Category Archives: Memoirs

The Poet and the Dribble Glass

by Lewis W. Miller

Though not a Williston alumnus, arguably Lewis Miller (1919-2008) headed a Williston Northampton dynasty.  He and his bride, Jean Douglas Miller ’36 (1918-2005), sent five children to Northampton School for Girls or Williston Academy.  Two generations of descendants have attended since.  Jean’s brother Richard Douglas ’41 (1923-2007) was the unwilling hero of the following memoir.

Playwright, actor, and journalist, Lew Miller knew how to tell a story.  He penned this one for his children and grandchildren in 1992.  Recently Elizabeth Miller Grasty ’66 shared it with David Werner of the Williston Office of Advancement, who passed it on to the Archives.  It is reproduced here, with some editing, with the kind permission of Ms. Grasty. — RLT

The Poet and the Dribble Glass
by Lewis W. Miller

Robert Frost (Larry Palumbo/Library of Congress)

As Robert Frost approached Easthampton, Massachusetts, one evening in 1938, he would not have been in the mood for jokes.  Certainly he was not expecting to be the butt of a practical joke.  Elinor White Frost, his wife of 43 years, had died suddenly only two months before.  Further, he had decided to resign his long held position at Amherst College.  Frost, at age 64, had entered a bleak period of his life which seemed to him without hope.

His reason for visiting Easthampton, that Tuesday, May 27, was to fulfill a long-standing commitment to an old friend, Archibald Galbraith, Headmaster of Williston Academy.  Each spring for many years, Frost had given – at Galbraith’s invitiation – a reading of his poems for the students.

The student who was destined to confront this world-famous Pulitzer Prize winner was Richard Knowles Douglas.  He was a diffident 15 year old unlikely to indulge in practical jokes – especially on an adult.  Richard (nicknamed “Red” at school) had a busy life ahead: Amherst College, Albany Medical School, U.S. Navy M.D. with the Marine Corps, followed by a long, fruitful, still-continuing career in the practice of surgery in his home town of Westfield, Mass.

1938 was the year in which Adolf Hitler forcibly annexed Austria.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in his second term as President of the United States with “Cactus Jack” Garner of Texas as his Vice President.  Charles Hurley, Democrat, was serving his only term as Governor of Massachusetts.  Williston Academy, in its 97th year, was planning to celebrate its centennial in 1941.  Red Douglas may possibly have forgotten such highlights of the year.  But he never quite forgot the trauma of the evening ahead.

Richard K. “Red” Douglas ’41 (The Log, 1941)

Dinner was served as usual in Payson Hall to students living in South and North Halls.  A master and eight students were waited on at round tables by “scholarship boys.”  Latin Master Lincoln DePew Grannis (“Granny”) usually said the grace before meals.  The food was described as “bullet-proof – everything but tasty.”  The Saturday night menu never varied: one boiled hot dog, one slice of Boston brown bread, baked beans, milk, and water.  Presumably the food served at Ford Hall, a new dormitory on the New Campus, was more appealing.  The cost of boarding there was higher.

Soon after dinner the hundred or so boys attending Frost’s reading gathered in the Dodge Room.  Most of them were seated on the floor of this handsomely paneled room in the New Gymnasium.  The poet referred to his readings at schools and universities as “Barding Around.”  Years later, when asked which poems were presented that evening, Douglas replied, “All of them – no explanation or discussion, he just read – seemed on an ego trip.”

When Frost had been reading for one and a half hours, a student broke wind.  This occasioned embarrassed laughter among his fellows, to which the poet responded, “Would you like me to go on?”  Hearing no answer, “Very well, I will continue.”  This he did, for another half hour!

Headmaster Archibald V. Galbraith (William Rittase)

At the close of the evening some two dozen especially invited boys joined Frost in the Headmaster’s House for refreshments.  Mr. Galbraith inquired of Frost his choice of beverage.  A glass of milk was requested.  “Gally,” as he was called by the students behind his back, turned to young Douglas nearby, asking him to bring a glass of milk for the famous guest.  In the kitchen a maid (“She never liked me,” recalled Douglas years later) poured the glass of milk, placed it on a tray, and handed it to Red, who served it to Robert Frost.  Frost took a drink and spilled milk down his tie and shirt.  “How clumsy of me,” he murmured, as he wiped the spill with his handkerchief.

A second drink resulted in an even greater spill.  Seeing this from across the room, Galbraith “came down like a locomotive” heading for the hapless Red.  “Was this done on purpose?” Galbraith demanded angrily.

“No, sir,” the student answered – fully expecting to be thrown out of school.  The Headmaster’s response was not complimentary.  Red returned the dribble glass to the kitchen.  There, the Headmaster filled a fresh glass while the shaken student attempted to exonerate himself.  “This is not my fault.  I have never even heard of a dribble glass!”

A vintage dribble glass (Private collection)

Red’s explanation may have been believed, but most likely he was allowed to remain in school because Archibald Galbraith held the boy’s father, Archibald Douglas, in high regard.  Robert Frost graciously accepted the apology required of Red, who was then permitted to depart for his dormitory room.

Holding no grudge, Robert Frost returned to Williston each spring for more “Barding Around,” at least until Red Douglas graduated in 1941.  The record does not state whether Red continued to attend the readings.

Skeptical?  Oddly, I’m not.  The story is, of course, really by Richard Douglas, merely transmitted by Lew Miller.  There is substantial detail, but at no point does the narrator make the extravagant claims of the sort alumni indulge in when they reminisce about “good old days” — that stuff, I tend to take at about 50% (unless I’m telling the story).  No one, more than 50 years after the event, claims or is given credit for the joke.  And who might it have been?  It would be easy to blame the maid, who actually produced the glass and poured the milk, except that it is unlikely she would have dared.  Can it be that Frost was never the intended victim, rather that someone had spirited the glass into Galbraith’s kitchen, hoping to catch the Head himself?

