Friends from Williams... Mostly
Okay, so everyone's got some. Friends, that is. And I would in this celebration of our friends never diminish the wide circle of affection which is yours. In fact, the warmth which fills my being at the thought of how very dearly I and mine are held in others' minds and hearts inspires me to think about you and just how lovingly you too are kept in others' minds and hearts, including ours.
Therefore, please take this pictorial essay as a tribute to the way God has designed the world and we in it, with lots and lots of "support networks."
What occasions this paean to friendships is the summer past and the proliferation of gatherings and contacts with and from the communities of which Barbara and I have been privileged to be a part during the past fifty-four years.
Beginning in late June with our arrival in Oslo on the first leg of our trip up the west coast of Norway to the land of the midnight sun. We were greeted as we disembarked from the airport bus by Richie and Donna Wiger.
Richie was one of the leaders of the youth fellowship when I arrived at Sunset Park Norwegian Methodist Church on February 4, 1956. He was then a senior in high school. He went on to study biology at Eastern Michigan State, where he happily found a wife and, regrettably, lost a toe (lawn mowing). After his marriage to Donna they emigrated to Norway. Drs Donna and Richard Wiger are Senior Scientists, she in the Norwegian equivalent of the FDA, having responsibility for the quality control of vaccines; he as a toxicologist researching the effects of chemicals on reproduction. No sooner had Barbara and I made our way home than the Wigers arrived in the States for a niece's wedding and a 60th birthday pig roast in Michigan for Donna. Old friends are among God's greatest blessings.
Which is what (God's greatest blessings) came to mind on a mid-August evening in the geographical center of Vermont, Adamant, to be exact, Barbara Weedon's home. We have enjoyed Barbara and her late husband Hugh's hospitality several times since Hugh and I graduated from Williams College in 1953. Hugh took leave of us a year ago. Many of his friends and admirers from the Class of '53 were on hand for the celebration of his life at the Episcopal Church in Montpelier. So you would think I would know well the route to the home in Adamant. Wrong! After several cell phone calls and the sending forth of a search party we arrived at the modern home at 262 Adamant Rd, where Barbara treated us to a feast of salmon and blueberries (but not together). The "us" included Fred Preston, another notable from the Class of '53, and his wife Granthia, Bob and Barbara Howard, and Ellie Tener (Barbara H's sister). Oh, how we enjoyed the reminiscences... and the discovery of Barbara W's dollhouse craftsmanship. Another discovery for me was Fred's explanation of what makes for an effective school principal (which Fred was): charismatic friendliness helps, but the true success belongs to the person who can devise a strategy for involving the staff in the personal intellectual development of each child.
But while attending to a child's intellectual development, it also helps (and surely makes Poppy a good guy in the eyes of his grandsons) to provide them with opportunities for fun. We bought season passes at Six Flags New England (just south of Springfield MA in Agawam) in June, availed ourselves of their water park, Hurricane Harbor, and planned to visit two other Six Flag parks to which our pass entitled us entry. So it came to pass that on Saturday, August 14th, a day after five of the twins' cousins departed for points west and depression was about to set in, we rendezvoused at Six Flags Great Escape at Lake George NY with Rick and Mary Polley, their fourteen year old daughter, Katie, and her friend, Christy.
Mary is a soprano soloist with the Wexford UMC choir, and works in the nursery school. Rick, now a high-powered litigator in Pittsburgh, was once a summer custodian at Grace Church in Valley Stream washing tall windows to help pay college tuition. He met Mary while in law school; they married, with a little official help from me, brought three lively children into this world, and continue to spend a week each summer at an upstate New York lake where his aunt and uncle, Cora and Bud Stafford, took him when he was young. For an unrelated reason (the Phish farewell concert in Vermont's Northern Kingdom), Rick had contacted me on behalf of a co-worker needing directions. One thing led to another, the season passes were burning a hole in my pocket, and we made a date to meet at Lake George. The biggest thrill of the afternoon for us seniors was riding a miniature train around the park's periphery at a feverish speed of 5 mph. Our young friend from Valley Stream is not so young any more. Rick is pushing 50... how can that be, when I am so young?
A few days later we entertained a former college roommate and his wife, John and Polly Pike, pictured here at our class' 50th Reunion in Williamstown in June 2003. They live in Lincoln MA but have a second home on longtime family property in Randolph VT about thirty miles and two mountain ranges from our cabin in Corinth. Barbara prepared a hearty meal of Vermont produce, including corn on the cob, after which we sat for a couple of hours in front of a bonfire on our front lawn. Polly, a former nurse, proved herself adept at prodding the fire to burn and burn warmly for the sake of toasted marshmallows. John, now retired, had distinguished himself as a corporate lawyer in Boston, gaining a reputation for his integrity and thoroughness (just like at college). He now does pro bono work for environmental causes and low income housing. The Pikes have eleven grandchildren, including a recent set of triplets.
In my retirement, as you may have discerned from reports like this one, the friendships formed in the formative years of college have not only endured but deepened.
As with William Williams and his wife Linda, shown here in a photo from the 50th Reunion in 2003: Bill was voted in our class elections in our senior year as the "Typical Williams Man," not just because he wore the purple cow's color better than any other classmate, because his parents gave him the appropriate name.
Bill distinguished himself in the past thirty years in Brooklyn as the headmaster of Poly Prep, a javelin throw from the Verazzano Bridge. He expanded the school's campus, led it to co-education, and found a way to reach out to promising students from Brooklyn's less privileged neighborhoods. At the time of his retirement, The New York Times devoted a column to him in its Metropolitan Section. Linda worked for many years for another prep school, Chapin, in Manhattan, in communications and public relations. That is, she is adept with words and knowledgeable about publications. The Williamses live now in Strafford VT, next to the church we frequent at least once each summer, about a three-quarters of an hour drive from Corinth. This year we visited twice and each time could be found on Bill and Linda's front porch after the benediction, enjoying freshly brewed coffee, ethnic food (tomato and cucumber sandwiches), and chocolate chip cookies. Bill there managed to elicit from me a somewhat impassioned critique of Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ."
Sundays with Williams friends: it's getting to be a ritual... with variety, this time with new friends, John and Betty Brown.
You will find them named at another corner of this website, the review of Hanover Center Congregational Church. John is a graduate of Williams, Class of 1948, before and after which he served in the U S N Air Corps. We met the Browns in France on a college sponsored trip to the Dordogne and the world-famous cave paintings. I credit John, along with Arnold Preston, our Vermont plumber, as the inspiration for my bilateral knee surgery. John's new knees are six years old and he stands as erect as you would expect of a former Naval officer. Wife Betty blames the steel decks of aircraft carriers for the deterioration of John's cartilage. In retirement they moved to Hanover where Betty worked until fairly recently in administration for Dartmouth College. She is the daughter of a well-known preacher from Buffalo, Albert G. Butzer of Westminster Presbyterian Church. After worship, the Browns treated us to an Eggs Benedict brunch at the Norwich (VT) Inn, across the Connecticut River from Hanover.
Of the loves with which God has infused the human heart, the second most blessed is friendship, what the New Testament names in Greek philia (you know, as in "The City of Brotherly Love," Philadelphia). It may have taken this seventy-two year old only child that many years to realize the treasure friends are; and, maybe, conclude that that, after all, is what retirement might be all about: discovering how our journey here isn't a solo act but a communal celebration.