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.
...Who From Their Labors RestAnyone 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.
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