Frost’s visit was duly reported in The Willistonian of June 3.  There is no mention of anything untoward, but a rather nice irony in his chosen theme.

The Willistonian, June 3, 1938

Heroic

by Caren Altchek Pauley '62 and Holly Alderman '67

The truth, looking back now in the mirror of time, now, is that most of the teachers seem heroic in their own ways – all hard working women, very conscientious, and kind.  In current culture, the general kindness of our classrooms seems a profound blessing. — Holly Alderman.

Some weeks ago, as we prepared a special Northampton School for Girls feature in the Williston Bulletin, I asked a few alumnae to name adults whose presence during those formative and formidable ‘Hamp School years had made a difference.  We couldn’t use every response.  But two of them, from Caren Altchek Pauley and Holly Alderman, were special enough to deserve publication.  Here they are, with thanks to the authors for allowing us to share! — RT

Dagmar Abkarian
by Caren Altchek Pauley ’62

Dagmar Abkarian (left), with teacher Viola Hussey and housemother Katherine Weller. (If anyone has a better photo of Ms. Abkarian, please contact the Archives!)
Dagmar Abkarian (left), with teacher Viola Hussey and housemother Katherine Weller. (If anyone has a better photo of Ms. Abkarian, please contact the Archives!)

With a comforting presence, Dagmar Abkarian ruled the  pristine two-room Northampton School for Girls “infirmary,” located on the upper floor of Montgomery House.  During my tenure, 1959-1962, she was a formidable presence, dark, round and with an unusual lumbering gait which seemed to separate her legs when she walked. She wore an immaculate white uniform, nurse’s coif, sensible white shoes, and a name badge.  She was unlike any other teacher or faculty member at the school.  Her coloring was like mine.  It separated her and me from nearly all the other  faculty, staff members and students  who were mostly light eyed blonds and fair skinned.  She was also a bit garrulous and although a mature woman, rather girlish at the same time.

I was a frequent visitor to the infirmary, as every bout of homesickness, math test, science test, and athletic competition caused me to seek consolation in her peaceful domain.  Before school counselors became de rigueur, it was the school nurse on whom we depended for advice on “how to survive”.  She took my temperature, and then usually pronounced me OK, to my utter and complete disappointment.  Then she discussed the challenges of that moment, before nearly squeezing me to death in an affectionate hug.  With her sympathetic endorsement, I knew I could make it through the morning geometry exam and even the afternoon field hockey game, although in my heart of hearts I knew I had little talent for either and thoroughly loathed both. Continue reading

Curveball

The curveball was introduced to baseball in the early 1870s, and changed the face of the game.  Pitchers, for the first time, threw strikes that moved across the plate and down, curving away from right-handed batters, frequently baffling hitters.  But were the first curveballs thrown in a high school game thrown at Williston?

mackIt’s a good story, related by none other than legendary Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack.  In his My 66 Years in the Big Leagues (Philadelphia: Winston, 1950), Mack recalls, “The first man to pitch a curve-ball game was Charles Hammond Avery, Yale 1871-75, popularly called Ham Avery, and the first curve-pitched college game was played between Yale and Harvard at Saratoga, New York, June 14, 1874, the week of the college boat races.  Avery pitched for Yale and won by the score of 4-0, the first shutout ever scored against Harvard.”

Mack cites as his source of information his lifelong friend, Frank Blair, Williston Seminary class of 1876, Amherst 1880.  The two had grown up together in North Brookfield, Mass.  Mack continues, “In his first year at Williston Academy [sic], in 1873, one of Blair’s chums was Charles Francis Carter, a left fielder who went to Yale in 1874, and the following year played on Avery’s famous Yale team.  Stories began to drift back to Williston that Avery was a wonder, for he had introduced something new into baseball—a curve ball that was puzzling batters and was proving very difficult to hit.”

“One day in 1876 Blair was examining the condition of the diamond on the [Williston] campus.  He spied Carter coming up the street from the station.  Carter spotted Blair at the same moment, and vaulting the fence, shouted to him, ‘I can pitch curves!  Avery taught me!'”

“With that, Carter took a baseball from his pocket, laid aside his overcoat, and began to show [Blair] how the mystery was performed.  Carter, having passed on the instructions to Blair, picked up his overcoat and started for the train back to New Haven.  He had seemingly accomplished his mission!  Blair was eager to pass on the secret to the Williston pitcher.  The result?  Williston [Seminary] placed on the diamond the first curve pitcher used in any prep school in the United States.” Continue reading

Critical Mass

By Wentworth Durgin '68

Most recently Worth Durgin headed community foundations in Greensboro and Cary, North Carolina.  Now retired, he is “immersed in spiritual quest and writing.”  A couple of years back, he sent Richard Gregory several perceptive vignettes of Williston life back in the sixties.  Dick, who has contributed several memoirs of his own, shared Worth’s words with the Archives.  My thanks for Worth’s permission to publish this! — RT

Worth Durgin '68
Worth Durgin ’68

The old gym was an outgrown, but proud building.  The basketball court was directly above the swimming pool.  During wrestling matches, when our senior heavyweight wrestler, who was deaf, wrestled, all the students there would jump and stomp in cadence so that he could feel our support, since he could not hear our cheers.  The void of the pool beneath the floor amplified the waves of exhortation.  (The common effect of this cacaphony, coupled with the knowledge that if this strong guy could not hear the cheers, he likely could not hear a potential injury-saving whistle either, led to many an expression of relief on opposing wrestlers’ faces, once they had been pinned.)  Often this was the deciding match in a meet.  But we could never carry the big guy off the mat on our shoulders — he was huge, and flaunting victory was not his style.

Continue reading