I was born, the third of seven children, in Medford, Massachusetts, so near to Boston that even as a small boy kicking along side streets to the Washington School, I could see the pencil stub of the Custom House Tower from the banks of the Mystic River. The river meant everything to me: it flowed through our town, and in reed-fringed oxbows and muddy marshes that no longer exist, to Boston Harbor and the dark Atlantic. It was the reason for Medford rum and Medford shipbuilding; in the Triangular Trade the river linked Medford to Africa and the Caribbean—Medford circulating mystically in the world.
My father noted in his diary, “Anne had another boy at 7:25.” My father was a shipping clerk in a Boston leather firm, my mother a college-trained teacher, though it would be 20 years before she returned to teaching. The Theroux ancestors had lived in rural Quebec from about 1690, ten generations, the eleventh having migrated to Stoneham, up the road from Medford, where my father was born. My father’s mother, Eva Brousseau, was part-Menominee, a woodland people who had been settled in what is now Wisconsin for thousands of years. Many French soldiers in the New World took Menominee women as their wives or lovers.