And so it came to pass, in the time of October, the days between Class Officers Weekend and Homecoming ‘07, that the only two trained steel drum reconditioners in the class of ‘61 set off across northern New England in search of the holy grail of wordsmithy. Drum reconditioners, of course, in common parlance are known as “barrel washers.” Now, if this intrepid duo were in a military organization of barrel washers, J. Michael Murphy, at the pinnacle of his industry, would be a five-star General; tc, who worked college summers at the Union Oil terminal in Iwilei (Honolulu’s red light district during WWII) washing used oil barrels in preparation for the annual barge shipment of fuel to the leper colony at Kalaupapa, would amount to no more than a draftee grunt. But share this esoteric vocation they did, as well as the zeal to pry into the personal histories of two of their favorite Dartmouth-connected writers, Robert Lee Frost (class of 1896) and James Hitchcock “Corey” Ford, Jr. (Columbia 1923).
It was Murphy, an Econ major and pragmatic business leader, who conceived the notion of a literary circuit through the White, Green, and Presidential mountain ranges. And he easily sold fellow rugger tc—English major, dreamer and poet wannabe, but nowhere near the visionary—on the plan. Please recall that Murph was the moving force behind the Frost Statue, and a man well-versed in Frostiana. The basic concept was to weigh anchor from Hanover, wives in tow, aboard Murphy’s roomy high-performance Cadillac DTS, for a week’s adventure hitting key sites from Frost’s life and culminating in a session with Corey’s official biographer, Laurie Bogart Morrow, in Freedom, NH—“Hardscrabble” of Corey’s “Lower Forty” series.
A preliminary itinerary was drafted @ Murphy HQ, and reservations secured at appropriately situated inns and B&Bs. We both prepped for the adventure by reading Jay Parini’s excellent biography Robert Frost (Henry Holt & Co. 1999). Then Rici found out she had serious business conflicts, thus relinquished her space in the mobile seminary. We also ran afoul of the seasons since, not only would leaf-peeping be in full tide during that interim, but several Frost sites also close for the winter on Columbus Day. Some reshuffling was accomplished, and we were confirmed to hit Franconia on the first day, Middlebury/Bread Loaf the second, Bennington/Shaftsbury on the third, back up to NH via Derry/Hyla Brook on the fourth, and on to Tamworth/Freedom that evening, returning to base in Hanover on the final leg.
Mike & Helene departed Florida more than a week before the Class Officers business in Hanover, planning to make several strategic stops en route, including his 50th high school reunion in West Orange, NJ. Then, having first grown up in Swampscott, MA, Mike reserved lodging at one of the nicer B&Bs in old Marblehead—where tc and Oscar Arslanian first lived with new training brides after graduation in 1961—and arrived a day or so before tc could fly in from Maui. That’s when the friendly skies threw their practiced monkey wrench into the works, providing no aircraft at the Maui airport for tc’s first leg to San Francisco. In fact the plane had not even left San Francisco yet—still standing on the tarmac with a “mechanical.” A disgruntled cell phone call to Murph revealed that tc would not be arriving Logan on the redeye at 0700 next morning, but would actually be departing SFO at about that time... The 767 finally arrived Maui after it was supposed to have left, departed an hour or so later, and set down at SFO in the dead of night, about 1:30AM; United put the delayed passengers up in bayside motels until their new connecting flights—affording tc an hour & forty-four minute respite. Yeah. Right. In no time at all, shuttles were off to the airport again—catching authorities at SFO apparently by surprise, there being nowhere near enough security gates open for the surging throng that arrived at 0545... Fortunately, not a single terrorist materialized in that crowd of businesspersons, nor were any explosives or weapons discovered within their briefcases, file folders, laptop computers, Weejuns and/or Blackberries—in spite of the close scrutiny sluggishly exercised by a skeleton crew of sullen TSA drones—so most of us made it to our distant gates in time. And, after a relatively eventless flight, the charred remains of tc arrived Boston some time after 3:30PM, to skies heavy with mist, clouds, and rain—green, muggy, and Londonesque.
We had a little time that afternoon to ply the wet and twisted streets of old Marblehead, ending up in Abbott Hall to view the original painting of Archibald Willard’s “The Spirit of ‘76” and other historic icons from Revolutionary times. Later that evening, having dined on featured lobster casserole at The Landing, we repaired early to bed—only to be shocked awake at midnight by one of the loudest, most spectacular thunder and lightning storms in recent memory. Hammering rain pelted the copper roof of the inn, and halogen flashes of lightning lit the skies like a midsummer noon; tc was actually grateful for his extreme fatigue, and slept through the denouement of the siege. Dawn broke fair and sunny and, after a fine Harbor Light breakfast including fresh pineapple, the portly ex-ruggers set about packing the Caddy for the drive north—discovering to their chagrin that Murphy had left the front passenger window down the prior eve after trying to see while backing into the parking stall with fogged glass; the seat was thoroughly drenched. As this was Helene’s prescribed seat, she recuperating from recent back surgery, the gents devised a ruse wherein tc was direly needed in the “navigator’s seat” in order to direct the helmsman through the circuitous trail from Marblehead to the Interstate. Actually, heavy application of the personal seat heater (thank you, Cadillac!) attempted to expedite drying, tc’s soggy Levi's notwithstanding; the seat was still damp when they arrived in Hanover—and, yes, Helene noticed...
Seating in the stately Murph-mobile was no casual arrangement. In that they were going to be away for almost a month, Mike & Helene had brought along a full complement of baggage, providing for a broad spectrum of attire ranging from casual to formal (Hanoverians of our vintage are still a mite stuffy, demanding coat & tie for dinner affairs), and including proper goods and equipment suitable to meet any possible exigencies in the course of extended peregrinations. Adding tc’s heavy Travelpro plus overnight bag, we easily filled the vast trunk of the Cad—and all available space behind the driver, leaving a neat but uncompromisingly defined compartment for the back seat passenger. Which Helene occupied w/justifiable trepidation for the drive to Hanover. Her periodic discoveries that various items in the back seat were soaking wet were first pooh-poohed by the chauffeur—until it became obvious that something was definitely amiss, and Mike had to admit his perfidy of leaving the window open to the full fury of a night-long nor’easter...
Class Officers Weekend was somewhat subdued, esp. in the aftermath of the astonishing decision by the trustees to pack the board with new Charter members, but ‘61 did have by far the largest contingent present—lacking only webmaster Harris McKee, we had all other officers in attendance. And after a farewell Sunday breakfast (yup: fresh pineapple) with Dave & Joani Prewitt, the happy travelers strapped themselves into their (now dry) assigned spaces, and departed for Franconia, through the Notch and on to the first of the Frost sites. Sad to report that, in spite of some ambitious human efforts involving steel pins and epoxy, the Old Man of the Mountain landmark had succumbed to natural forces on May 3, 2003, and collapsed.
That first day’s drive was as easy as it was scenic, in spite of gloomy skies. Bear in mind that driving through northern New England is a study in contrasts: whereas north-south corridors offer options of fine new (to tc) Interstate highways, routes headed east and west are often shabby county roads, occasionally not even paved, which may or may not be passable in chancy weather. (Side note: for some inexplicable reason, Vermont is curiously devoid of roadside trash receptacles. Bring a litter bag...)
Regardless, Murph charted us across western NH from I-91 to I-93, which not only was the most direct route, but also put us into North Woodstock, NH at lunch time. Not sure how many readers are aware of the Reuben Sandwich website on the internet, but Chris Rowland’s rowlandweb.com/reuben is there, packed with nationwide data, informative, and thorough—and Murphy knows his Reubens...! The sandwich at Truant’s Taverne, “in the basement of a building on the main intersection of downtown North Woodstock,” is known as The Salutatorian and, according to “Rowland’s Dimensions” is 15x10.4 cm (600 cm3), boasts a RDT (“Reuben Delivery Time”) of 8 minutes and, at $7.25, bears a “bulk-to-cost-ratio” of 83 cm3/dollar. We parked right outside the door (most of the Harley hogs were in the parking lot out back), and—resisting tc’s fervent entreaties to acquire a pre-repast tattoo at the parlor next door—entered and ordered a trio of Salutatorians. We were not misled: ‘twas delicious, and ample.
The Frost Place in Franconia town was first occupied by Robert and family in the summer of 1915, he seeking relief from hay fever. As the poet wrote about nearby Bethlehem in 1907: “Our summer was one of the pleasantest we have had for years. . . There is a pang there that makes poetry.” The Frosts lived at the Franconia farm full-time from 1915-20, and spent 19 summers there. The Frost Place nonprofit educational center for poetry and the arts was founded in 1976 when a group of neighbors persuaded the Franconia town meeting to approve the purchase of the farmhouse. A board of trustees was given responsibility for management of the house and its associated programs, and since 1977 has awarded a fellowship each summer to an emerging American poet, including a cash stipend and the opportunity to live and write in the house for several months. In addition, the Frost Place has sponsored an annual Festival and Conference on Poetry for writers seeking classes and workshops with a faculty of illustrious poets, a program that has in recent years expanded to include a young poets conference for high school students, a teachers’ conference, and an advanced seminar in addition to on-the-road workshops across the U.S. To quote William Matthews, former resident poet, from "On the Porch of the Frost Place, Franconia, N.H.":
So here the great man stood,
fermenting malice and poems
we have to be nearly as fierce
against ourselves as he
not to misread by their disguises.
