PORTLAND, Maine — Growing up on Munjoy Hill in the 1960s and 70s, Ed Crockett often saw his father, Walter Crockett, mornings before school.
But Walter Crockett wasn’t at the breakfast table, scanning the paper and sipping coffee. He wasn’t handing out lunch money to Ed Crockett and his seven siblings, either.
Instead, walking to classes at Portland High School, Ed Crockett would spy his father slumped in a doorway or curled up on a park bench, sleeping off another day of hard drinking.
School chums would elbow Ed Crockett and whisper, “Isn’t that your Dad?”
Ed Crockett tried to ignore his friends, and avoid his father. Both were impossible.
Walter Crockett spent 17 alcohol-drenched, unhoused years on the city streets — mostly right in his son’s neighborhood. That period corresponded with Ed Crockett’s entire childhood, from ages two to 19.
When he died, the local paper described the older Crockett as, “The biggest drunk in Portland.”
But that was only part of Walter Crockett’s story. The rest is complicated. Now, his son Ed Crockett has written a new book called, “The Ghosts of Walter Crockett,” telling the rest of the tale, including how Walter Crockett eventually got sober and stayed that way for 30 years.
The book does not shy away from the ugly parts, though.
It recounts, in detail, how hard Walter Crockett’s addiction hit the family. They depended on state aid to get by. Walter Crockett would sometimes show up at the house, drunk, and Ed Crockett’s mother would have to call the police.
Once, when Walter Crockett was trying to dry out at home, he had a bout with alcohol withdrawal syndrome, collapsing on the living room floor in a convulsive seizure during a Red Sox game. It left an indelible impression on Ed Crockett, his youngest child.
Somehow, Ed Crockett’s mother, Ginny, kept the family together and each of her children went on to find success. These days, Ed Crockett is a Portland business executive and serves District 43 in the Maine Legislature, which covers parts of Portland and Falmouth.
We talked with Ed Crockett about his new book.
Q: What do you tell people this book is about? Who are the ghosts mentioned in the title?
A: The book is about my Dad’s life and how I felt — and dealt — with it all. Even though he passed nine years ago. I think about, and love him, every day. The ghosts are me, my siblings and my Ma — those of us affected by my Dad’s maladies.
Q: How did you start writing this book?
A: Surviving 17 years on the streets was miraculous. He was given last rites five times during those years. It’s an unbelievable story. When he was in sobriety, we used to joke that nobody would believe his story unless it was on the big screen. Then, a few months after he passed, my 14-year-old son said, “Dad, it’s never going to happen unless you do it.” At that point, I was on the clock and, eight years later, here we are.
Q: Are you pitching it to movie studios?
A: Ha. Oh, God, no. Though I’d be thrilled if any were interested.
Q: Did you start writing this with the intention of publishing a book?
A: No. I started out writing it just for my family. Then, 20,000 words later, I had what resembled a book.
Q: You use unflinching language describing your father. At various points you refer to him as a loser, a bum, homeless and a drunk. You talk about him living on “skid row.” Was that a conscious decision?
A: That’s a fair assessment. The way I penned it was the way I saw it — the way I felt it. That’s how we talked on The Hill and I tried to be genuine about it. At one point my editor changed it and I said, “That doesn’t sound like me.”
Q: Was writing this book a cathartic experience?
A: Without a doubt. I didn’t necessarily sense that when I started writing. But, when you start writing things down, more things come to mind and the picture becomes a lot clearer. It lifted a burden off my shoulders I didn’t realize was that heavy. That was pretty cool.
Q: This book is intensely personal. What do you hope complete strangers will get out of it?
A: That it’s about hope and not giving up on people so quickly. I don’t know a single family not impacted by alcohol. If this can help one person, I feel very strongly that it’s worth sharing.
Q: Given your mother’s heroic efforts at keeping your family safe, housed and together through all those years, why is this not a book about her?
A: This book, I think, at its core, is a tribute to my mother. My father’s life is fascinating and cinematic but my mom was the rock. She gave us all the chance to be successful people. Deep down, this is about her.
“The Ghosts of Walter Crockett” is available from Islandport Press.