Friday, December 09, 2016

Domenic "Doc" Conca, DDS- 1925- 2016, R.I.P.: on Conca's Lawn.

 One of my unmentioned mentors died at 91 a couple of days ago: Dr Domenic Conca of Randolph, Massachusetts.

 “Doc” was the father of my oldest friend, Michael Conca, who was my schoolmate from first grade through my first year in college (BC: I dropped out), as well as my housemate and partner in a firewood business in the wintry January Hills west of the Quabbin Reservoir an east of the Connecticut valley, one of the wildest parts of Massachusetts, for several years, during my second attempt at higher education; he lives there still, with his wife Mary Lou; more of his story later...

Mike at Rick Rozen's in Golfito, Costa Rica; Mike and Mary Lou a couple of years ago at Karen and George's.

"Doc"' as we called him--- his contemporaries preferred "Dom"-- was born in Rhode Island and went to Tufts. .There he met the love of his life and perfect  partner, "Rose" or sometimes "Ro": Ella Rose Simon, who was working as a secretary at the University. They married on June 30, 1948 at Saint Agnes Church in Arlington, MA. Rose was a Lutheran of Hungarian descent, but converted to Catholicism...
Doc was a dentist and a cultivated man, with a bunch of pleasing contradictions. He was the first man with a beard I knew outside of the the tonsured, sandaled  Franciscan monks whose monastery was south of Brush Hill Road in Milton, Mass, where  our weird Catholic private school,  Jeanne d'Arc Academy, was housed in Frances Hamrstrom's  childhood  estate on the north side of the same road). The old Flint ballroom to the right of the entry was our chapel, still with its enormous cut glass chandelier.
Jeanne d'Arc/ Slater- Flint mansion by Elva Paulsen, Fran's daughter
He was also the first man I knew who cooked, seriously;  he was a New England Republican; he was a motorcyclist, a recreational pilot late in life, and an unabashed car nut the way I am a gun nut, with an "enabler", a German dealer and mechanic -- Karl?-- who would let him take and drive cars until he HAD to have them. (Think Ron Petersen with me and guns).

When I first met him, when I was in first grade, he picked up the kids at school in a 1929 Hupmobile with an Irish water spaniel in the rumble seat. That dog was succeeded by Cindy, a long -lived basset of mournful visage who was so self - effacing that one kid-- Chris?-- suggested that she be stuffed and put on wheels when she died because "nobody would know the difference"., especially if they equipped her with a recording of her baying voice.

 He must have been relatively wealthy, as his many antique cars and being able to send his kids to Jeanne d’Arc show, but he had no rich man’s attitudes. His lawn always looked like a used car lo, albeit one with strange taste. There was an antique Mercedes ("The Yellow Car" --all cars were identified primarily by their colors), a 1950-ish job with a black leather roof,  landau irons, and a burl walnut dash, the ONE car none of us "kids" were allowed to drive; this early 50's 220 cabriolet is very close:

...and new ones, like a pagoda- roofed 280 SL:

This one was capable of an honest 140 mph at LEAST-- Mike and I both took it that high, and I took another borrowed one to 160 to beat an old townie rival, Joey Donnelly, in a drag race.We called it the Brown Car; it was  actually a sort of dark cranberry maroon color.

They were parked up against his old red  Cadillac, a finned one ca 1962, that he kept as an antique, a kind of cosmic mechanical dinosaur; my father later offered Betsy and me one just like it that he had long since stopped diving,  for a pet after I told him there were two Edsel and a red and white '56 Chevy with a continental kit in my town owned by the original buyers or at least their familes; no, I do not live in Cuba. At the time, he had  sighed "Cadillacs are irresistible to contractors, whether they are  Armenians, Bomb throwers [Siciilians] or Swiss; at least mine wasn't purple!" but we were afraid  of the gas it would take to get to Magdalena.

 Mike's Fiat Spyder, which he drove for about thirteen years, lived there then, and various  Japanese motorcycles, plus Triumph and Harley choppers owned by Rick Rozen and Jack Semensi, two other schoolmates, Randolph neighbors  and hunting and fishing buddies (Rick, who joined our circle at 13 at Xaverian Bothers, our Catholic prep school, is known to readers of this blog as "CAPTAIN" Rick of the Novi fishing boat Half- Fast, then out of Brant Rock: he was the first of the guys I grew up with to get a classic shotgun, an LC Smith, which we all envied, especially as he got it for $75 and a roll of carpet; he still has it. He made a fortune in the "Tuna Wars" of the late seventies and early 80's-- and drove two identical International Harvesters with  canoes on top-- that story too is still to be told. Jack was another J d'A alum; he was known as Joe there. He is the only person I ever knew who drove a Lotus Elan; it too was often parked on the  Conca's lawn...