The cabin was closed for the winter when we arrived, and the poetry walk through the woods had been partly demolished by a severe recent storm; but the intrepid fellas set off nonetheless, stopping to read the posted poetry selections along what was left of the trail, in a gathering gloom. Helene prudently returned to the warmth of the car in the increasing drizzle.
Later, the Franconia Inn proved spacious, friendly, and obviously geared to skiers. The reputation of the dining room was excellent and the meal, as were most throughout the tour, was duly memorable; roast duck—crispy skin encasing moist savory flesh—rivalled any of the finest preparations of waterfowl we’ve experienced, including Henry Chung’s Hunan Restaurant in San Francisco. During the late afternoon, Mike had driven into town for gas, and discovered the old granite New Hampshire Iron Factory Company blast furnace still standing and impressive; the 200-year old iron smelter dates to around 1805. Interestingly, the iron works had been financed by a group of Salem ship captains, rich from the clipper ship trade with the orient. Murph took USSteel alumnus tc by the site next morning, much to the awe of both.
After a lovely breakfast—more fresh pineapple, and inspired by industry and stone, Mike suggested a serendipitous detour to the Rock of Ages granite quarry in Barre, VT. The vast operation, with Dartmouth connections, is the major production facility in the northeast for headstones and other memorials of native granite, and the quarry itself is impressive in its magnitude. We took the guided tour, and watched in openmouthed wonder as spindly tower cranes, steadied by seemingly miles of guy cables, moved men, equipment, and massive cut stone slabs in and out of a gaping hole in the landscape. A new appreciation for American ingenuity was engendered, and thoughts of our own final rest were unavoidable...
As we were due in Saratoga Springs, NY, that evening, we proceeded smartly from the quarry, headed for the Middlebury area, and more Frostiana. In Ripton, we stopped by the Bread Loaf Writers Conference campus, finding it closed and locked, but rather a large complex. Just down the road, we strolled up to and around the rustic cabin Frost lived in at the Homer Noble Farm while doing the Bread Loaf conferences, passing by the newer, better appointed home he had purchased and given to Kay & Ted Morrison, he a professor at Harvard and director of the Bread Loaf conferences, and she Frost’s intimately valued assistant. A short distance away, we came upon the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail, a 1.2 mile loop posted with wooden signs quoting excerpts from Frost’s poetry. It’s an easy walk, where one can commune with nature while gaining inspiration from appropriate words from the poet. The area is maintained by the US Forest Service.
Mounting back up aboard our trusty Phaeton, we headed for ‘Toga Town, and Linda & Power John Stowell who have recently relocated there from Maine. Because we were traveling on back country roads, large settlements were scarce and, when lunchtime called, and called...and called, we finally pulled up to a nondescript general store to ask directions to the nearest dining facility. Turns out we’d hit on the local gourmet deli, and the proprietress whipped up three wondrous ham sandwiches which we wolfed as we headed south. To make the crossing from Vermont into New York state, we opted for the ferry at Larrabees Point across Lake Champlain to Ticonderoga—and, immediately upon entering NY, found a bin for our lunch trash... then down the Interstate to Saratoga. We have alluded to Murphy's Cadillac as a marvel of modern automotive engineering, and during this last leg that day, I couldn't help but notice that even his rear view mirror was beset with graphics and operational aids. Fascinated by a little lighted window in the mirror, I finally had to ask Mike what the lit "5" was for. Murph glanced up and, trying to smother a laugh, said, "Tom, that's not a '5' that's an 'S'—because the device is a bloody digital compass and we are headed south at the moment!!" (Well, I said the Interstates were new to me... besides, I drive an old Ford pickup truck)
It was a long and wearying day on the road, so Mike & Helene opted for the nearby Marriott rather than converge upon the Stowells as they were still getting settled. Power has secured a position at the neighboring casino by the race track (“the Racino”—get it...?) and, arriving home after his bride had shown tc to the single malt, joined his old sidekick in consuming heroic dollops of same. As spirits soared, the gents decided ‘twas imperative to ring one William M.C. “Malibu Fatz” Miller on the phone; fortunately, we were calling west, and it wasn’t nearly as late at night in California as it was in New York... Turns out Fatz & Judy’s daughter has moved to Peru, VT, with her husband (Punahou ‘80) and three babies, thus the Miller grandparents are considering relocating there themselves—at least part-time. Whether the two Santa Monica natives will actually commit to that sea change in their long-accustomed lifestyles remains to be seen... Fortunately, as the evening wore on, discretion overtook the Saratoga revelers and they were somehow able to resist calling Kenneth Carlton Kolb to regale him also with besotted ramblings.
