Taking a walk on a back road, I spotted a country graveyard full of names, German, Dutch and English, many from the early Nineteenth Century: Mohler. Miller. Fortney. Studebaker and Stewdebaker, side by side. First names like Isaac and Levi and Israel.
One family lost two little boys, born in April, died in summer, three years apart.
Some of the weathered gravestones list the men’s units in the Civil War, but all the men I noticed came home, some living into the next century. Whatever they saw or did, they were the lucky ones, consider- ing what happened 20-plus miles south.
A few miles north of the church is Camp Hill, where in 1863 a small detachment of Confederates made an exploratory mission toward Harrisburg, Robert E. Lee’s goal. The invaders skirmished with Union soldiers but Albert Gallatin Jenkins’ troops were called south because an impromptu battle was shaping up in Gettysburg, 35 miles away.
Camp Hill, where part of my family now lives, would be the farthest penetration north by the Confederates, (See the excellent article on PennLive in 2013.)
In that portentous late June of 1863, a boy named W.O. Wolfe was standing by the Gettysburg road when Fitzhugh Lee’s soldiers headed south. Many years later he would tell his own young son how he gave surly replies to the Rebel officer, who menaced him, perhaps for effect.
Some of those troops who passed the Wolfe farm were from the hills of western North Carolina. By the strangest circumstance, the boy grew up to be a stonecutter, and settled in Asheville, North Carolina, and married into a clan of southern hill people. To his dying day, W.O. Wolfe would curse his luck, would speak longingly of the lush farms of Pennsylvania Dutch country.
W.O. Wolfe was a storyteller; who knows how much he embellished the tale of the meeting the Rebels on Gettysburg Road, summer of '63. He even put an in-law into his story: an officer who preached the Bible while riding toward Gettysburg, and who smelled so bad that his own troops referred to him as “Stinking Jesus.”
W.O.’s late-in-life son was also a storyteller. Thomas Wolfe incorporated his father’s tales into the opening pages of his first novel “Look Homeward Angel.” Later he expanded it in “O Lost,” which I once read in the Wolfe library in Chapel Hill.
Thomas Wolfe is my most beloved writer; he informs my ongoing adolescence.
Perhaps some of the people in the country cemetery near Camp Hill also saw Rebel soldiers as they rode or walked south, toward Gettysburg.
We stayed in a comfortable Marriott Courtyard, made coffee in our room. Child hockey players were congregating for a holiday tournament.
* * *
Footnote 1: I just learned from a terrific web site by Steven B. Rogers that there is a Wolfe Diner in Dillsburg on Route 15. But now I’m home.
Footnote 2: My wife reminds me that in Dillsburg there is a nice restaurant, Pakha’s Thai house, which we have visited several times. The web site says: “The most authentic Thai meals this side of Bangkok.”
Footnote 3: James Taylor, son of North Carolina, long moved north, wrote a lovely tribute to Confederate soldiers, limping home from war.
Uncle Harold is cooking duck, because Barbara always loved it for Thanksgiving.
Since it is Maine, three families have invited him over on Thursday but he wants to be alone, with Barbara, he says. They were together for more than six decades until she died last December. Someone is bringing dessert, and I am sure they will stay a while.
Thanksgiving is for remembering people. My mother-in-law, Mary, who passed early this year, always set a great table and made superb pies the kids still talk about.
I am sure that on Thursday a few of the older grand-daughters will talk about visiting my father in his bedroom on Thanksgiving evening in 1984, and how Pop surveyed the anxiety on their faces and said, “What is this, a death watch?” He passed a few hours later.
The Band played its Last Waltz on Thanksgiving of 1976. We still have the music, and the Scorsese movie, and thanks for that, rocking in my earphones.
Thanksgiving is also for people who are with us. The other day I wished a waiter from Central America “Buen Dia del Pavo” – Happy Turkey Day. He said, “Lo mejor” -- the best.
I give thanks for the higher power who is there for me, for my wife and our children and their children, and for so many friends from Jamaica High and my student-athlete buddies from Hofstra and my writer pals from the round table, thankful that we still meet, and for the people who protect us, including the good man who has gone gray in six years of a brutal job.
