now I should tell you a little about myself, not that there is
anything remarkable or noteworthy, but because it bears upon the
I was pretty certain as a child that I was the despair of my parents although they, to their credit, never said what I am sure they must have felt. My mother descends from one of the old Boston families. You would recognize the name, but I would rather not get into that. She grew up in the horse country of Dover, some dozen miles southwest of Boston. Today it is fast becoming suburbia, but then it was still rural and agricultural.
My father grew up in the horse country north of Baltimore, and when he was a student in Cambridge they met and fell in love. Their equine affinity, I am sure, was a great help in cementing their union. They married and moved into the rambling family home on a winding back road in Dover, raised horses, and hunted with the local pack. Father, being a bookish sort, entered the book publishing business, and, at the time of which I write, was a senior editor with the distinguished old house of Little, Brown and Co. on Beacon Street.
I do not know when it dawned upon me that I was a disappointment, but it was fairly early on. I was small for my age, scrawny, and did not seem to be destined to be a success at anything. By age eight, my poor eye sight revealed itself and I was compelled to wear glasses, an embarrassing state of affairs that ruled out any rough and tumble during my grade school years. Further, I was shy and retiring, the last picked in any school games.
But I could ride, well and fearlessly. And despite my slight physique, I was strong. Long before I weighed anything close to the weight of a hundred pound feed bag, I could sling one onto my shoulder and carry it upstairs in the barn. Since we had no near neighbors, and thus no playmates, I learned to amuse myself investigating the countryside both on foot with father’s bird dog and on horseback. For miles around, I knew every field and woodlot and stonewall.
All mother’s family, the males that is, attend St. Paul’s School. That is a given. The family expects it and St. Paul’s expects it. Thus, after my inglorious years at the town school, I was packed off, no questions asked, to that great old Episcopal institution in Concord, New Hampshire as a first former ( a seventh grader to the rest of the world). The problem was with me, not it, and I was a miserable failure. As one of the meek and lowly that our faith encompasses, I found some consolation in the daily chapel services, but I was a hopeless student. Further, in a school that excelled in ice hockey and had actually begun the game in this country, I could not skate. The school had the oldest squash courts in the country, but more often than not the hard little ball struck me rather than I it. When I tried to pull an oar, for the school had a great rowing tradition, I was demoted to coxswain.
At the conclusion of my third form year, it was jointly agreed by all concerned that I should pursue my education elsewhere. Since we were well into the Depression with no end in sight, and my parents had already cut back on their horses and were doing all the stable work themselves, my departure from St. Paul’s might well have been a welcome financial relief.
What to do with me? Then, just as I was about to enroll in the public high school, fate took over and provided an answer. A retired mathematics professor had had come to town, and my parents were able to secure his services as a tutor. Mother, who had been educated in Switzerland as a teenager, spoke fluent French and was willing to teach me. She simply refused to speak to me during the daytime in anything but francais. My bookish father would provide readings in literature and history (you would be surprised how much knowledge an editor picks up in the course of his work). And, of course, he would make damn sure that I would learn to write the English language properly. I should add that, as an editor, he was often driven to despair and fits of fury by his authors.
These, oddly enough, turned out to be happy years for us all. Out of the school setting, I began to enjoy learning. I took over the stable work, and rode almost every afternoon. And I began to grow, finally reaching an almost respectable height and a nearly presentable appearance. I rode with the hunt, helped out at the kennels, and became an accepted face at the hunt’s social activities. Even the young ladies of the hunt began to show a mild interest in me, and I began to acquire, for the first time, a tiny bit of self confidence.
The on-going problem of what to do with me began to manifest itself. I had no secondary school degree or scholastic or athletic honors with which to impress, being home tutored, so colleges understandably would look askance at my credentials such as they were. My mother’s family all matriculated from St. Paul’s to Harvard, but acceptance there, despite the family legacy of attendance, was highly unlikely. And, frankly, I had no interest in the college due, no doubt, to a lifetime of over-exposure to the place. Again, fate intervened in the form of father’s college roommate.