out of touch with civilization as we know it for nearly two weeks
means being isolated from the relentless US media, which is as good
a reason as any to travel from time to time.
home to pick up the thread of my life, I found not much happened
during our absence until I skipped to the obituary notices. For
all of us, a death in the family - whether unexpected or long
awaited - is a watershed event. Lives are altered forever as a
result of the death of a loved one, regardless of the age of the
person who passed away.
So, I was more than a little surprised
to read of the death at age 37 of Bill Dickinson of Whately,
whom I came to know and like because of his roofing skill. I recall
one bitterly cold winter when an ice dam built up on the roof
above one of our bedrooms at our house on North Main Street, causing
major water damage. Bill scaled the icy roof in sub-zero temperatures
and broke up the compacted ice, which ended the serious leak.
What a fine man he was, a pleasure to meet on the street or in
the post office, invariably cheerful, expert at his profession,
and much too young to leave us.
Stanley Osowski was only 58 when
he died, and I stopped to read his obituary because he too had
come to my aid when I needed some speedy financial help many years
ago. At that time, he was working for the Nonotuck Savings Bank
before it was taken over by the Springfield Institution for Savings,
and then merged with some bank whose name means nothing to anyone.
Rearranging his schedule on short notice and letting me into the
bank after normal hours, Stan deftly handled all the paperwork
and expedited a short-term loan with amazing dispatch. That was
during an era when hometown banking had meaning, when customers
were friends and vice versa. Try finding that environment at the
I did not know Ronald Macdonald,
although I may have meet him a couple of times, but Ann did and
she along with all his friends and colleauges in the Smith College
community was very upset to learn of his death at age 58. His
illness was short in duration, but hard to fathom or accept. I
regarded Marian, his wife, as a good friend because our long-standing
mutual interests in bookish matters. Her daughter, Rachel Simpson,
worked at the Gazette as I had, and Rachel and our son Christopher
were classmates at Northampton High School. They attended their
20th class reunion just last fall.
A year younger than me at 64, Steffen
Plehn, was a Worthington selectman who had moved to this area
a few short years ago after a distinguished career in government
and higher education. It was he who first got in touch with me
to remind that we had been college classmates although we had
never known each other. It was news to me, but I was glad he sought
me out. He would come into the bookstore from time to time and
it was clear that here was someone with a lively mind and boundless
energy, something his neighbors and friends in Worthington quickly
came to appreciate. He suggested he and our wives get together
for dinner some time, which seemed like an excellent idea. We
never did, and Iím sorry for that.
John Szymkowicz of Hadley was 72
at the time of his death and I recall the time he did some wallpapering
for us some 25 years ago. We went away for a few days to get out
from under foot, and left our youngest son, Mark, at home and
in charge. Returning home, we found that John and Mark has become
good buddies and had "bonded," as they say, during the
time he and Mark spent together. Later, whenever Ann would bump
into John on the Smith campus heíd immediately inquire after Mark.
And Mark, told the other day of Johnís passing, recalled him instantly
and with fondness.
Such are the contacts, not of great importance
or often only superficial, that small-town communities provide
and that we take for granted all the time. We only come to value
such relationships when we have gone away and come back home,
thinking everything is the same.
In retrospect, it is not true that nothing
happened during the two weeks we were away. Itís just that what
happened involved other people, some of whom I knew and many of
whom I did not know.
Everything is not the same - friends and
acquaintances are absent forever and all of us are poorer for