And while I am saying thanks, I include the correspondents who enlighten the Comments on my little therapy web site. Every click is part of a community I value.. Thank you.
It took a week
before I could even link
the horror in Paris
with my little site.
Then, in my head,
I formulated a tribute to Paris,
But it turned out,
I had written it, last January.
I cannot write another one
about the deep shuddering joy
of being in the City of Light
On a Friday evening.
One ex-pat friend,
Living in La France Profonde, wrote me,
“No one does life better than the French.”
That’s why they are targets, he added.
Another friend is flying over, next week.
“It'll be my little contribution to saying %$&# you
to the murderers who tried to take the city away from those of us who cherish it
and what it represents.”
I won't write about the narrow streets
Or the aroma of coq au vin in the mist.
Better I write about the French people
Who spoke to us in English after 9/11
and made room for us on the Metro.
Now I watch survivors like the beautiful couple on Anderson Cooper,
the woman's face haunted
the young man (a model, I looked it up),
volunteering sympathy for Syrian migrants, who have their own misery.
Another man lost his lovely wife
In the music club
and wrote a tribute to her,
And promised to live without hatred.
Is it possible?
Nice to be re-discovered.
For many decades, Arnold Hano was one of the best magazine writers in America. He is best known for his slender jewel of a book, “A Day in the Bleachers,” which he wrote on impulse after witnessing Willie Mays’ catch in the 1954 World Series.
But he is so much more than that, a 1930’s guy who still talks about “the social contract” – the relationship between individuals and society.
“He met and talked with Babe Ruth, JFK and John Wayne, saw Mays’ iconic catch, Larsen’s perfecto, and successfully battled racism, land developers, big corporations, and the federal government. says Jon Leonoudakis, a California-based film-maker who was so taken with Hano’s body of work that he has put together a documentary about him.
“His story has flown under the radar of popular culture for nearly a hundred years -- until now,” Leonoudakis added.
Hano is 93 and living in Laguna Beach, Calif., with his wife Bonnie. They have been together for 67 years as he wrote about protecting wildlife from Disney and other developers.
Two baseball stars, Orlando Cepeda and Felipe Alou, testify in the film about Hano’s fair depiction of Latino players.
The Hanos also demonstrated against prejudice in their adopted beach town. And they joined the Peace Corps in their 60’s and built schools in Costa Rica.
The film-maker became entranced with Hano and began interviewing him, with Hano insisting there was no story. (Larry David would play him in the bio-pic.)
Leonoudakis rounded up a gaggle of admiring colleagues (including me) and added an artistic blend of original jazz, original art (not the usual sports schlock) and touching photos, including Arnold and Bonnie Hano, young and old.
The couple was back in New York the other day (at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse) to publicize the documentary. She was there on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 29, 1954, when Hano – without any assignment or credential -- decided he would walk to the Polo Grounds for the opening game of the Series between the Giants and Cleveland.
Bonnie Hano, as wives do, told her husband not to be silly. He was never going to be able to walk up and buy a ticket. He did not listen to her, and stood two hours on line and paid $2.10 (he remembers all that stuff) to sit in the bleachers, the left-field side, so he could call balls and strikes from 500 feet away.
He started keeping score -- that’s what people did at ballparks before selfies -- and taking notes in the margin of his paper (The Times.)
Top of the eighth. Tie game. Nobody out. Runners on first and second. Then Willie Howard Mays began running toward Arnold Hano to track down a mammoth drive by Vic Wertz. Hano watched as Mays, arms outstretched, caught the ball as it soared over his shoulder, and then, in one fantastic powerful whirling motion, turned and dispatched the ball to second base, on a powerful arc.
Larry Doby did move from second to third, but Al Rosen had to go back to first because of Mays’ howitzer shot. .
(“Wertz flew to center field,” tersely reports the play-by-play on the invaluable Retrosheet.)
Hano watched the Giants win, 5-2, on Dusty Rhodes’ homer in the 10th. Then he went home and typed up his report, which turned into a small book that did not sell much at first but has become one of the classics of the sport.
I wrote about the book on the 50th anniversary of the Mays catch, in 2004:
Arnold and Bonnie Hano downgrade the book as something short of literature. They do have their opinions, which Hano has injected into the copious details and color and quotes -- one of the best dossiers of sports magazine articles, ever.