Next morn we rejoined the Murphys and all went for breakfast at a delightful cafe in town, frequented by the Stowells, and did some serious catching up with each other. Then ‘twas off again to the Granite State, by way of South Shaftsbury and Bennington, VT. In Shaftsbury, the Robert Frost Stone House Museum was one of the better displays of Frostiana, not merely because it was the first we toured that was open... the house sits on 7 acres and features many Frostian associations including stone walls, birch trees, a timbered barn and some of Frost's original apple trees. Many poignant episodes in Frost's life happened in this house. The exhibits are educational and literary, covering Frost's life and art. The current exhibit, entitled, “Robert Frost: The Women in his Life,” features the important women who inspired his poetry and played a part in his success as a poet and a person. The structure, where Frost lived from 1920 to 1929[?], was built in the auspicious year 1769, of native stone and timber, and is where he composed many of the pieces in his first Pulitzer Prize winning volume New Hampshire (1923); it is specifically cited as where, on a hot June morning in 1922, he wrote his haunting Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening—the words and technical/critical history of which consume an entire room, causing the fascinated visitor to tarry, and ponder, reconsider, and speculate... The curator advised that she had just come from the dedication of George Lundeen’s latest edition of our original Frost statue, at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. (Our contract with the sculptor allowed him to produce 20 additional pieces, and the work has proved very popular.) She was impressed with Murphy’s depth of study, and we could have spent the entire afternoon talking Frost/Dartmouth, but we, uh, had miles to go...
From there it was a short drive over to the Old Bennington Cemetery, behind the Old First Congregational Church, where the Frost family is interred. We parked outside the white picket fence and strolled past the church toward the rear, where, at Frost’s grave, we encountered the large Barre granite gravestone with hand carved laurel leaves and the inscription “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.” When his wife Elinor died suddenly in 1938, Frost had intended to abide by her wishes to have her ashes scattered at Hyla Brook, next to their original farm in Derry, NH. He traveled to the farm he had sold 25 years before, when he had written a little poem called On the Sale of My Farm, which ends as follows:
It shall be no trespassing
If I come again some spring
In the grey disguise of years,
Seeking ache of memory here.
But when Frost returned to Derry to make arrangements, he found the place was run down—in fact an automotive junkyard—and the owner unwelcoming. Discouraged, he returned home telling his children it would be a sacrilege to leave her ashes there. The urn was placed on a closet shelf at the stone house. Frost then took two years to think about where to establish a family burial place.
In the summer of 1940, Robert purchased two cemetery plots in the Old Bennington Cemetery which goes back to the American Revolution. He may have chosen this lovely setting for several reasons: he always liked a place with a mountain view, evidenced by the home in Franconia and all three of his farms in Vermont. The presence of Revolutionary soldiers buried nearby would have pleased him. As he wrote in The Gift Outright: “The land was ours before we were the land’s.” Frost called that poem “a history book in a poem.” And, lastly, he chose to be buried behind a beautiful old New England church.
Many have said Frost was an atheist, and scholars still argue about his religious beliefs. Yet there is no doubt he was deeply spiritual as well as lyrical (see his long and deep friendship with Rabbi Victor Reichert of Cincinnati, who summered at Middlebury). His poetry often alludes to the Bible, which he had read all his life, yet Frost retained the skepticism of his age. He once said, “I don’t belong enough to any church, but historically I should be a Congregationalist. My people were all Congregationalists.” Claiming, “I don’t go to church, but I look in the window,” he called himself, “an Old Testament Christian.” Whatever that means, it does say something about one's beliefs to be buried behind a church, although we note the gravestone faces in the opposite direction. He was a man famous for contradictions—a delightful facet which we encountered throughout the trip, reading his lines over and again, ever finding the trickster in almost each conclusion.
Like Willie Nelson, we were on the road again, now headed for Bedford, NH, outside of Manchester. Hurtling down the Molly Stark Highway (Rte 9), we pulled up at the incredible Vermont Country Deli, just west of Brattleboro, in time for a late lunch. The fare within this modest structure must be seen to believe! A boundless selection of comestibles, much of it homemade right on the premises, were on display ready for consumption. Mike & Helene are accustomed to stopping there, and knew full well ‘twas impossible to pass by. I ordered another succulent ham sandwich, primarily because it had a really clever name—which I can’t remember—and we sat at a picnic table hard by a covered bridge over the Connecticut, munching in mutual silence.
Arriving Bedford, more specifically the stately Bedford Village Inn, by early evening, we had time to freshen up for a planned dinner with John Goyette ‘60 and his his new love Margie at the Inn’s heralded dining room. This hostelry was by far the most opulent of the entire odyssey, and was well worth the few extra shekels we were glad to lay out—my room was so spacious I had to summon the concierge to show me how turn out the lights in the far reaches of one corner.
Coyote & Margie made a long drive over from Rye, NH, and we made sure to derive as much pleasure as our little reunion could render. Turned out the great hall at the BVI is where John, a Derry Village native, had hosted his daughter’s wedding reception, and his brother had also had his—very much a New Hampshire institution. We made plans to reconvene back in Hanover the coming weekend: Homecoming, plus a major mini-reunion for the class of ‘60 (J. Goyette, Chair). As we discussed our plans for the next day’s visit to the Frost Farm in Derry, John mentioned that he had been instrumental in the cleanup of the premises, from the debacle Frost encountered searching to scatter Elinor’s ashes, into the State Historical Site/National Historic Landmark it is today. He also urged us to stop by his old school, Pinkerton Academy, where Frost had taught for several years; Pinkerton has grown exponentially since JG’s days on campus in the ‘50s, and is now almost as large as Punahou, the largest independent secondary school in the nation.
Setting out from BVI on a classic bright, clear New England autumn morn, we arrived at the Derry site and found we had it to ourselves. The farmhouse, of course, was closed for the season, but the nature walk, around the fields, across the west-running brook, and into the woods, was more than inviting. Please note that the poem “West Running Brook” was written about a stream very close to the Derry farm, but it was not Hyla Brook (which is so slight that it dries up in summer). Goyette told Mike that he used to fish in the real west running brook. Murphy, who had done extensive research in planning the details of our venture, had a copy of the guide pamphlet which described each of some two dozen suggested stops, indicated by numbered wooden posts. I was elected reader/narrator, and tried my Edmund Booth-ish best to do credit to the lovely passages describing each site and its history or unique appeal. The farm had been bought in 1900, with an annual stipend from Frost’s grandfather, who feared the young man would hardly be able to support his family on his own. But this 30-acre plot with pasture, fields, woodlands, orchard and gentle spring, provided inspiration for a budding poet, though no handsome returns from his rudimentary efforts at raising poultry for profit. A printed description states, “As a farmer trudging through his fields, interacting with the local farm folk, and performing his laborious daily chores, Frost was meticulously observing nature at work, and drawing unparalleled inspiration for the bulk of poetry that would eventually belong to the world for all time. He spent untold hours studying nature’s intricacies and developing an exceptional and powerful sensitivity to its intoxicating influence.” And the family grew fond of the premises, even as Robert had to teach at Pinkerton Academy to supplement his income.
Far too soon we we emerged from the wood, crossed the field, and were back at the starting point. Reflecting on this pleasant interlude, Mike opined that the visit to the Derry Farm was special for him because, "After we had selected George Lundeen to sculpt the Frost statue, I had taken him there (at a time when the historic site was open, and gave tours of the farmhouse, etc.) for him to get a good start on his research about Robert.
"Earlier, I had hosted a luncheon at the Hanover Inn with George and several members of the Dartmouth English department—Don Pease, Bill Cook, Donald Sheehan (who was the first Director of the Frost Place in Franconia, NH). One of our many questions was to discover their recommendation for what Frost age should be chosen for the poet in his depiction in sculpture. The
professors were unanimous—almost insistent—in saying, 'Don't do Frost as the white-haired, old man that you and your classmates knew. All of the great poetry was written when he has a young man, and that's how he should be shown.'
"So George was especially interested in visiting the Derry farm where Frost started out, and lived for ten years. The high-top work shoes and overalls that Frost wears in the statue are copied from photographs of that time which George reviewed in the Baker Library special collections.
"Another connection is that the Derry farm, like so many in New England, used stone walls to mark the property boundaries (and get the stones out of the fields). Frost had a neighbor in Derry, Napoleon Guay, whom he would arrange to meet every spring, and walk on either side of their common wall to
repair the damage done by the winter and other causes. Later this event became the basis for his wonderful, enigmatic poem, Mending Wall, which begins:
Something there is that doesn't love a wall...
yet, later, also claims:
Good fences make good neighbors...
In the Frost statue at Dartmouth, Robert sits in thought, with a writing pad resting on the portable desk top he used to carry around when working outside. On the pad, Lundeen chose to carve that first line from Mending Wall."
Mounting up, we drove to the Academy as promised. The physical plant is indeed impressive, but we confined our visit to the ancient main building, a red brick structure much in the tradition of Bissell Hall or Wilson Museum on Dartmouth’s old campus. From there it was farewell to Frost, north to Winnipesaukee, and over into the Ossipee Mountains headed for the small village of Tamworth and our late afternoon appointment in Freedom, NH with Laurie Morrow. (Don’t remember what we did for lunch that day, but I seem to recall a pronounced ham deficit echoing from my innards...)
