Last Raps... Pretty odd for a guy who was a horrible little league player to use a baseball term for the final at bat as the title for this end of year talk in this historic Holderness place. But here we go…
Deuteronomy 6: 11-13 “When the Lord your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant--- and when you have eaten your fill, take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…”
This writer actually wrote centuries after these events, following the disastrous fall of the ten northern tribes then known as the kingdom of Israel. The purpose was to forewarn the remaining two tribes of Judah not to lose allegiance to God lest similar things might happen to them as well. Absent that biblical scholarship, and hidden in these words is another, perhaps unintended truth, that I would like to focus on this evening…namely, what graces have you received, that you did not generate, and in which you dwell?
During our study of Islam, and Mohammed, in particular, I assigned a reflection paper on themes, parallel to our studies, upon which the students could write. Because we had studied Ramadan, the great thirty day fast, during which, from sun up to sun down, no food or water could be consumed by believers, one of these themes was “dependence”. A believer, negotiating the severity of those demands, sometimes in the summer, could well come to believe that upon Allah alone must one depend for the gift of life. One of my students wrote the following, which I thought was appropriate for this evening’s talk: I got permission to share a portion of it with you:
The title of this student’s paper was “Behind the Scenes”. And I quote:
“In our lives, there are always people in the background making things go smoothly. We depend on these people without even knowing their names. Everywhere around you are things that these people have created and maintained without your knowledge. We rely on the road crews to make travel possible, the builders to keep us under roofs, and whole towns worth of people doing small but necessary jobs that don’t even cross our minds. Here at Holderness we have mechanics who keep the minibusses running, the kitchen crew who keep us fed, and the maintenance crew who keep the paths clear and make traveling to class easy. These people make our daily lives possible and simple."
In the past year, I have become increasingly interested in just how much these people do because of my main sport, Cross Country skiing. In Cross Country, we have groomers who spend endless nights preparing the trails for races, wax techs who work tirelessly towards getting us the fastest skis, and then race organizers and volunteers who make everything go smoothly. As a skier, my racing depends 100% on these people. This realization made me wonder just how many of these people are out there and what they think of us, the people who depend on them to do their job. I believe that these people are very unrecognized and should be given more credit in this world.”
In the spirit of these passages, I’d like to share some closure related thoughts about Holderness School. I know it may sound odd, but it may help to go back a half a century. That was my time at Holderness. What wasn’t here back then? What was here that isn’t now? What was here and still is? And what about the people of Holderness School?
Fifty years ago, there were no attached dorms on the south side and there may have even been fewer south side houses than there are today. There was no East Wing, no large Weld servery, no snack bar, no student recreation area, no school store. There was no Connell, no Livermore health center, no open Webster Room there for meetings, no spacious college counseling office, no third floor advancement office or comparable staff. Carpenter was a ramshackle gymnasium, with showers and an equipment cage in the basement. There were far fewer classrooms in the Schoolhouse. No Alfond Library, no Hagerman classroom building, no tunnels, no turf field, no artificial ice rink, no Gallop squash courts, weight room, basketball courts. No Pole Barn.
Feisty Nurse Plaisted did live in a cottage next to the chapel that is now Connell dorm. Her diagnostic skills were impeccable. You feel cold? Put on more blankets at night. Too hot, you say? Open the window. Excellent medical counsel. There was a library that housed periodicals where the college office is now, stacks of books filled the Webster Room and a stairwell went down to stacks below it. There was a bio lab where the health center exam room and nurses station now reside. There was an absolutely substandard dorm called Marshall that sat on the precipice overlooking Plymouth behind Carpenter. The dorm wheezed and clanked as winter winds blasted through ill-insulated walls. Yet, there was a well designed luge run that went right off the precipice behind it. I’m not sure if the dining room trays used for that purpose always made it back to Weld. There was a maintenance shed that sat where the parking area is next to Alfond. Six clay tennis courts sat where Hagerman is and, in the dungeon of Rathbun, was the Art Department. The Schoolhouse had a study hall filled with 150 iron, old school desks with folding seats. On a raised dais in front sat the Headmaster. The chem lab was on the ground floor under the stairwell that goes out to Hoyt. I failed chemistry but lived to tell about it. During class, our teacher would go into a closet right behind his blackboard where the chem supplies were crammed in. There he would more or less chain smoke as he attempted to teach us the basics. How he avoided blowing himself and the rest of us up I do not know. The rink was natural ice, with new ice made between periods from an old stainless steel perforated tank perched on a wheelbarrow with an attached ground-mounted squeegee. The team stayed on the ice between periods to shovel off the skate generated snow by hand. No Zamboni. Baseball backstops caught errant pucks behind the nets. Blue line to blue line was open wire mesh on studded up 2X4s. The ski hill off of Mt. Prospect, the two ski jumps, a rope tow, and the cross country ski trails were all there and in active use!