Now he has been captured in a knowing 53-minute film. Leonoudakis is seeking space on television and festivals and archives devoted to baseball – and journalism, and America.
The film is film is available on DVD from the film’s website:
It is also available for streaming:
Oh, yes, and check out the cover art (above). It figures in the delightful coda to the documentary. Carl Hubbell. That’s all I’m saying.
There is no consolation for losing a friend way too young, but at least Bob Welch’s book on his alcoholism has a new life – in electronic form.
Bob died suddenly in June of 2014 at the age of 57. I wrote a tribute to him, how he went through rehab in 1980, at the age of 23, after nearly wrecking his pitching career. He stayed sober and wound up winning the Cy Young Award, but his real victory was sobriety. He set an example for others, particularly young people who think they are immune to being alcoholics at such an early age.
Bob gives examples -- frightening, graphic, and illuminating -- of the acts and cover-ups of the alcoholic.
His son Riley was the driving force behind the re-publication of Bob’s book. He wanted his dad to be remembered, for all the right reasons.
I have written a new prologue and epilogue to cover the main points of Bob’s life after pitching. (There are also some links to stories about Bob, as well as a couple about alcoholism.) Bob always reminded people – and himself – that alcoholics need to be vigilant, day by day.
I’m not an alcoholic, but I surely learned from Bob and my other friends that you don’t have to drink, at this moment.
Of all the books I have written, this one has done the most good. Alas, the earlier versions of Bob’s book are out of print, but I hope anybody interested in “the problem” – particularly in the young -- will consider clicking off an e-copy of Bob’s book, via Open Road Integrated Media:
Simon Winchester books are always rewarding. One of them even helped enlighten me about family history.
He’s on tour right now for his latest book, “Pacific.” I’ve been a fan since we met as reporters following the Irish prime minister around New York, oh, a few years back.
I mentioned to our son that I had met Winchester a long time ago, so David bought me a copy of Winchester’s 2013 book, “The Men Who United the States,” about the travelers and builders and visionaries who tied the huge country together with roads, trains and electricity.
That book made me realize, all over again, how little I know about American history. I’ve been on hills and rivers in Appalachia that George Washington had explored as a surveyor and soldier and president. I had never read much about Lewis and Clark, how they explored the west – sometimes even splitting up into two parties and meeting further west, all without the help of a GPS, kids.
But there was one footnote that really intrigued me. There it is, bottom of Page 19. Before Lewis, before Clark, a “Connecticut opportunist” named John Ledyard had dreamed of walking North America – from west to east, starting in Russia, for goodness’ sakes.
I had never heard of Ledyard, but I do know the name. The maternal branch of my wife’s family has long roots in Ledyard, Conn., where a Quaker offshoot, the Rogerenes, settled in the 17th Century.
We sometimes stop off in Ledyard, on runs to Boston or Providence, to visit the old Quakertown cemetery (on Col. Ledyard Highway) and pay our respects to Grandpa and Grandma Grundy, and cousin Faith, who put up a good fight but died way too young.
Turns out, the town is named after John’s uncle, William Ledyard, who became an officer in the Revolution and in 1781 was murdered by an English officer after handing over his sword. John Ledyard, ever the maverick, maintained his British loyalties, and eventually joined the British navy and served on the second Pacific voyage of Captain Cook.
I was hooked, so I ordered up a copy of “Ledyard: In Search of the First American Explorer,” by Bill Gifford. What a life. Ledyard was a Dartmouth student who defied authority, hyperactive or bipolar or whatever the modern term is, but also smart and handsome and randy. Bored in college, he got in a canoe and paddled downriver on the Housatonic, essentially never stopping.
Years later he charmed Thomas Jefferson, the ambassador to Paris, into subsidizing his dreamed exploration of the American continent. He mooched off everybody and he walked, often by himself, being known by the description of “traveler.” He never made it to Alaska although he got close, until Catherine, empress of Russia, decided he was a spy, and ordered him expelled – to Poland. He died in Cairo, quite likely from excesses.
It’s not the first time Winchester (now an American citizen) has expanded my horizons. Before I went to Seoul for the 1988 Olympics, I read his book, Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles, about his hiking through the mountains.