Laurie and her husband, Ed Hobbie ‘54, have a home next to Corey’s original property in Freedom, sometimes referred to as “Hardscrabble,” and the model for “The Lower Forty” in his many delightful tales of small town America, outdoor life, and the canny curmudgeons who comprised the mythical Lower Forty Shooting, Angling and Inside Straight Club. An accomplished author of eleven books including The Woman Angler, the Orvis Field Guide series, and the bestseller Cold Noses & Warm Hearts, Ms. Morrow fell heir to her literary office quite by accident. Wanting to quote a line from one of Corey’s columns, she contacted Dartmouth, trustee of Corey’s literary estate, and was brusquely advised by letter to “make an appointment.” Arriving across the state in Hanover, she was directed to the Special Collections Room in Baker, where she met Dr. Crammond, literary custodian of Dartmouth’s distinguished archives of priceless treasure—and an avid fly-fisherman. The august gentleman explained that, as she was the first person since Corey’s death 25 years prior to come there with even a passing interest in the man, he thought she’d like to “take a look . . . and do something about [Corey’s papers]”—all sixty-two boxes of them. Dr. Crammond was aware that Laurie was a writer, and owned the Lower Forty.
Writing about the encounter later, Laurie remembered: “Sixty-two boxes of papers could take up the rest of my life.” But her thoughts flashed: “This was a helluva deal. I didn’t come to Dartmouth prepared to make a decision that would affect the rest of my future. This was a crapshoot, but I knew enough to know I’d get just one chance.” So they agreed that she would select one carton at random, reach in and pull out the first papers her fingers touched, and, “If what I find sings to me, then I’ll do as you ask. If not, then it wasn’t meant to be.” So, reaching into a crammed dusty carton, her fingers closed on a fragile sheaf of brown papers which she separated and pulled out: “the handwriting was in pencil...” And there, in Corey’s unmistakable minuscule cursive, she read:
How Corey was only thirty-one years old, at the peak of his success and in the throes of a nervous breakdown, determined to get though it alone, somehow. He had come home, to Hardscrabble...of how he had gotten into the habit of taking a walk every day, just before dusk, to the end of the road—our road—to a private cemetery that is hidden in a copse and surrounded by a stone wall, like the Secret Garden. There, under the mantle of dusk’s fading light, he would sit and “contemplate my great sorrows”— sorrows, I would later discover, that would cripple most men. One such day, Corey found the caretaker was still at work, cutting grass. He went up to the old man, and after brief pleasantries asked, “How long after a man dies before he is forgotten?”
And the old man replied, “A man is never forgotten as long as he is remembered.”
The words drifted on a breeze from the past, and chill went down my spine.
Do not forget me....
Then Corey went on to describe a far corner of the cemetery, where “stones with little lambs mark the graves of children who did not live to see twelve-month.”
The paper was dated August 23. Tears stung my eyes.
A newer grave lies alongside those olden headstones crowned with lambs. There lies my infant daughter, Elizabeth, who died the day of her birth—August 23—fifty years after Corey expressed his own grief in the papers I held in my trembling hands.
I understood now why I had been summoned to Dartmouth.
Pretty powerful stuff. As is the bond between “Corey’s Boys” and the mentor who looked over us so fondly, so trustingly, lo, those many decades ago. We simply had to make contact with this person—whom none of us had ever met—charged with perpetuating the memory of a man who was so much a part of our young lives.
Murphy, who not only lived at Corey’s home in Hanover senior year, along with Bill Glenn and John Edwards, also traveled with Corey—around New England and Canada on hunting trips, as well as to Ireland—and was particularly close to the man. Maybe it was the legendary cohesiveness of the Irish (my ancient mother, who was Scottish, used to say about us Micks that we were “thicker than thieves”), or simply because Mike was a great driver—Corey no longer drove. Whatever, he was the one who kept in close touch with Corey after Hanover days, read essentially all of his works, and did most of the research into Corey’s rather private history that inspired this final leg of our journey. Thus ‘twas he who contacted Laurie, establishing liaison for our visit.
When we pulled up the drive, the biographer herself burst out the door, bidding us welcome. Her husband was off bird-hunting in the Lower Forty with the sports producer for Versus Channel, so we settled into the den and began to get acquainted over a particularly toothsome Bowmore single malt which was open on the bar. I had a jar of macadamia nuts for the hostess, and Murph presented her a copy of the special edition of The Rabbi & the Poet, a small book by Andrew Marks about the friendship of Victor Reichert and Robert Frost linked with an undercurrent of trout fishing. Then we got right into our man Ford.
