Saturday, December 31, 2011

Grandpa Joe and The Flip Flap Flooler

Grandpa Joe and Eliza Carter, June 30th 1904

Recently I discovered some typed pages that did not make it into my grandfather's memoir, The Sword Over The Mantel. They include stories of a childhood in which he was raised among servants. All of which comes as a surprise to those of us who only knew him as the very regal "Duke of Richmond".

We all lived at Laburnum when I was a child: Grandfather and Grandmother; Father, Mother and I, the three of my four uncles who weren't yet married; and assorted relatives, friends, servants and dogs. The big old house had room for us all, and there was room around it for stables and barns, gardens and orchards, pastures and cornfields, with blackberry bushes for the summer and chinquapin tress for the fall. Only two miles down the road was the city of Richmond, but it held no attraction for me. I was happy and complete at home.

from The Sword Over The Mantel: The Civil War and I published in 1960.

The grounds as seen from Laburnum, now part of the Richmond Memorial Hospital complex.

Now for the parts that did not make it into the book:

In his day a child under six had no business being in the company of adults, so little Joe would spend his days in the kitchen among the cherished company of his friends the house servants:

My mammies, Mammy Liza, and later Mammy Brown, and still later Mammy Liza's daughter, Mary Stubbs--known only as "Mary Dear"(Mary Dear honored me by christening one of her children "Joseph Bryan Third Stubbs."); the cook, Mammy Charlotte Ross; the butler, George Robinson; the parlormaids, Skinker and Lea; Mother's maid, Lily; the butler "Daddy George".

I took my meals downstairs in the basement-kitchen, with the house servants, although as a special treat--on my birthday, say--I'd be allowed to have supper upstairs at the Big Table. Mother told me that just before one such treat, I proudly announced to my usual eating companions, "Tonight, I'm going to eat with the White Folks!"

From table talk he picked up a new phrase that led to a spanking when I heard one of them describe another as 'nothin' but a nappy-headed fiel' han'. I was impatient for an opportunity to use the phrase, although I had no idea what it meant. The opportunity came soon, in the form of Lily, who promptly reported me to Mother, who as promptly gave me six of the best with the back of her hairbrush, It was repousse silver, I remember, and Mother assured me that for hours afterwards my stinging bottom bore the imprint of Cupids and rosebuds.

The chauffeur Johnny Mines, "a tall, handsome Negro who might have been the twin brother to the Cream of Wheat man" was a family favorite.

Everybody liked Johnny , but my brother and I loved him. He taught us to drive a car and to shoot a rifle. More than that, he was our friend and confidant. I was thirteen when I went off to boarding school
(at Episcopal High School) and I stayed so wretchedly homesick for so long that Johnny used to write me letters of comfort. They came in pink envelopes addressed in indelible purple pencil which he would lick before printing each laborious word:

Mister. Joe. Bryan.
Apisabel. High. School.
Alexander. V.A.

When he was in especially high spirits, he would recite a poem about an old Negress going to "de sto'" to buy a palm-leaf fan. She can't make the storekeeper understand what she wants. Finally she tells him in desperation

It's a flip-flap-flooler
Summertime cooler
Good Gawd A-mighty, man
Don't you know?
It's one of 'em things
That goes jes so

Whenever he told us about something that had surprised him, he always said. "Ah say to mahse'f. 'Uh-hi! What dis heah?"

My brother and I still say it, in tribute to Johnny.

Years passed before I purged the Negro locutions from my speech--not all of them; I'm still likely to say, "He don't." But at my worst I was never as ungrammatical as my six-years-younger brother, Lamont. Even up to prep school, he talked like a parody of Amos and Andy.

With important guests in the next room, including a former British Prime Minister, Lamont was heard arguing with his cousin John Stewart ,Jr

"Unc' Stewart," he said hotly, "John Stewart claim Jack Dempsey can lick a gorilla. I claim he ain't!"

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dad's Advice to Writers (1997)

From two different letters written in 1997:

I like Milan Kundera's line. "To be a writer does not mean to preach the truth, it means to discover a truth." Of course my favorite line about writing is from W.B. Yeats: "Only that which does not teach, which does not cry out, which does not condescend, which does not explain, is irresistible"" I have that framed next to my desk -- along with the Moliere quote: "Writing is like prostitution: First you do it for the love of it, then you do it for a few friends, and finally you do it for the money." The best advice I've ever come across for writers is from J.D. Salinger's vastly under-appreciated short story "Seymour: An introduction." It was included in one of Seymour Glass's letters to his brother Buddy: "If only you'd remember before you sit down to write that you've been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart's choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can barely believe it as I write it. You sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself. I won't even underline that. It's too important to be underlined. Oh, dare to do it Buddy! Trust your heart."

...It sounds so simple doesn't it? It isn't of course, because no writer gets it right the first time through. No one said writing is easy. Nor is rewriting and rewriting, again and again, until your text reads as if it hadn't been written at all, but rather as if the proper words just appeared marching in their proper sequence like good little soldiers on after another, from sentence to paragraph to chapter to book. And how an author weaves those words together is what we think of as that writer's style, which is another way of saying his or her voice.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

George Ford Morris

My grandfather Kent Miller aboard Comforter with Mom running beside them

In his day there was no finer American equestrian artist than George Ford Morris (1873-1960). By painting horses, riders and their owners, Morris captured on canvas the ever-changing world of "Town and Country" Americana. His paintings, featured in the 1952 book Portraitures of Horses, are as popular as ever, selling for as much as $25,000 in auctions.

In the early 1940's Morris visited my mother's home in Aiken, South Carolina. Her father, Kent Miller,and mother, Theodora, were hoping to get some lessons from the famous artist.

a composition study by George Ford Miller

This I finally consented to do, to the extent of allowing them to work two half days a week in my studio, during which time I would give them as much help and criticism as I could while continuing my own work. Although Mrs. Miller's chief object in trying to draw horses was, I believe, to avoid as much as possible being deprived of her husband's company while he was engaged in his art work, nevertheless, it turned out that she could draw horses so much better and with so much less effort than he could that he was forced to the stark conclusion, if his wife was a better artist than himself, he had better try to make his living in some other way, and I inwardly approved of his decision.
-George Ford Morris

Kent was a strapping, graceful figure of a man on a horse, and his first love before his marriage had been Saddle-Horses, of which he owned three well bred ones when I met him... - GFM

But in Aiken my grandfather's fancy turned to Thoroughbreds.His newest acquisition was a horse named Comforter which he entered in some some of Aiken's amateur chases. The horse failed to race well, but my grandfather met a famous owner of Steeplechase horses, Thomas Hitchcock.
When Hitchcock died, my grandfather bought a small racy looking horse from the Hitchcock stable. Veteran steeplechase men were amused by the persistence with which my grandfather trained the horse.

Elkridge and my grandfather

It was not long however, before little Elkridge and his amateur handler began to astonish them. In 1946, Elkridge won the Grand National at Belmont. (Elkridge would win 31 of 123 starts and be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1966.) Stablemate War Battle won the Temple Gwathmey. The sporting press declared Elkridge the ranking steeplechaser of 1942 and 1946. War Battle won the title in 1947.

Another evidence that goes to show what youthful genius coupled with earnest endeavor can accomplish in this tough and ofttimes cynical old world.-GFM

Recently I received a photograph from Morris's great nephew who lives in Seattle. It's an 11 X 14 painting of Elkridge, finished but for the rider and saddle which are penciled in. Small world.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Uncle Saint in Hawaii: Dolphin Stampede

After two days in dry dock refitting the hull and keel, Uncle Saint and his companions set off for Tahiti once again. For two days they had fabulous sailing in their 33 foot boat, then heavy swells.
The days and nights began to merge with one another.

There was one night, however, which I shall never forget. I was standing watch, alone, about 2 AM. There wasn't a breath of air and, for once, the sea was glassy calm. Although all possible sail was up, we were "ghosting", or standing practically still. In memory of Dr. Van der werff I was actively engaged in "sokuten kyoshi" ( self-detachment in pursuit of heaven), when far off in the distance I heard the rhythmic sound of breakers. I knew we were nowhere near land, so I assumed a major squall was approaching and lowered the main.

The noise drew closer and closer but there was still no breath of wind and, I swear to God, I thought we were going to be hit by a tidal wave. I was about to go below to waken the others when the sea around us literally erupted with the bodies of over a thousand porpoises. They leaped and cavorted in absolute perfect unison - and the full moon reflecting off their flashing eyes and phosphorescent wake made it seem like we were surrounded by an underwater Milky Way.

