Friday, May 9, 2008

The Spirits of Lebanon, Part 14

We at Darrow School in the 1960s were no more or less rebellious than teenagers anywhere. But because we could not race around in cars or get into trouble with girls, our rebelliousness was highly focused: It was all about hair. Our goal was to grow it as long as we could. The goal of our parents at home and our masters at school was to cut it.

A barber visited campus once a week. We were often ordered to get haircuts, and not doing so meant accumulating penalty hours - our leisure time reassigned to hard labor. Some boys were willing to toil in order to dodge the clippers, but it was difficult to avoid the wrath of the establishment for long. Our headmaster was so frustrated by our refusal to obey orders that he once grabbed an underclassman named Jones, dragged him into the basement of Wickersham and barbered the boy himself. This photo, taken through the basement window by a student on a dare, ended up in the yearbook.

We were not the first rebels on the mountain, nor the last. Long hair now seems so harmless, especially in comparison to the contrariness of a few years earlier that resulted in the burning of buildings and nearly the end of the school. And even some of the Shakers were dissidents. The tradition in the Shaker community was to allow males, when they reached the age of 21, to decide to stay with the community or leave for life in the world. Many of them, brought to the community as children, chose to leave, and because Shakers were celibate, the loss of these men would prove fatal to the movement. Women, apparently, had no such choice.

Young Shakers were probably no different than any young people: apt to defy their elders and surrender to their instincts. True or not, a legend persisted on the mountainside of a skeleton of an infant, wrapped in cloth, discovered hidden in a stone wall.

That legend haunted me. It was as if the anguish and the pain of that young mother had not left that place and still lingered there 100 years later. In fact, everything around me seemed to be inhabited by spirits of the past. The shaft of the shovel I used to dig ditches was smooth from the rub of hundreds of hands of students before me. The iron door latches were grooved by the countless lift of fingers. Dresser knobs forever darkened by the oil and grime of hands, door jambs dented by so many trunks and suitcases moving in and out.

In my dreams, I am transported back to the mountainside. I find myself standing on the fire escape of Ann Lee Cottage and listening to this chorus of crickets, or meandering through the creaking halls of Wickersham. I wonder if students there today might sense the wandering spirit of my dreams. I wonder if, long after I am dead, part of me will remain there, in scrapes on the floor from my chair, in notes tucked into a library book, or in a birch tree grown bent from my swinging.



Brant said...

Bravo! Another great read from a gifted storyteller. Of course, you know we want more.

Monique Ringling said...

Woo hoo! TYVM G.O.E.! Encore!! Encore!

DBH said...

Oddly, I have recurrent dreams in which I am back for a post graduate year. I think I'd rather be on the fire escape upstairs. Carry on.

Bill Cochran said...

Hey Parker:
These are terrific; I always wished I could write like you, and I wish I had checked these out sooner. Do you hear anything from Dean?
I'm in touch with Brucie & Herbie and see Wally once in awhile for golf.
Struggling to keep our heads above water here in Rochester with the awful state of the economy here.
Best, "MA"

Park Burroughs said...


E-mail me. I don't have your address.