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. 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.
Mittens and a Hat
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.
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