The came so close to the boat I could have touched them --indeed, some of them actually nudged us ( I found out later they do this to rub the barnacles, etc, off their backs). There is no way in the world to describe this spectacle. I thought, afterwards, that they were like violin players in a symphony orchestra - performing the most incredible tricks while bowing in perfect unison. But a symphonic score lacks the sweeping grand loneliness of the ocean, and violin players lack the grace and power of porpoises. I sat there for an hour after they had gone, drenching wet and shaking. I could not think. "Vot comes to mind?"

After the night the ocean "exploded in his face" Uncle Saint and his passengers drifted into the full-scale doldrums. Someone tossed a paper plate overboard and watched it drift forward and out of sight. The decision was made to return to Hawaii where Uncle Saint helped his old friend John Honl with his charter marlin boat business. He moved into a small apartment with roommates and cockroaches.

I won't say we had a lot of cockroaches, but one morning I found an albino and this only happens once in 10,000,000 births!

I missed living in the yacht harbor though. The life, sights and sounds there were other worldly. I love to watch the tall masts rocking back and forth--scribbling the sky, The long drawn out belching sounds of the mooring lines as the boats strain against the docks. The incredible array of ragamuffin I shipped out again and went back to Kona where I have spent the last week diving for slate-urchin spines.

The price is $50 per thousand and I have 6,000 of them in a big reeking sack at my feet. The wind has picked up a little and it's my turn at the wheel,Ma. We'll be back in time for the surfing championships and I am entered.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Uncle Saint in Hawaii 1962-1968, part three

Continuing a 1963 letter to his mother--

From the beginning (The Lady Pat on its way to Tahiti) took on water. We weren't unduly worried, however, for we were crossing the Alenuihaha Channel ("Laughing Water" we called it) - the roughest stretch of water in the world. We decided to play it safe and 24 hours later we put into a small, uninhabited ( except for goats) island called "Kahoolawe", or "Island of Death".

A strange thing happened on the way over. We had a fishing line out and we got an immense strike. The fish made a furious run and, just as we started to hand line him in, the line went slack. We brought it in anyhow, and on the end of the hook was a tuna which might originally have gone 15-20 lbs., foul-hooked through the tail. I say "originally" because a shark had taken off its head in such a way that all the entrails had gone with it--cleaning it as neatly as we could have done it with a knife. Our first dinner at sea was delicious.

Kahoolawe is a strange, barren little island, covered completely with 'a'a ( or sharp volcanic rock), kiawe thorns, and jagged shrapnel. (It was used as a target island by Navy dive bombers.) For three days we did nothing but explore the island until our feet looked like hamburgers and skin dive waters so thick with fish that you literally had to push larger ones away with your spear to get at the ones that would fit into the frying pan.

One funny experience: I "poked" ( as we say) a huge octopus--the largest I have ever seen in these waters. The tentacles were about ten feet from tip to tip, and when I threw him on board he stuck one of his tentacles down through a scupper hole. Two of us finally pried him off and with him came a five foot strip of white paint off the side of the boat. I cleaned him ( you turn his head inside out and strip off the ink sacs and brains) and stuffed him into the pressure cooker -- since we figured this would be the only way we could tenderize an old brute like this one. We turned on the fire and waited. Nothing happened. After ten minutes had gone by I heard this strange knocking noise, so I went below to investigate. The pressure cooker was literally throbbing up and down with such force that I was afraid it was going to blow shrapnel through the sides of the boat. I threw it overboard to cool it off, and when we brought it up and hour later and pried the lid off, the blast of steam which escaped still shot 10 feet across the decks. It seems the octopus, in his final revenge, had stuck the tip of his tentacle up into the steam release valve and blocked it -- and in another few minutes the ship would have gone down like a sieve. I'll say one thing--he was tender by the time we got him out of there.

We also explored the island and found a deserted army camp with a cache of 4 year old "C" rations. We swam about fifty cans of them ( "Ham & Lima Beans", Roast Beef & Mashed Potatoes", etc) back to the boat & opened up a few of them. The food was still good -- so good, in fact, that we never once dipped into our original supply of ship's stores.

Another time I ran down and caught one of the multitude of small goats which inhabit the island, but it baa-ed so plaintively I released it to its mother -- in far better shape, I might add, than I was in after the barefooted chase up the side of the cliff.

"What happened then, Mr Crusoe?"
"I went back on Friday".