What was here that still is? The guts of the campus! Weld dining hall, the chapel, Webster and Niles, Livermore, Carpenter, Schoolhouse, Hoit, Bartch, the lower and upper fields, the cross country trails.
But more importantly, the spirit of its people that were here, still remains.
Mr. Henderson, a fine history teacher and a legend in the snow skiing world, raised his family, and brought scholarship and athletic prowess to each of his students. Coach Hinman was closing out his career as the Athletic Director; a raspy-voiced, stogie-smoking Algebra II teacher in Madame Nielson’s classroom. His wife, Alice, occupied the office now run by Mr. Herring, and would personally greet each touring family before introducing them to the head of school, Mr. Hagerman. The Rev. Bill Judge, ex-navy chaplain, was still doing occasional services and patiently admonishing Latin students as we butchered our way through translations. Monsieur and Madame Fiore anchored the French program which pushed for fluency and was supported by a French table at which students could take their breakfast, lunch, and dinner en francais! Rip Richards ran the school job program and the school maintenance department and was the school’s ice hockey coach as well. Life was perhaps leaner, simpler, and maybe even Spartan, then. Of all these people, I have only mentioned a few.
I am ever so grateful for those whom I had as mentors. I thought about them, in morning sunlight, in this same chapel at roughly the same time in May as you are today. I would not trade Cesar Noble, my Hoit dorm master, who, at this time of year, got every dorm competing after dinner on the quad in what was called the Cuban Softball League. The Fiore’s attention to detail in written and spoken French resulted, for me, in a late college charge in this language and life-affirming work outside of Paris just after graduation with French juvenile delinquents. Mr. Cameron, Mr. Brewer, and Mr. Snyder, my three English teachers, impressed me so much that very early in my college career, I thought about becoming an English teacher. Rip Richards demanded speed and quality work in morning pantry and seemed ever present when the dish machine stalled or broke down. I remain grateful to Mr. Perkins for inviting me to be a lacrosse goalie and have since been honored to coach against him during his later years as a coach at Tabor.
These people are no longer here but they built and filled the houses in which I have lived, and they have hewn the cisterns from which I have assuaged my thirst. I have many thank yous to express. There are so many of you (and by that “you” I mean twenty-one years of colleagues, fellow staff members, and students) who I need to thank.
Who helped me organize the chapel speakers?
Who spoke at chapel?
Who helped me build the Hanging of the Greens candle racks and the advent wreath stand?
Who distributed the Eucharist?
Who carried the cross?
Who helped drop the oak trees for fuel assistance firewood in the view line of the outdoor chapel, leaf blew the sanctuary, cut down the slash?
Who helped the ninth graders get out to Church Island, cook-out, and play softball with them?
Who baked cookies and brought juice for the little faculty kids in the Christmas pageant?
Who costumed them? Who vested as St. Nicholas?
Who mowed the football fields or taught me how the team should block a bull power left?
Who cut my paychecks, alerted me of employee benefits?
Who taught me how to paint for one whole summer on the paint crew?
Who gassed up every vehicle I ever drove too fast?
Who cleaned and dusted this chapel for us to sit in tonight?
Who shepherded us, on his first day as a head, as planes ripped into the twin towers, the Pentagon, and fell into the fields in Pennsylvania?
Who stepped up and competed, in 2003, at UMass Lowell, in ice hockey against The Hill School, and treasured the number 4 jersey we carried on the bench to remember Weston Lea who had been killed by a hit and run driver only days before?
Who bought gifts for homeless kids at Christmas?
Who taught Holderness Central School kids to ski?
Who, having lost his own father, after numerous and unsuccessful transfusions, encouraged the whole school, with a thankful heart, to give blood to the Red Cross?
Who covered my classes, coached my team, ran the One Love showing of the film “Escalation” to all of you when Kath and I went to Virginia to visit our newest granddaughter?
Who played “up” in adverse conditions?
Who delivered every letter, bill, Christmas card I ever received at Holderness School?
Which kids pulled for Relay for Life in the midst of cancer trauma and strain in their own families?
Who set up the Relay team captains, made sure the tent was set up? Sang the Star Spangled Banner?
Who walked through the wee hours of the night?
Who moved logs, every few days this past winter, from the garage to the wood stove, for Mr. Lockwood as he negotiated his hip surgery?
As I come to closure and share my last raps, I want to especially thank Kathy, wherever you are, all of my colleagues, every member of the staff, and all of you students who have made this such a wonderful run. Amen
And now, it is an honor and a pleasure, once more, to have Ali Ferri sing “Amazing Grace” to close.
Let us go forth in peace to love and serve the Lord. Thanks be to God!