A Wakefield Kid After All

10Mar11

US Senator-elect Scott BrownOn March 11, 2011, Scott Brown, the United States Senator who grew up in Wakefield, Massachusetts will be inducted into the Wakefield High School Alumni Hall of Fame. Even Sen. Brown, whose time growing up here was often far from idyllic, would probably concede that Wakefield wasn’t a bad place to grow up.

Against All OddsJust after the holidays, I pre-ordered a copy of Brown’s new book, Against All Odds, from Amazon.com using a gift card that I got for Christmas. As I awaited the Feb. 21 release date, I admit that my expectations were not high. Brown is a bright and talented guy, but he’s a politician, not a writer. I wasn’t sure how much Wakefield would be featured in the book, and I was ready for a fairly dry political biography.

I was pleasantly surprised. Nearly half of the 318-page book takes place in Wakefield. Eastern Avenue, Albion Street, Salem Street, Broadway, June Circle, the Doyle School, Nasella Field, JJ Round Park, Wakefield Junior High School and Wakefield High are just a few of the locations that figure prominently. How often do you read a book where you know every street and remember most of the teachers and many of the other characters?

Wakefield High SchoolMuch like his speaking voice, Brown’s writing style is understated. Whether he’s writing about his triumphs on the basketball court at Wakefield High School or duking it out with an abusive stepfather, he lets events speak for themselves.

He talks about getting to play in his first junior varsity basketball game against Melrose, a rare opportunity considering he was only a freshman.

“I raced up the court and hit my first four or five shots in a row,” Brown writes. “I was taking hook shots from the foul line. I wasn’t missing anything. About halfway through, the coach said, ‘Get the ball to Scott.’ There I was in my first game, the youngest kid, and the coach was saying, ‘Get the ball to Scott.’ We won, and it was about the happiest I’d ever felt in my life.”

And then there was the time, after an argument with his mother, that he pedaled his bicycle from Wakefield all the way to his father’s home in Newburyport.

“It was dusk when I arrived. The ride had taken me all afternoon. Panting, exhausted and parched, I stepped down from the bike and knocked on my father’s door. Nothing. The place was black. It had never occurred to me that he wouldn’t be home.” Brown describes how he got back on his bike and started riding around town, looking for his father. “Night was falling, and it was starting to rain. I was near tears. One of my father’s buddies spotted me and he must have called a bar or somewhere because about fifteen minutes later, C. Bruce Brown appeared to take me to his home.”

There’s enough of an age difference between us that I didn’t know Scott Brown growing up. I still don’t know him personally. But I do know a number of people who went to school with him, and some describe the young Scott Brown in less than glowing terms. In his book, Brown admits to many of his youthful flaws, like stealing record albums from stores and mercilessly mocking less fortunate kids in school.

But people change. People grow up – some much more than others. Brown seems to fit into the “more” category. I’m glad I’m not the person I was at Wakefield High School, and I sure hope people have forgotten some of the things I did back then.

Even those who can’t bring themselves to say anything good about Scott Brown can never deny that he’s a hard worker.

From his earliest days in the Wakefield Junior High School basketball leagues to his 2010 upset over Martha Coakley to win a US Senate seat, Brown seems to have turned low expectations and harsh criticism into motivation and accomplishments. It comes up over and over in his book.

At certain points in his life, he had so many plates spinning at once it’s hard to imagine how he juggled law school, the National Guard, working as a model and his daunting family responsibilities. There are times when reading the book can make you feel like a slacker by comparison.

There will always be those who refuse to concede anything good about someone who has an “R” next to his name. But reasonable people, whether or not they agree with Brown on everything (I certainly don’t), will find it hard to come away from his book without feeling at least a little admiration for what he has managed to accomplish.

And give the guy a break. He’s a Wakefield kid, after all.

[This column originally appeared in the March 10, 2011 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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One Response to “A Wakefield Kid After All”

  1. 1 bruce

    Nice piece. Mark.
    Wakefield is due for producing a public figure beyond Sgt. Billy.


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