Anyhow the hull did not swell up as tight as we had hoped and, to be technical in terms I won't remember 6 months from now, we were still taking water on in the Deadwood under the Lazarette. (I love to sail but I can't speak the language) So one night the four of us sat down to a top-level conference and decided that the smart thing would be head back to Honolulu for dry-docking and a general "overhaul". We had no sooner settled down to our usual nightly goat - serenade when the first explosion went off 100 yards away. Night bombing practice! We hoisted the anchor so fast we almost pulled the bow under and headed away from Kahoolawe with every possible light blazing up into the sky. Bombs were dropping all over the place and, while it was comforting to know we were being protected "while we slept", we somehow wished we weren't being protected quite so close.

We pulled into Lahaina again early in the morning - just in time to catch the divers going out - and they solemnly lined up on the dock and shouted "Iorana" which is the Tahitian word for "Hello".
They thought they were very funny.

Two years after Uncle Saint's visit, 500 tons of TNT were detonated on the island as part of "Operation Sailor Hat". The mission's purpose was to simulate a small nuclear explosion and survey its effects on offshore ships.
In 1993--after decades of Islander protests-- the Navy turned the island of Kaho'olawe back to Hawaii. Today the island is only used for native Hawaiian cultural and spiritual purposes. The Hawaiians do not refer to Kaho'olawe is "the island of death"

Because Kaho'olawe is still littered with un-recovered ordnance, the rare visitor is taught "if you didn't drop it, don't pick it up."

Monday, September 5, 2011

Uncle Saint in Hawaii 1962-1968, part two

From a letter Uncle Saint wrote to his mother in late 1963:

The summer passed more or less uneventfully. I lived and worked aboard a 48 foot sloop named "The Swallow", taking skin diving charters out for "South Seas Aquatics" in the Hilton Hawaiian Village. ( I also had a brief two week fling as a surfing instructor until a few mishaps--broken nose, chipped tooth, dislocated finger etc.--impressed me with the fact that there are easier ways of making a living than dodging your own pupils' loose surfboards.)

Hilton Hawaiian Village in the early 1960's

The chartering was marvelous. We would leave the harbor almost every day with a party of 4 to 10 skin divers and sail around ("..spanked lightly by Waikiki's ever-present tropical trade winds") until we reached the first clear diving area ("visit Waikiki's fabled coral gardens") where we would push them overboard.

Usually I would go over with then, after running through the list of standard admonitions: "The thing that looks like a pin cushion is a poisonous sea urchin. Don't touch it.

The thing that looks like a purple balloon with strings is a Portuguese Man of War. Don't touch it.

The thing that looks like an eel is an eel. Don't touch it" etc., etc.

And while they were down looking at all the things they couldn't touch, I could go out and spear enough fish, octopus or lobster for our dinner.

I did have two bad scares. One when a 12 foot mako shark made two ominous passes at myself and two young children I was diving with, only to swim off for no apparent reason at all.

And the other when I was looking for lobster inside an old sunken wreck in about forty feet of water and a sudden, tremendous surge threw me into a tangle of rusted iron pipes. I surfaced, bleeding badly from a number of superficial scratches on my legs, and spent the next two weeks flat on my back with a fever of 105 on down as a result of blood poisoning.

When summer ended and business fell off, I went to Maui to dive for black coral. This species of coral, as far as we know, is unique to Hawaiian waters. It grows in a tree-like form at a depth of 150-250 feet, and its intense black color is, of course, attributable to the lack of light down there. Its value lies in its fabulous beauty. As a full tree it is a decorative piece; but when it is cut up and polished the coral is so hard and lustrous that it can be carved into a variety of "costume jewelry" items.

But the diving is dangerous. You have a powerful current, low visibility and sharks to contend with as a starter--but the worst thing of all is the risk ( and almost certain risk) of the bends.

Out of a dozen divers who work for black coral, at least half of them have had the bends and two of them will never walk again. It would never have happened if they had stuck to the standard diving tables (how long one can work at a given depth, how long he has to decompress at varying ascending depths, etc.) but most of them are young and blinded with greed.

(Black coral brings $5 a pound, a good tree can weigh $20 lbs., and it's possible to bring up two trees or more in one day's diving.) They even have a macabre little theme song to the effect that "If you want to be a black coral diver/ Save your money so you can buy a good wheelchair".

I frankly did not feel that the money was commensurate with the risk, and when the chance came to sail to Tahiti on the "Lady Pat" I took it.