I loved South Korea and its people and their passion for hiking before I ever got there. I’ll catch up with “Pacific” – including the footnotes.
Fred Thompson’s obituary reminded me of another time and place, when fewer public figures made me feel, well, I think the word is icky.
In the very early ‘70’s, I was a New York Times Appalachian correspondent based in Louisville.
There were giants in those days, who believed in government. Some of them were Republicans. I got to write about Sen. John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky, Mayor Richard Lugar of Indianapolis and a young United States Attorney from Western Pennsylvania, Richard Thornburgh, who gave me a private seminar in jury selection that informs me to this day.
One lovely fall day, I took a ride around Nashville with Sen. Howard Baker, who was running for re-election. He brought along his campaign manager, tall and droll, Fred Thompson.
I don’t remember a word. My story included Baker’s Democratic opponent saying Baker was too liberal toward the antibusing movement. I only remember good conversations in the car and Fred Thompson’s pipe. For a lefty from New York, I was not at all surprised to see things from their perspective, and to enjoy their company.
The Watergate break-in had taken place three months earlier. It was not mentioned in my story. None of us had any way of knowing Baker would be a major figure in the hearings, and that Thompson would become famous for whispering to Baker, as one of his chief assistants.
I was not the slightest bit surprised when Baker was seen as a stalwart, honest man who examined the evidence against President Nixon.
I followed their careers, as Thompson became an actor – well, he was always an actor – and a senator himself.
Recently, I came across a story I had written in 1972, about possible legislation to limit strip mining – ripping coal from the surface of hilly Appalachia. The two proponents were Sen. Cooper from Kentucky (who was about to retire) and Sen, Baker from Tennessee, both Republicans, from coal states.
I thought about the way current senators grovel in front of coal -- Joe Manchin of West Virginia (a nominal Democrat who sometimes seems like a nice guy) and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky (who does not, ever.)
In the year of Trump and Carson and the nebbish Bush and the twerp from Florida I call El Joven, I remember a sunny day driving around Nashville with Howard Baker and Fred Thompson – and not feeling like I needed a shower afterward. What has happened?
What a wonderful time, probably the most fun I've ever had watching a team through an entire season, allowed to be a fan.Not going to let the last week get in the way.
They were admirable, playing for Collins even when he had AAA players and castoffs in the middle of the lineup, guys like Campbell and Recker, plus Colon and Niese, who made the Mets decent enough, bought time, emboldened the management to spend on better players.
Who will forget Wright’s first swing in Philly, and the perceived panic move of calling up Conforto from AA ball, and the arrival of Johnson and Uribe, plus Wilmer Flores’ tears, and then Cespedes, out of nowhere, looking like Willie Mays for six weeks. ("Sold his soul to the devil so he could play guitar" -- Lucinda Williams.)
They crushed the Nationals. They stunned the Dodgers’ aces. They swept the Cubs. Now they have lost to a better team that plays the game right, guys who learned lessons last year, and carried them out this year. Great energy. Skills. Make contact. Take the base.
No recriminations. Harvey challenged the manager in the dugout, in front of teammates, in front of the world.
On Sunday evening, I felt: Let him pitch til he puts somebody on base. Two-run lead. Then bring in the big guy. Collins stayed with him one batter too long, not two, but unless I was in the dugout, with the decision to make, I won’t second-guess Collins. He’s had a great run.
Murphy also had a great run, clubbing Chicago into submission. The Mets were going to jettison him anyway, for reasons of salary and age and defensive liability, his inner klutz. Back to Plan A.
As for Cespedes, my National League-centric brain wondered why he had been on three AL teams in his short time in the majors. Looking back, why did it take NL pitchers six weeks to learn to go up, up, up on Cespedes?
He couldn’t adjust. He seemed to get more nonchalant in the outfield and the bases as the pressure mounted. He went golfing on the day of a game in Chicago. I don’t think he was ready in center field for the first pitch of the World Series. He’s 30, time to keep moving. He just saved the Wilpons a ton of money, but what an epic jolt he brought for those few short weeks.
I spent the whole season watching personal favorites like Granderson, deGrom, Familia. Who knows about next year? But wasn’t it a great time?
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.