Time flew, the hunters returned—hungry, pockets full of birds, dog adrool, dinner preparations ignored—and still we chattered on, each confirming, or refining, the others’ points of history, until it became obvious the ‘61 contingent should be making preparations to leave. Laurie gave us a departing tour of neighboring Stoneybroke, the spacious hunting lodge Corey had built toward the end of the Depression—greatly to the benefit of local craftsmen and the entire town of Freedom (but draining the Ford bank account, leaving him all but “stone-broke”), now owned by another family. A wonderful place. On a par with Corey’s One North Balch in Hanover, only more rustic. We were enchanted to see it. And we bade farewell, having extracted a promise from Laurie Bogart Morrow (yes, Humphrey was her uncle’s cousin and playmate) to write the definitive biography of Corey Ford—specifically, we hope, within our lifetime.
Dinner that night was at The Yankee Smokehouse in West Ossipee, boasting genuine traditional barbecue, and wholly fulfilling that promise; historic Kreuz Sausage & BBQ Co, in Lockhart, Texas, could hardly have topped it. And we trundled off to bed at the creaky old Tamworth Inn.
Next morning, passing up a side trip to Mt. Washington in view of undecided weather, we headed west back to Hanover via the magnificently scenic Kancamagus Highway, conveniently passing through North Woodstock, NH, once again, where we converged upon Truant’s Taverne for another round of Reubens—but no tattoo this time, either (damn)!
Our primary interest for Homecoming weekend was a Rugby reunion and the Harvard match at the new Corey Ford Rugby Clubhouse. The hard core of rugby Olde Fartes was housed at the Comfort Suites in White Rivah and this gave us a fine base of operations for any activities in the Uppah Valley. Which included several superior dinners at Simon Pearce in Quechee. The bulk of the Olde Fartes consisted of ourselves, John Hessler ‘59, Will Gray ‘59, and the man who put Dartmouth Rugby on the map, Dick Liesching ‘59, all accompanied by their delightful wives—save tc whose child bride remained 7,000 miles away, nose to grindstone, in the middle of the ocean...
“The Corey” was more complete and better appointed since the original dedication back in ‘05 when the entire complex was still being finished; on that first occasion, construction workers had to be shooed out as some 800 DRFC supporters began arriving. Now the main hall was furnished, Coach Alex Magleby ‘00 had moved into his corner office, and the Liesching Trophy Room had a much more thorough complement of memorabilia on display, including items from our era. The handsome and centrally-located bar was operative, but no tap system was in evidence; could this be—a Rugby club with no keg...? Must be something to do with the college’s current alcohol policy. Which simply must be changed! Zounds. For Friday night’s “reception” we had brought a jug of scotch, on the counsel of unofficial “advisors” Rich Akerboom ‘80 and Wayne Young ‘72, so were able to attend to our own spiritual needs.
We arrived at the appointed hour, and pretty much had the place to ourselves for the first half-hour, so had our bearings before the younger set showed up. There were no nametags, and we OFs remained huddled together as kids began to filter in and headed for the cases of Keystone Light. There was no program per se, so we made some efforts to start up conversations, much to no avail inasmuch as we had really nothing in common with the players and their friends. Somebody showed up with a few aluminum baking pans, which presumably were hors d’oeuvres and were inhaled by the crowd at the bar. It began to look like dinner time, so the ‘59ers headed for West Leb and LuiLui while we made a run for Simon Pearce again. En route from The Corey to Quechee, we drove past the Green in the dusk. There we saw the tall lumber structure for the Dartmouth Night bonfire, constructed by professional contractors and protected from unauthorized approach by garish yellow caution tape marking the broad perimeter... Ah, well—lest the old traditions fail, tomorrow promised a full & rich agenda.
At this juncture, it might serve to offer an observation regarding olde fartes who show up at campus activities expecting to mingle and bond with the younger set, including current students. The primary focus of today’s rugby team, for example, is the coming match; they are there, indeed, to play rugby. Recent graduates are there to watch their immediate successors play rugby and perchance perpetuate the excellence they themselves had set in motion. Our small circle of stooped, gray, bald/combed-over, doddering relics huddled together by the bar obviously wouldn’t be playing the match, nor relating to last year’s team, and really have no significance for these young people. They don’t know who we are, and don’t care in the first place—not to sound harsh: they just don’t need to. They did not matriculate at Dartmouth specifically to latch up with an antiquated group of fossils who look like their grandparents, and sound like them as well. Nor are they encouraged by their professors or the school administration to honor the alumni who went before them and paved the way. These kids were not brought up in the same society as we War Babies, and do not share the same values which were drilled into us. They live for today, and now is the imperative. Literally miles ahead of us technologically, they come up short in breadth of exposure and experience. They are encouraged to question authority, not to revere traditions or quaint social fabric that may have had meaning a half-century ago. They are constantly reminded that they are the intellectual elite, a rare cadre of select students carefully culled for their personal excellence, to whom the very hopes of our nation’s future have been entrusted. Their main concerns are for: 1. Themselves 2. Sex 3. Music 4. Money 5. Beer 6. Celebrity 7. Fitness 8. Video games 9&10. (tie) Other creature comforts and schoolwork. Self-esteem was drummed into them in elementary school; Judeo-Christian mores were never stressed. They simply don’t care that in our day [of no computers] we had a tougher row to hoe, fewer options, less guidance—nor, for chrissakes, that we had to drive to Smith for a date (do not forget number 2!)... These are not their concerns, nor do they have time/interest to dwell on them. Just a little word of caution for the 1961-2011 Connections Program: do not maintain false hope.