Lahaina Harbor 1963

A touching scene took place at the dock at Lahaina when the other black coral divers came to see us off. The "bends" affects the leg muscles, mainly, and the whole group of them bobbed and weaved and stumbled about like paraplegics as they waved goodbye and shouted "Aloha" to us. A half mile out, I turned around and they were still there, lined up and waving. They looked for all the world like drunken, spastic marionettes and I wondered what cruel puppeteer was yanking their strings. I felt sick.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Uncle Saint in Hawaii 1962-1968, part one

In 1962, at the behest of his mother, Uncle Saint left New York City and its various temptations behind and moved to Hawaii. I wouldn't want to betray my family's reputation so I'll just say the move likely saved my 30 year old uncle's life ...or at least prolonged it.

In September of 1962 he wrote his mother:

I think I am a "nice guy" and, although I have two strikes against me to prove it, I am going to do my best to show myself and others that it can be done. Dr Jekyll makes a comeback!

With the money his mother sent as a birthday present Uncle Saint bought a used typewriter, a surfboard and, with $50, half an interest in vintage 1952 Morris Minor.

My life is complete and I am tremendously happy. I am lean, tan and muscular
( except for the lean --155 lbs) and am the spitting image of Charles Atlas, in the sense that our spit looks exactly the same.

He moved from busy Lauula Street to a small cottage surrounded by vine and avocado trees in the back of Waikiki. He shared this story with his mom.

The other night I went to a semi-posh restaurant here in town. The place was full so I took my place in line. Just then the door opened and a tall, magnificent blonde strolled in dragging a long ermine stole on the floor behind her, like a train. She wiggled up to the headwaiter and engaged him in a short sotto voce conversation, of which I only caught her phrase "bon soir". He shook his head, she stared icily at him icily for a moment, and unsheathed a jewelled arm, hurled it into the air and virtually shouted: "Qu'es que c'est que cette shit 'No tables'!"

Uncle Saint got a job as a crew member on an inter-island sailboat for a two week cruise with "pea green tourists", spending most of the time in the Molokai Channel where 15 foot swells are considered normal. Over 30 feet not unusual.

At the end of the letter he promised good things were on the horizon.

I feel wonderful. I'm accomplishing things neither of us would have believed possible a short time ago and I'm right in the middle of a good start for the rest of what is to come in my life.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dude, 1956

In 1956, Dad spent the summer between his Sophomore and Junior years at Yale working at The Block S Ranch outside Jackson Hole Wyoming. He wrote letters back home to his mother and John O'Hara.

It took us three days to get out here driving 750-800 miles a day for fourteen hours. But we're here under the towering Tetons etc. It really is very pretty out here and we're isolated from the rest of the world.

So far my job has been chauffeur, car-washer, guide, horse breaker--a pony hadn't been ridden since it had been put out for winter. It farted and bucked until our teeth rattled BUT I STUCK ON and the foreman doesn't think I'm such a dude now. He had me "oiling" cabins today. And I was just as much in the dark as to how one oiled a building as you are. It consists of
brushing linseed oil onto the outside wood--makes it look real rustic. Most boring job.

-June 13

Ike took us on a ride through the mountains today and although it was a beautiful trip I never was so glad to get back to the ranch for a beer in my life. I was so dry I had three in about fifteen minutes and it hit me like a brick. I just went off to bed.

My job for the last day has been building "Bryan Park". It is a 50 yd by 25 yd picnic area. Clear safe, trees, build benches and fireplaces and garbage pits. This will kill you: I am also building a privy! "What did you do this summer?" Well I drove 2000 miles to Wyoming and made privies, thanks. What did you do?"

I've been doing some shooting out here. I don't think I wrote you that I bought a gun. It's a Marlin 39A, lever-action .2 cal "Pioneer". It is the gun I've always wanted and it was probably foolish of me to get it but it is a beauty. Actually with practice I've gotten to be a pretty damn good shot
-June 28

The Fourth passed bangingly in more ways than one. Lost my temper for the first time in years and pasted a Dude. Didn't remember it until someone told me this morning ( Beer party in the bunkhouse, Dude was feeling up a girl who didn't want to be felt- I hope) Ran into the Dude again this morning. He was wearing black around the eye. I said "Hello" he said "Hello-shit" Conversation ended there.

