Locally-Sourced in South Farmhouse: Confessions of Day Alum
I was not a “day student” at Mount Hermon. I lived in the attic of Dick “Zippy” Kellom’s South Farmhouse, and so I might as well have been. From my window, I became more familiar with the farm, the lower playing fields and – across the river – Crag Mountain, than I was with the hubbub up in Crossley and Hayden. But I was not a day student.
I am, however, a genuine “day alum.”
In 45 years, I have never lived more than 25 minutes from South Farmhouse. I still cut through the campus on my way to Bernardston, Brattleboro, Northfield or Keene. I eat at the Gill Tavern. As a reporter, I’ve chronicled the rise and fall of Franklin County social movements and communes. When I wrote a novel, it was a Greenfield novel. I’ve relished the renaissance of Turners Falls, and have mourned the demise of Wilson’s Department Store and the Friendly’s on Federal Street in Greenfield where the campus shuttle would meet the outtatown busses. Oh, and the Northfield campus. I’ve mourned the loss of the Northfield campus.
Mine, quite simply, is the perspective of one who never left.
That perspective solidified in a tarpaper shack off South Mountain Road on Crag Mountain in Northfield, where I lived in the mid-70’s with my best friend (and our classmate) Larry Henry. It was all Brown-Eyed Women and Red Grenadine, with a great view of Chapel Hill. Until the day he was killed sky diving at Turners Falls Airport in August, 1977, Larry relished that view from 10,000 feet or so. He’s buried in small cemetery in East Northfield along with his mother Phoebe, a campus nurse, and his father Hank, who served as NMH business manager for a time.
For some, Franklin County is an acquired taste. I will never forget the look of horror on my college girlfriend’s face when, in July, 1975, we arrived in downtown Turners Falls. The village then headquartered Michael Metelica’s Brotherhood of the Spirit commune. (Michael, some readers may recall, used to come down out of his treehouse in Leyden to talk to us in the Hayden lounge about Elwood Babbitt and the tradition of New England spiritualism.) That college girlfriend and I, incidentally, remain married to this day, and Sarah remains horrified at the legacy of Michael Rapunzel’s née Metelica’s commune in Turners Falls.
For me, however, it was just natural. This was and is a natural mystic landscape, cradling a communal heritage and peppered with insurrectional values that are eternal. As a reporter, I once found myself in a farmhouse in nearby Colrain with peace activists and war-tax resisters awaiting an imminent confrontation with ATF and FBI agents. Phil Berrigan was there, as were David Dellinger and William Sloane Coffin. People were on edge. At one point, just before the bust, I turned to Coffin and asked, “Do remember delivering a rousing call to action at Mount Hermon School in 1970, right after Kent State, and then pulling us to our feet to sing ‘Once to Every Man and Nation Comes the Moment to Decide?’ ”
Coffin smiled broadly and, in that longshoreman’s growl of his, replied, “You bet I do.”
I’ve gone other places, hoping to stay: Cuba and the Basque lands for the politics; Scandinavia for the heritage; all over the Andean rim for the technical mountaineering; the Rockbound Coast of Maine for the . . . well, rockbound coast of Maine. And the sub-arctic surfing. But I have never been able to stray more than 25 minutes from South Farmhouse for any length of time.
I must admit that, as I read about the campus hi-jinx of the Class of 1970 in these pages, I feel a little lost and envious, wondering quietly, “Where was I . . .???” I’ve attended only one reunion, that of a young woman of whom I was very fond and whose Reunion 3 coincided with our Reunion 10 (I think). I remember peeking in at ours, through some bushes, and then returning quickly to hers. I write this without bitterness, as I don’t remember being treated with anything other than inclusion and kindness at Mount Hermon. I remember being kind-of an earnest and homesick pain in the butt.
I know that I am not the only “day alum” in this area. I used to see Jimmy Singiser with some regularity in Greenfield, and I know he is a member of 50th Reunion committee. I think I owe him a roll of film. I saw Dick Girard not all that long ago, and he had an interesting perspective on what it was like to attend Mount Hermon as a day student. I used to see my old ever-patient South Farmhouse roommate Peter Huntsman, who wound up arguing a very high profile case in nearby Northampton. Paul Foster-Moore, another veteran of campus fringe housing, appears to still be somewhere in the area. There has even been, I think, a Collins Lein sighting. These encounters, however, are fewer and farther between.
Now, however, I would very much like to hook up with these and other day alums of both Mount Hermon and Northfield. We could form a caucus of sorts, compare notes and delicately relish the lasting magic of this place . . . a place I still wonder at as I pass South Farmhouse late in afternoon, spread out along the Connecticut River and framed against Crag Mountain . . . a place with a mountain across the way where, I would like to think, there is still a great view of Chapel Hill from a Natural Mystic tarpaper shack where folks play the Grateful Dead and plot the coming revolution.
Please contact me if you are in the area!
Wesley Blixt lives in Greenfield, less than 15 minutes from the Gill campus’ South Farmhouse. He can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 413-773-8783. Or texted at 413-775-3553.