by 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.
As you read this, many Lawrence students will be scattered across the globe on trips, while others will be on campus doing something they’ve never done before, often with students they’ve never known until now. This is Winterim—the forty-third, I believe. It’s both a great educational experience and, as it became clear after the first year, a brilliant solution to a nasty problem: how to survive the last two weeks of the winter term without waking up screaming every morning.
We had to do some gerrymandering of the calendar to get the new program into those two weeks. Some people were unhappy with the need to start the winter trimester after Thanksgiving instead of in January, because, as Arthur Ferguson would have put it, “It’s always been that way.” And others were uncomfortable with the mandate that everyone had to give a Winterim course unrelated to his or her primary field of endeavor. This provision relaxed over time, and faculty who prefer working in familiar territory can offer courses in an area that they know. For a while, too, it was verboten to give the same Winterim course two years in a row.
Like many colleagues, I had no idea what to do when the first Winterim rules came out, but my lifelong love of fixing up old things came to the rescue. Heaven knows how I ever got into it, but at one time I had a hobby of repairing antique reed organs, which, back in those days, were still fairly commonly found in “antique” (read “junque”) shops, for little money, as the market for them was not exactly hot. I had fixed up three or four over the years, we owned one in need of some serious help, and Don and Martha Morse, who lived upstairs, had a beauty that was wheezing and gasping its last.
My course writeup stipulated that you had to bring your own organ if possible. Five or six kids signed up for the class, a couple of whom actually supplied an instrument. We took over the woodworking shop in the basement of Spaulding, and by the end of Winterim we actually had three or four instruments in some kind of working order. The last night of the term was devoted to a big show-and-tell in the Library, which meant we had to lug those things across campus into the old Conant art gallery. The preferred wood of parlor organ builders was black walnut, and most of them had casters that rolled in one direction only—from side to side—so we were all pretty sweaty by the time the gallery doors opened.
One of the most fun Winterims I ever did was called “Be a Faker,” which Jim “Daddy” Draper and I put together. Jim played a wicked alto sax, and used to sit in with the school band, which I directed for a few years. We often lamented the fact that the kids weren’t taught to improvise, so we decided to build a Winterim around teaching a bunch of young musicians how to play jazz as it should be played—from the head instead of from a printed page. I don’t think any of them went on to become the next Louis Armstrong or Paul Desmond, but we had a great time and put on a pretty good show for Winterim Night, playing “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and a hand-tailored arrangement of the old standard “Bye Bye Blues.”*
One year, Dick Jeffers and I indulged our love of things on tracks with a course called “End of the Line?”, during which six kids and we spent several days working on the old trolley cars at the Seashore Electric Railway in Kennebunk, Maine. We prepared for that with a week of riding around on the Boston subways, escorted by the trolley museum director, who arranged a non-stop, end-to-end ride on the Green Line aboard one of the brand-new cars before they were even placed into service (Like the museum director, Jeffers, and me, most of them are now retired).
Winterim is like garlic: its effects often last far longer than the initial contact. After “Be a Faker,” the old school band became a jazz ensemble, which it has remained to this day; and “End of the Line?” saw the founding of the Lawrence Academy Model Railroad Club and construction of the HO-scale Squannacook and Nissitissit Railroad, which ran on a somewhat erratic schedule in the loft of the Loomis House Garage for several years. Our courses certainly weren’t unique in producing the Garlic Effect; I’m sure many of you reading this column can recall a Winterim experience that influenced your choice of major in college or perhaps even of a career. Drop me a line and tell me about it. Your recollections would make good reading!
*Because the original Edison cylinder recording of the Winterim night concert was lost in the remodeling of the Ferguson Building, we offer these somewhat less exciting versions for your listening pleasure:
Back to Story
on Tuesday March 4 at 11:20AM
Nostalgia rarely overcomes me while I’m snow-blowing the driveway, but for some reason, the other morning I got all misty-eyed recalling winter days at LA, back when we lived on campus and were young enough to go tobogganing down the various hills behind the Gray Building or to join our kids on a snow-coaster, spinning down onto the football field. Nowadays you wouldn’t be allowed to do that without full body padding and a four-inch-thick helmet to guard against concussions. We wore stocking caps or baseball hats.