Saturday began with the Harvard match at The Corey. It was good quality rugby, played with speed and some finesse. We did not notice the level of natural athletic ability so prevalent back in our day; but today’s student-athletes have about twice as many sports to choose from, thus rugger isn’t always going to get the very best jocks on campus each season. Harvard, that football factory on the Charles, was obviously drawing from the Special Students pool for some of their front row, and outweighed the Dartmouth XV in the scrum. A good seesaw battle ended in a draw—we kissed our sister... Some fans stayed on at the clubhouse for the upcoming 2007 Rugby World Cup Finals, England vs. South Africa, televised from St. Denis, France. Others repaired to Memorial Stadium to see the American football lads take on Columbia, in hopes of bettering last year’s three total victories. Buddy Teevens is up against tough odds, as this year’s freshmen were still admitted under the dubious wisdom of Karl Furstenberg who loathed football. But the guys in green, in spite of an alarmingly porous pass defense, eventually won. And a happy crowd filed out of the stands, heading for refreshments at various Homecoming tents around campus, after pausing while the gridders gathered at midfield and essentially shouted a rendition of Men of Dartmouth (somebody’s gone and changed all the words...!).
Back at The Corey, the folks in charge had tape-delayed the telecast in order for all comers to be present. The main hall was packed by 5:00, and we sat around the room noting how vastly the professional game on the TV differs from our amateur version. Although accompanied by dates and/or members of the Womens’ RFC (see: 2., above), the current players were watching for new techniques, plays, and conventions, while we OFs sat in muted awe at the sheer magnitude of the behemoths on the screen, including even the skill players. There was actually less interchange between age groups than the prior evening. Nor was there much of any kind of program; one would have thought someone in authority would have introduced Dick, the father of Dartmouth Rugby, or maybe Hess, who still serves on the DRFC Board of Governors, but nobody seemed to be concerned with those kinds of details. Soon after the game had been won by the Springboks, the familiar aluminum pans showed up (catering by Murphy’s, fka the Indian Bowl, fka the Calumet, etc. on Main St.). We couldn’t locate the 1.75 jug of Famous Grouse we’d left at the bar last night, and the youngsters had converged on the comestibles, so we set off for Margarita’s in Leb, hoping to find an open table for nine on a busy Saturday night... Somehow we lucked out (Begorrah!), enjoyed decent Mexican cuisine in the wilds of rural New Hampshire, and eventually called it a weekend.
The next morning, before the Murphs headed south on their long drive home to Florida, Mike & I went over to Goldstein Hall and photographed the bronze bust of Dave McLaughlin ‘54 by George Lundeen; the piece had been commissioned by a group of Dave’s classmates, and they wanted the same sculptor who crafted our own very popular statue of Robert Frost. Having the rest of Sunday open, and a gracious invitation from Jane & Jack DeGange, Dartmouth Sports Information Director Emeritus, I joined them and Carol & Jake Crouthamel ‘60 for brunch at the DeGange farm in Leb. Jake was in Hanover to present a College Football Hall of Fame plaque to Reggie Williams ‘76 at half-time on Saturday. We had a splendid time catching up after far too many years, and especially enjoyed the Crouthamels’ tales of when Ensign Jake was in the Navy, coaching Pearl Harbor football, and living in Navy Housing at Nanakuli—an almost pure native Hawaiian community on the Waianae cost of Oahu, where haoles fear to tread... am certain we opened Jack’s and Jane’s eyes to some unique facets of life in the middle of the Pacific.
Next day ‘twas time to bring the magical mystical tour to a close; stowing my gear in an Avis car from Lebanon airport, I set off down the Interstate. Guess it bears mention that, had I been unable to get a rental, I would have taken the “Dartmouth Coach” bus to Logan; it departs the Inn corner several times daily, stops for passengers at New London, and arrives promptly at BOS for a decent fare. Proceeding down I-89 at a good clip, I came upon said Dartmouth Coach at about Grantham, over in the breakdown lane, engine hatch open, driver scratching his head—it hadn’t even made it to the New London pick-up. I patted the rented Chevy Cobalt on the dashboard and thanked the luck o’ the Irish...