I play the guitar out here for the picnics and it's really commercial but it's part of the job. A new cowboy at the Triangle X sings with me and he has a beautiful voice. He sang "The Cattle Call" the other night--the one with the falsetto theme and came to the chorus of "He's brown as a berry from riding the prairie" and muffed it, result: "Brown as a fairy" I fell off the log I got to laughing so hard. The poor guy was scarlet.
-July 6

The dudes are pouring in and with them comes more and more work. I supposedly quit at five o'clock and from them on I become a dude wrangler and keep them entertained. The last weeks have been spent in what I call Death Valley which is a stretch of aspen and pine trees which I disappear into and reappear hours later. I just chop down the dead trees, chop them up, and tote them out. Boring as hell.

Also I have acquired a pet which is now asleep in my wastepaper basket-it's about a six month old squirrel known as "squeeks" and it really is wonderful. She romps across my bed and desk and raises havoc with my papers. She's licking her tail now. Ah, well. When I put on my tweed coat she does wild. Runs up one sleeve across my back and down the other then dives into a pocket. It really is a funny animal.
-July 23

On weekends Dad would visit Jackson.

My friends are the cowboys. They all go around in levis faded white and dirty broad-brimmed stetsons. Nobody knows anyone's last name, and none of the cowboys are called Slim or Shorty or Luke. They have names like Frank, Jim and Charlie. They're tough as hell all tall and thin and wear their hair long over their eyes in a Will Rogers manner. Only one rolls his cigarettes the rest smoke Luckies and L&M's or Marlboroughs

The other night Frank ( age 60) and I bought cap pistols and went into one of the bars and pretended to be in a long argument. The places was filled with Dudes and friends of ours who had been tipped off. We'd even tipped off the bouncers and sheriff's deputies. Suddenly in the middle of the argument we whipped out our guns ( he beat me to the draw) and fired away. But his caps didn't go off and I plugged him. He fell to the floor and I got laughing so hard I joined him. By the time the place got under control again we'd gone. It's the same place where the band plays the Whiffenpoof song when I come in.

They shut down the gambling for a few days so that the Governor and Attorney General of Wyoming could cruise through , see nothing and go back to report that "there is no gambling in Wyoming." Gambling had gone underground. This is an underground room where the roulette, crap and 21 tables operate beneath maze of pipes and bouncers. You go around to the back of the bar and walk down to it--only if you are passed up above by one of the spotters.

As for getting home I leave here the 27th by car and put-put across the country for three to four days.

My pet squirrel is crawling on my legs now, I'm sure she thinks I'm a tree. I'm going to set her free before I come home. She's a red squirrel but since she's very young she still has a grey coloring.

That's all from the West except that I'm going around with a very suave 21 year old girl from Pittsburgh. She has all kinds of ideas.
-August 20

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Writer-In-Residence Colorado State University, 1967

On the first day of 1967, Dad moved into an apartment in Fort Collins Colorado where he would be that quarter's writer-in-residence at Colorado State University.

He taught the Creative Writing Workshop and Contemporary Fiction Techniques. He planned to discuss "Casino Royale" by Ian Fleming. "Miss Lonelyhearts" by Nathanael West. "Cat's Cradle" by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., "Seymour: An Introduction" by J.D. Salinger, "The Dwarf" by Par Lagerkvist and "Hopscotch" by Julio Corzazar in his fiction techniques class.

With Viet Nam raging half a world away, an article written by Mike Glover for the university newspaper mentions "The Face of War" ,a Swedish documentary for which Dad wrote the narration.

Of the film he said

It was a ban-the-bomb movie made by the Bergman studios. It showed the devastation of war, like scenes from Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bomb was dropped, nuclear tests in New Mexico, and shots taken from a World War I biplane over Verdun showing absolutely nothing but pock marks and ruined villages.

Dad talked about serving as an Army Intelligence Officer in Korea.

I don't know which would be more patriotic, to be against the war in Viet Nam or to go into the military and make the best of a very bad thing.

I can't remember ever enjoying pain or death. I didn't like escorting prisoners in Korea, threatening them with death. I used to shoot bird, but the last time I went hunting, something changed. I suddenly realized the birds, and life itself, were so beautiful and so free, that it was a shame to shoot them.

Dad said he admired the generation in college in at that time.

This generation realizes that war is an idiotic way of solving a political conflict. It is an old man's way of politics. The same generation in communist countries probably realizes the same thing.

Dad was optimistic about the future of the writing profession.