Rose, our perfect den mother, was a Catholic convert with a green thumb who used to grow marijuana ornamentally in the 70s, though she wouldn't let her kids smoke it. They raised   their kids and a  whole pack of others in an amiable laissez- faire manner that came as  as a great contrast and relief to me in comparison  to my (then- Betsy Huntington would change him) controlling, rigid father. To give an example, I once went to their house and asked where Mike was. I got the following answers from the kids and Doc: 1) “He’s up in his room.” 2) "He’s at ‘Summahaus' (that’s what they called their house in Plymouth)” 3) “No, he’s on Key Marathon.” It turns out he was in Green Harbor on the Irish Riviera, where we nautical hunter-gatherers used to live.

(At the same time, two typical remarks by my father were "Take your  dog and your wife and get the hell off my property!" and "Look, John; my asshole son just bought a rich man's gun!" It was a 28 bore AyA No 2; that he had a Model  21 Winchester  worth ten of it didn't matter, though it took another decade for me to find one I could afford to buy!)
On the cusp of prep and hippieiedom, 1966?--  me & Mike on the way to the Lime Rock sports car races, in my Morris Minor Shooting Brake:
Doc was, I realize now,  my second father figure, the one I could talk to. From the age of 17, when I left home, until I went to western Mass in the mid seventies, I probably spent more time at the Conca’s house than any other place. During that time, from 1967 to around 74, I barely spoke to my father.

Rose suddenly came down with lung cancer in 1990, though as far as I know she never smoked. She died horribly quickly, and I never got a chance to say good- bye. Doc married  a younger Lydia Miils in 1992. I never met her, but she apparently took good care of Doc for the rest of his days.

Doc also did things  like take out my terrible infected wisdom teeth after I spent two sleepless days drinking his booze to numb the pain while he was away. He did nothing more than shake his head and he didn't even charge me. I called my first wife Bronwen in North Carolina last night, and she said “Shit Steve — we LIVED there!” So did Semensi and our friend Teddy Neves, now among those who went missing because of schizophrenia. (The Rozens, whose extremely original family lived  across the back fence from the Concas, deserve their own post. Soon!) Rather than oppose my hunting as "a waste of time”, as my father tended to do, Doc joined our Thanksgiving double gun hunt in Easton with his Model 12.

Not that he was sentimental about kids. One of Doc’s outstanding accomplishments was to teach the younger bunch of his kids to stand in the doorway when I showed up and chant “Steve’s here — HIDE THE BEER!”,  over and over again. But he also taught me how to do things like pickle squid- and MAKE beer. Both Rozen and Semensi eventually rented houses from him behind the dentist's office, filling the space with bird dogs and sailboats; Doc told us, puffing on his pipe,  that a friend had inquired after his "commune", a pretty funny thing for a life- long Goldwater Republican to have. Both were at his funeral.

Rozen in those days:
Doc (front center) and Rose  (lower left) ca 1983, with the younger kids:

I more or less lost touch with him in recent years. When Libby was living in Bozeman, he flew his personal plane out to see us. I don’t think they took his plane keys away until he was 90. I will add photos as I get them.; Mike has promised one with his plane. He was a man, who will be missed. And he has prompted me to begin what may be a memoir, just by making me think of that time.

A special thanks to Megan (McKenzie) Conca of Santa Fe, for photos and material.Obviously, more TK.

UPDATE: Here is a photo of Doc in his plane! And Mary Lou is sending more by snail mail....

And who is that with him? I am not sure.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, Steve. It was a pleasure to read. Hope you're doing well. Paul Conca

Mark Conca said...

Steve, nice piece. There's a lot of memories there, some of which I either never knew or had forgotten. He was an interesting man, thought me a lot and will be missed.
Have a great holiday.
Mark Conca

Anonymous said...

miss you papa, forever in our memories. love this piece, stumbled on it while looking for some pictures of family members on google. so great to know how many people cared about him. he will be missed. - a grandkid