Wayne Michael DeHart (May, 2022)
Abraham Lincoln Laine III was born in a tony Boston suburb in November, 1948. Early in his senior year at Wellesley High, where he paired knockout SAT scores with National Honor Society status, his very pragmatic, disturbingly snooty, parents nudged him toward accepting a full-ride scholarship from Boston University come the Fall of 1966.
His father, George, was a humorless corporate accountant who seldom expressed emotion of any kind. His mother, Louise, a liquor-loving, stay-at-home Boston Brahmin wannabe, displayed zero affection toward the boy and his older sister, Deidre Victoria Laine, whose bevy of offbeat friends knew her as “Dee-Dee.” Unlike her brother, she struggled with schoolwork from first grade through high school. After graduation she moved out of the house, landing a job in a clothing store and sharing a large apartment in Revere with a trio of fledgling folksingers. Her parents wrote her off and focused on pushing/dragging their smart and sensible son toward a life of financial success and social prominence.
While George and Louise always addressed him as Abraham, home and away, he disliked his name from the time he could pronounce it, instead self-identifying as “just Abe.” The name on his birth certificate appeared pompous and pretentious, particularly the “III” suffix, when one considers that there was not even one Abraham Lincoln Laine among his ancestors. When he turned 16 and got his driver’s license, he covered up the “III” with his thumb when showing it to friends. He vowed to drop both ends of his name when he turned 18, and become simply “Lincoln Laine.” He thought that had a good ring to it and was sure it would piss off his old man.
After his first week on the BU campus that September, he knew his enrollment would be short-lived. Neither his heart nor his mind yearned for the college experience, at least not yet. He wanted to get away and experience new surroundings. He sought adventure and independence and dusty dirt roads. Still two months shy of his 18th birthday, he gave himself the remainder of the semester to settle on a smooth way out. He went through the motions – going to class, reading the assignments, becoming part of a small study group.
In that group was Liz Murphy, a vivacious and free-spirited Irish lass from Queens, whose parents shipped her up to Boston to “find her true self.” ¹ She wasn’t keen on the whole college thing either and it wasn’t long before she and Abe became constant companions and confidantes who shared a common goal. “One semester,” he would whisper to her, and she would tug on his sleeve and wag a long, slender index finger back and forth high in the air. “One semester.”
It turned out that Liz had an older sister too, but unlike DeeDee, Kate bought into higher education and had just begun her senior year at the University of Maine in Orono. She had followed her high-school boyfriend there but the guy went rogue, screwed around, then dropped out and got drafted. Last Kate heard, he had shipped out to Vietnam as an Army infantryman, a grunt. Kate stayed grounded and had graduate school on her agenda.
Abe had bone spurs in both heels and moderate asthma and was confident that losing his upcoming student deferment posed no risk to him. Liz had visited Kate in Maine several times and liked the clean air and slow pace of Penobscot County. Abe met Kate on his 18th birthday when she drove down to Boston to check in on Liz a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. She shared an apartment with a girlfriend in Bangor, but the roommate was going to be interning in DC for several months after the holidays. When Kate left, Liz carped the diem. “We could both break the dropout news to our folks over Christmas and then haul ass to Bangor, whatcha think?” Abe rubbed his chin and smiled at the opportunity just handed to him. “Bangor? I hardly know her.”
(That was a familiar joke to many New England guys but, then again, Liz wasn’t a New England guy.)
His words hung heavily in the air as her dancing green eyes flashed fire in a manner he had never seen. Abe and Liz were platonic pals who moved at different speeds, she the hare and he the tortoise. The “her” here was, after all, her beloved and very cool sister, not some skanky hussy. His comeback had been out of character and he was oozing “oh, crap” regrets. He opened his mouth to say sorry but she swiftly buried her tongue deep inside, withdrew, and then did it again. An off-the-wall 1960’s double tap. Then she tittered at the dumbfounded look on his face. Up went her finger. “One semester, Abey!”