The one thing many people don't know about writing is that if you write something good,it will be published. Publishers are begging for good materials, especially novels.

I hope there are many people here interested in writing. There is nothing more exciting than knowing you've done something good, particularly in writing.

He added

I don't think I could stand being in business. There's no freedom.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Festering Mutual Understanding

It never occured to Dad not to do military service "A Bryan," his father had told him, " has been an officer in every war this country has fought"--a true statement until Vietnam.

At one point Dad was stationed on Okinawa overlooking on one side the airfield where the torpedo plane in which Grandpa Joe was flying was hit by Japanese Anti-aricraft, and on the other side the bay in which his Uncle Lamont had his destroyer escort sunk out from under him by a kamikaze.

In Korea Dad was a nuclear targeting officer and was given an elaborate scoll of appreciation by the South Korean intelligence in which it said "You have done much to fester mutual understanding between our two nations".

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Kicked Out 1953

At 17 and forced to attend the Hotchkiss summer school after flunking four out of five final exams, Dad lit up a Lucky Strike and walked into his favorite teacher's room.

(George Norton Stone) looked as stricken by what I had done as by what he knew he must do. "Well, you might as well finish it," he said.

That was certainly the final straw. Dad had already been caught with an electric coffeepot in his room at the beginning of the year. At the end of the summer Dad was "asked not to return". This would be his second expellation. The first ( see would lead to his writing career. Dad finished his boarding school career at Berkshire.

In a chapter called "Kicked Out", published in Hotchkiss: A Chronicle of an American School, Dad explains why he has such fond memories of Hotchkiss and why he wanted me to attend a school from which he'd been expelled.

Hotchkiss Campus today

Externally, the Hotchkiss I attended in the early 1950s was, with the exception of young women, pretty much the same as the Hotchkiss of the late seventies and early eighties. More important, many of the same faculty members were still there, among them the two men by whom I have been most influenced throughout my schooling: George Norton Stone and Robert Hawkins.

Stone and his wife Jodie lived in a small apartment in Coy in the 1950's where they "somehow, intuitively knew a boy had had enough of pretending to be grown up".As kind as they both were to Dad on the corridor, Stone could be brutal in the classroom.

Mr Stone, 1953

"Bryan, you're an idiot in math! I suggest you complete this course, fulfill your math requirement, and never ever come near a numeral again."...My God, the number of blackboard erasers and pieces of chalk he whizzed by my ears! "If you don't pay attention, I'm going to be all over you like a tent!"

Mr Stone 1981

Stone was much kinder to me. Probably because I was even more pathetic at math.

Mr Hawkins 1953

Dad's favorite English teacher was "The Hawk" --a nickname having less to do with Robert Hawkin's name, I always thought, than his ability to swoop down on the hapless student who was unprepared.

Mr Hawkins 1981

Mr Hawkins taught me French. Again, I was helpless. I entered Hotchkiss as an immature 13 year old. Both Stone and Hawkins flunked me prep year, so I spent the summer trying to make up for a D Minus average.

In so many ways, our Hotchkiss experiences were alike.

Dad 1954

Dad writes In those days I never had a girl friend, much less a girlfriend, and I went to proms and concerts alone. But, then again, I suppose there was not much demand among the girls at Farmington or Miss Hall's for a boy who looked like he'd be most comfortable on a twig.

Senior Portrait with Bill Newman on the left, 1981

I didn't need a report card to feel like a failure at Hotchkiss. I was surrounded by more wealthy, better looking and much happier students. Or at least they seemed that way. Eventually I decided that I couldn't compete head to head so I became a class clown. Over four years, I sent out no noticeable S.O.S's to the faculty. I also somehow managed to graduate without having sent out a single college application.
What followed was a dramatic "lost year" I'll have to write about in the near future.

Class of 1981 reunion, 2006

In the meantime, this is the weekend of my 30th Hotchkiss reunion. I will spend it watching my daughter play in a soccer tournament three thousand miles from campus. Despite everything I've written, I do have memories of a very special time, a keen appreciation of education as well as some enduring friendships.
Those were Dad's greatest wishes for me.


Dad, third from left.2003

At my father's memorial service a member of The Berkshire School's faculty handed me this clipping from The Berkshire Bulletin. The headline: "He's all ours, Hotchkiss". Yes, Hotchkiss has a way of claiming succesful alumni they've expelled.