Yup , I was the one that got to keep track of the paint and Matchboxes , talk about a kids dream job.Also got to listen to the stories from the older guys that came in to BS about trains , models , the war , life , whatever ,to me it was awesome.My dad (Arnold “Arnie” Muise) didn’t really talk alot about the war , Dick filled in some blanks.I moved from Wakefield in 1985 and last spoke with Dick probably about 2010 , and still , all I had to say was “Whats up old man ?” and he would just scream ” PPPPEEEETTTtteeee” over the phone.He never forgot my voice , and I’ll never forget Dick.

  5. Julie says:

    My grandfather was more than likely one of the ever present men in Dick’s store. He used to bring me in there with pints of beans from Holiday Bakery for him. Dick was a unique and generous man. I enjoyed your story very much.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hi Ara,
    Enjoyed your story and I can relate a similar one to a gift/candy/florist store owner who liked my mom and I enough to let me pick out a small bag’s worth of jelly beans when we came into her store when I was young. She was a very nice lady, probably in her mid sixties at the time (1995/1997), I was about 8-10. Anyway, I came across your page by doing a search for Triple A hobby as I have just purchased from an auction in Wakefield some Marklin model train pieces with Triple A’s price sticker on them. Marklin is a high-end German model train manufacturer, so I’m sure he must have carried other interesting products as well. Thanks for the story and the history of his shop.
    Andrew

    • Hi Andrew, I’m glad you found the page. I have one item with that Triple A sticker on it as well. There was a time when 2008 was just yesterday. That was the year the store closed and Dick retired for health reasons. He had a very small store which didn’t change much in 50-60 years. I don’t remember a lot of train material but he did keep good train items out of sight, to be shown to real enthusiasts. Dick wore a railroad hat all the time. He would have liked to have heard your story.

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