Eric Hedin is only 60 years old, but he’s got enough stories in him to spread among a half-dozen people.
It’s difficult to take notes quickly enough to record all he’s experienced and done; eclectic and a free spirit are two appropriate descriptors.
For the past seven years, the Keene resident has been an investigator with the Division for Children, Youth and Families, part of the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services. That means he gets to the bottom of cases that involve child abuse and neglect — not a job many would relish, considering what he routinely deals with, but one in which he finds great reward.
But let’s start out at the beginning, for that’s where the stories of Hedin’s many journeys originate. His father and mother possessed a streak of wanderlust and adventure, something that Hedin himself has channeled. His father, from the great plains of North Dakota, and his mother, from the Pacific Northwest, met in Mexico and eventually moved to Havana, Cuba, where his father worked as a sales executive with the now-defunct Pan-American Airways.
Just before Hedin’s birth, he says, the Cuban government declared that anyone born in that country would be considered a citizen, regardless of the nation of origin of the parents. So, his parents decided it was time to leave, and his father transferred to Pan-Am’s Miami office. It was in Miami that Hedin was born, the younger of two children.
It was a prudent move. Shortly after the family left, the violent and chaotic Castro revolution overtook the nation, and thousands of Cubans fled their home country, relocating to Miami.
During the next years, the family stayed on the move, from Miami to Seattle and eventually to New York City, where his father joined General Motors as a sales executive. The position with GM eventually took the family to Nairobi, Kenya, when Hedin was 9 years old.
“This was only two years after the Mau-Mau Rebellion,” Hedin says, referring to the long war between British and native forces in the lead-up to Kenya’s independence.
“For a kid growing up, it was wonderful. I had complete freedom. I was driving at 11 years old; my father and I went big-game hunting. In those days, you could have every American in the country over for a barbecue,” he says. He grew up in a culture of diverse languages and customs.
Then, in 1972, the family relocated to North Salem in Westchester County, north of New York City. It was a significant adjustment for the young man.
“I was the strange kid with a funny accent,” he says. “I had to assimilate to become an American teenager.”
His parents then divorced. At the age of 18, Hedin enrolled at the State University of New York at New Paltz, where, on the first day of his sophomore year, he met the woman whom he’d marry, Tina.
“He was the coolest guy on campus. I talked with him for a minute, and I knew he was the guy. It was an electric moment,” Hedin’s wife says, smiling sweetly at him.
“(The relationship) has gotten us though anything that has come our way,” Hedin says, returning her smile.
His years at New Paltz were the start of Hedin’s interest in psychology, his major, and a musical career in the punk rock genre. It was there that he formed his first band, Deadhead Assassins, with Hedin playing the electric guitar. According to music historian and writer Jason Ankeny, on the website Allmusic, “within weeks they were banned from every bar in the area.”
The band moved to New York City, where they gave themselves a new name, “Ed Gein’s Car,” and recruited a series of drummers as well as vocalist Scott Weiss, a former bike messenger whose shaven head and wardrobe of boxing trunks, T-shirt and sandals made him the group’s sarcastic focal point, according to Ankeny’s writings on Allmusic.
“They were the spirited wiseasses of New York City’s mid-1980s hardcore punk scene,” he wrote.
The origin of the band’s name, too, was quite offbeat — Ed Gein being the infamous and macabre Wisconsin serial killer and body collector in the 1950s. A sideshow operator by the name of Bunny Gibbons had bought Gein’s car at public auction, and amid controversy, the 1949 Ford sedan Gein used to transport his victims traveled around the state and fair-goers paid 25 cents to see the “Ed Gein Ghoul Car” and have their pictures taken with it. (No, the car did not appear in the musical act, nor did the band own it.)
The band enjoyed a moderate level of success, finding popularity in New York clubs and cutting four albums. They were signed by a major recording studio, and then, unfortunately for the band, punk rock’s popularity rapidly faded, Hedin said.
“However, the group took success with the same lack of seriousness as they approached every other facet of their career, and disbanded at the peak of their popularity in 1987,” Ankeny writes in Allmusic. Hedin has continued his musical pursuits and formed a band in Keene several years ago, Zombie Beatdown, which plays at functions in the area and has been a significant presence at the Keene Music Festival, performing a mix of punk, stripped-down rock ‘n’ roll, soul, surf and reggae.
