Lawrence Academy

Shep's Place

Joe Sheppardby Joe Sheppard . . .

With a little help from his friends.

Although Joe officially retired in June 2013, he remains active at LA, continuing as a contributing writer and editor for the Academy Journal and as an assistant to the faculty advisor of the student newspaper - Spectrum. We trust you'll enjoy Shep's Place and check back often to read Joe's habitually witty, often poignant, and always insightful vignettes about life at Lawrence Academy.


I’ll Bring the Turkey

For many years we lived in Butler House, that fine Federal-period edifice next to Loomis on Main Street. Apparently Caleb Butler (1776 - 1854), the second principal of Lawrence Academy (or preceptor, as they were called then), had a good deal of money, as the house is beautifully built, with chamfered indian shutters for all the ground-floor windows, elaborate ceiling mouldings, fancy door and window frames, etc. It also boasts a large kitchen and a lovely, spacious dining room, on the front of the house. I noted in a Butler family history that Caleb and his wife had a number of children—hence, perhaps, the need for the large space devoted to nourishment.

When we moved into the main part of Butler House in the mid-1970s, a few years after the school had purchased the property, the kitchen, as in Caleb’s time, was still equipped to feed a large family: There were two ovens, one gas and one electric, and the long cooktop island had fold-down counters at stool height, designed to feed four or five kids at a time.

Almost as soon as we had unpacked the last suitcase, my parents presented us with the massive mahogany dining room set that my great-grandfather had had built in the 1880s. Dad had just retired, and their new house didn’t have the space, but we did. The huge oval table and its seven matching chairs fit perfectly into Mr. Butler’s dining room, as did a 1920s sideboard, also of mahogany, that Mom and Dad could no longer use.

The table has four leaves; using all of them, we could seat eighteen people and still have plenty of room to move around. This fact was not lost on my mother, who informed us, by some telepathic means I’ve never figured out, that henceforth we would be in charge of Thanksgiving.

And so we were. For fifteen years or so, we were up at crack of dawn to put the bird in the oven, set the great table with newly-polished silver, and start cooking all the vegetables that we should have done ahead of time but hadn’t. The day, like the meal itself, was always the same. Mom brought a dish of celery and olives that nobody ate; the pre-dinner cocktails and hors d’oeuvres lasted far too long, so the kids didn’t get naps and were cranky.

After a few years I got sick of getting up early and roasting the turkey and then smelling it all over the house. One November in the late 1980s, shortly before we moved to Pepperell, we had the brilliant idea to forget about turkey for a year and buy a ham from Blood Farm in West Groton instead. I called my parents to tell them that we were having ham for Thanksgiving instead of turkey. Mom answered the phone. The conversation went something like this:

—Hi, Mom, it’s me. Just wanted to let you know about Thanksgiving.

—Hi, dahling. Shall I bring the celery and olives?

—Sure. By the way, we’re not getting a turkey this year. We’re going to have a ham from Blood’s. They’re fantastic. And it’ll be a lot less work.

  [short silence]

—That’s all right. I’ll bring the turkey.

—Mom, we’re not having turkey. We’re having ham.

—That’s fine. I’ll bring the turkey.

—Mom, that’s what I’m trying to tell you. We’re tired of turkey and want to do something different for a year.

—Well, I’ll bring the turkey. And the celery and olives.

—Really, Mom, you don’t have to…

—That’s all right, dahling. We’ll bring the turkey.

I said good-bye and sat down at the kitchen table, vanquished. She has to have gotten the message, I thought to myself. She wouldn’t…

She did. In the front door with my parents on Thanksgiving morning came a foil-wrapped, pre-roasted, pre-plattered specimen of meleagris gallopavo. I carved the ham. Dad carved the turkey. No one ate the celery and olives.

Posted by jbishop on Monday November 24 at 10:24AM
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...Who From Their Labors Rest

Anyone who has gone through the NGP at Lawrence—that’s the Ninth Grade Program, for those who are old enough to remember English I, World History and Saturday classes—will recall more or less fondly the grave-rubbing project at the old Groton burial ground. But no one of the World History generation could ever forget the “new” town cemetery from having marched there every Memorial Day!

That was about the extent of my acquaintance with the place until last spring, when I received an e-mail from Curt LeRoy ’72, an old friend who had lived in Waters when I was there and who had endeared himself forever to David Smith and me when the male lead of our first musical got thrown out of school two weeks before opening night. Curt stepped in, learned the part in a day, and rescued a play that we were certain would set the standard for LA theatre for generations to come.

Curt was not merely a thespian. He was also the godson of Norm and Catherine Grant, and he was writing from his home in Bali, Indonesia, to ask if I would find and photograph the Grants’ grave in the Groton cemetery. Sure, I said. I haven’t been there in a long while, so I’ll just take my camera and make that little search my daily walk.

It was a nice day, and I had time. Strolling around the “newer” (i.e., post-1900) section of the cemetery, before long I began to notice a few familiar names, then more and more. Many were old Groton families, some of whom had been connected with LA in various ways through the years: Bloods, Shattucks, Sawyers, Butlers.  Others had been part of the school’s fabric during my years there: the Fergusons, Alan Whipple, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Gray, Carl A.P. Lawrence, a long-time trustee and benefactor whose eponymous prize is awarded at each Graduation, and my old friend Fred “Brownie” Gale. Brownie, who was the Academy’s carpenter for many years, played the drums with a trio on Saturday nights at Caliente’s, a roadhouse on Route 40 in Westford. He’d call me from time to time to sit in with them if the regular pianist couldn’t make it. It was my first post-college musical gig, and it paid ten bucks a night plus a slice or two of Caliente’s inimitable pizza. (Alas, the Calientes retired, the cuisine migrated from Italy to Mexico, and the Saturday-night band became Muzak.)

Well, my daily walk that afternoon lasted two hours, and I returned home sore-footed and Grant-less. Summer and other projects came and went. Finally, earlier this month, guilt got the better of me and I determined to make good on my promise to Curt. Walking shoes on and camera in hand, I made a systematic, section-by-section search of the rest of the cemetery. After an hour the whole thing was getting old, and I could almost hear Catherine’s laugh. “You’re getting warmer, Joe. No, colder...colder...warmer, warmer...Keep looking!”

GrantAnd then, as I turned a corner, there they were, on the edge of a white pine grove, their stone bordered by a couple of slightly scruffy arborvitae. “There you are!” I blurted out. I was glad no one was around.

I’ll always be grateful to Curt for sending me on this search, for it helped me appreciate a fact of life that we often take for granted: the older we get,  the more people pass through our lives—probably thousands, for most of us. Many are forgotten; others dwell somewhere in the back of our minds. A few, those who have touched us in a significant way, remain with us even after they leave this world. I was glad for the chance to remember some of them.
Posted by jbishop on Friday October 24 at 03:11PM
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