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.
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!”
And 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.
on Friday October 24 at 03:11PM
The sweet melancholy of fall has descended on us, bringing with it, as usual, pangs of nostalgia for the summer whose pleasures are already but memories. (I suppose we should be grateful to Facebook et al. for allowing us to enshrine the season’s most “shareable” points, both high and low, though sometimes I wish the app had a “TMI” filter.)
When I was teaching, I dreaded Labor Day, because that was when summer screeched to a halt and we were back at work. Once there, of course, the experience was mostly pleasurable, despite the little twinge I’d feel the first time I said “last summer” instead of “this summer.” For our family, as long as the cottage in New Hampshire was open, it was still “this” summer—until the October day when we had to go back up and turn the water off and bring in the porch furniture. Then we were in the harness for the duration.
Summers on campus were quiet for my first few years at LA, mainly because Arthur Ferguson, to my knowledge, never thought of putting the place to profitable use during July and August. When Ben Williams arrived, he realized that summer programs could benefit the school in many ways, including financially. As I recall, Alan Whipple, creative as always, came up with the idea for a summer school for the arts. Publicity was too little, too late, so it didn’t attract a lot of kids, but it was a start. Elderhostel came along, and for a few summers Sheedy and Spaulding were home to senior citizens who came to choose from a rich assortment of programs and courses, many taught by our own faculty. I remember Whip saying he counted his Elderhostel classes among his all-time favorites.
Nowadays, of course, if you drive onto campus in mid-July it doesn’t look much different from a day in May or September, except that the kids running around are a few years younger than the school-year population. But that’s what schools are for, after all!
* * *
I’d like to expand the scope of Shep’s Place this year, varying the format and including content from you, the readers. It would be fun, for example, to do more videos like last year’s tour of Groton—but not just more of me as a (balding) talking head. We could do interviews with present or former faculty, alumni, or others associated with the school, or perhaps group conversations on topics of interest. I’m not the only one around with a mind full of memories. You might want to share yours, or to chat with current students about what things were like “back in the day” versus life on campus today. The possibilities are myriad.
So, friends, if you have ideas or would like to take part in a video conversation or to contribute to this column in writing, please get in touch with me at LAShepsplace@icloud.com. There’s lots to talk and write about!
on Thursday September 25 at 10:48AM
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