Six weeks later, back home in Maspeth for the extended break before finals, Liz sat next to Kate at the Murphy Christmas Day dinner table. Nothing Kate said or did was ever wrong in the eyes of their parents, thus she took the lead. “Mum, Dad, I have some exciting news.” Mum and Dad dropped their forks in anticipation. A boyfriend? A great job offer? A grad school scholarship? “Liz is going to be coming to live with me for a few months after her exams are over. She needs some time to kind of decompress and reassess her priorities. With Beth gone, I’d feel lost in that big apartment all by myself. I’m so happy I was able to convince her that getting away from the books and the Boston bustle and bunking down with me would do her a world of good. It’s gonna be great!”
Mum and Dad sat with mouths agape. But the grandparents and a family friend, also at the table, enthusiastically voiced approval. Liz and Kate hugged. Talk about a plan coming together – the grands and the guest had been tipped off and nailed their roles. Dad asked Liz if they could talk about it later but Kate put that to bed with a stern stare and the words, “It’s a done deal, Dad. Be happy for her. And for me. It’s Christmas. Don’t scrooge things up. Okay?” He acquiesced. Mum asked Liz how long she would be away from college.
She speared a crescent roll with the pointed nail of her index finger and waved it triumphantly in the air.
Two hundred miles northeast, in Wellesley, at about that same time, Abe and Dee Dee were sitting down to dinner with the esteemed George and Louise Lincoln. Just the four of them. DeeDee had not come home for Christmas the previous two years, choosing to hang with her friends. She had surprised her folks when she called to ask if she could join them and, truth be told, though they agreed, they were not particularly ecstatic about it. Neither was DeeDee, but she made the call after being recruited by Abe to play the “Kate role” in reverse. It went as follows:
DeeDee: “So Abe, you’re dropping out after finals and moving to Maine? That’s SO stupid.”
George: “What? Dropping out of BU? Pshaw. No way.”
Abe: “Just taking a semester off to clear my head. Have friends in Bangor. No big deal.”
DeeDee: “No big deal? You just turned 18, you have no clue what’s out there. Bad move. Forget it.”
Louise: “Oh, listen to Miss Lost-in-Space. You can’t tell your brother what to do. He’s a smart kid.”
DeeDee: “You said it – ‘kid.’ Book-smart, not life-smart. I say you can’t let him go, he HAS to stay in school. Period.”
George: “Deidre Victoria, that’s enough out of you. Not your call. It’s mine. He can go. Eat your dinner.”
DeeDee: “I’m outta here. Shouldn’t have come. Merry freakin’ Christmas to both of you. Abe, see me out.”
Abe got her coat and walked her to the front door. Out of sight, he hugged her and handed her six $20 bills. “Half for a hand well played, and half for groceries. I’ll call you when I get settled in. Stay safe.” She had led their parents to the ledge and it took all of sixty seconds for them to jump off, just to spite her, as Abe figured they would. He went back to the table and ate Boston cream pie as he suppressed a smile midst the silence. Back in his room, he wet the tip of his index finger and chalked one up with a smirk. “One semester.”
Despite BU’s proximity to Wellesley, George and Louise had no knowledge of the Liz/Abe connection. Thus, they had no “It’s that girl’s fault” argument to make. The uninhibited fireball had a tendency to toss around emphatic F-bombs and flaunt her no-bra brashness with kind of an over-the-top, in-your-face exuberance that would surely have irked Lady Louise. George might cast a requisite frown, but likely would have enjoyed the show.
Ten days later, Liz arrived back in Boston via Greyhound Express and she and Abe buckled down to do their best on exams – “just in case.” He breezed through. She focused and performed surprisingly well. They closed the semester and boxed it up.
The pair loaded their stuff into the voluminous trunk of his ’59 Chevy Impala (a gift from George on his 17th birthday for being “a better man than your sister”) at dawn on January 27th, 1967, and headed northeast to Penobscot County, some 250 miles away, at a leisurely pace under a clear winter sky.
Abe pulled the car over minutes after they crossed the Maine state line and did an upper-body happy dance right there in the driver’s seat. He told Liz, “that kid Abe” had just passed on to the Great Beyond, and Lincoln Laine sat before her a newly minted, full-grown man. Liz bowed her head and uttered a somber “RIP, Abey baby.” Then she chirped and clapped, tugged on his sleeve, and vigorously shook her unbridled breasts in his direction with reckless abandon. He liked that she was a hot shit. She pointed to the road and said, “Now crank up this Hot Rod, Lincoln.” ²
They were greeted by Kate in mid-afternoon with a smile and two 8-inch Table Talk ³ pies, one for each of them. Beth was fine with Liz staying in her room while she was away, but both she and Kate had made clear that Abe, er, Lincoln, needed to get a place of his own, posthaste. Which was fine, because though they were best buds, he and Liz were not lovers (unless you count that surprise November double tap) and were clearly not headed down that path. She was tutti-frutti, he was vanilla, and never the twain shall meet.
Despite his disappointment with his son’s decision to leave BU, George made sure that he had enough cash to last him six months. The Lincolns had no personality, but plenty of green. “Just promise me you won’t blow it on that marijuana stuff or whores, if they have whores in Maine.” “No whores, I promise,” thus leaving the other door open.
Kate told him that she had a friend who had a friend who knew a wealthy couple that lived up in, “you’ll like this, Lincoln”, the town of Lincoln, about 50 miles up-county. They winter in Sarasota and need a caretaker for their home on Mattanawcook Pond. (Kate pronounced that with ease while her guests’ eyes glazed over.) They aren’t due back until May and he could live there rent-free until then if he behaved responsibly and did some minor maintenance; clean the yard, the garage, the cellar, etc. Kate called the friend with news that a very bright young man was looking for a quiet place up that way for a spell. “Gotta be at least 21. How old is he, Kate?” “Um, not sure, but I know he was born back in the ’40’s.” The friend apparently only heard the “40” part. “Hmm, 67 minus 40, must be 26, 27, right?” A good Irish-Catholic, Kate knew she’d be Hades-bound if she said yes, so she just mumbled incoherent gibberish into the phone. “Okay, send him up right soon. He can look the place over and I’ll sit with him a spell and let the Lamberts know what I think.” On just his third day in Maine, Lincoln drove to Lincoln, with firm instructions from Kate to act mature, be polite and don’t lie.
Liz had given him a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek “for luck” before he left. Both knew they would likely drift apart soon, whether he got the Lambert place or not. Liz was already talking about maybe enrolling at the University of Maine in the Fall. He sincerely hoped things worked out for her and had bought her a “May the road rise to meet you” card back in Boston, a befitting selection for the strong-willed, fiery, Irish extrovert. He was going to sign it with some poetic words of his own and give it to her on St. Patrick’s Day. Still might. He kept it stashed under his driver’s seat.
He met the Lamberts’ rep at a diner in downtown Lincoln. The plan was to chat a little and then ride out to the house. He approached her just as she devoured half of a jumbo jelly doughnut in one gluttonous bite. Introducing oneself to someone whose mouth is full creates an immediate tactical advantage, so Lincoln closed in quickly. The woman, Susan something, awkwardly tried to speak and, failing that, extended her hand to shake but quickly withdrew it when she saw there was sticky crap on her fingers. She appeared embarrassed. He knew he had this.
Except he didn’t. After choking down the load and wiping her hand on a napkin, she promptly kicked his butt. Not literally, of course, though that might have been an easier ride for him. Her perceived humiliation turned to vitriol. “YOU’RE Lincoln Laine?” “Yes’m” “How old are you, boy? Show me your driver’s license.” “18, Ma’am.” “Well, you tell Kate I’ve got a bone to pick with her. We’re done here.” She seized the remaining half of the messy critter for the road and left with a grunt. (A grumble, not Kate’s former boyfriend.) Lincoln contemplated what had just happened. He ordered a coffee to go, pulled his collar up tight against the wind, and set out to get a feel for the town, walking and gawking like a tourist in Boston’s notorious “Combat Zone.”
Liz would have ripped that lady a new one, but Lincoln stayed calm, set Susan’s rudeness aside, and reminded himself that there were 4,646 more folks in town. He went into every store, greeted every passing stranger, smiled and politely asked questions from here to there and back. By the end of the day, he had secured a part-time job at the hardware store and successfully rented a garage apartment from a lonely old widower who talked his ear off and took a liking to him. A rejuvenated Lincoln Laine already felt right at home in Lincoln, Maine.
He drove back to Bangor to pick up the few things he had left there and delighted in embellishing just a tad by telling Kate that what’s-her-name in Lincoln said she could kiss her ass. “I simply could not tell a lie, Kate.” “That was Washington, not Lincoln, ain’t you got no schoolin’?” She liked him, but felt relief knowing he would be settling in some distance away, leaving her sister free to meet new people and get a fresh start. Liz had gone to a UM hockey game with a couple of Kate’s friends and when she got back, Lincoln filled her in. They sat up and talked most of the night. When he fell asleep on the couch, she tucked a blanket around him, watched him for a few minutes, tapped her heart with two fingers, twice, then went to Beth’s room and sacked out.
When he awoke, he went out to the car and brought the greeting card inside. No sounds at all came from either sister’s room. He had a feeling that both hoped he would be gone before they got up. Easier that way. No awkward goodbyes. He picked up a pen from the desk by the phone. He thought and wrote. He pondered whether he should leave it there for Liz to find, or drop it off at the post office on the way out of town. (In 1967, finding a surprise card or a letter in your mailbox was “wicked pissah” in Bostonese.)
He opted for the latter. He licked the stamp and thumbed it into place, then hesitated before dropping it into the box. He closed his eyes and tapped on her name. He thought back to that special November day and doubled down, tapping it again for good measure. Then he drove up Route 2 to his new life in Lincoln.
When Liz got the card in the mail a few days later, it had no return address, but she recognized his distinctive handwriting. She felt uncertain, so set the card aside, unopened. “Maybe another day.”
By March 17th, he had not called or written, and she knew he had moved on. She and Kate sat around the apartment, told Dad’s Irish jokes, got smashed, and playfully kissed whatever they could find that resembled the Blarney Stone. She felt a wave of melancholy and pulled the card from a dresser drawer. It was time.
“May the wind be always at your back.” She knew whatever he had written inside, if anything, might be his last words to her. She opened it slowly and there was a note, not just a signature. “Silly girl,” she chastised herself. “Read it and toss it.” She read it:
“Liz, me lassie. The poets write of unrequited love and lost souls and broken hearts. Their efforts always rang hollow to me. Then you came into my life, if only for a short time, and gave meaning to their words. You ran, I walked, but we both made it out of the maze. I hope you follow through and begin classes at UM in September. “One semester” was a fleeting rainbow we chased together and rejoiced in catching. Almost as quickly as it appeared, its colors have faded, but not before setting us free. And there is no better ending than that. – Me”
On Labor Day weekend, 1967, a confident young man checked into a 9th floor room in Building 1 at BU’s West Campus dorms. Name placards sat on the desks on opposite sides of the room. A bespectacled, long-haired, skinny kid turned away from the window, nodded, and said “Hey, I’m Tommy O’Shea, from Fall River. You must be, um … ” then paused to look over at the placard. “Abraham.” Where ya from, Abraham?”
“Abraham checked out after one semester. In his car. Won’t be back.”
“Oh, geez, man, that’s not good. So that makes you . . . ?”
With so many good answers to choose from, he hesitated.
He felt a familiar tug on his sleeve, turned around, and smiled.
“That makes him my friend and study buddy – Lincoln Laine, from Lincoln, Maine.”
“Catch ya later, Tommy boy. Liz here and I have to swing by her dorm next door and then we have a rainbow to chase.” Lincoln butt-bumped her out the door and down the hall to the elevators. Perhaps the twain had met after all.
A pensive Tom O’Shea turned back to the window, took note of the clear blue sky, and told himself they’re gonna be a while waiting on that rainbow. He sensed that she was not just his study buddy but also his bosom buddy. He wondered what their story was, and if they’d share it sometime down the road.
Suddenly, a wayward crow crashed violently into the window right in front of him. Tom watched helplessly as the bird flailed about in clear distress. Instinctively, he put his hand up against the glass before the dazed creature plummeted out of sight in a downward spiral. He gave the glass a forceful, frustrated, five-fingered tap.
Twice, of course. For good measure.
Footnote 1. “ Liz Murphy, a vivacious and free-spirited Irish lass from Queens, whose parents shipped her up to Boston“
Footnote 2. “She pointed to the road and said, “Now crank up this Hot Rod, Lincoln.”
Footnote 3. “ two 8-inch Table Talk pies”
“It’s not far
I can walk
Down the block
Close my eyes
Make the pies all day”