“We play locales an hour or two away, no farther; after all, we’re old guys now,” Hedin says.
After Ed Gein’s Car disbanded in 1987, and tired of the advertising business and New York, Hedin and his wife thought it time for a change — and a move.
“We’ve always had this you-and-me-against-the-world attitude, so we said let’s see the world and see where we end up,” Hedin said.
They ended up in Florida.
Hedin had been attending graduate school at Hunter College in New York and transferred to Florida Atlantic University to complete a master’s in education, specializing in counseling. He also enrolled at a technical school to learn how to repair and renovate camper RVs, an avocation and profession he still pursues, buying old RVs, renovating and selling them.
Eric then began what would be a 16-year career in mental health counseling, both in private practice and for Broward County, Fla. During that time, he helped develop the first mental health crisis center not associated with a hospital.
“It was so successful that they promoted me to a position I hated — that of a bureaucrat,” he said. It was then time for another change, he added.
Next, he and his wife, now with a 3-year-old daughter in tow, “shuttered up our house” and went on the road, looking for another place to live that they felt was a safer environment than the rough and tumble neighborhoods of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
That search would turn into a six-year trek across almost all the states in the country, with Eric working as a repair and renovation mechanic for RVs at commercial campgrounds.
After that period, the couple then was in search of a permanent residence, as their daughter, Kierstin, was growing up and they were facing the prospect of taking care of Tina’s aging and ailing parents. They were somewhat familiar with the Monadnock Region, having visited Tina’s parents in the past at their summer home in Alstead. They purchased a home in West Keene.
“We didn’t realize the commitment of taking care of your parents,” Hedin said. Her father lived with them a short time before his death, and her mother is now in an assisted-care facility.
As an aside about parents, Hedin relates an unusual and tragic incident in the case of his own father’s death.
“I was 39 years old and I got a call and I heard an African accent, and I knew it was bad news. It was from a hospital in Tanzania,” he says. “Dad had always wanted to climb Kilimanjaro, and he did make it to the top, but was killed in an avalanche on the way down. He was hit by a boulder the size of a car,” as related to him by a friend with whom his father was climbing the mountain.
Hedin rushed to get a passport and emergency visa, traveled to Tanzania and there claimed his father’s remains.
“It was a crude hospital; the morgue wasn’t even refrigerated,” he said.
His father had earlier indicated that in the event of his death, he wanted his remains cremated. There was one hitch, though, in planning the ceremony — there was no Lutheran clergy in that part of Africa to conduct the service. So, Hedin decided it would be a cremation in the Hindu tradition. During the ceremony, he had to perform the Hindu funeral pyre ritual, which included walking around the body four times and placing herbs in his father’s mouth, along with water from the Ganges River.
“I had to light the pyre, and the instructions are to walk away and not look back,” he said.
In an added feature of the service, Hedin had been able to secure the services of a Lutheran minister from South Africa, who only spoke Swahili.
“We had a Hindu-Lutheran service in Swahili,” Hedin said, “I’m sure that doesn’t happen very often.”
Once in Keene, Hedin began a private mental health counseling practice, as well as stints at Monadnock Family Services and the Brattleboro Retreat. He then joined the state agency as an investigator.
“In many cases, what I do is lead (families) in the right directions, a lot of them just need a little guidance. Kids don’t come with instructions. It’s not an easy job, as you can imagine, seeing some of the things that happen to children, and a lot of people come and go in this job. But I love it; if I didn’t believe people can change, I wouldn’t be doing this,” he said.
The job entails working with police, teachers, doctors, nurses and those in the social service world who come across children they suspect are the victims of either abuse or neglect. The Keene office of the Division for Children, Youth and Families is on Key Road and includes 11 staff members. The state office has a toll-free phone line that people can use to report suspected abuse or neglect.
Hedin said it’s not unusual for him or his colleagues to be called out at any time day or night to a situation where police need them to ascertain the level of suspected abuse or neglect, arrange for the care of children at the scene, see to the follow-up investigation and ensure the child’s welfare is properly managed.
The cases which involve the agency frequently include opioid addiction, overuse of liquor and domestic violence, he said.
Perhaps the resiliency he possesses concerning his job comes from what he’s learned from all his travels and experiences. When asked what lessons he’s learned, Hedin doesn’t hesitate to answer:
“Don’t go to bed mad. Life’s about a lot of compromises. You don’t have to be right. And, laugh every day.”