Speaking of toboggans, one of my earliest winter memories is watching in shock and awe as Ben Williams, newly arrived at Lawrence with Nan and three young sons, hurtled down the steep golf course hill, boys in front (Thanks, Dad!), heading straight for the stand of trees that divide our lower fields from the Groton Country Club. Visions of body parts danced in my head. But somehow Ben managed to stop the runaway steed just in time, and they all lived to tell about it.
We had a toboggan too. It’s now retired, hanging on the wall of our shed awaiting the day when the grandkids are big enough to inherit it, but when Tim and Alix were young (and we were younger), we made good use of those hills. The best run we ever had came after one memorable storm that dropped about two feet of powder and left lots of drifts. Back then there were no houses up by the apple orchard, so there was a clear path down to the cow pond. We started up in the orchard, raced all the way down the hill, leapt across the road on a huge drift that made a natural jump, and finally came to rest, breathless, in the middle of the pond. Now I tremble just thinking about it.
Some of us liked to cross-country ski in those days as well. Even I, the dedicated non-athlete, used to take my skis to the college office with me in the morning from time to time. Once our kids were off to school, Tanya, Judy French and I, sometimes with others, would strap on the skis and take off through the orchard or wherever looked nice (Though Judy is known to today’s students only as the person for whom the Judith A. French Poetry Prize is named, she was the Headmaster’s secretary for many years, mother of the late Susan French Proulx ’82, and a good friend of ours.). One afternoon the three of us and Cindy Choate, the school counselor, drove down to Groton Place, the town park on Route 225, which has nice, level trails. Cindy and Judy were experienced skiers; Tanya and I were neophytes, though she, being far more coordinated than I, was the better of the two of us. I was OK at going forward on the level, but not much else. At one point I was third in line, with Cindy Choate way ahead, Tanya just in front and Judy behind me. The path sloped down very slightly, so I, having no physical courage, slowed down. From behind me, French shouted “Track!” I wasn’t sure what that meant. “Track!!” Then, too late, “TRACK, @%$#*&!!” She careened into me, and I into my wife. We collapsed in the snow like three dominoes, a tangle of crossed skis, poles and limbs. I twisted around to see Judy, tears rolling down her face. Now I’ve done it, I thought. She’s broken something and it’s my fault. But she looked up, laughing so hard she cried. When she recovered, she explained to me, voice dripping with sarcasm, that “Track!” means “Get out of the way!” I did, thenceforth.
Nowadays, of course, all of this fun could happen on a snow day. Back In The Day, however, there was no such thing; we’d have school assembly in a half-empty theater and teach classes with two kids. It wasn’t until Steve Hahn took the helm that snow days became part of LA’s winter life. The reason wasn’t so much that Ben Williams was a hard-nose and Steve was a softie, but rather that our day population had increased so significantly by the early 1980s that we couldn’t ask a hundred or so young drivers, or their parents, to risk life and limb getting to school. The best part of snow days was that we never had to make them up.
Late-breaking bulletin: Another thing we used to do for winter fun once in a while was to pile in the car and ride over to Harvard Lanes for an afternoon of candlepin bowling. We went over there with the grandkids a few days ago. I was beaten by my four-year-old granddaughter. 62 to 58. Really.
And now, to conclude this month’s trip down Memory Lane, we offer another Shep’s Place first: an original audio recording by the inimitable (take that word any way you want) duo of Haz and Shep. It’s a delightful parody of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland,” written many years ago by Ted Brierley, an old family friend who, when not running his wholesale candy business, moonlighted as a song-and-dance man, songwriter and lyricist. Don’t ask me where Haz found the orchestra. It wasn’t us. By the way, it’s G-rated, in case you’re wondering whether to tell the kids to leave the room.
Here’s the link.
on Tuesday January 28
Choose groups to clone to: